Both Things Can Be True at the Same Time

Donald Trump greets Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and former Vice President Joe Biden as former U.S. President Barack Obama looks on after inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson – HT1ED1K1JGTSG

Claim: There was no investigation of the Bidens, and Ukraine eventually got the aid money, so there was no corrupt quid pro quo. But: Being inept at corruption does not make an attempt any less corrupt, and planning a corrupt or illegal act is in and of itself actionable, which is why we have conspiracy statutes.

Claim: An investigation of Hunter Biden’s Ukraine connections would have hurt Biden and helped Trump, and therefore encouraging such an investigation is inherently corrupt. But: The U.S. government has a legitimate interest in investigating political corruption, and Hunter Biden’s “work” in Ukraine was shady as shady gets, and this is true irrespective of whether an investigation into it might help the Trump campaign — it would probably help the Elizabeth Warren campaign, too, and much more immediately and crucially.

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Restated claim: It does not matter that the U.S. government has a legitimate interest in investigating political corruption, because Trump did this for his own benefit and it is therefore corrupt. But: That the president has a political interest in the outcome of an official endeavor does not render the endeavor itself illegitimate, as the conditions routinely attached to U.S. foreign-aid payments or the political timing of military actions should make clear enough.

Claim: The Democrats would be trying to impeach Trump in any case, therefore the impeachment effort is illegitimate. But: That the Democrats would be working to impeach Trump in any case reflects very poorly on them but ultimately is immaterial to the questions brought up in the impeachment process. Both sides can be acting disreputably at the same time, and, in Washington, both sides often are.

Restated claim: The Democrats are not acting in good faith, and therefore this process is illegitimate. But: It is possible that the Democrats are acting in bad faith and that Trump has committed serious acts of corruption — both things can be true at the same time.

Claim: The president has plenary power over foreign relations. But: Even if you buy that (and I do not; Congress was given the power to declare war and ratify treaties for a reason) it does not follow that such power cannot be used corruptly, or stupidly, or corruptly-stupidly.

Claim: The Democrats cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump was acting out of corrupt motives. But: Even if that were true (I do not think it is an impossible thing to prove in principle) this is not a criminal trial but a political process, one in which the Republicans apparently are going to put a whole lot of Republican eggs in a basket labeled “Donald Trump’s Lifelong Reputation for Acting in Good Faith,” which is the thing against which claims of Democratic bad faith must implicitly be compared.

It is quite possible that both sides are acting out of narrow self-interest, political opportunism, and motives that might be considered corrupt in a moral sense if not in a strictly legal one. But the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to impeach the president, not the other way around. It probably would have been better to let the electorate decide this question at the polls in 2020, but that is not what Democrats have chosen to do. The unwisdom of that decision does not magic away the record of the Trump administration in regard to Ukraine, which, depending on your politics, is either one of actionable corruption or one of incompetence that is as thuggish as it is cartoonish. John Bolton was too kind to describe this caper as a “drug deal.” The thing about organized crime is, it’s organized.

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