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 McCainSchiff shows clip of McCain in Trump impeachment trial Martha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Meghan McCain blasts NY Times: 'Everyone already knows how much you despise' conservative women 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 TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group 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 PutinSchiff shows clip of McCain in Trump impeachment trial The need for clear thinking about Russia German president expresses 'sorrow' for Holocaust, warns 'spirits of evil' are rising 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 ObamaFormer NYT correspondent rips Democrats' 'selective use' of constitutional violations Obama portraits leaving National Portrait Gallery to tour museums across the country Tulsi Gabbard explains decision to sue Hillary Clinton: 'They can do it to anybody' 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 YovanovitchParnas says he has turned over tape of Trump calling for diplomat's firing Pompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map Schiff to Senate Republicans: 'What if it was you' 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 GiulianiParnas says he has turned over tape of Trump calling for diplomat's firing Pompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map ABC: Recording apparently captures Trump discussing Yovanovitch ouster with Parnas, Fruman 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 GrahamSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment 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 ClintonElizabeth Warren: More 'Hillary' than Hillary Nadler plays 1999 clip of Graham defining high crimes: 'It doesn't even have to be a crime' Trump's big reelection weapon: A remarkable manufacturing jobs boom 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 RomneyOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Lindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Senators push Pentagon on Syria strategy after withdrawal uproar, Soleimani strike 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.