Idaho Sen. Jim Risch chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is the No. 2 figure on the Select Intelligence Committee, which means he has access to President Trump – and lots of clout to boot.
So, don’t expect the Idaho Republican to be joining Democrats in efforts to impeach the president. Risch’s views go in the opposite direction.
“But don’t take my word for it, because I’m partisan,” he told me last week. “Don’t listen to Democrats, and certainly don’t listen to the national media.”
Risch says Idahoans should make up their own minds – after reading the notes (or transcript) of the president’s phone conversation with the Ukrainian president. As Risch correctly describes, it’s easy reading and it takes just a few minutes to go through the report. Perhaps extra credit can go to those who read the whistleblower’s complaint – which also is relatively easy to understand -- and see how that lines up with Trump’s phone conversation.
If you dislike Trump, there’s plenty of fodder for disliking him even more. He encouraged Ukraine as “a favor” to investigate his potential Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and offered the services of his personal attorney (a.k.a. Henchman) Rudy Giuliani and the attorney general to help with the effort. Leading Democrats describe the conversation on the level of a mob shakedown, and they’re not entirely wrong. When Trump asks for a “favor,” it’s like something out of a Godfather movie – and it winds up being an offer that you can’t refuse (no pressure, of course).
In this case, Trump was talking to a president of a country that Risch acknowledges has been fraught with corruption for decades – a place where money can come in and mysteriously disappear. Ukraine is hardly the place for a U.S. president to find truth and justice.
But does the conversation constitute an impeachable offense? Risch doesn’t think so (no surprise there) -- and he has a lot of Republican friends in Idaho who agree with him.
“I’ve been in this business for a long time. I’ve been a prosecutor and I can smell a rat pretty easily,” he said. “It’s just not there.”
There’s not much stench that goes with a conversation that starts out with Trump graciously congratulating the new president on his victory.
“It’s pretty typical of what goes on,” Risch says. “People think these calls are somehow orchestrated. Mostly it’s ‘how is your wife doing?’ … ‘what’s happening with your economy?’ … or ‘how is your country doing?’ If a sports team is doing well, they talk about that. Almost always, there’s a discussion about the political climate within the country.”
Gasp. Is the senator saying that world leaders talk about politics?
Yeah, they do. In this case, the president brought up the subject of Joe Biden and how he, as vice president, held $1 billion in military aid hostage in exchange for Ukraine calling off prosecutors from diving into activities of his son, Hunter. As the story goes, Biden’s son took a lofty job in Ukraine as Biden was looking into corruption in the country.
“Was it a coincidence? I don’t know,” Risch said. “The president said people want to know more about that, and it’s true. I’m one of them.”
No doubt, we’ll be hearing more about that as Biden’s presidential campaign progresses – or maybe sinks if questions get too heated. As for Trump, Risch says, the recent rumblings are an extension of the “hate and vitriol” that has marked his presidency.
“It doesn’t matter what Donald Trump does … they want to impeach him. What has surprised me is it has taken this long. I thought it would happen within 30 or 60 days after the election,” Risch said.
It doesn’t take a fearless forecaster to predict what will happen with this political theater. The House will investigate, and pass, one or more articles of impeachment. Then the Republicans in the Senate – trying to hold back from busting their guts with laughter – will vote against conviction. All this played out in the 1990s when Republicans went after President Clinton, and the GOP paid the price in the short term.
If history repeats itself, then the impeachment exercise will end up biting Democrats in the butt in next year’s election. Of course, much of the national media coverage will side with the Dems on this one.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.