Impeachment and the endless war of personal smears
In the midst of the impeachment trial in the Senate, The New York Times had a big scoop. The paper learned that, according to a yet-to-be-published tell-all book by President Donald Trump's third national security adviser, John Bolton, Trump told Bolton to withhold military aid from Ukraine until the Eastern European nation helped dig up dirt on the Bidens.
While some cable networks were breathless to report a development that they were sure would put more pressure on the GOP Senate to call witnesses in the Trump impeachment trial, others shrugged.
We already knew, after all, about the president's July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump later claimed it was a "perfect" call -- which is absurd. It was wrong to delay aid to a vulnerable ally at war with Russia -- and, worse, that Trump did so because he wanted Kyiv to do his campaign's opposition research.
I am in the news business, and I've become immune to the drip, drip, drip of spoon-fed revelations. The Times reporters were reporting on what people who saw the manuscript told them what was in the manuscript. It's like hearsay squared, and some of the more salacious details are likely to crumble.
Before Trump released a transcript of the July call, The Wall Street Journal had a scoop that Trump urged Zelenskiy to work with Trump's private attorney Rudy Giuliani to find information damaging to the Bidens "about eight times" during the July call.
The transcript later revealed that Trump leaned on Zelenskiy, as Fox News' Bret Baier figured, maybe three times "tangentially." But the inflated account -- "eight times," cable pundits repeated -- had fueled calls for impeachment.
The Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh offered a view of how the endless war of personal smears could defy common sense and still continue. Just as Kavanaugh was about to be confirmed, The Washington Post reported on a California woman who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
She was so wounded; she didn't want to be identified. But then, when she was needed as a witness to destroy his reputation, she reluctantly came forward. As did other women who claimed to be victims -- and no matter how unsubstantiated or unbelievable their accusations were, these smears nonetheless found purchase in the campaign to destroy Kavanaugh's reputation.
Somehow, as the Senate impeachment trial droned on, news organizations went to pains to report that Trump's accusations about the Bidens were "debunked" or "discredited."
Yes, Trump was wrong to assert Vice President Joe Biden pushed Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor in 2015 to help his son, who was on the payroll of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma. The prosecutor wasn't looking into Burisma at the time, and Biden was acting in concert with the international community and U.S. policy.
Biden frequently asserts that his son Hunter "did nothing wrong at all." OK. Then the former veep was wrong not to end the part of his job that was supposed to focus on curbing corruption in Ukraine.
And that's the other problem with the Senate trial. House managers have been indignant that Trump used vulnerable Ukraine for his own ends. In the next breath, they take umbrage at the very idea of asking Hunter Biden, who cashed in handsomely thanks to Ukraine's entrenched cronyism, to tell his story.
Head impeachment manager Adam Schiff has railed about the need for a "fair trial." Sadly, his idea of fair is a trial in which only the prosecutors choose the witnesses.
Sure, Hunter Biden has no information about the July 25 call. But he is living billboard for the Democrats' double standard.
And really, D.C. Democrats always knew they wouldn't have the 67 votes needed to remove Trump. But they did see an opportunity to take down the rare moderate Republican senator. Think Maine's Susan Collins.
My prediction is that they damage their own brand in the process, just as Republicans paid a price for impeaching President Bill Clinton in 1998. At the end of the day, both efforts were wastes of time as well as bald exercises of partisan power to overturn the will of voters.
As a candidate, Trump promised to put a halt to "endless wars" that have mired U.S. troops in foreign hot spots. But as a president, he has stoked the "endless wars" of Beltway politics.
I remember the moment I read the transcript of the July 25 call. I was covering Trump at the U.N. General Assembly, where he finally sat down with Zelenskiy.
I was appalled that Trump actually tried to get another country's president to do his opposition research for him. And gobsmacked to realize that Trump did so during a conversation on which maybe 20 operatives -- some who would not mind bringing him down -- were listening in.
I don't think for a minute that Senate Republicans didn't find Trump's recklessness appalling when Trump released the loose transcript. I say reckless not because the conversation could sink the country I love, but because it shows a leader who rarely considers how what he says can hurt the very people he needs to get things done.
When Trump delivers his State of the Union address tonight, may he not claim that he won the impeachment battle, because, really, there are only losers in this saga.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
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