Signs Of Desperation From Trump And His Supporters

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

The New York Times editorial board correctly asserts that the “storming of the SCIF” by Freedom Caucus members yesterday was done only because Trump-supporting Republicans are getting drowned in bad testimony, so they attack the process (an old defense lawyer trick):

The entire spectacle was a circus — which was the point. This was a publicity stunt aimed at delegitimizing the impeachment investigation that Mr. Trump and his defenders have portrayed as a partisan inquisition. If a few rules and national security precautions got violated along the way, so be it. Mr. Gaetz & Co. were happy to oblige a president who has demanded to be protected at all costs.

In fact, Mr. Trump is said to have given them a thumbs-up the day before. On Tuesday, he “met with about 30 House Republicans at the White House to talk about the situation in Syria and the impeachment inquiry,” at which time the members “shared their plans to storm into the secure room,” Bloomberg News reported. Mr. Trump told them he thought it was a good idea.

Why wouldn’t he? As more and more testimony is disclosed, it becomes clearer that the president’s only defense against impeachment is to distract from the facts and complain about how unfairly he’s being treated. So many of the defenses he floated early on have crumbled under the weight of subsequent revelations.

He started out insisting that his July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, a central element of the impeachment inquiry, was “perfect” — only to have the notes on the conversation released by the White House reveal that he had told Mr. Zelensky to open a (baseless) investigation of a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son had done business in Ukraine.

Mr. Trump has tried to spin what he did as a good thing. “As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other Countries to help us out!” he tweeted on Oct. 3.

Except that, as members of his own administration continue to clarify, this wasn’t a broad effort to root out corruption. It was a targeted campaign to pressure a foreign government to interfere with an American election on Mr. Trump’s behalf — apparently by holding hostage nearly $400 million in military aid.

He and many of his defenders have clung to the idea that there was no “quid pro quo,” a position rebutted on Tuesday by the testimony of William Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine.

Faced with this jaw-dropping account from the president’s own envoy, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, dismissed it as part of “a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.”

On Wednesday the president went further. He called Mr. Taylor “Never Trumper Diplomat Bill Taylor” in one tweet and declared in another: “The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats. Watch out for them, they are human scum!”

But as the evidence piles up, it gets harder to paint this as some groundless conspiracy. So Mr. Trump has resorted to the schoolyard taunt: You can’t get me!

Pretty weak tea.

So, they attack the behind-closed-door hearing process, calling it Soviet-Style interrogation and other hyperbole. But it’s BS.

There are, in fact, plenty of good reasons Democrats are operating behind closed doors for now. The House’s impeachment inquiry is not a trial. It is more akin to a grand jury proceeding, where information is gathered and considered for the purposes of handing up an indictment. Any trial would be held in the Senate, with Mr. Trump represented by lawyers able to make all the substantive and process challenges he liked.

On Wednesday, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio complained that Republicans were demonstrating out of frustration “at the idea that they can’t be a part of this.” Nonsense. Republicans are in every hearing room that Democrats are in and able to ask their own questions. During Mr. Taylor’s testimony Tuesday, Mr. Jordan had praised the Republican lawyers for their questioning of the witness.
Accusing Democrats of mishandling the process certainly fits with Mr. Trump’s enduring sense of victimhood. The strategy also works to inflame the party’s base against the opposing team, while allowing Republican lawmakers to avoid defending Mr. Trump’s behavior.

But, mostly, it’s about all they’ve got.

Renato Mariotti, the legal affairs columnist for POLITICO Magazine, and a former federal prosecutor, says much the same thing: Team Trump has no defense.

It’s hard to overstate how much damage the testimony of William Taylor, the U.S. envoy to Ukraine, inflicted on President Donald Trump’s defense in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

On its face, Taylor’s testimony Tuesday established the quid pro quo that Trump has denied for weeks. But more importantly, Taylor’s detailed notes of the “highly irregular” policymaking that he witnessed over the summer provide a road map to future testimony that could be even more harmful. Republicans have already begun to retreat from their “no quid pro quo” line, but they will have to keep retreating, because Taylor has almost single-handedly decimated the few witnesses who have provided some testimony that is favorable to Trump.

If I were one of the president’s lawyers, I would counsel him to admit the obvious—essentially to plead guilty and admit this was, in fact, a quid pro quo—and try and convince Congress and the public that it is not as bad as it looks. In my experience, defendants who stubbornly try to deny the obvious in the face of overwhelming evidence rarely convince anyone.


It is clear from Taylor’s testimony that there is more to come. A smart defense team would get ahead of this by admitting that there was a quid pro quo, falling back to the argument advanced by some on the right, like Tucker Carlson, that the conduct was wrong but impeachment is too severe of a remedy.

If Republicans quickly admitted what Trump did but insisted that they wanted the American people to decide Trump’s fate in December, they might reduce the damage and move past this episode, assuming they had the votes in the U.S. Senate to prevent conviction. If Trump refuses to allow them to adopt that strategy, he becomes Republicans’ own worst enemy. Because if Taylor’s testimony is any guide, they will reach that point eventually, and the road getting there will be rocky for the administration.

I think that is how it will play out. I think Trump will not admit the quid pro quo, while many Republicans will say “Yes, there was a quid pro quo, but let the people decide in November”.

But that will create a schism in the Republican party which will easily turn into a circular firing squad. Trump himself has already attacked Never-Trump Republicans, calling them “human scum”. How do you walk that back?