“That’s not only an abuse of the president’s foreign-affairs power for personal gain, as opposed to the betterment of the country,” she said. “It’s also a gross civil-liberties violation of Biden and his son. In part because of actions taken by Richard Nixon, we bind our law-enforcement agencies very tightly in terms of what they can and can’t investigate. There are processes that they have to go through.”
But Trump, she said, was attempting to subvert that process by asking a foreign government to investigate American citizens to benefit him politically.
The Heritage Foundation’s John Malcolm offered a contradictory analysis. “Abuse of power can constitute an impeachable offense and we are going to learn more facts,” he offered. “I think it is quite a stretch to say based on the transcript released today that we are anywhere near that threshold. There was no threat explicitly or implicitly to withhold aid from the Ukraine government during this call.”
Adam Serwer: This is why the impeachment clause exists
Where Trump critics see nefarious implications, he sees ambiguity. In the context of the call, he argued, it seems to him that President Trump was more interested in how the investigation into his 2016 campaign began than the Ukrainian investigation into a firm that employed Biden’s son.
What’s more, he continued, Biden’s son did seem to earn a suspicious amount of money from a Ukrainian company given his dearth of experience in the relevant field.
“I’m not excusing what the president did,” he insisted, but added, “he often acts in an intemperate manner.” (Side note: That would seem to imply that a pattern of intemperance is somehow mitigating.) “Look,” he concluded, “I think it is very unclear from what we know now. I certainly don’t see the Senate being anywhere near being ready to have two-thirds of the body conclude that the president is ready to be voted out of office.”
Two members of Congress who took the stage after Jurecic and Malcolm, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, also gave dramatically different interpretations of the Ukraine situation.
Republican Congressman Lance Gooden asserted that Democrats know the phone call isn’t a slam-dunk case for impeachment, even though he declared it “hard to defend.” When my colleague Elaina Plott asked if he would object if a Democratic president urged a foreign leader to investigate a GOP rival, he evaded the question.
David A. Graham: Trump’s incriminating conversation with the Ukrainian president
But Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff claimed that if Republicans looked at identical behavior from a politician who didn’t have an R beside his name, they would immediately conclude that a grave, impeachable offense had been perpetrated. “We knew that courage is contagious,” he declared. “What we’ve learned during the presidency of Donald Trump is that so is cowardice.”
On the initial, binary question of whether Trump perpetrated an offense that the Framers would regard as impeachable, there is only one correct answer. But the two factions might as well inhabit different realities, given their divergent rhetoric and conclusions. And many Americans will react by aligning with their tribe.
Impeachable or not, Trump’s behavior is tearing the country apart.