The Trump Defense Just Flip-Flopped

Impeachment Image

In the span of a day or two, the Trump impeachment defense changed dramatically.

First, Trump lawyers said that the president did not commit a quid pro quo.  They argued that Trump is a corruption fighter. They tried to get the Senate and general public to believe that Trump’s fight against global corruption just happened to start with a Ukrainian company that hired the son of a political rival.  They argued that Trump did not withhold American aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of the Bidens.  He was only investigating the Bidens because he is a moral crusader who wants to confront corruption around the world.

But then the defense changed.  Even if Trump did commit a quid pro quo, they argued, it doesn’t matter because “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” are not impeachable offenses.

Yesterday, in his closing remarks, Jay Sekulow tried to have his cake and eat it too.  As Trump’s personal lawyer, he had to stand by his boss’s assertion that the Ukraine call was “perfect.” But he also said that even if Trump did commit a quid pro quo, and even if what John Bolton said in his book manuscript is accurate, it was not an impeachable offense.

As I wrote yesterday, there is something here for everyone.

Here is Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine:

“If you could show me that Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call,” pronounced Lindsey Graham last fall, “that would be very disturbing.” Fox News host Steve Doocy actually went even farther. “If the president said, ‘I will give you the money, but you have got to investigate Joe Biden,’” he said, “that is really off-the-rails wrong. But if it’s something else, you know, it would be nice to know what it is.”

We now know it is not, in fact, something else. It is very clear that the revelations produced during the time have had an important — indeed, transformative — impact on the thinking of many party members. Many Republicans started the process believing 1) President Trump did not demand investigation in return for aid but that 2) doing so would be unacceptable. They now believe the opposite on both points.

You would think that, given the profound effect the evidence of the case has had upon their stance, Republicans would be eager to learn even more. Yet oddly they remain indifferent, or even hostile, to further revelations.

The most fascinating journey of discovery has been that of The Wall Street Journal editorial page. The Journaleditorializes today that John Bolton’s reported claim that he personally witnessed Trump ordering a quid pro quo between military aid and investigations merely confirms what everybody already knows. “The report that John Bolton’s book draft implicates President Trump more closely to ordering a delay in military aid to Ukraine is hardly a surprise and won’t — and shouldn’t — change the impeachment result.”

And yet this news might indeed surprise anybody who had been foolish enough to rely on the Journal’s editorial line. When the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky first came out, the Journal takeaway was “No quid pro quo. The references to the Bidens are in the context of fighting corruption, not as a prerequisite of U.S. aid.”

Read the rest here.