How many Senate Republicans are we up to who have accused the president of wrongdoing in the impeachment saga, albeit not wrongdoing that rises to the level of justifying removal from office? There were at least three as of Friday, Lamar Alexander, Rob Portman, and Marco Rubio, although Rubio implied it more so than he frankly stated it. Do I hear a fourth?
Key GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski was asked today if she agreed with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander that President Trump’s conduct was inappropriate.
Here’s how she responded:
“I would concur,” she said.
How about a fifth? Joni Ernst had some mildly disapproving comments when asked about the Ukraine business yesterday:
“I think ferreting out corruption is absolutely the right thing to do,” the Iowa senator told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, referring to Trump’s explanation for why he wanted Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president…
“The president has a lot of latitude to do what he wants to do,” Ernst, 49, said. “I think, generally speaking, going after corruption would be the right thing to do. He did it maybe in the wrong manner. But I think he could have done it through different channels.”
I’m going to treat that as four and a half. Alexander was also on the Sunday shows and made the same point, that Trump had good intentions (sort of) in seeking dirt on the Bidens but he went about it in the wrong way. He should have asked the Justice Department to investigate instead of outsourcing this to Rudy Giuliani and his crooked cronies, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Chuck Todd challenged him on that: Why do you think he didn’t do it that way? Which reduced Alexander to this pitiful reply.
Sen. Alexander: “Well, the bottom line, it's not an excuse.” pic.twitter.com/oe6eYWbhkF
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) February 3, 2020
“Maybe he didn’t know to do it.”
I guess there was no one in his phalanx of lawyers and advisors to whom he reasonably might have turned and said, “What’s the proper way to bring the Burisma matter to the DOJ’s attention?”
Lemme float three theories for why Trump didn’t go to Bill Barr with it, short and sweet. One: He wasn’t sure Barr would play ball. Barr is loyal but he’s not an old friend and campaign hand who’ll obey every order he’s given. Rudy is. Two: Because Rudy is a personal friend and crony, he could be trusted to keep his mouth shut to a greater degree than Barr could. The Attorney General isn’t the best guy to loop in on a scheme that may or may not amount to an abuse of official power. Three: If you believe witnesses like Gordon Sondland, Trump was less interested in an actual investigation of the Bidens and Burisma than the announcement that an investigation had been opened. A full DOJ investigation would be a political liability if it was carried out and concluded by clearing Joe Biden before the election. What Trump wanted was suspicion, not resolution. Rudy could give him that.
I’d be keen to hear each Republican who thinks Trump behaved “inappropriately” explain precisely what they thought was inappropriate in his conduct towards Ukraine. There are three distinct allegations of wrongdoing: (1) He tried to use the diplomatic powers of his office to tilt the election his way by damaging a likely electoral opponent; (2) he outsourced a foreign investigation of official corruption by a former vice president to his personal lawyer and his shady associates instead of two the DOJ and State Department; and (3) he withheld military aid that had been duly appropriated by Congress in order to increase his leverage in his dubious scheme. Alexander and Ernst appear willing to grant that number 2 and probably number 3 were inappropriate, but how about number one? That’s the big one since it touches on whether the president had a corrupt motive or not. Was he sincerely alarmed by allegations of corruption by the Biden or did he treat the Burisma matter the way he once treated the idea that Barack Obama was born in Kenya or that Ted Cruz’s father may have been involved in the Kennedy assassination, i.e. as information that was useful in damaging an enemy irrespective of whether it was true or not?
Does the chorus of Republicans who think Trump did wrong believe that allegation 1 has been proved? If they do, was that inappropriate? They’re playing a little game here in which they’re trying to hedge their votes against calling witnesses and in favor of acquittal by allowing that Trump engaged in misconduct, but they’re being coy about what that misconduct was, exactly. Let’s hear specifics.
In the meantime, no, of course Trump isn’t going to be censured.
Asked to gauge the appetite for censure among Republicans, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said, “ … zero.”
The vast majority of Republicans, he said, believe that Trump committed no wrongdoing and that he has been subjected to a partisan, politically motivated investigation…
“What he did was an impeachable offense — I think it’s absolutely obvious, and giving a slap on the wrist doesn’t do any good,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) suggested that a censure would only allow Republicans to skirt responsibility for protecting Trump, saying, “I’m not bailing them out.”
I know why Republicans don’t want to talk about censure but I can’t understand why Democrats wouldn’t want to at this point. They have nothing more to lose, having lost the big witness vote and now headed for an acquittal in which every Republican (except possibly Mitt Romney) sides with Trump. Why not start talking up censure as a way to put pressure on Alexander, Murkowski, and the rest who are burbling about “inappropriate” actions by Trump but unwilling to put any teeth into their statements? Force reporters to ask Collins, Gardner, and the rest, “Should the president at least be censured?” If they say no, as virtually all of them would, that’s something new Dems could point to as part of their “COVER-UP!” messaging about the trial after it’s over. “They’re so afraid of Trump they wouldn’t even go on record in rebuking him, let alone removing him.” Etc.
Here’s Joni Ernst arguing that, if nothing else, Trump has learned his lesson from this ordeal: “I think that he knows now that if he is trying to do certain things — whether it’s ferreting out corruption there, in Afghanistan, whatever it is — he needs to go through the proper channels.” Alexander made the same point to Chuck Todd, saying, “If a call like that gets you an impeachment, I would think he would think twice before he did it again.” To which an incredulous Todd replied, astutely, “What example in the life of Donald Trump has he been chastened?” I don’t know why anyone would think he’d “chastened” by all this when he’s insisted all along that his call with Zelensky was “PERFECT!” And it’s not as if Democrats are going to impeach him again before the election. Go read this Axios post to see how chastened he’s likely to be going forward.