Seven misleading arguments against impeachment by Trump and his allies
As soon as Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Sept. 24 that House Democrats would begin an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, the president and his supporters started to put forth a slew of questionable arguments against it.
Whereas Democrats see Trump’s July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he solicited an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, as evidence that the president abused his power in an attempt to influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in his favor, Trump and his allies describe the inquiry as a continuation of the endless “witch hunt” that began with the investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.
With the inquiry just beginning, it’s too early to predict the outcome. What is evident already, however, is that several of the arguments being used to absolve the president are, to say the least, lacking in substance.
1. The impeachment inquiry itself is unconstitutional
On Tuesday, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote a letter to House Democratic leaders that cited the U.S. Constitution in defense of the president’s decision to undermine the checks and balances written into it.
“In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the Executive Branch and all future occupants of the Office of the presidency, President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances,” Cipollone wrote.
Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states that “the President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to impeach a president. Removal from office requires a subsequent trial and conviction by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.
2. ‘The Biden family was PAID OFF’
As news broke that Trump had withheld U.S. military aid from Ukraine days before requesting Zelensky’s cooperation in an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, the president began claiming that he was seeking to root out corruption. In an Oct. 6 tweet, for instance, Trump suggested that Biden and his son received corrupt payments from a Ukrainian natural-gas company and a Chinese investment fund.
First, while there’s little dispute that Hunter Biden was recruited for the board of directors of the Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings at least in part because of his powerful father, he was paid $50,000 per month, not $100,000. Trump also grossly exaggerates Hunter Biden’s earnings from his work with the Chinese-American investment firm Bohai Harvest RST. While that firm sought to raise $1.5 billion in capital, it registered just $4.2 million. Hunter Biden owns a 10 percent stake in the company worth approximately $420,000 today.
3. The whistleblower complaint is disputed by the contents of Trump’s call
The president has often repeated his claim that the whistleblower complaint bears no relation to the actual contents of his call with Zelensky.
A number of observers have pointed out that the “memo” of the call released by the White House contains numerous ellipses indicating missing words, and that it seems too short to be a record of a 30-minute call (although Trump has boasted about what he calls “an exact word-for-word transcript of the conversation … taken by very talented stenographers”).
What’s most surprising about his assertion, however, is that reading the White House summary of the call alongside the whistleblower complaint would seem to prove just the opposite. While based on conversations that the whistleblower had with half a dozen U.S. officials, some of whom listened in on the call, the specifics of what he or she detailed have aligned almost perfectly with the information the White House itself released.
“The whistleblower’s complaint is in alignment with what was released yesterday by the president,” acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
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4. Trump was only joking when he asked China to investigate Biden
Perhaps one of the strangest defenses of Trump’s call for foreign leaders to investigate Biden has come from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. After Trump told White House reporters on Oct. 3 that “China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Rubio suggested that his words weren’t meant seriously.
“I don’t know if that’s a real request or him just needling the press knowing that you guys are going to just get outraged by it,” Rubio said a day later, adding, “That’s not a real request.”
The only person who actually knows whether Trump was serious is, of course, Trump himself. But when asked about it by reporters Monday, he refused to say.
While Rubio was asked only about Trump’s comments on China, it’s difficult to see how he could offer the same excuse when it came to the president asking Zelensky to investigate a political rival.
5. ‘Nothing wrong’ with seeking foreign investigation of Biden
Despite having retweeted Rubio’s claim that Trump was simply joking about China investigating the Bidens, Trump has continually stated that even if he wasn’t kidding, seeking such help wouldn’t, in and of itself, be improper.
But soliciting a “thing of value” from a foreign national for an American campaign or candidate in a U.S. election is against the law, and Trump’s months-long campaign to obtain an investigation into Biden in Ukraine has all the markings of that.
“There should be no real doubt that a foreign government investigation into President Trump’s 2020 political rival would be of value to him as a candidate,” Brendan Fischer, director at the nonpartisan election watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, told Yahoo News. “We may not be able to put a precise value on that investigation. It should be obvious that such an investigation would be of value to President Trump’s campaign and hurt Joe Biden’s.”
6. Rep. Schiff committed a crime by paraphrasing Trump’s call with Zelensky
When Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., paraphrased what he said was “the essence of what the president communicates” in his call with Zelensky, portraying the back-and-forth as a version of a mob shakedown, Trump and many of his supporters on social media cried foul. “I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason,” Trump demanded. Days later, the depiction continued to rub him the wrong way.
Trump and his defenders appear to be on stronger ground in asserting that Schiff falsely claimed that his staff hadn’t been consulted by the whistleblower before filing the complaint. But Schiff himself was clear that he was paraphrasing the contents of Trump’s call with Zelensky, and later clarified that his “summary of the president’s call was meant to be at least part in parody.”
Whether it was politically wise for Schiff to employ parody when paraphrasing Trump’s call with Zelensky is certainly debatable. Its legality is not.
7. Whistleblower laws were changed ahead of Trump complaint
Trump picked up on an article published by the Federalist claiming that “between May 2018 and August 2019, the intelligence community secretly eliminated a requirement that whistleblowers provide direct, firsthand knowledge of all alleged wrongdoings.” This was in reference to a new online form, and Trump ran with the report as proof of a larger conspiracy against him.
In fact, the new whistleblower form still contains a section that asks whether the person filing the complaint had “direct and personal knowledge” or “heard about” the events in question “from others.” The intelligence community inspector general’s office also issued a statement refuting the Federalist’s claims, the Washington Post reported.
“Although the form requests information about whether the Complainant possesses first-hand knowledge about the matter about which he or she is lodging the complaint, there is no such requirement set forth in the statute,” the statement read.
In other words, the law hasn’t been changed to target Trump.
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