“The times have found us,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week, explaining that in light of new revelations she felt she had no choice but to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald J. Trump.
In much the same way, the times have also found U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. They’re about to make the north Georgia Republican a famous man, for better or worse, and give him a place in the history of these raucous times.
As ranking minority member on the House Judiciary Committee, which hears the impeachment case, it will be Collins’ job to act as Trump’s most important defender. In nationally televised hearings, press conferences and cable TV appearances, it will be Collins’ job to proclaim Trump’s innocence; it will be Collins who serves as his party’s most prominent voice, Collins who coordinates strategy with the White House and Collins who attempts to keep Republicans united in support of this president.
Given the circumstances, it’s a job that many sane adults would probably turn down, but fate and his own ambition have given Collins little choice.
Trump has already admitted, repeatedly and in public, that he secretly tried to pressure the government of Ukraine to target, investigate and discredit Joe Biden, his most feared political opponent. A call summary released Wednesday confirms that Trump’s primary purpose in calling the Ukrainian president in July was to remind Ukraine of all we’ve done for them and then to press Ukraine to investigate Biden. When the Ukrainian president tells Trump that he hopes to buy U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles to fend off a possible Russian invasion, Trump’s very next words are transactional:
“I would like you to do us a favor…Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.” That favor, he goes on to say, is to investigate Biden, on vague charges that seem to have no substance.
By any standard, strong-arming a foreign leader into providing campaign material against an opponent is an extraordinary abuse of presidential power. To make matters even more difficult, Trump’s personal lawyer and attack dog, Rudy Giuliani, has also explained the pressure campaign against Ukraine in exquisite and enthusiastic detail, going so far as to claim that the U.S. State Department joined the effort as what amounts to a co-conspirator. Denial is no longer a real option for Trump defenders.
You get some sense of that difficulty in the rhetoric of Republicans who ought to be defending Trump vigorously, but are not. U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney calls the phone call “troubling in the extreme, it’s deeply troubling.” U.S. Sen. David Perdue, long one of Trump’s most ardent admirers, could only bring himself to say that the decision to pursue an impeachment investigation was “premature,” as if a presidential confession isn’t cause enough to start an inquiry. Collins himself has tried to suggest that because Trump did not explicitly offer a quid pro quo – more U.S. aid in return for Ukrainian help in taking down Biden – Trump did nothing wrong.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to stake my reputation and future on an argument that weak, with the entire nation watching. But Collins has been passed the cup and whatever it contains, he’s going to have to drink from it.