The transcript of the call between President Donald Trump and the Ukrainian leader was more or less a dud for the Democrats. However, long before it came out, they moved the goalposts and claimed instead that releasing the whistleblower report that started this whole drama was the only thing that would settle the matter.
“This whole drama,” of course, is the claim that Trump used military aid to Ukraine as the carrot on a stick to get them to re-open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
The transcript reveals there was no overt “quid pro quo” as the White House messaging puts it. But, the transcript didn’t entirely eliminate the possibility, and it is open to interpretation. The problem for Democrats is that you can’t justify impeachment on interpretation alone. You need a smoking gun, and that transcript didn’t provide it.
However… the whistleblower report is now in the hands of the Senate Intelligence Committee and based on public statements and some private concerns, it could possibly pave a path to impeachment.
The statement from Ben Sasse pours a bit of cold water on both sides. In it, he says that Democrats should not begin an inquiry until they have all the facts – indicating that there is likewise nothing overtly damning in the report. However, he also says Republicans should not automatically circle the wagons – indicating that there is cause for some concern.
Sasse isn’t the type of guy to just play both ends here. He’s not terribly difficult to read, and this isn’t just “Sasse is up for re-election and was endorsed by Trump” talk from his office. Now, one statement might not be enough to really convince anybody, but then you have to add in what is being discussed behind the scenes.
In conversations with a small handful of people, a few things start becoming clear:
- There are a handful – say, about half – the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee who are taking this very, very seriously. Most are names you’ve seen in reports already – Sasse, Susan Collins, and Richard Burr among them. There are likewise some not on the committee who are nonetheless concerned and want to see some real closure here instead of partisan wagon-circling.
- Even more Republicans are on the fence and want to wait this out, under the theory that the House Democrats may overplay their hand – which, in total fairness, is very on-brand for House Democrats.
- The whistleblower complaint may not have a smoking gun, either, but the whistleblower apparently did a good job of setting the stage for impeachment proceedings, and there are requests for documents and evidence involved.
It’s simply impossible right now to say that Trump can or should be impeached, not that partisan actors haven’t already taken sides on the issue. Likewise, the media has come to its conclusions, though a lot of reporting is already suspect and those reporters have no one to blame but themselves for it.
No one, including those who have read the report, can definitively say one way or the other that Trump is guilty of something impeachable. The conditions, by all publicly available information, do not appear to have been met. However, that doesn’t mean Trump is free and clear, either. In all likelihood, the Democrats have found an issue to keep the investigations into Trump going, considering the dud that Mueller’s report has turned out to be.
How Trump and his administration handle it, and how the Senate decides to move forward on it, will be the real test.