By all accounts it was a bad week for President Donald J. Trump as some of his own appointees seemed to confirm a “quid pro quo” proffer to the newly elected president of the Ukraine. If President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wanted a White House meeting and the release of some American missiles, he needed to announce publicly an investigation into a Ukrainian company which had Hunter Biden on its board.
Hunter Biden is Joe Biden’s son and was on the company’s board while his dad was Vice President. In that role, the elder Biden tried to persuade the previous Ukrainian regime to fire a prosecutor who was investigating the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. All of our European allies apparently were delivering the same message and the corrupt prosecutor was eventually fired.
There’s no evidence either of the Bidens did anything wrong — but it certainly creates the potential for a perceived conflict of interest and it’s hard to understand why Joe Biden or the Obama Administration would allow it. Apparently, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to investigate. And if there is real evidence implicating either of the Bidens, he should.
But it has been mesmerizing almost to witness Grahams’ evolution from Trump’s chief Republican critic to head water boy. Graham apparently isn’t the maverick we thought he was when he followed Sen. John McCain’s lead on nearly every issue.
During the 2016 campaign, Graham called Trump a “nut job.” Later, Graham called Trump’s decision to remove troops from Syria a “stain on America’s honor” and the “biggest blunder of his presidency.”
But since that time Graham has become Trump’s chief defender in the Senate — along with Kentucky’s Rand Paul. They and colleagues apparently don’t believe Franklin, Hamilton, Alexander and company didn’t really mean to create a mechanism for removing an unfit president or one who abuses his power of office. During this week’s impeachment hearings, Republican defense seemed to boil down to: “He did it, but there was nothing wrong with it and it didn’t rise to the level of impeachment.” If trying to bribe the leader of a foreign country to dig up dirt on a potential political opponent in exchange for military equipment previously authorized by the U.S. Congress doesn’t rise to the level of “bribery, treason or high crimes and misdemeanors,” then what will?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has adopted his usual tight-lipped stance except to say he sees no way the Senate will vote to convict and remove Trump. Why? Because Republicans fear the impact on their own re-elections by Trump’s popularity back home.
But I don’t doubt McConnell and a most Congressional Republicans are genuinely concerned about what Trump has done to the county’s standing and credibility with allies and adversaries. Nor do I doubt that most of the public, including Republicans, understand what Trump has done to our international credibility. Or how hard it will be to restore it should the country choose an alternative to Trump — either by impeachment or the 2020 election. For those who wanted to send someone to Washington to “stir things up” or “disrupt,” they should be happy because Trump has certainly accomplished that objective.
Nonetheless, those same people should be worried about how we’ll put it all back together.
Because for the past 75 years or so, it’s been our strength, reputation and credibility which have held it all together during the nuclear age, the era of the Iron Curtain, Vietnam, the fall of the Russian Empire and its odious wall, and the age of international terrorism.
If the impeachment hearings have demonstrated anything, it is that we’ve recently pursued a banana republic type foreign policy. We’ve lost the trust and faith of our allies and the fearful respect of our adversaries. If we are unable to stop that erosion — and reverse it — soon, do you really believe there is another democratic country which can replace us?
RONNIE ELLIS is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and writes a weekly column. Follow @cnhifrankfort on Twitter.