Even Trump’s Fox News allies admit his Ukraine call was problematic

“America is better than that.”
“America is better than that.”
Image: Reuters
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US president Donald Trump has had a steadfast ally in Fox News. As he’s railed against the “fake news media” and accused journalists of being the “enemy of the people,” the president has maintained a cozy relationship with the conservative commentators at Fox. But even some of his most vocal supporters admit that Trump’s Ukraine dealings, which sparked an impeachment inquiry, are highly problematic.

Trump is accused of pressuring the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate his political rival, former vice president and 2020 presidential contender Joe Biden. Using a public office for personal gain is a form of corruption, and in an op-ed published on Oct. 3 in the Daily Caller, publisher Neil Patel and Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson practically admitted as much.

They wrote, “Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.”

Although they condemned the impeachment inquiry that began on Sept. 24, after news of a whistleblower report of “urgent concern” prompted Democrats in the House to initiate an investigation, the conservative media figures make it clear that the president’s actions are inexcusable. In fact, they essentially said Trump was corrupt, writing, “Like a lot of things Trump does, it was pretty over-the-top. Our leaders’ official actions should not be about politics. Those two things need to remain separate. Once those in control of our government use it to advance their political goals, we become just another of the world’s many corrupt countries.”

In other words, the conservatives who have long stood by Trump acknowledge that using public office for personal political gain is not okay. Although Carlson and Patel rail against the impeachment inquiry in their piece, they don’t approve of what Trump did at all.

Instead, their argument seems to be that an official inquiry isn’t necessary because Trump’s acts might not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, and that voters will decide just how bad Trump’s acts were at the polls next year. They write, “The facts are out there for the American people to weigh as they make their decision. How about we let them sort all this out?”

It’s a weak argument. Impeachable offenses are not enumerated in the constitution, but corruption is explicitly impeachable.

Carlson and Patel admit that the president mixing personal and national business for his own ends is wrong. The prosecution process, impeachment, exists to inquire into and punish wrongdoers in public office. Looking into what Trump did, which even Patel and Carlson know is bad, is a natural consequence of the president’s actions. The framers of the US Constitution wanted to prevent and root out government corruption and an impeachment inquiry is the way to do that, whether or not an election is looming.

The argument also suggests that the president possibly violating the Constitution is no big deal. No matter how devoted some conservatives may be to Trump, that’s simply not an acceptable argument, unless they are ready to altogether jettison the rule of law in the US. When the president does something suspect that undermines national security and calls into question his commitment to the US public interest, an official investigation is the obvious next step. Anything less suggests that corruption is acceptable in the American government, and as Patel and Carlson say themselves, “America is better than that.”

The conservative writers claim, “Impeaching a president is the most extreme and anti-democratic remedy we have in our system of government.” But the contrary is true. Impeachment is written into the Constitution to protect democracy and the government’s legitimacy. It is no less democratic than an election, and is the appropriate remedy for corruption allegations. Certainly, it’s a better vehicle for seeking the truth about Trump’s dealings than an election is, given that votes only show how people feel about the accusations rather than uncovering facts.

Carlson and Patel aren’t the only conservatives who’ve spoken out against Trump’s actions. Last week Republicans for the Rule of Law announced a $1 million ad campaign, its biggest to date, to pressure conservative politicians to investigate the president. It will target more than 20 members of Congress, including republican  senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The group’s spokesman, Chris Truax, explained, “Republicans in Congress must condemn this behavior without reservation. It is no longer about whether Republicans believe President Trump or whether they support his policies. It’s about whether they support his admitted abuse of power and his efforts to secure a foreign government’s help in an American election.”

In any case, substantively speaking, the evidence against the president is piling up. Reports of another whistleblower coming forward have surfaced. The New York Times reported on Oct. 4 that another member of the intelligence community with firsthand information about Trump’s Ukraine relationship is considering making a complaint.

Also alarmed by the president’s seeming use of power to advance his personal goals, the second apparent whistleblower is said to have observed some of the president’s concerning activity personally and corroborated the initial whistleblower report. Trump and his allies have argued that the complaint against him relies entirely on hearsay, dismissing its validity. A second report—especially one containing direct evidence—would therefore lend credibility to original claims and counter the president’s false accusations of trial by hearsay.

Fundamentally, however, Trump’s complaints only show he fails to comprehend the law and the role of the whistleblower report in the impeachment process. It was merely the beginning. Now, House committees are subpoenaing witnesses and documents and talking to people involved in the Ukraine affair. If he really does end up impeached by the House and tried by the Senate, it will be because the evidence showed what Carlson and Patel already admit: That the president abused his office.