Trump’s Bribery and the Moral and/or Intellectual Bankruptcy of His Defenders

Many Republicans are still denying that Trump exerted any official diplomatic leverage on Ukraine to pressure them into announcing investigations into Crowdstrike and the Bidens. But a growing number (perhaps most) are turning to a different defense, which I find even more lacking in merit. Specifically, they are acknowledging that this “quid pro quo” may indeed have happened, but insisting that it was nevertheless perfectly justified on the basis of Trump’s supposed concern about corruption in Ukraine. In other words, they say his demand for investigations was OK because it wasn’t really intended as a personal favor in order to help his campaign; it was rather made on behalf of the US government for perfectly valid diplomatic reasons.

It’s true, of course, that such demands for investigations would not amount to abusing power or soliciting bribery if there were legitimate US diplomatic concerns about rooting out Ukrainian corruption behind them. But in order to make that case, the Republican argument has to rely on the following two rather preposterous suspicions: 1) the suspicion that Crowdstrike may well have planted false evidence against Russia on the copies they made of the DNC email servers, and 2) the suspicion that Hunter Biden may well have conspired with his father to turn US diplomatic policy against Ukrainian prosecutor Shokin and get him fired for the benefit of Burisma.

These two suspicions obviously strike me as nothing but thoroughly delusional conspiracy theories that simply dissolve into thin air on any truly thoughtful reflection. But for those who aren’t and don’t want to be convinced of that, let’s engage the Republicans’ argument further by asking what the implications would be if there actually was anything behind the suspicions after all. The main point to note here is that Crowdstrike is an American company, and the Bidens are American citizens. So even if Crowdstrike did somehow squirrel away the “original server” to Ukraine after planting false evidence on the copies delivered to the FBI, and even if Hunter Biden did somehow conspire with Joe to turn the US against Shokin for the benefit of Burisma, these would be crimes that originated in (and primarily concerned) the US, not Ukraine. In other words, if there was anything at all to the suspicions the Republicans are basing their defense on, it would be chiefly the responsibility of the US to investigate them, not Ukraine.

Yet there was no official investigation of Crowdstrike or the Bidens by the US. We don’t know if Trump tried and failed to get the FBI to launch any such investigations, or if he just knew there was no point in even trying, since the suspicions were so unfounded. What we do know is that instead of getting the US to launch official investigations, what he ended up doing was using his diplomatic leverage to demand that Ukraine launch official investigations (or rather to demand the announcement of those investigations, presumably in order to add fuel to the fire of his conspiracy theories, so that right-wing political commentators could seem more credible when discussing them).

This clearly shows the bankruptcy of the Republicans’ defense of Trump. The Republican argument is that Ukraine’s failure to launch official investigations into Crowdstrike and the Bidens was such a clear example of governmental corruption that Trump had every right to use the leverage of his diplomatic office in order to correct it. But if that were true, then the more blatant example of governmental corruption would be on the part of the US, for our own failure to launch the same official investigations into Crowdstrike and the Bidens. In other words, the US would not have a leg to stand on when they (through Trump) demanded the Ukrainian investigations in order (supposedly) to root out corruption.

While it is certainly my experience that most Trump supporters are also deeply delusional people who would probably have no trouble believing that the FBI is a thoroughly corrupt arm of the supposedly Democratic “deep state” machine, even if that were true, it would still undermine the argument that Trump’s demand was justified by a genuine diplomatic concern about Ukraine being too corrupt to deserve US aid. What business would the US have in demanding such “corruption” (i.e., the failure to launch investigations into Crowdstrike and the Bidens) be addressed by Ukraine if there was a more blatant example of the very same failure not being addressed by the US?

Thankfully, of course, there is no real basis for this theory at all; it’s just where the Republicans have to end up when they start with the premise that Trump’s demands were diplomatically justified. More reasonable people do not end up in such a contradictory place, because they have no trouble recognizing that Trump’s demands were not diplomatically justified at all, but were rather designed for his own personal self-interest. And whether or not you think this form of bribery (or at least near-bribery, depending on how strictly you define the term) meets the bar for impeaching him, it’s just not rationally possible to defend it as perfectly legitimate diplomatic practice. As I see it, those Republicans who are defending this as perfectly legitimate diplomatic practice anyway are as much of a disgrace to America as Trump himself is. In a perfect world, they would all be removed from office.

This page copyright © 2019 Edward A. Morris.  Created December 13, 2019.  Last updated December 13, 2019.

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