Kerry: Republicans shouldn’t rush to president’s defense

“This is not politics”

JOHN KERRY ISN’T just another Democrat inveighing against President Trump’s suspected crimes.

While his political leanings are clear, Kerry also has unique experience in the diplomatic arena in which Trump appears to have transgressed as well as the legislative body that might ultimately determine his fate.

During his tenure as secretary of state from 2013-2017, Kerry faced off with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders, exerting pressure, making concessions, and occasionally reaching agreements. Before that, the Massachusetts Democrat engaged in the push and pull of legislating in the Senate, where he served from 1985-2013. Kerry, who is now 75, has also competed at the highest level of US politics as the Democratic nominee for president in 2004.

Given all that expertise, it was fortuitous for his audience at the UMass Club, 32 floors up on Beacon Hill, that Kerry was speaking only a day after a scandalous official account of a phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president, Volodmyr Zelensky, and mere hours after the dissemination of an intelligence officer’s urgent complaint about Trump’s conduct.

“This is a real moment for America. It’s one we’re all going to remember and have to deal with,” Kerry said. “I hope and pray my former colleagues in the United States Senate will fully recognize the responsibility that falls to them. This is not politics.”

The occasion was an event where Glen Johnson, a longtime political reporter who went to work for Kerry in 2013, shared photographs and stories from their years jetting around the globe, and sold copies of his new book, Window Seat on the World. CNN anchor John Berman moderated the talk before a bipartisan audience that included some elected officials and former Kerry staffers.

The elder statesman was scathing in his analysis of how the president and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have behaved, but his message to Senate Republicans was friendlier – the kind of advice that might be shared in the clubby quarters of the Capitol.

“I believe it is very important for Republicans not to be announcing ahead of time that nothing’s going to happen before they’ve even seen all the evidence,” Kerry said, in a brief availability with the news media after his event. “The president is not a king. George Washington made sure that that never happened – the founding fathers did. And he’s certainly not above the law. This is a test of that.”

So far, many Senate Republicans are keeping quiet, according to CNN, declining to either play defense for the Republican president or join the calls for him to be held to account.

Roughly a week after the first inkling of the controversy spilled into the open, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday took the dramatic step of labeling the House’s investigation of the president an impeachment inquiry, raising the specter of a future impeachment vote in the House – a step that has only been taken two times before in the history of the country. On the two prior occasions when the House impeached a president, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton 1999, the subsequent Senate vote to remove the president failed.

The scandal that has ensnared Trump is connected to the incursion of Russian troops into Ukraine that began in 2014 when Kerry was the top US diplomat and soured relations between Washington and Moscow.

Trump appears to have withheld military aid from Ukraine, which has been in a long-running war with Russian troops there, and then subsequently asked Zelensky to do him the “favor” of investigating Joe Biden – a Democratic presidential candidate who has been leading in the polls since before he entered the race.

The Republican response has so far been to suggest that the new investigation is essentially a reprisal of the months-long inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, in which Putin favored Trump. Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons called the impeachment inquiry a “witch hunt.”

The earlier investigation fell short of the sort of blockbuster finding that would have nailed Trump to the wall. Special counsel Robert Mueller found insufficient evidence that Trump conspired with Russia, and reached no conclusion about whether Trump illegally impeded the investigation.

On Thursday evening, Kerry sounded incredulous at the prominent role that Giuliani has played in the affair and noted that Attorney General Bill Barr has also been implicated, but he offered no criticism of Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Giuliani has suggested that his discussions with Ukrainian officials were done at the behest of the State Department.

“Rudy Giuliani – what the hell is he doing over there and doing that? That’s a question to be asked. And the attorney general of the United States. He throws the Justice Department into this effort,” Kerry said. Kerry said he had been cautious about the idea of Democrats proceeding with impeachment, but the information that has recently emerged changed his thinking.

“I was not in favor of people moving forward rapidly to, quote, impeach,” Kerry said. “I was there when we impeached Clinton, and the last thing I thought we ought to do is rush into that morass again.”

Kerry did not discuss the burgeoning Democratic primary fight for the Senate seat he vacated, which Ed Markey now holds, but he did suggest that he plans to endorse someone in the presidential primary, without revealing who. Kerry also criticized the idea of Medicare-for-all, which has been embraced by his party’s left flank, saying it is “too expensive.”

“We can’t do it telling Americans that you can’t have the private insurance that you choose, or a private system,” Kerry said. “That doesn’t sound very American to me.”

Many of Trump’s big decisions on the world stage have been to back out of agreements that Kerry either directly negotiated or strongly supported – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord, and the Iran nuclear deal.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Commenting on a conflagration that has raged for months in Hong Kong, where protesters have beseeched their government to maintain independence from China, Kerry predicted the semi-autonomous former British colony is “not going to become a bastion of democracy.”

“The Chinese are never going to let go of Hong Kong. This is existential. And they’re going to tighten the noose,” Kerry warned.