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Opinion

Opinion: With impeachment looming, Trump turns to smoke and mirrors

President Trump
President Trump’s response to the House impeachment inquiry is to undermine the legitimacy of the process paint himself as the victim. Where have we seen that before? (Hint: the Mueller investigation)
(Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)

Let’s do a little recap.

The president of the United States has said that during a July 25 telephone call he exerted no pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the family of political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden. It was “an absolutely perfect phone call,” said President Trump. “Nobody pushed me,” said Zelensky.

Separately, President Trump’s lawyer, Pat Cipollone, sent an eight-page letter to House Democratic leaders this week seeking to stiff-arm the inquiry, arguing that the impeachment probe is unconstitutional, and also advising them on how Congress should proceed (yes, he’s telling the House on how to conduct a process he argues is unconstitutional; cognitive dissonance is the norm for this White House).

That’s a bizarre stance for a lawyer, given that the Constitution clearly lays out impeachment as Congress’ check on a wayward president, and is thus constitutional. The Constitution also states clearly that the House has “the sole power of impeachment,” which includes how it will conduct an impeachment, and that the Senate “shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.” And other than saying “the chief justice shall preside” over a trial that takes a two-thirds majority to convict, the Constitution leaves the conduct of the trial up to the Senate itself.

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Not, notably, to the president facing impeachment. Nor to his legal team.

In refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, the president is, as the Times editorial board wrote Tuesday, “once again asserting authority that he simply does not have under the Constitution.”

That’s in keeping with Trump’s personal and presidential pattern: Forge ahead and defy anyone to stop him — just the kind of imperial arrogance that usually offends conservatives.

Usually.

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Taking a chapter from the fight against the Mueller investigation into Russian campaign meddling, Trump’s approach here is to impugn the investigation itself. Attack the process. Attack the participants. Make demands. Refuse to cooperate. Obfuscate.

The intent is to undermine Congress’ constitutional authority in the eyes of the public, and to paint one of the biggest bullies in modern American memory as a victim of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the “radical left” that has taken over the Democratic Party. Impeach Pelosi (D-San Francisco), he says. Impeach House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), the president says. “Treason,” he cries.

Oh, please. You have to wonder if the president is foaming at the mouth as he tweets, or is coldly seeking to manipulate, with a mini-Machiavelli perched on his shoulder and whispering into his ear.

Interestingly, the bully in the White House pulpit has stopped ranting about “the Squad” of female progressive Democrats who, for a time, he was trying to make the face of the Democratic Party. Now he targets Pelosi and Schiff — and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has condemned the president’s overtures to Ukraine and China. Trump’s like a brawler in a bar fight, wildly swinging his fists in hopes of hitting someone, anyone.

Trump’s denials of wrongdoing and attempts to blur reality are part of his effort to seize the narrative of the fast-moving impeachment inquiry. The president and his defenders claim that, because he did not explicitly condition the release of U.S. military aid (or any other payoff) on Zelensky granting his request for a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens, there was nothing untoward about the request, and nothing to impeach over.

But that is nothing but smoke. The request itself was the problem, as was Trump’s double-down a little later when he asked China to investigate Biden and his son’s conduct there — giving a presidential imprimatur to what are little more than conspiracy theories.

It’s astounding that so many Republicans — both elected officials and the voters who still support the president — are so willing to shrug off such an egregious act. The left often gets accused of “Trump derangement syndrome,” supposedly so blinded by their hatred of the president that they have dissolved into lunacy.

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What’s the name for the condition of folks so blinded by loyalty and conspiracy theories that they think they see the emperor’s clothes? That’s a kind of derangement, too.

In a nutshell, the president of the United States asked other countries to help tarnish a political rival to get himself reelected. That should be the end of it, and the end of the presidency.


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