In­com­pe­tent bribery is still bribery — and im­peach­able

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robinson opin­[email protected]­ald on­ (Emailed let­ters are pre­ferred) Opin­ions, Times-Her­ald, 420 Vir­ginia Street, Suite 2A, Vallejo, CA, 94590 Fol­low and send tweets to Leave com­ments at

WASH­ING­TON» The Repub­li­can goal­posts on im­peach­ment were last seen cross­ing the Mis­sis­sippi River and speed­ing onto the Great Plains. When they reach the Pa­cific Coast and can be moved no fur­ther, it ap­pears they will teeter on a lonely, wind-whipped cliff: the con­tention that Pres­i­dent Trump and his en­ablers tried to make a “drug deal” with Ukraine but were too clumsy and clue­less to pull it off.

“Drug deal” is the metaphor for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton re­port­edly used to de­scribe Trump’s at­tempt to co­erce Ukraine into smear­ing Demo­cratic front-run­ner Joe Bi­den. A more pre­cise term is bribery — de­mand­ing man­u­fac­tured dirt on Bi­den in ex­change for re­lease of nearly $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid — and fed­eral law makes clear that seek­ing such a trade is just as il­le­gal as ac­tu­ally mak­ing it hap­pen.

Repub­li­cans are pre­tend­ing other­wise, though, be­cause it’s un­clear what else they can say. Af­ter just two days of pub­lic tes­ti­mony in the im­peach­ment probe, Trump’s de­fend­ers are left sput­ter­ing.

Trump and his apol­o­gists be­gan, weeks ago, by charg­ing that the whole al­le­ga­tion was fab­ri­cated out of never-Trump an­i­mus. But then Trump re­leased the sum­mary of his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky, and it was clear that some­thing wrong in­deed had hap­pened.

Trump wanted Repub­li­cans to join him in pro­claim­ing that the call was “per­fect” and that there was “no quid pro quo” in­volved. But his own words to Ze­len­sky — “I would like you to do us a fa­vor though” — made that de­fense, to use a Water­gate-era term, in­op­er­a­tive.

The com­plaint that this was all about a sin­gle phone call, which is per­haps a slen­der thread from which to hang the im­peach­ment of a pres­i­dent, was oblit­er­ated by last week’s tes­ti­mony. Three vet­eran diplo­mats with deep ex­per­tise in Ukraine and no ap­par­ent ax to grind — State Depart­ment of­fi­cial Ge­orge Kent, act­ing charge d’af­faires Wil­liam Tay­lor and ousted Am­bas­sador Marie Yo­vanovitch — de­scribed a months-long cam­paign, spear­headed by Trump at­tor­ney Rudy Gi­u­liani, to pres­sure Ukrainian of­fi­cials into pub­licly open­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Bi­den and his son Hunter, and also into pur­su­ing a dis­proved con­spir­acy the­ory in­volv­ing a nonex­is­tent Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee email server.

The vivid nar­ra­tive told by Yo­vanovitch, in par­tic­u­lar, ap­par­ently so un­nerved Trump that he at­tacked her on Twit­ter while she was still in the wit­ness chair. That cre­ated another “cleanup on aisle five” mo­ment in which Repub­li­cans who might have wanted to ag­gres­sively grill Yo­vanovitch in­stead had to treat her with kid gloves.

So the Trump de­fense shifted back to com­plaints about the im­peach­ment in­quiry process, de­signed and led by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. On “Fox News Sun­day,” House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., charged re­peat­edly that those who had tes­ti­fied were “Schiff’s wit­nesses.” Host Chris Wal­lace pushed back, point­ing out that they were ac­tu­ally ca­reer for­eign ser­vice of­fi­cers “work­ing in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.” And as Scalise well knows, Repub­li­cans had an equal op­por­tu­nity to ques­tion the wit­nesses at their de­po­si­tions and the pub­lic hear­ings. They were, in fact, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ wit­nesses.

With at least eight more of­fi­cials tes­ti­fy­ing pub­licly this week, Repub­li­cans are left with a de­fense that re­ally is no de­fense at all.

There are two prob­lems with ar­gu­ing that Trump is in­no­cent be­cause his scheme ul­ti­mately failed: The facts and the law.

The stub­born facts are that the mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine was re­leased only af­ter a whistle­blower’s com­plaint came to the at­ten­tion of Congress, mean­ing the jig was up; and that Ze­len­sky was all set to an­nounce the bo­gus in­ves­ti­ga­tions Trump wanted.

And fed­eral law states that a pub­lic of­fi­cial who “seeks” or “de­mands” some­thing of value in ex­change for per­form­ing an of­fi­cial act is as guilty of bribery as one who ac­tu­ally re­ceives such a fa­vor.

Alas for Trump, in­com­pe­tent bribery is still bribery. And it’s still an im­peach­able of­fense.

There are two prob­lems with ar­gu­ing that

Trump is in­no­cent be­cause his scheme ul­ti­mately failed: The facts and the law.

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