Team MAGA has already sunk to promoting propaganda and disinformation from a Russian-inspired effort designed to exonerate Russia’s role in interfering with the 2016 elections. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Fla.) is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. He has made clear he plans to shrug off Trump’s endangering national security and possible violations of law as justified by Trump’s “documented belief that the Ukrainian government meddled in the 2016 election.”
Michelle Goldberg explains:
The conspiracy theories that undergird the president’s “documented belief” aren’t really coherent, but they don’t have to be to serve their purpose, which is sowing confusion about the well-established fact that Russia assisted Trump’s campaign. They posit not just that [Paul] Manafort was set up, but also that Democrats worked with Ukraine to frame Russia for hacking Democrats’ emails, a dastardly Democratic plot that led to Trump’s election. Naturally, George Soros, perennial scapegoat for the far right, is also involved.
“George Soros was behind it. George Soros’s company was funding it,” Giuliani said on ABC in September, spinning tales of Hillary Clinton’s collusion with Ukraine. Speaking to The Post, Giuliani accused Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, of “working for Soros.” Indeed, Hill in her testimony suggested that a sort of Infowars-era McCarthyism has been loosed on the national security bureaucracy, with “frankly an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about George Soros” used to “target nonpartisan career officials, and also some political appointees as well.”
Some of these conspiracy theories originated with Manafort colleague Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian intelligence officer, and worked their way into Trump’s already fevered brain.
Fortunately, I guess, some Repubicans are trotting out a more serious defense.
Republicans on the three House committees conducting the Trump-Ukraine investigation have settled on “four key pieces of evidence” that they claim will undermine Democrats’ arguments for why the president should be impeached, according to a staff memo circulated to committee members Monday night.
The first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry will take place this week. The Republican memo previews how committee members plan to defend Trump on the substance of the Ukraine allegations, in addition to the “process” attacks on the Democratic-led inquiry that have defined much of the GOP’s defense strategy thus far.
The Republicans claim these four pieces of evidence are “fatal” to the allegations that Trump used military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.
“The July 25 call summary — the best evidence of the conversation — shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure;
President Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call;
The Ukrainian government was not aware of a hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call; and
President Trump met with President Zelensky and U.S. security assistance flowed to Ukraine in September 2019 — both of which occurred without Ukraine investigating President Trump’s political rivals.”
The memo fails to consider counterarguments that Democratic members have been making in the media for weeks.
- For example, it cites witnesses like Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, to bolster the argument that Ukraine was not aware of the hold on military aid. It does not, however, address the core claims at the heart of several explosive testimonies.
- Chief among them is the fact that top officials involved in Ukraine policy, including Taylor and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were under the impression that there was a quid pro quo involving aid, and that they communicated that understanding to their Ukrainian counterparts.
Here’s an exchange from the Cooper testimony showing that Ukraine likely knew of the money hold-up earlier than previously known.
The claim that there was nothing improper about Trump’s phone with Zelensky — one that the president has parroted and urged allies to adopt — also fails to reflect the body of evidence that there was a coordinated, months-long campaign to push Ukraine to announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.
Multiple witnesses have corroborated that this is the case, testifying they were disturbed that Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was leading a shadow foreign policy outside the normal channels of government.
The memo also provides a section titled “Background” that delves into the context of why Trump has held a “deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine and U.S. taxpayer-funded foreign aid.” As the New York Times and others have reported, Trump’s fixation with Ukraine has been driven in part by unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about its involvement in the 2016 election.
An important element of the House GOP argument is that “Trump holds a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption.” The memo repeatedly casts doubt on whether Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Biden.
It should be noted that just after the memo went public, Trump promptly undercut that argument by tweeting that, yes, he did want Ukraine to investigate Biden. Trump claimed the summary of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows that there was “no pressure” on him.
“He and others also stated that there was ‘no pressure’ put on him to investigate Sleepy Joe Biden even though, as President, I have an ‘obligation’ to look into corruption, and Biden’s actions, on tape, about firing the prosecutor,” Trump added. Emphasis mine.