September 26, 2019

Not The Impeachment We Expected

There’s more to the Ukraine scandal than we know.

by Chris Thomas

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Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Nancy Pelosi has been a vexing figure. A look through the Resistbot letter archive shows a lot of angry progressives putting the Speaker on blast for her unwillingness to impeach the President despite a seemingly never-ending cascade of scandals, crimes, and corrupt actions that would have both defined and doomed any other presidency.

Indeed, if you’d asked the Resistbot policy team up until last week what Pelosi’s legacy would be, most of us would have told you that history would remember her as the woman who refused to impeach. Yet here we are.

So, what changed? Because something changed. Sure, the whistleblower report and the administration’s unwillingness to release it to Congress looks pretty bad, but that’s in terms of normal politics. It’s not Trump-bad. When “failed to report campaign payments to cover up that time he raw-dogged a porn star while his third wife was at home with his infant son” doesn’t imperil a presidency, it’s pretty hard to claim that withholding a whistleblower’s report is the bridge too far.

No, something else is afoot.

Trump’s release of the “transcript” (it’s not really a transcript, but it’s probably as close as we have to one) and his belief that it would vindicate him suggests that, whatever the meat of this scandal is, it’s not the actual words of the conversation. It’s not terribly difficult to see Trump trying to strong-arm Ukraine in the conversation but it’s not overt either. Pelosi hasn’t waited out the Mueller report to jump at an insinuation.

The actual text of the whistle-blower complaint is probably the next bone of contention. While the transcript does not show Trump overtly demanding a quid-pro-quo from Ukraine (and the Ukrainian president may insist that Trump failed to intimidate him), reports suggest that the whistle-blower complaint contains information about the lead up to the the call itself and echos the concerns of senior staff that the President may have abused his power.

Perhaps most importantly, it represents a thread of suspicion that Congress can pull on.

This case is not and never was about what Trump said or didn’t say in his phone call. It is about the intent behind the withholding of aid to Ukraine and what the White House hoped to accomplish by doing that. If Trump intended to strong-arm Ukraine then his insinuations become much more than illegally soliciting political aid from a foreign country. They become a clear-cut case of bribery, extortion, and quite-possibly treason.

Like the slow burn of Watergate, this is likely to look like a whole bunch of nothing until it doesn’t. Right now, public opinion seems to be with the Democrats, but that can turn in an instant.

What Can I Do?

Impeachment is about political will and public perception. As Republicans learned in the late 1990s, impeaching a President can backfire if it looks like more of a partisan exercise than a solemn obligation. Democrats will back this move only so long as the public views Trump as more of a perpetrator than a victim. Likewise, Republicans will likely oppose impeachment (especially in the Senate) unless they see their constituents turning against Trump.

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