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Trump makes the Al Capone tax-evasion defense against impeachment

Jonathan Chait writes:

“The fact that they have long wanted to impeach the president suggests those Democrats view the Trump-Ukraine matter as just the latest, and perhaps the best, chance to get the president,” argues fiercely pro-Trump columnist Byron York today. “And that calls into question their good faith in claiming that, despite deep reluctance, they must impeach now — right this minute — because it is their solemn constitutional duty.”

York is echoing what has become, as the substantive defense of Trump’s behavior in the Ukraine extortion plot has disintegrated, perhaps the president’s central talking point. Trump has repeatedly cited, among other things, a January 20, 2017, Washington Post story headlined, “The campaign to impeach President Trump has begun.” Devin Nunes used almost every prepared speaking opportunity during the recent hearings to denounce what he called “a three-year-long operation by the Democrats, the corrupt media, and partisan bureaucrats to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election.” Working from the premise that Democrats have been itching to impeach Trump since Day One, they conclude impeachment is merely a partisan revenge plot rather than a response to an alleged offense.

As a factual account of Democratic behavior, this is mostly wrong. The party’s decision-makers — the House leadership and the 40 or so most-vulnerable members who controlled its majority — all vocally opposed impeachment until this autumn. Before the Ukraine scandal, Nancy Pelosi and her majority-makers displayed no interest in impeachment and strongly pushed back against suggestions they undertake it. They gave no indication they had any intention to impeach Trump later, and showed every sign of preferring to run a campaign focusing on other Trump vulnerabilities (cutting health care, permitting more pollution, cutting taxes for the rich while raising them on the middle class) that gave Democrats a larger polling edge. They changed their position in response to revelations about Trump’s extortion of Ukraine for political gain.

And yet there is more than a little truth in the charge. Many progressives did support impeachment from the get-go, even if the party’s leadership did not. But the reason for this is not that poor, innocent Donald Trump has been the target of their smear campaign until they finally produced something to nail him on. It’s that Trump has in fact committed a lengthy series of impeachable offenses, and this one finally spurred the House to act.

The reason many Trump critics were contemplating impeachment even before he took office is that Trump supplied evidence of his unfitness for office on a near-daily basis. As a candidate, Trump said he would:

• open criminal investigations of his political opponents
• use his power to punish owners of independent media
encourage the military to commit war crimes
• continue operating a private business with undisclosed deals with clients both foreign and domestic who had business and foreign-policy interests with his administration
goad his supporters to commit violence

Trump ran as an authoritarian demagogue whose entire conception of the office he stood poised to occupy was at odds with the republican form of government. That Democrats did not immediately undertake impeachment proceedings against him shows they gave him the benefit of the doubt. [Continue reading…]

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