Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
As the House impeachment farce doubles-down on its buffoonery, many voices are calling for an alternative: Don’t impeach, but censure the president. This compromise will end the Dems’ effort to impeach on the basis of second- and third-hand opinion and an Orwellian torture of terms like “bribery,” yet still “send a message” that Trump crossed some line of presidential decorum by asking a foreign head of state to “dig up dirt,” as some pundits call it, on a possible political opponent. Perhaps such a bipartisan gesture will also contribute to ending the stark divisions between the parties, and return us to our bipartisan “democratic norms.”
This “solution,” however, solves nothing, and begs the central question of the whole imbroglio: that the president did something seriously wrong. That claim is not self-evidently true, and should be contested as yet another obsession with Trump’s undiplomatic––i.e. not weaselly––words rather than his actions.
Let’s review the background of the alleged offense. Towards the end of the Obama administration, the issue of Ukraine’s endemic corruption had been raised. Also of concern was Hunter Biden’s cushy job with the corrupt Ukrainian Burisma company, as former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified during the impeachment hearings. Moreover, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik pointed out during her questioning that Yovanovitch was coached by Obama’s people about how Yovanovitch should respond to questions concerning the bad optics of the Bidens’ actions when she testified in her Senate confirmation hearings.
As the Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman reported last month, Obama administration officials, then, certainly were concerned about the Bidens, and with good cause. For example, a Washington consulting outfit used Biden’s name while requesting a State Department meeting to improve Bursima’s image, explicitly saying that Burisma put Hunter Biden on its board to leverage such meetings. A State Department official who tried to raise a red flag about the Bidens was ignored by a Biden staffer. An Obama Administration’s special envoy for energy policy also expressed concerns to Biden himself, with no results.
That’s only what has surfaced about the Obama administration’s concerns about the Bidens. As Freeman asks, “It would also be useful to know if any U.S. officials ever fielded phone calls from foreign counterparts asking how to respond to Hunter Biden’s sudden interest in their countries. During the last five years, if any U.S. officials not named Trump also advocated scrutiny of the Biden family business, should they have been removed from office?” And as Freeman goes on to point out, there must be more officials cognizant of Biden’s outreach to other countries as well. It seems hard to believe that a State Department official who was being lobbied by a corrupt foreign business did not alert her colleagues in the administration.
Even with just the existing evidence of the Obama administration’s concern, it’s obvious that there was nothing wrong about a president raising the issue of Americans who are involved with a foreign company under investigation in a country notorious for its corruption, as Trump did. Trump did not invent the issue of Ukrainian government and business corruption, one that worried the previous administration. Nor did he invent the already public evidence of the Bidens’ actions, especially Joe Biden’s bragging to the world about successfully threatening to withhold $1 billion in aid if the Ukrainian investigator into Burisma and, perforce, Biden’s son, wasn’t fired.
So why do so many people think that Trump’s bringing up the Bidens was so untoward? When our president is discussing corruption with the Ukrainian president, do we want him to remain silent about existing evidence that a U.S. vice president in a country under his policy purview allowed his son to do business with a corrupt company in Ukraine? Should Trump also remain silent about his primary concern––meddling with our elections? Don’t we want our president to be careful to which countries we hand over taxpayer dollars? It’s yet another of the Dems’ and NeverTrumpers’ hypocrisy that they have spent three years on possible Russian interference, but dismiss as a lunatic-fringe conspiracy the evidence of Ukrainian interference to benefit the Democrats.
But, Trump’s critics say, the president was trying to get a foreign country to “dig up dirt” on a possible political opponent. Aside from the reality that everything every president does in an electoral democracy is political, how much chutzpa does it take to make that particular charge, given the patent evidence that the Democrats used unverified Russian-sourced propaganda to obtain a FISA warrant in order to spy on a presidential candidate’s campaign and then his administration?
We see here the selective use of the “Caesar’s wife” standard, that the mere appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself, and so demands punishment––the ultimate foundation of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Trump’s meeting with Ukraine’s President Zelensky was about corruption, as well as the president’s concern that U.S. foreign aid money was being wasted, and that other countries that bluster about Ukraine being under threat from Putin were not putting their money where their big mouths are. So, according to our “presidential decorum” police, just because Jo Biden is a candidate in the Democrat primary, the president should not have brought up the already public and worrisome issue of the Bidens’ sketchy behavior? This exacting standard wasn’t applied to Vice President Biden when he bragged about coercing Ukraine into dropping an investigation, or to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton after she approved a Russian company’s purchase of 20% of our uranium supply following millions in Russian donations to the Clintons’ foundation.
Even if we assume, which is not certain, that Trump’s aim in bringing up the Bidens was to serve his political interests––a dubious proposition given Joe Biden’s weakness as a candidate––it was also the right thing to do. Indeed, not bringing up something already made public would have reinforced the impression that the powerful in America are protected and shielded by our government. Coming after nearly a decade of powerful people like Hillary Clinton and her minions, or like the highly placed officials in the national security and investigative agencies, getting away with crimes that would have led to jail-time for you or me, reinforcing that impression would have been a mistake, especially for a president who campaigned on draining the DC swamp.
Finally, if Joe Biden weren’t running for president, would the outrage from Trump’s critics have been as intense? Or if it were a Republican government official entangled in Ukrainian corruption instead of a Democrat? If Trump had asked Ukraine to investigate some alleged corruption for which there was no public evidence, if the “dirt” hadn’t already been “dug up” and had to be manufactured, then Trump’s critics would have a point. But there was already enough public “dirt” to trigger further investigation as part of a larger concern with Ukrainian corruption and interference with our politics. Any benefit to Trump politically was incidental, and certainly not the primary aim of the whole conversation.
To advocate a vote to censure the president, then, would be to validate the charge that Trump did something worthy of censure. That’s another example of the Republican acceptance of the progressive fanatics’ standards of behavior, which have been serially exposed as mendacious, hypocritical, and endlessly flexible.
Trump is falsely accused of a quid pro quo, but Biden’s very public, braggadocios confession of one is ignored. Donald Trump Jr.’s activity as a presidential advisor is condemned as nepotism and rent-seeking, while Hunter Biden’s proven exploitation of his father’s office for his own pecuniary gain is a “conspiracy theory.” Trump’s deal-maker tactic of being non-confrontational while negotiating with our rivals is seen as a sign of totalitarian affinities, while Obama’s hot-mic pledge, in an election year, to Vladimir Putin of “flexibility” after his reelection–– a pledge carried out––elicits crickets about joint US-Russian “interference” in an election. After all, wasn’t Obama seeking political gain from appeasing a geopolitical rival? Or how about the bipartisan dudgeon over withdrawing a few troops from the Turkish-Syrian border, when Obama created the whole Syria mess when he withdrew the bulk of U.S. troops from Iraq, creating the space in which ISIS would flourish and Russia and Syria expand their influence?
On the one hand, a vote of censure will not please the Dems’ base, which has been baying for impeachment blood since before Inauguration Day, and may punish the Democrats for backing down. But such a vote should still be resisted. Everybody not part of the progressive cult needs to accept that progressives don’t play by the rules or the “democratic norms” they profess. Their credo is “by any means necessary.” Conceding anything to them is taken as a sign of weakness and fear of their media pit-bulls. To paraphrase Goldfinger, they don’t expect us to compromise, they expect us to die. Trump did nothing to deserve censure, so don’t even give them even that consolation prize, and in the process defer to and legitimize their hypocritical standards.
A vote of censure will achieve nothing beyond gratifying NeverTrumpers’ irrational hate. The political divide will continue because the progressives want it to, and will end only when their collectivist, illiberal ideology is defeated.