As the hours of transcripts of witnesses in the Ukraine impeachment inquiry rack up and continue to underwhelm, Democrats and their allies in the media have seized on a new tactic. The old, archaic term “quid pro quo,” is about to go the way of the Dodo. In its place the terms “extortion” and “bribery” will fly about like hot air balloons in California wine country.
Here we see the new terms in action from Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., yesterday on CNN. The supposed justification for this ramping up of the rhetoric is an amendment that Ambassador Gordon Sondland made to his testimony before the impeachment inquiry in which he said that on September 1st, 10 days before aid to Ukraine was released, he told a Ukrainian official that that aid was not likely to flow if a promise was not made to investigate the gas company Burisma, which employed Hunter Biden. Such a promise was never delivered.
“We keep using the word quid pro quo, but the accurate word here is bribery and extortion. Those are criminal charges.” @RepGaramendi reacts to Gordon Sondland’s revised impeachment inquiry testimony. https://t.co/7p8voPC14h pic.twitter.com/TbLK3guJGl
— CNN (@CNN) November 5, 2019
Though Sondland’s revision of his testimony is being heralded as a bombshell (what isn’t) by Democrats, the revelation doesn’t change the basic facts of the case. The so-called scandal still boils down to the President wanting an anti-corruption review of Ukraine before releasing the aid, which included a desire to have Burisma investigated. Rankling in the diplomatic corps ensued about the appropriateness of this condition, and the aid eventually flowed without it having been met.
In terms of describing what actually happened, there is little difference between alleging a “quid pro quo,” “extortion,” or “bribery.” Everything still depends upon whether president Trump was acting within his power by delaying the aid while also asking Ukraine to fight corruption, including that which might involve Vice President Biden’s son. The real reason that our national lesson in Latin is about to give way is that Democrats hope that “extortion,” and “bribery” sounds worse to Americans.
The effort to use nastier sounding words to describe the alleged high crime or misdemeanor they can’t quite describe is understandable from Democrats who see impeachment losing steam with the public. In a Morning Consult poll today, support for impeachment dropped 4 points down to 47 percent with 43 percent disapproving. Not only does this reversal point to a possible conviction in the Senate being a pipe dream, it also endangers moderate Democratic legislators at a time when even Nancy Pelosi says the party has lurched too far left.
Democrats are wrong to think that spicy language is going to change the basic dynamic of the impeachment fight, which has been and remains that voters who dislike Trump want him impeached and those who like or even tolerate him don’t. To move that needle Democrats need a simple, straightforward story to tell of exactly what crime or misdemeanor Trump committed and how they can prove it. The bottom line question is still whether Trump acted within his authority and whether the process by which the aid was eventually released broke the law.
But the rhetorical shift does tell us a story about how many Democrats feel the impeachment effort is going. And it’s not a happy one. I recently described this lightning fast impeachment effort as a Blitzkrieg, which is a military tactic in which an army strikes very hard, very fast, in the hopes of a victory in very short order. The downside of this tactic is that if you slow down, if you start to run out of steam, you become badly exposed. Supply lines become distant and reinforcements hard to rally.
This is where the Democrats find themselves. In promising to finish impeachment this year they have all but assured that the basic facts of the case for impeachment will not change very much. It is very unlikely that in a short time frame any new evidence will move independent or Republican voters’ opinions much.
Democrats are essentially going to have the play the hand they have right now, whatever terms they use to describe the cards. That hand is clearly not as strong as they would like it to be in terms of convincing Americans the result of the 2016 election should be overturned. The newly painted patina of legitimacy they hoped the slap dash public process voted on last week will provide is instead locking them into a case that has already failed to amass any bipartisan support.
The facts of the case are the facts of the case no matter how anybody wrangles verbiage. The basic facts of the case have not changed, and neither has the opinion of the American people.