Best impeachment defense is for Trump to remind voters why they elected him
PARIS -- The facts emerging in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump paint clear picture of a president who used unofficial cutouts and official diplomatic envoys to pressure the leadership of a foreign country to announce the investigation of a political rival in exchange for unlocking foreign aid. It looks a lot like the solicitation of a bribe.
Bribery is one of only two crimes that are explicitly listed in the Constitution as impeachable. So case closed, right? Not so fast.
Assuming the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives votes to impeach Trump, and the matter goes to a Senate trial, the same cast of characters we've seen paraded across our TV screens during the impeachment inquiry will probably make an encore appearance.
There's 44-year old Ukrainian-born Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who immigrated to America as a child, earned a Purple Heart and a chest full of medals in Iraq, and was appointed Director of European Affairs for Trump's National Security Council. He was listening to the call on which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Vindman also said that Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union and a Trump donor, had made the same request of Ukrainian officials.
Then there's the Canadian-born ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, a self-styled anti-corruption crusader whose testimony suggests that she was relieved of her post because she stood in the way of Trump pal Rudy Giuliani's efforts to kick-start Ukrainian investigations of the Bidens.
Next up: British-born Fiona Hill, the National Security Council's Russian and European affairs specialist, testifying that Sondland "was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national-security foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged."
And to wrap it all up with a bow, Sondland testified that he told Ukrainian officials that $400 million in U.S. military aid was directly tied to Ukraine announcing the investigations that Trump wanted.
All of these witnesses with the exception of Sondland are first-generation immigrants who had the integrity and honor to come forward and do right thing by speaking truth to power without having to be dragged in kicking and screaming. And with the exception of Sondland, who seems to have wandered onto Team Trump off the street (Wall Street, no doubt), they're longstanding members of America's foreign policy machinery.
Vindman, Yovanovitch and Hill all appear to have adopted the same simplistic, Cold War-era us-vs.-them narrative about Russia that pervades the State Department. They seem to consider it America's obligation to provide Ukraine with military and financial support for the express purpose of opposing Russia. Trump was elected because voters rejected that kind of interventionist thinking.
Impeachment is a political process, not a criminal one. There isn't a clearly defined standard of proof for impeachment trials. There has never been a consensus on whether impeachment should only result from proof that a president committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, or whether the lesser standard of proof on the balance of probabilities (meaning that guilt is more than 50 percent likely) should be applied.
Impeachment leaves it up to senators to decide which standard of proof to use. To impeach Trump in the Senate, 20 of the 53 Republican senators would have to join the 47 Democrats in voting for impeachment. Since the vote is public, Americans will be watching with next year's election in mind, and politics are going to count as much as facts.
Trump's Republican allies haven't done him any favors by trying to gaslight the American public and playing voters for idiots by denying the obvious and damning facts against Trump.
Trump's best defense is that the machinery of the state that he's been trying to work with is hopelessly broken and that even the most honorable, decent people (such as those testifying against him) can't escape the detrimental group-think that has systemically subverted U.S. foreign policy and prevented America from forging new and unconventional alliances to the benefit of the American people.
Trump should say that he was wrong to attach conditions to the Ukrainian aid -- and that he opposes giving any aid at all to Ukraine or any other country -- but make the case that withholding aid from Ukraine for any reason still would have resulted in the relentless pursuit of impeachment efforts against him.
If Trump had fallen into line with the Washington establishment, everything else he's accused of doing would have been considered a technicality in the interests of maintaining the foreign-policy status quo. This is what he needs to explain to voters by making his case directly to them, and to the senators who are ultimately accountable to the American people.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at www.rachelmarsden.com.)