The Trump administration has attacked the impeachment process as partisan and unprecedented, decried it for what the White House says is a lack of due process, and complained about the secretive (or public) nature of the hearings.
What it hasn’t done is make a meaningful argument rebutting the charges that President Donald Trump misused his office in a bid to undermine a potential opponent in next year’s election.
Wednesday looks like another missed opportunity. The House Judiciary Committee will take up a report from the Intelligence Committee stating that Trump withheld much-needed military aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to make a public announcement that his government would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. The report also accused Trump of obstructing justice by withholding documents and pressuring officials not to testify.
Rejecting House Judiciary Committee
And what will Trump’s defense be? More of the same, apparently. This week, the White House said it would not provide any testimony as the Judiciary Committee takes up the question of impeachment.
Instead, the president's backers in the House have released their own report that reads, well, a lot like Trump’s complaints. The president did nothing wrong, it asserts. The Democrats are trying to undo the 2016 election. The firsthand accounts of career diplomats, a senior Trump political appointee and a highly decorated Army officer are dismissed as merely conjecture and hearsay.
GOP HOUSE JUDICIARY MEMBER: Process is an unfair, politically biased
The absence of Team Trump at Wednesday's hearing is a pretty damning argument in itself. The administration keeps attacking the process as one-sided and then declining invitations to participate in it.
Two decades ago, when President Bill Clinton was the subject of an impeachment process, he sent lawyers to argue his case, first before the House Judiciary Committee and then later to the Senate floor.
The Clinton lawyers were nothing if not ... lawyerly. The charge that Clinton had committed perjury before a grand jury was easy to swat down because the president had (finally) told the truth before that grand jury, admitting to an affair with a White House intern. But the obstruction of justice case against Clinton required more effort. His lawyers gave it the serious reply it deserved, rebutting it in part by noting the preponderance of testimony that did not support the charge.
Endangering national security
The charges against Trump do not fit as neatly into criminal statues as those against Clinton. But they are far more serious than a cover-up of a presidential tryst.
Trump stands accused of no less than undermining America’s national security interests — of holding up aid to a U.S. ally under attack from Vladimir Putin’s Russia — just so he could put the squeeze on that ally to do his political dirty work.
As the House Democrats put it: “The president placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”
This very serious charge deserves a serious response. We have not heard it yet. When the reaction consists primarily of name-calling and tweeting and denouncing and deflecting, it's hard to avoid concluding that the White House has no substantive defense to offer.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment hearing: Absence of Team Trump is a damning argument