As Democrats are preparing to begin public hearings in the House of Representatives laying out the evidence of President Donald Trump’s misconduct, his more intellectually inclined defenders head toward consensus on a key fact: The White House did, indeed, propose a quid pro quo with Ukraine, leveraging military aid in exchange for investigations of the president’s political opponents.
Andrew McCarthy, one of Trump’s breathless propagandists when it comes to the Russia investigation, recently wrote a piece for the National Review telling fellow defenders of the president: “Stop Claiming ‘No Quid Pro Quo.’” Rich Lowry, also writing in the National Review, similarly wrote:
The line that there was “no quid pro quo” has become steadily less plausible as more testimony has emerged suggesting that Trump withheld security aid to Ukraine in the hopes that Ukraine would announce an investigation into the 2016 election and the gas company Burisma and/or Joe and Hunter Biden.
Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire also argued Friday: “The White House should stop saying there was no quid pro quo. There was a quid pro quo.”
The idea we’re now supposed to accept, these right-wingers argue, is that despite the fact that there was, undeniably, a quid pro quo, it wasn’t impeachable. Nevermind that this may amount to one of the biggest goal-post moves in history. Trump himself has been proclaiming “no quid pro quo.” Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, after having clearly admitted that there was a quid pro quo a couple weeks ago, immediately denied that he had said what he said and blamed the media for reporting on his comments. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who has argued on Oct. 3 that the improper request for an investigation into former Vice president Joe Biden was wrong, had then claimed that it wasn’t impeachable in part because “The president did not, as was first reported, offer a quid pro quo to the Ukrainians.”
Even Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — a close Trump ally who will likely have to vote on the matter of the president’s guilt — has suggested that a quid pro quo in this scenario would be impeachable.
But now that a quid pro quo is expected to be demonstrated before the American people beyond a shadow of a doubt, don’t expect Trump and company to admit defeat.
They’ll likely adopt the tactics of Shapiro, McCarthy, and Lowry, who all say, for various reasons, that Trump nevertheless shouldn’t be impeached.
One move proponents of this argument like to make is to argue that Democrats were always looking to impeach Trump, and Ukraine is just an excuse, as McCarthy argued:
They have never accepted the voters’ election of Trump. They are not seeking to deduce unfitness from impeachable offenses. They predetermined the unfitness finding and have spent three years looking for some misstep — any misstep — that might pass the laugh test as an impeachable offense.
This is a common refrain, but in many ways, it is obviously false. Democrats were not committed to impeaching Trump no matter what. Were that true, they could have begun impeachment proceedings much earlier on any number of counts, or right after Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his report. Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — to much criticism — held back her party from embracing impeachment. She didn’t change her mind until September when the scale of Trump’s misconduct in the Ukraine affair became clear, and a wave of moderate House Democrats began vocally supporting an impeachment inquiry.
On the other hand, there’s some truth to McCarthy’s claim that some people have long thought Trump should be impeached, and Ukraine is just the most salient issue on which to launch an impeachment. I, for one, have written many times that Trump has committed impeachable offenses and should never have been elected in the first place. Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib memorably said in January, “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker!”
But conservatives draw the wrong inference from this fact. They say that since critics of the president wanted Trump to be impeached all along, the calls to impeach him over the Ukraine scandal can’t be taken seriously.
In fact, the Ukraine scandal just proves that Trump’s critics calling for impeachment were right all along.
We were right to say, as was clear during the Russia investigation, that Trump couldn’t be trusted as president because he put his personal interests above the national interest and aligned with a hostile foreign adversary. Trump did this once again in Ukraine, as withholding aid weakened the country’s standing as it faces off against Russian President Vladimir Putin. We were right to say that Trump would abuse his office, as the Mueller Report showed he did on numerous occasions in attempts to obstruct the investigation, and as he does constantly by funneling government money to his businesses. To pressure Ukraine, Trump improperly withheld congressionally approved funds to gain leverage on the country to serve his personal interests. And this, too, confirms the allegations of those who have said he has no respect for the Constitution, usurping the legislature’s role to allocate money for its own purposes, not the president’s.
And we were right to say Trump has no respect for the rule of law, as he tried to weaponize another country’s prosecutors against American citizens.
Lowry argued that Trump’s actions aren’t impeachable because, in the end, Ukraine got the aid and Trump quid pro quo seems to have failed (in fact, this remains to be seen). He wrote:
The best defense Republicans can muster is that nothing came of it. An ally was discomfited and yanked around for a couple of months before, ultimately, getting its defense funding.
But revealingly, he added:
All of this bears some resemblance to Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice during the Mueller investigation. He hated the investigation and wanted it to go away, and even plotted against it, but at the end of the day, Robert Mueller did his work. More specifically, the Ukraine mess is lot like Trump’s order, or purported order, to then–White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller. After drama, internal contention, and tragicomedy, nothing happened.
It’s not clear, in fact, that Trump’s obstruction was unsuccessful in the Mueller investigation. But even assuming that it was, Lowry draws the wrong lesson from it. Even after Trump’s attempts at obstruction — which were, in fact, crimes, regardless of whether they were successful — were exposed, Trump wasn’t chastened. He plowed forward with the Ukraine plot, making his infamous July 25 call to President Volodymyr Zelensky the very day after Mueller testified about his conduct to Congress.
Lowry seems to think we should be comforted that many of Trump’s attempts to abuse his office have, apparently, failed. But they show us that he’s willing to keep trying, and they tell us nothing about all his attempts to abuse power that we haven’t uncovered. And since his goal in the Ukraine scheme was clearly to help himself in the 2020 election — and he has never voiced an ounce of regret for his actions — no one should have any doubt that he’ll keep trying to corruptly gain an advantage over his eventual opponent.
Trump is exactly who his critics have always said he was: a venal, narcissistic, corrupt, self-dealing wannabe autocrat. He has proven that over and over again, and the Ukraine scandal is just the latest demonstration of a plain fact. It’s impeachable on its own, but it’s also falls at the end of a series of condemnable conduct. His ideological compatriots should start taking the president’s critics seriously, instead of desperately trying to sweep Trump’s mountain of wrongdoing under the rug.