Republicans are about to switch up their messaging by admitting what they can no longer deny: that Trump’s actions with Ukraine did constitute a quid pro quo. The reasoning for this is simple — there is just too much testimony and too much evidence from too many credible sources to continue to deny the allegations levied by House Democrats. As public hearings start, the optics will be even more damning. By admitting that there was a quid pro quo but attempting to spin that there was nothing illegal about this bargain and therefore Trump’s actions do not rise to a level of criminality typically required by the courts, the GOP is counting on the majority of the American public to stay ignorant about the parameters of what constitutes an impeachable offense.
Republicans in the Senate have been feeling the pressure of the impeachment inquiry progressing for weeks. The strategy for conservative lawmakers has recently been to avoid answering where they stand on impeachment by telling the press that they will be potential jurors for the impeachment trial in the Senate and therefore are not able to draw any conclusions at this point. But with the testimony of several credible White House officials this week confirming that there was a quid pro quo by Trump and the impending public hearings that will disseminate this information more widely, Senate Republicans have been backed into a political corner.
According to multiple sources, who were in attendance at a private Senate lunch for Republicans on Wednesday of this week, this switch-over to admitting that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine was the main topic of conversation. Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) argued that there may have been a quid pro quo but that this is nothing new for the government who “often attaches conditions to foreign aid.” Ted Cruz (R-TX) was apparently quite vocal on the subject and told the room that a quid pro quo is not illegal unless there is “corrupt intent,” while furthering Kennedy’s argument that attaching conditions to aid are an acceptable tool of foreign policy.
According to sources in attendance at the lunch, another topic was the speed at which the Senate should conduct the impeachment trial of Trump, with many basing how long the trial should be on how it would help their chances of re-election in their states. Some senators argued that moving quickly through the trial could play badly for those who are up for re-election in Democratic-leaning or swing states if it gave the appearance that they were not taking the charges seriously enough.
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) advocated for a longer, more drawn out trial in order to place focus on the Democrats by “poking holes” in the case and making them look biased and incompetent.
“This may be his only opportunity to change what the public sees and hears if they’re gonna continue with their very one-sided process over in the House…In my view, [it is] in the president’s best interest to have the whole thing played out. I don’t mean five weeks, but at least the case so at least the public gets to hear his case…We’ve done quid pro quos a lot of times...The question isn’t whether it was quid pro quo; the question is: Was it corruption?” — Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND)
“To me, this entire issue is gonna come down to, why did the president ask for an investigation,” Kennedy, who worked as a lawyer, said in an interview. “To me, it all turns on intent, motive. ... Did the president have a culpable state of mind? … Based on the evidence that I see, that I’ve been allowed to see, the president does not have a culpable state of mind.”
Jason Campbell @JasonSCampbellBen Shapiro: "The White House should stop saying there was no quid pro quo. There was a quid pro quo. The question is whether it was a corrupt quid pro quo...Quid pro quos in foreign policy happen all the time" https://t.co/Nv9yMCS0YG
The Constitution specifies that a sitting president may be impeached for committing "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors," but does not lay out what behaviors would qualify for impeachment. It is widely accepted that “Crimes and Misdemeanors” denotes any actions by the president that constitute an abuse of power, as judged by evidence brought before the House of Representatives that is deemed an impeachable offense by a majority of members. Therefore, the president does not need to commit a crime in the traditional sense to rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
By proceeding with this strategy, the GOP will be taking another chance of banking on the ignorance of the American public while counting on the delusion of their own supporters. Another major flaw in this strategy is that they are assuming that Democrats can’t prove corrupt intent with the evidence they plan to present publicly. It’s a fair argument to make now that the transcript put out by the White House, along with the alterations and omissions from it, prove that intent now. We’ll have to wait until we get further into the process to see if House Democrats intend on even making this argument if and when they present Articles of Impeachment to the rest of Congress.
Republicans now feel the need to admit the obvious because they have no other way around it. When the evidence is presented to the public it will be impossible to deny the reality that Trump did demand a quid pro quo from Ukraine and was holding their military aid hostage until he got what he wanted. By making this about the legalities of what Trump did, Republicans are counting on the perception of Americans on how they see Trump’s offenses. This strategy will also hinge on how well they are able to stage the appearance of Trump being unfairly attacked by a Democratic House.
Meanwhile, Trump told the Washington Examiner this week that he wanted to do a series of “fireside chats,” a method that President Roosevelt utilized during the Great Depression to defend his decisions, in order to read the “transcript” of his July 25 call with Ukraine. The problems with this strategy are glaringly obvious, the first being that the transcript has been proven not to be a complete record of the actual phone call. Other foreseeable issues include Trump’s inability to stick to a script and to ad lib to his own detriment. This will also make it impossible for Senate Republicans to line up their messaging with the President’s, as Trump’s message will change constantly, based on his whims and mis-statements.
Trump will use this medium to essentially campaign for re-election in the guise of setting the record strait. He will not be bound by any rules as he would be if he were under oath, which means there will be no penalty attached to purposely untrue and mis-leading statements he makes. This will all take place while Trump is speaking from the Oval Office and this is dangerous because it lends him false credibility.
The most obvious issue with Trump attempting to mimic F.D.R.’s strategy is that he is once again usurping a concept that was meant to be used to advance the country as a whole on behalf of a leader with no obvious personal stake in the outcome. Trump using this technique now to help further his own agenda to defend himself against charges that he was trying to enrich himself personally simply proves that he has no regard for any abuse of power charges. More than refusing to acknowledge that he has abused his office, he doesn’t intend to ever stop.
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Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.