“Adam Schiff… has been leading this inquiry from his Capitol basement bunker”, reads a truly absurd 18-page staff memo, circulated to GOP committee members on Monday evening.
Republicans are bracing for public testimony in the impeachment probe and in case you haven’t noticed, it’s going to be very difficult – if not wholly impossible – to defend the president on the merits.
Despite voluminous evidence (including hundreds upon hundreds of pages of testimony from current and former officials delivered during depositions last month) to support the myriad accusations leveled against the White House in the Ukraine affair, Republicans are prepared to argue the following, according to the memo:
- “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.”
- “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.”
It’s difficult to find the right words to express how ridiculous all of that is. For one thing, the July 25 call absolutely shows “conditionality” and “evidence of pressure”. There was this bit, for example:
President Zelensky: We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes…
The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you said yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.
And also this:
President Zelensky: Yes it is. very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier.
The President: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut dow… The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son.
Of course, at this juncture, rehashing the call transcript is almost irrelevant, because as damning as it most assuredly is, lawmakers have now heard first-hand accounts of the call from people who listened to it. All of those accounts are incriminating.
For instance, asked by lawmakers if there was “any doubt in your mind as to what the President, our President, was asking for as a deliverable”, Purple Heart recipient Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman responded that “there was no doubt”. “My visceral reaction to what was being called for suggested that it was explicit. There was no ambiguity”, Vindman remarked, during his testimony last month.
As to the second GOP talking point from the memo circulated to committee members last night, the idea that Republicans are actually prepared to float the old “There was nothing wrong with it because Trump said so” defense is mind boggling. Then again, it wouldn’t be the most outlandish thing voters have been asked to swallow over the course of the last three months, so you can almost forgive the GOP for including it.
The third talking point (that Ukraine’s government wasn’t aware of the hold on the aid on July 25) may not even be true, but even if it is, that appears to suggest that the GOP intends to say it’s perfectly fine for Trump and Rudy Giuliani to conspire to extort a foreign government using $400 million in taxpayer money as leverage, as long as that foreign government wasn’t aware that the extortion scheme had in fact moved into the advanced planning stages when Trump spoke to the country’s leader.
The fourth talking point is just silly – that is, of course the aid ended up flowing to Ukraine by the time Trump met with Zelensky at the UN. At that juncture, Congress was gearing up for an impeachment investigation based on a whistle-blower complaint and the public was well aware that something truly momentous was in the offing. Besides, reports now suggest Trump lied about when some of the aid was released and why.
The GOP memo also shows Republicans intend to lean on Trump’s “state of mind”, which they’re prepared to say was informed by a “deep-seated, genuine and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine independent of and preceding any mention of potential investigations of Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 election or Hunter Biden’s involvement in Burisma”.
That’s dubious for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that no witnesses have yet produced any compelling evidence to suggest that Trump was seriously concerned about corruption in Ukraine outside of how the country’s less-than-stellar reputation could be leveraged for political gain.
From there, the memo walks through a hodgepodge of publicly-available information regarding comments various officials and politicians made about then-candidate Trump. The idea is to again push the narrative that Ukraine is prone to conspiring against this president and therefore to suggest he has reason to withhold your congressionally-approved taxpayer dollars at his discretion, even if that imperils the struggle against Russian aggression and/or otherwise undermines US national security.
And so on, and so forth.
You can read the full memo below, but the best part comes in the first paragraph of the conclusion, where the GOP indicates they’re prepared to argue that the testimony America can now read for itself via the transcripts released last week isn’t reliable because those transcripts “did not and could no convey tone, body language and nonverbal signs used to assess a witness’s credibility”.
“The transcripts cannot be a substitute for live witness testimony”, the memo asserts.
Well, it’s a good thing all of those people are set to testify live on national television then!