Excuses, excuses!

Since the Whistleblower’s Complaint, Republicans have scrambled to find excuses for Trump. The only problem? The excuses don’t stand up to scrutiny and often contradict each other.

Remember when Trump’s call with Ukraine leader Zelensky was “perfect” with “no quid pro quo” except that his Chief of Staff said yes, there was a quid pro quo, it happens all the time and we all need to get over it? Remember when Republicans stormed the SCIF, courted arrest, and ordered pizza—but the hearing they tried to block still took place, if delayed?

While the Ukraine story that Trump is being impeached over remains a simple one—that Trump held back Ukraine’s military aid in return for two “favors”: that they announce an investigation into Biden, and exonerate Russia from the 2016 election attack—Republicans under the glare of scrutiny have twisted this way and that, scrambled to find one excuse after another, watched their excuses crumble, and scrambled to find new ones, even though they might contradict the old ones.

None of it matters, because the idea is to confuse and obfuscate: a lights-and-sounds show that will distract from the basic fact that Trump has no good defenses left. All of these excuses have been debunked by experts and some actually contradict each other.

Zelensky phone call was “perfect”

(Sept 20-24)

Before the Whistleblower’s Complaint went public, Trump’s allies actually urged him to release the transcript of his July 25 call with Zelensky, under the notion that nothing untoward actually happened and the transcript would show that.

Whistleblower’s Complaint is “hearsay”

(Sept 26-Oct 6)

Flailing in the days after the complaint was released, the right-wing media, GOP electeds in Congress, and Trump shied away from addressing the substance of the complaint, preferring instead to focus on the fact that the whistleblower (as he himself acknowledged) did not listen in to the July 25 Zelesky call as it was happening, but rather got information from a half a dozen staffers who did.

The “secret gutting of the first-hand requirement”

(Sept 27-30)

The Federalist, right-wing news site that often spreads misinformation (who funds the Federalist?), created a kerfuffle that lasted about four days when journalist Sean Davis suggested that an obscure Intelligence Community form that required whistleblowers to have first-hand knowledge had been changed very recently, right around the time the whistleblower’s complaint was filed.

“Adam Schiff wrote the whistleblower complaint”

(Oct 2-Oct 4)

The way this story morphed from a journalistic report about a routine procedure into an inflamed accusation about COLLUSION! can offer a master-class to an aspiring propagandist.

On October 2nd, the New York Times reported that the whistleblower had approached Adam Schiff’s committee for advice after his initial report to the CIA’s head lawyer appeared to go nowhere. He received advice from an aide on how to file it without divulging what the underlying complaint was about.

“No Quid Pro Quo”

(Aug 31-Nov 20)

The “No Collusion” mantra worked so well for Trump during the Mueller investigation that he was out early with the new version: “No Quid Pro Quo”. Much like “No Collusion”, while the words meant one thing, his actions demonstrated the opposite. Trump’s supporters have flaunted this denial (obscured by Latin), while in reality explicitly carrying out his true intent.

“Quid Pro with No Quo”

(Oct 23)

A variant of the “no quid pro quo” was the excuse that the Ukrainians didn’t know that military aid was withheld.

Impeachment is illegitimate because the House hasn’t held a vote

(Oct 1-Oct 28)

Right out of the gate, the Republicans put up a firewall in response to the House’s impeachment inquiry. The White House argued that the inquiry was illegitimate and no documents would be forthcoming from them. Sec of State Pompeo called the inquiry an attempt to “intimidate and bully” in a scathing letter and refused to provide documents or permit State employees to testify.

Trump doesn’t have due process in House Intelligence hearings

(Oct 11-Nov 21)

Compared to the House Republicans’ rather focused legalistic pushback, White House Lawyer Pat Cipollone’s letter to the House leaders read as wild, frantic, and decidedly un-lawyer-like. Sure enough, it turned out that Trump wrote or dictated major parts of it despite it being purportedly signed by the White House Lawyer.

It argued that since the President was not permitted to have his counsel present during the House Intelligence depositions in order to cross-examine witnesses, or view transcripts and evidence, he was being denied due process.

The storming of the SCIF: “Secret hearings”

(Oct 14 – Oct 23)

One one side were the sober depositions given by career foreign service officials testifying to wrongdoing by the President. On the other side: the antics of House Republicans intended to disrupt, deflect, and distract from what was going on inside the secure basement room.

Different rules in House Judiciary from the Nixon/Clinton impeachments”

(Oct 31-Dec 6)

On October 31st, the House established rules for Trump’s impeachment. Trump reacted instantly on Twitter calling it the “greatest witch hunt in American history!” Republicans from Sen. Inhofe to Rep. Scalise to Rep. Steil complained that Trump was not getting the same due process protections as Nixon and Clinton did during their impeachments.

Politifact rated this claim “Mostly False” but the details are fascinating.

Attempts to out the whistleblower

Consider a tipster who calls in a burglary in progress. The cops arrive and find the stolen goods, they obtain public confessions by the burglars and plenty of first-hand witnesses.

What about the tipster? His unpaid tickets, personal history, drug addictions, are all irrelevant. For the people who are glad the burglary was foiled, the anonymous tipster was a dutiful citizen who called in to right a wrong. For the burglars, the tipster is a stinking rat, who must be exposed and threatened so that no other passers-by dare call in a burglary again.

And that’s where we are.

Bad but not impeachable

(Oct 10 – Nov 10)

A fascinating Washington Post report on a particular lunch meeting attended by Republican Senators begins like this:

A growing number of Senate Republicans are ready to acknowledge that President Trump used U.S. military aid as leverage to force Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his family as the president repeatedly denies a quid pro quo.

Washington Post, Nov 1, 2019

This was a trial balloon sent up by Senate Republicans once the “no quid pro quo” and its variants had crumbled. It involved acknowledging that what Trump did was wrong, but not admitting that it rose to the level of impeachment.

Trump did not know what Rudy, Sondland, and Mulvaney were up to

(Nov 7 – Nov 20)

As the more basic excuses had fallen away—Trump did ask the Ukrainian President to investigate Biden; aid was indeed held back; the Ukrainians knew that aid was held back, and repeatedly tried to free it up; and process arguments weren’t sticking, or stopping impeachment—Republicans road-tested a new one.

The funds were ultimately released, “no quid in the pro quo”

On September 11th, with Zelensky poised to surrender to Trump’s demands and announce on CNN that he would be opening investigations—using a statement scripted by US diplomats, no less, like a hostage video—Trump abruptly released the hold on military aid. Thus, Zelensky “got lucky” and never needed to make the announcement.

Trump wanted to make sure Ukraine was fighting corruption”

Ultimately, all defenses of Trump were destined to end in this. It comes full circle from “perfect call”. This is the defense Trump always wanted his defenders to mount, and now, with the House Republicans response to the HPSCI inquiry, they have done it. And it is now the main defense that Republicans offer on cable news appearances.

It goes like this: “Everything Trump did in extorting Ukraine was to ensure that Ukraine was taking up some particular anti-corruption measures. Biden really was corrupt in his actions in Ukraine (debunked). Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election against Trump (also debunked). Crowdstrike—the security firm that first reported on Russia’s attack is owned by a Ukrainian (wrong). The “server” might be found in Ukraine (incorrect, also nonsensical).”

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