The problem of impeachment is no shortage of scandals on both sides

The problem of impeachment is no shortage of scandals on both sides
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In the movie “Lord of War,” arms dealer Simeon Weisz tells Yuri Orlov, his competitor and the central character in the film, “The problem with gun runners going to war is that there is no shortage of ammunition.” The problem with politicians going into impeachments is that there is no shortage of scandals. That danger may soon be realized, as momentum builds for the impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE.

The only way for Democrats to remove Trump from office would be to hold a trial that highlights the controversial business dealings of Hunter Biden, son of their potential presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Teachers face off against Trump on school reopenings Biden wins Puerto Rico primary MORE. The result could be mutually assured destruction that only a lord of political war, and possibly rival Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren, would love.

On one side of that trial is a deeply disturbing allegation involving Trump withholding roughly $400 million in military aid, which is a national security concern. Using such powers to pressure another country to investigate a political opponent can be a crime as well as an impeachable offense. The evidence thus far revealed against Trump is damaging but not decisive on a quid pro quo. At the same time, the point of a defense is mitigating conduct that would otherwise be criminal.


The assumption by many Trump critics is that the greatest risk in an impeachment trial is he is likely to be acquitted and Republican voters will be galvanized. Yet that may be the least of dangers if one thinks of the only viable defense. Trump will argue that he asked for the Ukrainian investigation of a corrupt relationship used to secure American aid during the previous administration. The strength of that will depend greatly on the merits of the underlying corruption allegation.

If the business contracts of Hunter Biden were entirely appropriate, the actions of Trump would be difficult to justify. Seeking an investigation of, say, Pete Buttigieg by Malta would clearly be abusive, since there is no credible claim of a criminal act. But Trump will argue that Biden family profiteering was ignored by the Obama administration.

In Washington, this pattern is all too familiar. I have written for years in criticism of Democratic and Republican politicians whose spouses or children received enormous salaries or contracts from companies with interests in legislation. Even newspapers like the New York Times have described the Hunter Biden deals as conflicts of interest.

Joe Biden has insisted that he never discussed the foreign deals of his son. According to the former vice president, even on the long flight to China on Air Force Two, Hunter Biden never mentioned a $1 billion deal he intended to close with the Bank of China. The problem is that Hunter Biden said he did tell his father about the Ukrainian deal.

So here is a simple defense narrative. Back in 2016, Hunter Biden is curiously put on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, despite a glaring lack of relevant experience. According to the New York Times, that was just weeks after Joe Biden was asked to oversee American relations and aid to Ukraine. Burisma Holdings is owned by oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky, accused of systemic corruption and a close associate of the former Ukranian president who favored Russia.


In 2016, Joe Biden forced the firing of the Ukrainian chief prosecutor and then later bragged how he made clear to the Ukrainians that he, not President Obama, would determine if the country received $1 billion in aid. Biden then claimed, falsely according to his son, that he never spoke to his son about his dealings in Ukraine. The problem for Democrats is they cannot presume criminal intent in the call made by Trump while rejecting any such presumption in the deals made by Biden. They point out the Ukrainians found no violations under their laws, a curious spin for a country with lax enforcement against  corruption.

But the question is how these deals are viewed in the United States. Few people believe Hunter Biden was respected in Ukraine or China for his transnational business acumen. Yet while Democrats pursue Trump deals in foreign countries and even foreign guests in Trump hotels, there is a striking lack of interest in a fortune that went to a member of the Biden family while Joe Biden handed out billions in American agreements.

An impeachment trial also is likely to feature another investigation. Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz, a widely respected figure, is close to releasing his report on the origins of the investigation into Trump and Russia collusion. It is expected to be comprehensive and damning, including documenting highly questionable representations and decisions by federal officials during the Obama administration.

It is likely to rekindle objections that the Clinton campaign sought evidence against Trump from Russia and other foreign sources. That information was then used by the Obama administration to target Trump campaign associates. Not only were targets like Carter Page never charged but special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE found no evidence the Trump campaign knowingly worked with the Russians. The Horowitz report could blur any bright line separating the conduct of Trump and his critics.

Ironically, a Senate trial might give Trump what he has long demanded, which is a hearing of his allegations against Democrats, from the matters in the Horowitz report to the Biden controversy. Impeached presidents are traditionally allowed fairly wide leeway to call witnesses, so Trump could turn any Senate trial into a showcase of countervailing Democratic scandals. Trump could even call Joe Biden and Hunter Biden.

The one positive aspect in such a trial is giving Americans a true glimpse into the subterranean level of corruption that runs below the surface in Washington. Yet that is why public corruption cases are difficult to prove. All politicians engage in some degree of dealing or using their offices for political advantage. History is replete with allegations of presidential campaigns engineering October surprises to win elections.

Two of the three most famous public corruption cases in recent decades have failed. Republican Governor Robert McDonnell of Virginia was found guilty but his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, while the case against Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey ended in a hung jury and mistrial, even though both of these politicians delivered on the favors alleged in their quid pro quo arrangements.

To complete the sordid optics, Menendez actually would vote as a juror in any Senate trial of Trump, who is accused of suggesting a quid pro quo as opposed to the completed acts in return for lavish gifts charged against Menendez. Frankly, both sides deserve this ignoble moment. As the “Lord of War” character Yuri Orlov said, “There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want. The other is getting it.” Both Democrats and Republicans could soon get the trial they want and deserve.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. He also served as the last lead counsel in a Senate impeachment trial and testified as a constitutional expert in the Clinton impeachment hearings. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.