For CNN's John Avlon, the question is not whether or not President Trump should be impeached, its whether Democrats will dare to put principle over politics. Avlon spent Monday morning urging Democrats to dig into allegations Trump may have tried to blackmail Ukraine into investigating whether Joe Biden inappropriately used his position as Vice President to get the Prosecutor General of Ukraine fired when he was looking into a company that employed his son, Hunter, at the time, by threatening to withhold military aid to the embattled country. He accused Republicans of engaging in "situational ethics" -- while engaging in some of his own.
CNN Newsroom co-host Poppy Harlow began by asking Avlon if the Democrats have any credibility on the issue given the failure to come up with something on Russian collusion and emoluments. Avlon replied by saying it could, but it "but you could also say there's an accumulation of data points that demands an escalation," a point Harlow conceded.
Avlon then declared that it is not whether or not Trump committed an impeachable offense, it is whether Democrats will have the courage to do the dirty work of actually impeaching him. "I do think that, you know, for Democrats part of the key question is the principle over the politics."
He then went after Republicans, "But you got a basic problem which is that flies against America's sense of fairness and common sense. Republicans treating the basic idea that if a Republican president does it, it doesn't matter. On something they would scream bloody murder appropriately about if a Democratic president did it. This situational ethics."
CNN is the Situational Ethics Channel. Trump has a "tonnage" of scandals, but what about Barack Obama's White House? "They didn't have to hire lawyers because there were no scandals."
Avlon made a similar point earlier on New Day, reading from Obama ethics czar Walter Shaub: "Every member of Congress should join demanding the transcript of his call to Ukraine and the whistleblower complaint. They need that evidence to determine if he was looking for help with the election. If so, his presidency must end. If not only transparency will resolve suspicions of grave wrongdoing." CNN's audience get a thrill up their collective leg when you talk about removing Trump from office.
Avlon added: "Look, the sheer tonnage of Trump controversies leads to normalization. But trying to solicit dirt from a foreign power on a political rival would be [a] deeply troubling abuse of power and one that Republicans would definitely condemn if a Democratic president did it. And that's your Reality Check."
There are two main problems with Avlon's decrying of "situational ethics." The first is we don't even know what the situation even is. The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump urged Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Rudy Giuliani on an investigation regarding Hunter Biden, but there is no evidence of a quid pro quo involving military aid. Complicating matters is CNN's own reporting. Buried 22 paragraphs into an article about the matter, they report that:
The whistleblower didn't have direct knowledge of the communications, an official briefed on the matter told CNN. Instead, the whistleblower's concerns came in part from learning information that was not obtained during the course of their work, and those details have played a role in the administration's determination that the complaint didn't fit the reporting requirements under the intelligence whistleblower law, the official said.
The second problem with Avlon's case is that Democrats are not innocent of this either. Christopher Steele was a foreign spy who solicited dirt from his Russian contacts to put together the embarrassing, salacious, and ultimately discredited dossier. He worked for Fusion GPS, which was bankrolled by the Clinton campaign.
Here is a transcript for the September 23 show:
CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto
POPPY HARLOW: John, do you think that because of what has preceded this in terms of what has been the basis of Democrats’ calls for impeachment, there have been a number of things, first it was, you know, conduct with Russia, then emoluments and now would be this, does that actually hurt the Democrats' public case here, simply by those who would say to them “your method is kitchen sink? Those things didn't work and now you're using this?”
JOHN AVLON: That may on the level of perception, but you could also say there's an accumulation of data points that demands an escalation.
HARLOW: Sure, you could see it both ways.
AVLON: I do think that, you know, for Democrats part of the key question is the principle over the politics. Everybody knows, cut to the chase that Senate as currently constituted is not going to convict Donald Trump. But you got a basic problem which is that flies against America's sense of fairness and common sense. Republicans treating the basic idea that if a Republican president does it, it doesn't matter. On something they would scream bloody murder appropriately about if a Democratic president did it. This situational ethics.
JIM SCIUTTO: Yeah
AVLON: That's the underlining issue we got to pierce. We cannot divide into warring tribes on basic questions of right or wrong. That's where, not heading we're at it.
SCIUTTO: Situational ethics, the phrase there--.
HARLOW: Good way to put it.