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Offered opportunities, Trump’s allies struggle to spin Ukraine scandal

Updated

The scandal that’s likely to lead to Donald Trump’s impeachment is a tough one to brush aside. The president tried to coerce a foreign government into helping with his re-election campaign. Members of his team knew this crossed a line, so they tried to cover it up. These are just some of the basic details we already know.

It’s not surprising that Trump’s more sycophantic allies are finding it daunting to defend him. It is surprising how bad their arguments are.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, before going golfing with the president, appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation and dismissed the complaint from the intelligence community’s whistleblower as “hearsay.” Reminded of the official call summary released by the White House, Graham told host Margaret Brennan, “Never mind. You know you’ve got an opinion and I got an opinion.”

It suggested the Senate Republican isn’t altogether clear on the meaning of the words “hearsay” or “opinion.”

Later in the day, on 60 Minutes, CBS News’ Scott Pelley asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “How do you expect the president’s defense to roll out going forward?” McCarthy replied, “The defense of what?” as if the GOP leader didn’t even recognize the scandal Trump’s facing.

Also yesterday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was struggling through a rather brutal interview when CNN’s Jake Tapper told the far-right congressman, “[T]he president was pushing the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival. I cannot believe that that is OK with you.”

I think that was more than a throwaway line. Trump’s Republican allies, desperate in the zeal to defend him at all costs, act like they don’t care what he did.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz raised a point over the weekend that stood out for me:

Right now, through their collective silence, Republicans are telling the American people they either tolerate or condone the president’s actions. The longer they remain silent, the more they contribute to normalizing behavior by the president that is far beyond past standards.

During the Clinton impeachment crisis 21 years ago, Democrats adopted a very different posture. Once it was clear that the incumbent president committed wrongdoing, his allies were nearly unanimous with their message: there was no defense for Bill Clinton’s personal behavior, but his misdeeds did not constitute an impeachable offense.

What’s unfolding now is altogether different. When Republicans aren’t acting with indifference to the fact that Trump has been caught trying to coerce a foreign government into helping his campaign, they’re pretending not to know what’s already been documented.

There’s nothing stopping GOP officials from borrowing a page from the Democrats’ 1998 playbook and admonishing Trump, while arguing that it doesn’t rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But the party has convinced itself that The Leader cannot and must not be criticized.

The result isn’t pretty.