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Will Whatley: On impeachment, factors beyond Ukraine in play

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

President Donald J. Trump has had quite an interesting time the past few weeks. Ever since news broke about his allegedly inappropriate phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, details have been revealed on a seemingly daily basis that have added fuel to the impeachment fire for House Democrats.

And while Trump and nearly all Republicans are steadfastly defending the president’s actions, other misgivings and  questionable decisions are undoubtedly complicating the situation for him and his supporters.

So what does this all mean? Let’s dive into it and break things down from a fundamental standpoint.

First, let’s discuss the phone call with Ukraine. Trump is alleged to have withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine until they agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Since the allegation broke, evidence has been brought forward that seems to support the claims of impropriety. Text messages between three diplomats all but spell out there was a quid pro quo situation. Complicating matters is the fact that Trump enlisted his vice president, attorney general and Secretary of State, as well as his personal attorney in the endeavor, and that instead of just one phone call, the situation involved months of pressuring Zelensky into accepting the terms of the deal.

At first, the allegations seemed to catch the GOP flat-footed. However, they’ve quickly regrouped and gone on the offensive. From attacking the whistleblower and claiming political bias to allegations of a deep state conspiracy, Republican senators are standing firm with Trump. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) told “Fox & Friends” in a recent appearance that Republican senators wouldn’t vote to remove the president because they “do not believe the transcript of the phone call” meets the threshold of an impeachable offense. In other words, even if what is being alleged is proven to be true and even if the House votes to impeach, Trump is unlikely to be removed from office because most Republican senators won’t vote to convict.

Unfortunately for Trump and the GOP though, the phone call with Ukraine isn’t the only problem they’re facing. A week and a half ago, a whistleblower at the IRS claimed that a political appointee at the Treasury Department tried to interfere with the usual audit of the president’s or vice president’s tax returns. Trump’s tax returns have been a hot topic since the GOP presidential primary. In recent years, it has been customary for presidential candidates to release their tax returns to the public. Trump promised he would produce the information but claimed he was being audited and therefore couldn’t release them at that time. Despite still being asked for the information by the press, he has yet to supply his returns. Because of his obfuscation, Democrats in the House filed suit to obtain them. Trump argued Congress lacked the authority to obtain the records but last week, a federal appeals court ruled against him.

Then, Trump stunned everyone when he announced he was pulling back US troops from northern Syria, where they had been supporting the Kurds in the fight against ISIS. The decision left the Kurds wide open to an attack from Turkish forces who had made it known they would attack the Kurds when the US left the region. Trump’s decision drew strong, public criticism from nearly all Republicans which lasted multiple days. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bi-partisan resolution condemning Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds. Two-thirds of House Republicans, including all of the party’s elected leaders, voted in favor of the measure.  Even evangelical leader Franklin Graham, a strong Trump supporter, questioned the move and called on followers to pray that Trump would reverse his decision.

Finally, the Trump administration announced this week that the G7 Summit of world leaders would be held at Trump’s Doral Resort near Miami. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney defended the decision saying the president himself would not profit from the summit because the resort would host the event “at cost.” Even so, it’s a brazen move that comes at an especially perilous time for the administration. As former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said on Twitter, “Holding the G-7 at a Trump property is one of the most foolish, unseemly things the WH could do. The President enjoys waiving red flags in front of bulls, but this fight isn’t worth it.”

Trump’s decisions on Turkey, taxes and the G7 Summit are obviously unrelated to the impeachment probe. However, in my opinion, the subsequent fallout from them could substantially impact impeachment, and event signal a breaking point. It’s surprising to hear so many Republicans publicly rebuke Trump in such a forceful manner. Trump has reached an agreement with Turkey to halt the invasion of Syria, which could be enough to get many off his back for now. However, this instance did show GOP congressmen and women could possibly turn against the president if something truly serious arose. Could the IRS tax audit show impropriety which leads to his removal? Will another shoe drop from the Ukraine situation that is truly beyond the pale, even for Republicans? Until something is produced, it’s hard to say. However, Trump’s margin for error is thinning by the day.

Email the author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @WhatleyADN.

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