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Joni Ernst defends Trump but says President handled Ukraine 'maybe in the wrong manner'

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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) defended President Donald Trump's actions with Ukraine but said "he could have done it through different channels."

Posted: Feb 3, 2020 12:00 AM
Updated: Feb 3, 2020 12:00 AM

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst on Sunday defended President Donald Trump asking Ukraine to investigate his potential 2020 rival, but said he did so "maybe in the wrong manner."

"Generally speaking going after corruption would be the right thing to do, he did it maybe in the wrong manner," the Iowa Republican told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union." "But I think he could have done it through different channels. Now this is the argument ... that he should have probably gone to the (Department of Justice), he should have worked through the entities, but he chose a different route."

Republicans, who for months have generally refrained from criticizing Trump's actions involving Ukraine, have begun to concede that he may have acted improperly. Still, Republicans have remained largely aligned with the President, arguing Trump's behavior does not rise to the threshold necessary to remove him from office in the Senate impeachment trial.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander called Trump's actions regarding Ukraine "inappropriate," but said Sunday that "what he did is a long way from treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors"

"I think he shouldn't have done it. I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I'd say -- improper, crossing the line. And then the only question left is who decides what to do about that," Alexander said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think what he did is a long way from treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors. I don't think it's the kind of inappropriate action that the framers would expect the Senate to substitute its judgment for the people in picking a president."

Trump's attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, his potential Democratic general election rival, are at the center of the President's impeachment trial. Trump and his allies have repeatedly made unfounded and false claims to allege that the Bidens acted corruptly in Ukraine.

Tapper on Sunday pressed Ernst about her decision to vote against calling witnesses in the Senate trial and whether it was "inappropriate and wrong" for the President to ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Ernst suggested last week the impeachment trial could damage Biden's presidential campaign in Iowa ahead of the state's caucuses that take place Monday.

"The President has a lot of latitude to do what he wants to do. Again, not what I would have done, but certainly again going after corruption, Jake...maybe not the perfect call," she said Sunday, disagreeing with the President on his characterization of the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy, which he has praised as "perfect."

Ernst, though, said Sunday that she will vote to acquit the President.

Senate leadership on Wednesday plans to hold the final vote to acquit Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

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