Victor Davis Hanson certainly qualifies. He is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a renowned military historian. I have known and respected him for years. So I was quite interested to read his article, “Ten Reasons Why Impeachment Is Illegitimate.” Alas — spoiler alert — he is no more convincing than a Fox News anchor. Here are his arguments and my replies:
1. “The impeachment ‘inquiry,’ supposedly prompted by the president’s Ukrainian call, is simply the most recent in a long series of ‘coups’ that sought to overturn the 2016 election and thus preclude a 2020 reelection bid.” There has been no “coup” — “the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group” — but there have been many legitimate investigations prompted by the president’s unethical and even illegal conduct.
2. “The ‘whistleblower’ … is no whistleblower by any common definition. ... He has no incriminating documents, no information at all. ... He was a protégé of many of Trump’s most adamant opponents, including Susan Rice, John Brennan, and Joe Biden.” The whistleblower alerted Congress about Trump’s attempts to blackmail Ukraine into helping him politically — and what we have learned since then has fully confirmed the initial report. Given that the whistleblower was reportedly a low-level CIA officer assigned to the White House, it’s ludicrous to describe him as a “protégé” of former vice president Biden or a political partisan.
3. “The Clinton and Nixon inquiries were directed at second-term presidencies in which there were no more electoral remedies for alleged wrongdoing. In contrast, Trump is up for election in less than a year.” Democrats could hardly allow Trump to seek reelection unimpeached when he was trying to undermine the integrity of the election. In any case, Andrew Johnson was impeached in his first term and in an election year.
4. “No Special Counsel Finding. In the past, special counsels have found felonious presidential behavior, such as cited in Leon Jaworski’s and Ken Starr’s investigations.” Hanson has some nerve, ignoring special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s evidence that Trump obstructed justice — and then complaining that the impeachment can’t proceed for lack of a special counsel. Again, Hanson never seems to have heard of Johnson, who was impeached without a special counsel.
5. “No bipartisanship.” So because Republicans refuse to examine the evidence on the merits, the case shouldn’t proceed at all? This gives partisans a veto on any impeachment.
6. “There is no proof of any actual Trump crime. ... Asking a corrupt foreign head of state to look into past corruption is pro forma.” There is no credible allegation of any wrongdoing by Biden, yet Trump demanded that Ukraine “investigate” him in cooperation with Trump’s personal attorney. There is a strong case that Trump tried to solicit a bribe and invited foreign election interference in violation of U.S. law. But you don’t have to commit a felony to be guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
7. “Even if there were ever a quid, there is no quo: Unlike the case of the Obama administration, the Trump administration did supply arms to Ukraine, and the Ukrainians apparently did not reinvestigate the Bidens.” The aid to Ukraine only flowed once the whistleblower came forward, sparing the Ukrainians from giving in to Trump’s extortion.
8. “If an alleged quid pro quo is an impeachable offense, should Vice President Joe Biden have been impeached or indicted for clearly leveraging the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor …? Should Barack Obama have been investigated for getting caught on a hot mic offering to be flexible after his reelection on missile defense if Vladimir Putin would give him some space?” Both Biden and Obama were pursuing legitimate U.S. national security objectives. Neither sought any aid for their own campaigns.
9. “Representative Adam Schiff is now de facto chief impeachment prosecutor. He has repeatedly lied about the certainty of impending Mueller indictments or bombshells.” Schiff is infinitely more truthful than Trump or his defenders. Attacking a prosecutor hardly exonerates a defendant — in fact, it’s usually a sign the defendant doesn’t have a case on the merits.
10. “The indiscriminate efforts to remove Trump over the past three years, when coupled with the latest impeachment gambit, have now set a precedent in which the out party can use impeachment as a tool to embarrass, threaten, leverage, or seek to remove a sitting president for political purposes to reverse an election.” No one is reversing an election — impeaching Trump won’t make Hillary Clinton the president. Democrats are using a constitutional procedure to hold the president accountable for his misconduct, and they have a much stronger case than when Republicans tried to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about sex.
If even the great historian Victor Davis Hanson can’t make a single convincing argument against impeachment, I am forced to conclude that no such argument exists. All that is left is the tribal loyalty that Republicans, including Republican intellectuals, feel toward a Republican president. They would never make such excuses for a Democrat.