Bob Barr, that Republican congressman turned Libertarian presidential candidate turned Newt Gingrich enthusiast, is no stranger to impeachment, having been an early backer of sacking Bill Clinton and later serving as one of the House managers during the Senate's trial of the 42nd president. In a new Daily Caller op-ed, Barr draws on that experience to issue a pre-emptive exoneration of Donald Trump: "It is clear that no federal laws were broken and nothing close to an impeachable offense took place."
The definition of "impeachable offense" is inherently slippery. As Jacob Sullum has reminded us, "impeachment does not require provable statutory violations," and "'High crimes and misdemeanors'" include violations of the public trust that do not necessarily involve breaking the law." In other words, it's in the eye of the (congressional) beholder.
Barr, who sponsored an obstruction of justice impeachment inquiry months before Monica Lewinsky became a household name, looks upon Trump's whistleblown July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and sees virtue, not vice.
"The president of the United States was doing precisely what a president should have been doing," 2008's fourth-place finisher asserts. "Trump emphasized that his administration was serious about getting to the bottom of corruption in Ukraine…and that a high government official in our country—former Vice President Joe Biden—had improperly interfered with that country's effort to discover and prosecute corrupt acts."
Trump's track record of tackling global corruption, in Ukraine and elsewhere, is on the thin side. And Barr's uncharitable rendering of Biden's activities is not shared even by some Republican senators. "The whole world felt that this that [Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor] Shokin wasn't doing a [good] enough job," Sen. Ron Johnson (R–Wis.) said last week. "So we were saying, 'Hey, you've…got to rid yourself of corruption.'"
No matter. "Trump was acting responsibly and presidential," Barr concludes. "He deserves our appreciation, not our opprobrium."
Joining Barr in the Trump Appreciation Club is his 2008 running mate, Wayne Allyn Root, the millionaire Republican who became a conscientious Libertarian and finally an angry white male. Root last week wrote that what the Ukraine scandal is "really all about" is "the massive corruption, scandals, fraud and theft by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and John Kerry."
The whistleblower complaint, Root maintains, is a "premeditated hit job and Deep State coup against the president," engineered by Democratic leaders who want to "knock him out of office before he can properly investigate and prosecute them."
Like Barr, Root was a supporter of impeaching Bill Clinton, although he now characterizes that move as a "giant mistake." The Nevada-based commentator also supported impeachment and "prison time for fraud" for his old Columbia University classmate, the "traitorous" Barack Obama.
The Barr/Root ticket got 0.4 percent of the national vote, slightly more than the L.P. received in 2000 and 2004. Gary Johnson and Judge Jim Gray boosted that total to 1 percent in 2012, then Johnson and Bill Weld nabbed 3.3 percent in 2016. Weld, who has followed the Barr/Root path into and back out of the Libertarian Party (and is waging a long shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination) supports not just impeachment but also a charge of treason against Trump.
Johnson, who has been keeping a low profile since his disappointing run for U.S. Senate last year, has expressed support for the first whistleblower, and retweeted this bit from the Libertarian Party:
— Libertarian Party (@LPNational) September 24, 2019
Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.), who is still not ruling out a run for the Libertarian Party's 2020 nomination, famously became the only House Republican to support an impeachment inquiry back in May, then seven weeks later left the GOP altogether. He continues to tweet stuff like this:
He's openly challenging our system of checks and balances. In plain sight, he's using the powers of his public office for personal gain and counting on Republicans in Congress to look the other way. https://t.co/dJo7B5CI1G
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) October 3, 2019
Among the declared 2020 L.P. presidential candidates, there isn't a lot of discernible enthusiasm for the I-word. At a pre-Ukraine-controversy debate I moderated in July, impeachment was only brought up once, by Kim Ruff, who described the House case (as it stood then) as "trumped-up nonsense," and said that the constitutional tool would be much better deployed over the undeclared war in Yemen.
Here are boiled down versions of what the five candidates on stage said when I asked them to name "the worst aspect of the Trump presidency so far."
Arvin Vohra: "His failure to withdraw from NATO….If I'm president, I'm going to bring all the troops home, I'm going to shut down every military base."
Dan "Taxation Is Theft" Behrman: "You can't tell [Trump supporters] that Trump is bad, you can't tell them that he has done anything wrong; he is God as far as they're concerned. What we can do is we can say, 'Look, he's done some great things, but we can do so much more, and he's not willing to go there."
Adam Kokesh: "The worst thing about the Trump presidency is the presidency part. We spend all this time arguing about personalities and policies and who should sit on the throne, and we never stop to ask: Why do we have the throne in the first place?"
Max Abramson: "Of course there's the refusal to bring the troops home…My reason for running for office is to bring the troops home, end the wars overseas."
Kim Ruff: "To my mind, probably the worst thing that Trump has done, among many things that he's done poorly, is continue the unconstitutional war in Yemen. But in order to go after him now—which is totally an impeachable offense—we would have to own the fact that Obama started it, and admit the fact that we've continued this from president to president."