Impeachment nears: What would John McCain have done?

Impeachment nears: What would John McCain have done?
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An enduring legacy of John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump rips Bill Maher as 'exhausted, gaunt and weak' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The choice: Biden-Harris vs. Trump-Pence Sarah Palin offers Harris advice: 'Don't get muzzled' MORE is how much he's missed, never more so than now.

No one can be certain if he would have bucked his party on the impeachment of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE. There is little doubt that — unlike many other Republicans today — he would not have been intimidated from taking a principled stand against the abuses committed by Trump.

No American public figure was a greater champion of Ukraine's freedom and more outspoken against the evils of Russian dictator Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRussia says coronavirus vaccine will be ready for doctors in two weeks Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Fauci: 'I seriously doubt' Russia's coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective MORE. McCain worried that Trump — perhaps because, as in Lenin's phrase, he's a "useful idiot" — may be compromised by Putin.


McCain would have known the obvious: Trump endangered national security by withholding much-needed military assistance to try to force a foreign country to smear a political opponent. That might have taken even the hot-tempered six-term Senator and war hero to new levels of outrage.

On Ukraine, he was blistering in his criticism of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden, Harris tear into Trump in first joint appearance The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden, Harris's first day as running mates It's Harris — and we're not surprised MORE and other world leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel for not more forcefully supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression.

On New Year's Eve 2016, there was McCain in a remote command post in Ukraine, surrounded by Ukrainian Marines and political leaders with two other senators and the U.S. Ambassador Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchMarie Yovanovitch on Vindman retirement: He 'deserved better than this. Our country deserved better than this' Cheney clashes with Trump Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November MORE.

He thought highly of Yovanovitch, a very respected foreign service officer. He would not have taken kindly to Trump firing her for failing to accommodate the sleazy Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiFeehery: Weak mayors destroy America's great cities Coronavirus concerns emerge around debates Giuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group MORE gang trying to pressure the Ukrainians to politically help Trump.

The dangers posed by Putin's Russia — which, in one of his kinder cracks, McCain called a gas station masquerading as a country — was a constant refrain for him. After the last presidential election, he was given a copy of the now famous Steele dossier, alleging Russian assistance in Trump's election — and he turned it over to the FBI. (Contrary to the Republican talking points, the Steele dossier — raw intelligence reports, some of them wrong — offers a road map to the 2016 Russian interference.)


In one of his last statements, McCain, in the summer of 2018, called Trump's love fest with Putin in Helsinki "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." Trump, he noted, was "not only unable but unwilling to stand up to Putin," affording the Russian dictator "an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world."

It hasn't stopped.

As Russian expert Fiona Hill, who served on the current White House national security team, told Congress, the Republicans are parroting Russian propaganda in charging it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election.

Would McCain have been able to temper his close ally, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick MORE (R-S.C.) who has become a sycophant for Trump? Probably not; that had already begun before McCain died. Graham's fear of a right-wing challenger and losing his Senate seat is all that matters to him, taking precedence over any friendship.

Not even those closest to the late Senator can be sure how he would have reacted to the impeachment today. In 1999, he voted to impeach Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonOcasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech It's Harris — and we're not surprised The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden picks Harris as running mate MORE for lying about a sexual affair. I suspect he would have found Trump's behavior far more serious, a much greater abuse of power.

I know he would have provided support, and a backbone, to a few other Republicans, like Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Trump slams 'rogue' Sasse after criticism of executive actions MORE, to put principle ahead of party.

His flaws notwithstanding, McCain — the personification of courage, patriotism and integrity — would be the constant antidote to Donald Trump.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.