Impeachment inquiry 'going to get much messier,' former acting CIA director says

John McLaughlin, distinguished practitioner-in-residence at SAIS, discusses blind spots in the investigation and what happens next

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, accusing him of betraying his oath of office and putting the nation's security at risk by seeking assistance from a foreign country to damage a political opponent for personal gain.

John McLaughlin, a distinguished practitioner-in-residence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies who served as deputy director of Central Intelligence and as acting CIA director under former President George W. Bush, spoke Wednesday morning with about the inquiry and what comes next.

"We're only at the front end of something that's going to get much messier," McLaughlin said. "Very ugly."

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Do you feel like Democrats are rushing into impeachment on this Ukraine call?

I would not call this a "rush"—a sentiment to do this has been building for a long time—but they are going into this with at least one significant blind spot, as we have not yet seen the whistleblower's complaint. As this is written, a transcript has been released of the president's call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. It shows pretty clearly that Trump did ask Zelensky to investigate Vice President Joe Biden and his son's possible involvement in a Ukrainian corruption case. Our Justice Department says it determined this was not a campaign violation and therefore not illegal. But as it pertains to an impeachment inquiry, the question of legality will be less important than judgments about whether it represents the ill-defined constitutional standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors." In other words, this will call for a political judgment. But the bottom line is that it's very difficult to conclude anything other than that the president was pushing for dirt on the person likely to be his main campaign rival.

Let me say clearly that I believe Trump has already done enough to earn censure. Hopefully, before the end of the week, we will get the specific data on the whistleblower and also hear from the acting director of national intelligence on Thursday. Then we will have a more complete picture for making judgments.

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