Editorial: Trump’s most expansive defense against impeachment is just as lame and dishonest as his tweets

President Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) watch on Feb. 5.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

“A partisan crusade.” “An unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power.” An “open war on American Democracy” that is both “preposterous and dangerous.” This is how President Trump characterized the House of Representatives’ impeachment proceedings in a letter delivered Tuesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“More due process,” Trump wrote, “was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch trials.”

The six-page letter, which reads like a collection of the president’s tweets stitched together and interspersed with soundbites from his campaign rallies, could easily be written off as more Trump misdirection and bloviation except for the fact that it is also the longest and fullest expression yet of the president’s defense. So it deserves a response.

In all, it is a giant, overheated expression of grievance, a vitriolic attack backed mostly by half-truths, unsubstantiated assertions and whiny misrepresentations. Most of it you’ve heard before: His calls with Ukrainian President Zelensky were “totally innocent” and “perfect.” His enemies just want to nullify the election. What you’re witnessing is in fact a “coup.” The Democrats have been planning his impeachment since Day 1, but it’s all based on hearsay and “inventions.” Joe Biden is the real crook here. The acts Trump is accused of are not crimes or misdemeanors. The “favor” he wanted from Zelensky was for the United States — not for himself. There was no pressure on Ukraine to open the investigation — even Zelensky says so. Adam Schiff “cheated and lied.” The “Impeachment Hoax” follows on the heels of the “Russian Witch Hunt” which was a “grave, malicious and slanderous lie.”


And no one cares about any of this because the nation’s thriving economy, soaring stock market and jobs boom are what Americans are focused on.

The letter is a masterpiece of overstated, badly edited Trumpian malarkey, except that such a description fails to convey the sinister, divisive and bitter tone.

“Any member of Congress who votes in support of impeachment — against every shred of truth, fact, evidence and legal principle — is showing how deeply they revile the voters and how truly they detest America’s constitutional order,” Trump wrote. “…This is nothing more than an illegal, partisan attempted coup that will, based on recent sentiment, badly fail at the voting booth.”

So let us say one more time: Trump is a uniquely bad, dishonest president, unsuited and unprepared for the vast responsibilities of the office he holds. But that is entirely separate from whether he should be impeached and removed from office. His failures as president are best addressed at the voting booth in November 2020.

But he is now being investigated because credible allegations were made that he abused the power of his office. An anonymous whistleblower said Trump withheld congressionally approved aid to Ukraine — which that country needed to defend itself against the Russians — in order to extort a “favor” from the country’s president: an announcement of an investigation into corruption by one of Trump’s political rivals, Biden.

Those are serious charges. They merited an inquiry. A parade of credible officials then testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the scheme had occurred pretty much as described — that in their opinion Trump had indeed sought a quid pro quo. Trump, meanwhile, forbade his top aides from testifying and denied the House thousands of pages of documents it had sought. So many of Trump’s blustering assertions in his letter to Pelosi — about his perfect call, about the pressure on Zelensky, about Biden’s role in Ukraine, for instance — fall apart on even medium-close inspection.

About this, Trump is correct: Impeachment is a serious matter. It should not be undertaken lightly; it should not be devalued. The Los Angeles Times editorial board was reluctant to go down the impeachment path precisely because it could be so terribly divisive, so excessively partisan and because it could harm rather than heal the country. But the allegations against Trump were so serious that they could not be ignored.

On Wednesday, the House will undoubtedly vote to impeach the president and his case will move to the Republican-controlled Senate. We hope that a trial will be conducted there that is fair and dignified, and that does not devolve into a circus based on the sort of flailing self-justification and misdirection that filled Trump’s letter to Pelosi. We hope the Senate will offer the president an opportunity to make a reasonable and full defense, and that it will compel the testimony of his senior aides. We also hope, though we have little reason to expect, that partisanship will be kept to a minimum as Congress moves toward a resolution of this sorry episode in American history.