Quite a while back, a wag formulated the stages of Trump scandals. Using the formula that has been proven time and again over the past three years, the Ukraine scandal is now moving into stage three as Republicans begin to acknowledge that President Trump attempted to engage in a quid pro quo arrangement with President Zelensky of Ukraine.
The Trump scandal cycle goes something like this:
1. Denial (“fake news”)
2. Attack the source (“Deep State”)
3. Admit that allegations are true, but say they aren’t serious (“He only attempted a crime unsuccessfully”)
4. Admit that the allegations are serious, but say that Democrats are worse (“What about Hillary”)
Over the past few weeks we have zipped past denials that the whistleblower’s account was false and that it was based on secondhand information. Those claims were shot down by the release of the call summary and corroborating statements and testimony from other members of the Trump Administration. The destruction of the first line of defense led to…
The claim that the whistleblower was a liberal in league with Adam Schiff and that he had a bias toward the Democrats. Unfortunately for Trump’s defenders, claims of bias could not be credibly applied to members of the Trump Administration such as Bill Taylor, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and the well-known nonliberal John Bolton. When character assassination failed to stop the bleeding, Republicans began to…
Stop denying that there was a quid pro quo and instead argue that it was not illegal. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was one of the first White House insiders to admit to a quid pro quo several weeks ago. However, Mulvaney quickly attempted to walk back his comments to avoid being hung out to dry by the president’s legal team.
Now it seems that Mulvaney was ahead of his time. Yesterday, Trump advisor Kelly Ann Conway told CNN’s Dana Bash, “I don't know whether aid was being held up and for how long” when pressed about whether there was a quid pro quo.
Conway doesn’t seem to be the only Republican unwilling to go very far out on a limb for Donald Trump on the matter. A few Republicans, such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, have long acknowledged that Trump’s actions were bad but not impeachable. Now others are more open to the strategy.
The Washington Post reports that Sens. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are among the Republicans who admit that there was a quid pro quo but deny that it was unethical or illegal. Kennedy reportedly argued at a private Republican luncheon that quid pro quos are common in foreign aid while Cruz held that “corrupt intent” must be present to make such an arrangement illegal.
There are several big problems with this line of reasoning. First, is that it is “illegal to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a US election.” That statement is from Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission in a tweet from June, more than a month before President Trump’s phone call with President Zelensky.
Weintraub’s tweet came a day after Trump openly told reporters that he would accept campaign help from foreigners. The call summary released by the White House confirms that Trump specifically asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, which would directly aid Trump’s reelection campaign.
The second problem is that Trump himself undercuts Republican efforts to find a middle ground with his own strategy of denying everything. Over the weekend, Trump said in a tweet, “There is no quid pro quo!” The president doesn’t seem to be willing to give an inch on the issue and continues to insist that the call was “perfect.”
The third problem is that most voters don’t see Trump’s actions as being as innocent as congressional Republicans do. A new Fox News poll found that 49 percent want Trump impeached and removed. While voters said that it was inappropriate to ask foreign leaders to dig up dirt on his political opponents by a 64-27 margin, 56 percent of Republican primary voters thought it was okay to do so. Thirty-two percent of Republicans believe that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens compared to 60 percent overall.
At this point, the evidence is that Donald Trump either acted corruptly or incompetently. If the president was ignorant of the fact that asking a foreign government for help in an election is illegal after years of the Russian investigation, Weintraub’s statement to the contrary, and what must have been numerous discussions by White House lawyers, it must have been a case of willful ignorance. Even more than for an average citizen, to a president who should have known better, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
There is also the possibility that yet another smoking gun will emerge that undercuts the Republican defense that Trump did not have a “culpable state of mind,” as Sen. Kennedy put it. With news breaking quickly and damaging testimonies coming at an alarming pace, it isn’t impossible that Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton or others could testify to Trump’s “corrupt intent,” either purposefully or accidentally.
At that point, the script of the Trump defenders will likely shift to read, “Sure, he broke the law, but he’s still better than [insert Democrat here].” The Trump base will buy that argument but what about the rest of the country?
Originally published on The Resurgent