Conservatives respond to Democrats' Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry

President Donald J. Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House Sunday, March 25, 2018, returning home from his trip to New York. | White House/Andrea Hanks

Conservatives are responding to a controversial whistleblower complaint released Thursday that alleged President Donald Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a telephone call in July to help him interfere in the 2020 election by investigating political rival, Joe Biden “for personal gain.”

Some conservatives, including Vice President Mike Pence, see no wrongdoing by the president.

“As the President said a week ago, he did nothing wrong. The transcript reveals that despite reckless accusations in the media and by Democrats on Capitol Hill that the President threatened aid to Ukraine and demanded a specific act, it just never happened,” Pence argued in a series of tweets defending the president Wednesday.

“The ironic thing is that the only time it did happen that we know about is when former Vice President Joe Biden threatened over a billion dollars in aid to Ukraine in exchange for a specific act. In this case, the President has been completely vindicated,” Pence added.

Pence’s defense of Trump came a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the formalization of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump Tuesday evening.

Pelosi argued that she was forced to greenlight the inquiry because "the president must be held accountable" for his "betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and the betrayal of the integrity of our elections."

The whistleblower complaint alleges that Attorney General William P. Barr and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, were key players in the move to benefit the president.

The whistleblower, who was not identified in the complaint, also alleged that “senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House Situation Room.”

Non-partisan political analyst Charlie Cook, noted in a tweet Wednesday that he was “underwhelmed” by the transcript and didn’t think it would help Democrats politically.

"I don’t Tweet very much but reading transcript has moved me to comment. I was totally underwhelmed by the transcript. After the build-up, it was not much more inappropriate said than we hear from him in a typical week. This will not move malleable voters,” he noted.

David French, a prominent Tennessee attorney, Iraq veteran and a senior writer for the conservative National Review, argued in an op-ed Wednesday that a rough transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky does present evidence of quid pro quo.

“I haven’t been a litigator since 2015. I haven’t conducted a proper cross-examination since 2014. But if I couldn’t walk a witness, judge, and jury through the transcript of Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian [P]resident Volodymyr Zelensky and demonstrate that a quid pro quo was more likely than not, then I should just hang up my suit and retire in disgrace. Far from being ‘scattershot’ — as my esteemed colleague Kyle Smith declares — the actual sequence is extremely tight, and the asks are very clear,” he wrote.

“I’m honestly puzzled that Trump’s defenders online are claiming any kind of vindication over the contents of this transcript. It admits one profound abuse of power, and it implies another, even worse, violation of the public trust,” he concluded.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who was the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, told The Associated Press that he found the rough transcript of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president "deeply troubling."

"If the president of the United States asks or presses the leader of a foreign country to carry out an investigation of a political nature, that's troubling,” he said when asked if what he saw in the rough transcript amounted to direct quid pro quo.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska also said the complaint contained “lots that’s very troubling,” and warned his Republican colleagues not to take it lightly.

“Republicans ought not to be rushing to circle the wagons to say there’s no[thing] there when there’s obviously lots that’s very troubling there,” Sasse told an NBC News reporter. “The administration ought not be attacking the whistleblower as some talking points suggest they plan to do.”

Mark Burns, a member of President Donald Trump's evangelical advisory board and leader of the Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley, South Carolina, argued against the impeachment inquiry in a Periscope broadcast on Tuesday.

“They are trying to impeach Donald Trump for simply being the greatest president in history,” he said.

“Who has done so much in such a short time against opposition. I mean really? We are praying for him and praying for his family. They are coming after him like crazy. ... We refuse to be silent. This is an outright attack against democracy. The mere fact that they think this is a real tactic to win 2020 is ridiculous to me. It makes zero sense to me,” Burns added.

On Monday morning, as the drumbeat toward the impeachment inquiry grew louder prominent conservative Franklin Graham noted in a Facebook post that: “I wish President Donald J. Trump’s enemies would give it a rest. For two years all that the American people heard was collusion. Not true. Then accusation after accusation seemed to come out of the woodwork by various women. Then all we heard was impeachment, impeachment. Now it’s a whistleblower claim. When will this ever end? The president was elected to do a job. Let’s pray for him, that God will give him wisdom to make the right decisions for the American people and to do his job well.”

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