David Brooks: Trump "Did Something Impeachable," But "Impeachment Would Be A Mistake"


PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the details of the phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s decision to open an impeachment inquiry into the matter and potential 2020 political reaction to impeachment.

JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS NEWSHOUR: And now back in Washington, fallout from the whistle-blower's complaint, as the formal impeachment inquiry picks up steam.

And to help analyze this historic week, I'm joined by Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Hello to both of you.

So much going on this week, but I think we know where to start.

And that is — David, looking back at this conversation that took place in July between President Trump, the president of Ukraine, the White House continues to say this is perfectly appropriate, the president said perfect, conversation with the leader of another country. Democrats are saying it was a violation of his oath, an impeachable offense.


I'm a little mystified. I think they're sincere. They thought it was exculpatory. But I don't see how they could actually think that.

I mean, the crucial thing to do with that transcript is to look at the logic chain of the thing. So Trump says, we have been very generous to you. You haven't always been generous to us. We have been more generous than the others.

And then — then that follows with, well, maybe you can do us a favor. And that favor is to investigate the Bidens.

So when you just break down the logic chain, it's a very clear, we did this for you, you owe us, here's what you can do for us.

And that is — it's not an explicit quid pro quo, but it comes pretty close, I think.

WOODRUFF: And, David, you still have Republicans, though, saying, highly appropriate for the United States to be saying to the leader of Ukraine, we want you to clean up corruption in your country, that that was what…

BROOKS: Yes. Well, that is appropriate, I suppose, to say.

But the Republicans are not going to break on this. And that's, I think, when — as we look at impeachment — I vaguely remember Watergate. I was young. But I remember a sense of gravity, a sense that we're stepping outside our party lines. At least some people did that, Sam Ervin, other people, Howard Baker. And we're going to weigh the evidence. And this is so serious, we can't just play normal politics.

That's not going to happen this time. To me, this is already feeling like very normal politics, where the Democrats are going to be all here and the Republicans will be all here, and the idea of stepping outside your partisan affiliation for the sake of the truth, that's just not the way the game is played anymore...

That was the big thing I took away from the report, that it was — it's bigger than just one phone call.

It's partly the cover-up, but he said it was over a series of months. There's a lot of people who were in a panic about this.

And so it's not just that one phone call, and then he heard about it. But there was a process. There were people who were freaked out about it. And so there's a little more here than just one person who's going to be involved in this...

WOODRUFF: But the question then comes down to is, David, the impeachment inquiry.

The House is doubling down. We had Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence, on the program last night, saying, this is more serious than the Mueller report, which they spent months and months considering.


It's certainly narratively cleaner. You can understand it, where Russia was much more complicated. And, to me, the decision to do impeachment is a mistake.

They — I do agree Trump did something impeachable, but this is a political process, not a legal process. There's no obligation to prosecute.

And, to me, it's a mistake for a couple reasons. If your object is to get Donald Trump out of the White House, impeachment doesn't get you there, because the chance that you will get 20 senators, 20 Republican senators, to vote to vote Donald Trump out of office seems to me so remote, it's minuscule.

So the likely outcome of this is that Donald Trump will say, see, I was acquitted in the Senate. I'm vindicated. I beat these people.

And so he will get a little victory. And then both parties will go into revolt. And so that's the way it likely looks to end up.

In the meantime, you're trampling over your Democratic primary season. You're not having the debate the voters want, which is about climate change and health care and jobs and stuff like that.

You're focusing all the attention on the Democratic side, or the bulk of it, to the Congress, not to the presidential candidates. And, to me, so what Pelosi has done, I think, here is taken a decision that has a very low chance of succeeding, to get him out of office, but has huge risks in ways we can't even imagine.

And so I'm a little nervous about where impeachment is going to get us.

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