Jonah Goldberg: Apology is Trump’s best option for avoiding impeachment
In l’affaire Ukraine, the president is guilty as charged. And the best strategy for him to avoid impeachment by the House and perhaps even removal by the Senate is to admit it, apologize and let voters make their own judgment. It’s also the best way to fend off a disaster for Senate Republicans.
The president is accused of trying to force the Ukrainian president to tar former Vice President Joe Biden with an investigation into his alleged “corruption” in exchange for the release of military aid and a meeting in the Oval Office. I believe a plain reading of the rough transcript of a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy supports the charge. So does testimony from the top American diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, as well as several other Trump appointees and aides. There’s still due diligence to be done, but it seems implausible they’re all lying.
Common sense also works against the president. If Trump were sincerely concerned about Ukrainian corruption, why has he never expressed similar concerns about corruption anywhere else? And why did the Trump administration focus on the alleged corruption of a single Ukrainian firm, Burisma, where Biden’s son sat on the board?
The most plausible explanation is twofold. First, the corruption issue was a pretext; under the law, corruption concerns are the only justification for blocking congressionally approved aid. Second, Trump’s real goal was to bruise Biden.
Trump and his defenders are still pounding on outdated, unpersuasive or irrelevant talking points. They rail about the identity and motives of the whistleblower, even though the whistleblower’s report has been largely corroborated by others. They claim the process of the Democratic inquiry in the House is unconstitutional, which is ridiculous.
Republican complaints about the heavy-handed tactics of the Democrats have some merit, but they’ll be rendered moot when the Democrats move to public hearings or to a Senate trial. And when that happens, claims that the call was “perfect” and that there was no quid pro quo will evaporate in the face of the facts.
This is why the smartest Trump defenders are counseling the president to simply admit the obvious: There was a quid pro quo, and the president’s phone call fell short of perfection, but nothing he did is an impeachable offense.
As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy argues, by insisting there was no quid pro quo, the president made things much easier for Democrats. The implicit concession in Trump’s position is that if the charges were true, they would be impeachable.
I disagree with those who say that the allegations against Trump are not impeachable. But, politically, apologizing could forestall impeachment by giving politicians and voters a safe harbor.
Of course, contrition doesn’t come easy for Trump and would be embarrassing for him and his media cheerleaders. But it would also give Republican candidates a rationale for opposing impeachment that they could sell.
Trump is fond of demanding ever more loyalty from Republicans. But loyalty is a two-way street. If he thinks they should defend him, he should give them something defensible to work with.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch