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Liberal Law Professor: Sorry, But Democrats Haven't Proven Their New 'Bribery' Charge Against Trump

Late last week, I addressed the Washington Post report that Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats had shifted their impeachment rhetoric from "quid pro quo's" to "bribery," due to internal polling suggesting that the former didn't "resonate" sufficiently in key political battlegrounds. Suffice it to say that I found this posturing...rather unimpressive:


In the piece, I went on to write: "I'm open to discussions about whether the 'quid pro quo' to 'bribery' terminology evolution has legal merit. But I also get the sense that if you're trying to remove a duly-elected president from office, his high crimes ought to be so self-evident that a mid-stream rhetorical adjustment wouldn't make much of a difference." At least one legal view on the substantive merits of the 'bribery' charge has been entered into the public record by left-leaning George Washington University law professor (and Trump scandal/impeachment skeptic) Jonathan Turley, who's also an on-air analyst for CBS News:

"A very sketchy basis." The 'bribery' evidence shortfall was the subject of Rep. John Ratcliffe's morning questions session during yesterday's testimony, in which he turned that term back against the Democrats:


Conservative commentator and frequent Trump critic Noah Rothman thinks the Democrats were foolish to tie themselves to the b-word:

There are two problems with this. First, “bribery” does not describe what is alleged to have occurred here—at least, not from the president’s perspective. The offenses at issue center around the claim—one now supported by the testimony of a half-dozen current and former administration officials—that the president misused his authority to achieve a domestic political objective, subordinating U.S. interests in the process. In that effort, Trump withheld the disbursement of congressionally authorized financial and military assistance, which may have violated appropriations law...The Constitution is not the obstacle before Democrats; voters are.

And therein lies the second problem for Democrats. The president’s opponents have insisted that theirs is a somber duty, and they would go only where the facts led them. Thus far, the facts have led them in a direction that apparently does not sufficiently titillate voters in battleground House districts. That doesn’t speak to the gravity of the charges against Trump but the conscientiousness of voters. By message testing the themes surrounding impeachment and shaping their rhetorical strategy to most excite voters’ passions, Democrats have given their Republican critics ample ammunition to claim these proceedings are less about good governance than the pursuit of political advantage.


When you shift the terms of the debate to feature an easily-understandable and resonant crime, you'd better be able to clearly lay out the evidence for that crime. Impropriety doesn't cut it. An abuse of power doesn't cut it. (I think both of these things have been established). People want proof of that well-known category of crime. If you're not satisfying that burden in the mind of an ideologically-sympathetic law professor, you may have miscalculated. We'll see what transpires today, as Amb. Sondland takes the stand for highly consequential testimony.

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