Donald Trump’s former attorney general floated a controversial defense of the president as he faces a fast-moving impeachment inquiry, saying that Trump’s “abuse of power is not a crime.”
Matthew Whitaker, who served as acting attorney general following Jeff Sessions, appeared on Fox News on Tuesday after potentially devastating testimony against Trump from the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. During his interview with Laura Ingraham, Whitaker argued that Trump’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on Joe Biden wasn’t actually against the law.
As The Daily Beast noted, Whitaker warned of Republican “payback” against Democrats if they were to successfully remove Trump from office. He also pushed back against the narrative forming among Democrats that Trump abused his office.
“I’m a former prosecutor and what I know is this is a perfect time for preliminary hearings where you would say show us your evidence,” Whitaker stated. “What evidence of a crime do you have? So the Constitution—abuse of power is not a crime.”
“Let’s fundamentally boil it down. The Constitution is very clear that there has to be some pretty egregious behavior and they cannot tell the American people what this case is even about.”
Whitaker’s statement drew significant pushback from Trump’s critics and others who noted that the U.S. Constitution allows for a president to be impeached for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors,” an ambiguous phrase that allows Congress to decide what that would constitute.
The report noted that Whitaker’s defense appeared to be a counter to the focus from congressional Democrats on Trump’s alleged abuse of the office of the president. As The Hill reported, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday released a four-page “fact sheet” outlining the allegations against Trump and focusing on his “betrayal of his oath of office.” Reports indicated that Democrats are trying to narrow down their focus onto claims that Trump abused his power and betrayed national security by trying to use his office for personal gain. Democrats had been criticized for complicated, and at times convoluted, messaging regarding the Russia report and are trying to make the case more simple regarding his impeachment inquiry.
Donald Trump has insisted that he did nothing wrong regarding Ukraine and his administration has employed a series of defenses including claims that he never offered a quid pro quo to Ukraine to get the country to dig up dirt on Biden.
Whitaker’s defense of Trump came just hours after testimony from U.S. Ambassador Bill Taylor, who outlined how the White House directly tied the release of military funding for Ukraine to a promise to publicly announce an investigation into a company where Joe Biden’s son worked in Ukraine.