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It’s About the Ratfucking

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As Sewrer writes in an excellent essay, what makes Trump’s extortion attempt impeachable is not that he was trying to change American policy toward Ukraine. What makes it impeachable is that it’s part of an ongoing ratfucking campaign, which in turn is related to the broader Republican view — that extends from ordinary activists all the way to the Supreme Court — that elections should be permanently rigged in their favor:

All of these arguments, ranging from the weak to the false, obscure the core reason for the impeachment inquiry, which is that the Trump administration was engaged in a conspiracy against American democracy. Fearing that the 2016 election was a fluke in which Trump prevailed only because of a successful Russian hacking and disinformation campaign, and a last-minute intervention on Trump’s behalf by the very national-security state Trump defenders supposedly loathe, Trump and his advisers sought to rig the 2020 election by forcing a foreign country to implicate the then-Democratic front-runner in a crime that did not take place. If the American people could not be trusted to choose Trump on their own, Trump would use his official powers to make the choice for them.

It was, in short, a conspiracy by Trump and his advisers to keep themselves in power, the exact scenario for which the Framers of the Constitution devised the impeachment clause. This scheme was carried out by Trump-appointed officials, and by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, running a corrupt back channel aimed at, in his words, “meddling in an investigation.” And it came very close to succeeding. As Brian Beutler writes, “Had the whole scheme not come to light in a whistleblower complaint, and Trump not released his hold on aid to Ukraine, we might have awaken [sic] one morning to a blaring CNN exclusive about international corruption allegations against the Democratic presidential frontrunner and his party.”

As the Trump-appointed U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified Wednesday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.” And as the U.S. official David Holmes told the House Intelligence Committee, Sondland had told him that Trump was merely concerned about “‘big stuff’ that benefits the president, like the, quote-unquote, ‘Biden investigation’ that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.”

This point is crucial. Trump was not concerned about “corruption” in Ukraine—his own Pentagon and State Department had certified that Ukraine had taken sufficient steps to root out corruption. Nor was Trump particularly interested in an actual investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden—what he wanted was a public accusation that he could use to cripple a political rival’s aspirations. Trump was not defying the bipartisan war lobby in an effort to extricate the U.S. from foreign entanglements, and he was not engaged in a dispute over policy with unelected bureaucrats pursuing their own agenda, because he was fundamentally uninterested in the policy in question, except in that it might be exploited to benefit him personally.

As Paul said earlier in the week, it’s ludicrously incoherent to say that elections are the only remedy for Trump’s corruption when Trump is determined not to hold a fair election in 2020. And to come full circle, both Putin and the Republicans want to frame Ukraine for 2016.

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