The Republicans’ Trump Defense
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By C J Waldron
During the recently concluded impeachment hearings by the House Intelligence Committee, Republicans attempted to counter the potential charges against President Donald Trump by screaming that the process is unfair and that demanding an investigation into Vice President Biden and his son by Ukraine in return for financial aid is not an impeachable offense.
Now, even as the House Judiciary Committee conducts its own impeachment hearings, they continue to ignore the evidence and vow to kill the impeachment process in the Republican-controlled Senate.
First, Republicans used the Mueller investigation as evidence of Democrats employing endless “fake” means to harass Trump. They also demanded that the whistleblower come forward to provide testimony while the White House prevents witnesses under subpoena from doing the same.
They continue to claim Trump’s phone call with President Zelensky was “perfect”, or if not perfect, that it wasn’t illegal. They attack the process itself, and the media, trying to cast a dark shadow over the hearings and the entire impeachment inquiry.
Additionally, they continue to push the debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, and not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Hillary Clinton. Finally, they tried to discredit the witnesses as “never-Trumpers”; a term that evokes the Communist label of the McCarthy hearings from the 1950s.
Republicans hope these strategies will somehow vindicate Trump, or at least prevent him from being impeached.
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with Rep. Tom Rice have bought into all of this and blindly defend Trump’s actions. Graham, of course, has turned from being a major Trump critic to his most ardent and loyal defender.
When Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally released his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, he clearly stated “if we had had the confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Despite this, Republicans continued to make this false claim during the impeachment hearings. Indeed, they claimed the hearings were “just another hoax”. And, Trump continues to claim it was total exoneration.
In a series of opening statements at the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, Republican minority chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) pushed the Republican distorted conclusion that the Mueller report totally vindicated Donald Trump despite statements to the contrary, putting Nunes in lockstep with the White House.
Despite categorizing the Mueller investigation a Democratic “failure”, the fact remains that the investigation led to at least 35 convictions or guilty pleas, with the trial of Trump associate Roger Stone resulting in a conviction at the height of the impeachment hearings.
Bring Us the Whistleblower
According to Republicans, the entire impeachment issue began with the whistleblower, who reported their concerns over a phone call between Donald Trump and the newly elected President of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. During the call, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to “do us a favor, though” in an exchange for Congressionally approved funds Ukraine desperately needed for protection from Russian invaders.
Since that time, Republicans have tried to obtain the identity of the person who revealed the existence of the phone call by asking leading questions during the hearing process and Trump demanding he be allowed to meet with the whistleblower, and others who revealed the existence of the phone call, face-to-face.
During the impeachment hearings, Republicans repeatedly insisted that the whistleblower be forced to make a public appearance to answer to the allegations he or she made. They even claimed the whistleblower was working with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chaired the impeachment hearings. Republicans ignore the fact that whistleblowers are legally protected under the law, which was amended to protect federal employees in 2017.
And while demanding the whistleblower’s identity, they also block those who have been under subpoena from giving testimony of their first-hand knowledge of the incidents involving Ukraine, while belittling those who did testify as not having the very first-hand knowledge they demand.
A Perfect Call
At the center of the impeachment hearings is the so-called “perfect call” between Trump and the Ukrainian President. After an exchange of pleasantries, and a promise to buy more military hardware, there comes the infamous phrase, “I’d like you to do us a favor, though”. Republicans cite this as evidence that he never uttered the phrase quid pro quo, and therefore cannot be held accountable for what they claim is a Democratic “witch hunt”.
Republicans further assert that the phrase “quid pro quo” isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, and is therefore not an impeachable offense. They also point to the closed-door testimony of Ambassador Gordon Sondland, in which he claimed no quid pro quo, ignoring the fact that he later amended his testimony after other witnesses contradicted his account of events. Then, in the public hearing, he flatly stated that there was a quid pro quo.
As more evidence was revealed, the Republicans attempted to switch strategies, claiming that although the call wasn’t “perfect”, as Trump continually insisted, it wasn’t impeachable. This faced severe backlash from the White House, which demanded that the “perfect phone call” strategy was the only acceptable one.
Republicans have struggled to defend this strategy, but continue to push it at White House insistence.
Meanwhile, Trump launched his “read the transcript” defense, intimating that it somehow vindicates him because there is no mention of quid pro quo. He even has t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase that his supporters proudly, but incorrectly, wear.
In defending his “perfect call”, Trump claimed the transcript shows he was addressing Ukrainian corruption, despite the fact not a single word of it mentions corruption except as it pertains to Joe and Hunter Biden and the cyber security company CrowdStrike.
Using debunked conspiracy theories and innuendo, Trump justified his treatment of Ukraine as “protecting US interests”, while seeking to investigate irregularities in the 2016 election.
Attack the Process
All throughout the impeachment hearings, and the self-serving pressers that followed, Republicans continually attacked the impeachment process. Led by Nunes, they incorrectly claimed the closed-door testimony was illegal, even though the process was established by Republicans during the Clinton impeachment hearings.
They also made the false claim that no Republicans have been involved in the process, yet the facts show that over three dozen GOP members of the House attended the preliminary closed-door hearings and questioned witnesses.
If the televised hearings are any indication, they likely spent their time questioning the process instead of seeking the facts, yet Republicans still categorize the process as a partisan persecution, and even an extension of the “failed” Mueller investigation.
It Was Ukraine
Central to the Republican defense is their claim that Trump was attempting to investigate Ukrainian corruption. They use this to also defend their right to investigate the Bidens, because they are somehow involved. They assert that, as vice president, Joe Biden used his influence to convince Ukraine to dismiss an investigation into his son, Hunter’s, involvement with a Ukrainian petroleum company, Burisma.
Why Ukraine? The basis is a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was meddled in the 2016 election, and that it was an attempt to benefit Clinton, not Trump.
Ignoring the fact that multiple intelligence agencies agreed that Russia intervened on Trump’s behalf in 2016, and threatens to do so in 2020, Republicans continue to push the conspiracy theory that was initiated by Russia to deflect from their own election meddling. They alternate between it being a wholly Ukrainian operation to being one that both countries could have conducted.
Like the Biden corruption theory, the Ukrainian interference theory has zero basis in fact, yet this hasn’t stopped Republicans from using this as a deflection strategy.
Meanwhile, Nunes himself has been implicated in communications with Ukrainian officials in an attempt to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.
In an effort to discredit the impeachment witnesses, Republicans have labeled them “Never-Trumpers”. This implication is that they somehow have some axe to grind against the administration and are therefore unreliable. They ignore the fact that these witnesses are either career diplomats, who have worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations, or they were Trump appointees, like Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
As testimony was being given, Trump even Tweeted during former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony to accuse her of incompetence. Democrats are now considering adding witnesses tampering to the impeachment charges.
Where We Stand
However, what Republicans have attempted is a centipede defense except all the legs are going in different directions. They continue to ignore the evidence and vow to kill the impeachment process in the Republican-controlled Senate.
There is little doubt that Trump will be impeached by the House, likely on a strictly partisan vote. That will then test the moral strength of Republicans who control the Senate. Will they exercise their Constitutional duty, or will they blindly defend Trump, whose popularity in his own party threatens their own political careers?
As the House Judiciary Committee conducts its hearings this week, to be followed by a full vote in the House chamber and then the expected Senate trial, that is the question that remains.