They have brains in their heads.
They have feet in their shoes.
They could steer themselves in any direction they choose.
And yet … Republicans pretzeled themselves Monday into ever-more contorted defenses of President Trump’s Ukraine pressure scheme.
If you missed the House Judiciary Committee hearing, here’s a quick rundown of the more contrived GOP defenses:
Biden Did The Actual Quid Pro Quo
In perhaps the purest form of the diversion strategy, several committee Republicans claimed that the real quid pro quo happened when then-Vice President Joe Biden conditioned U.S. loan guarantees on the removal of a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Never mind that Biden was pursuing stated U.S. policy.
“You’re investigating the wrong guy,” Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) said, twice.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) posited that if Biden were elected President in 2020, Republicans could just slot his name into the same impeachment “forms” Democrats are now using to impeach Trump.
If Trump Did The Crime, He Would Have Talked About It
By late August, the whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s pressure campaign had reached the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who later testified that he quickly shared it with the White House counsel’s office: The White House knew the President was in hot water. Nevertheless, Republicans pointed to Trump’s conversations after that point to claim, yet again, that they showed Trump’s innocence.
“There would be no reason for the President to be anything less than candid during these private conversations,” Castor argued, referring to Trump’s private assertions of “no quid pro quo!” to his allies.
The President's statements privately denying a quid pro quo "ought to be persuasive," Castor says. pic.twitter.com/NfysdtgXB6
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) December 9, 2019
Gordon Sondland, Meet The Bus We’re Throwing You Under
Despite key aspects of the EU ambassador’s explosive testimony being corroborated by several others, Republicans tried to paint Sondland, who Trump made a pointman on Ukraine, as an unreliable witness. No matter that Trump nominated him and the Republican Senate confirmed him for the ambassador job.
Sondland was the “one witness who they relied on and built there report around,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said at one point, before attempting to undermine the ambassador. While Sondland is far from reliable — the hotelier Trump donor has misremembered a lot, to say the least — more reliable witnesses taking contemporaneous notes backed up the most important parts of his testimony.
Its’s Not That Trump Obstructed — It’s That Dems Didn’t Try Hard Enough
The impeachment investigation might have gotten a lot farther had key witnesses, such as Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry or John Bolton, not been ordered by the White House not to cooperate. But Republicans ignored that order, and focused instead on its practical effects — fewer first-hand witness depositions.
Castor pointed to the National Security Council staffer Charles Kupperman, who sued Congress and the White House rather than testify, because he claimed Trump’s order not to testify despite the congressional subpoena had put him in an impossible situation.
Facing a months-long court battle, Democrats dropped the Kupperman subpoena, “which raises questions about whether the committee is really interested about getting to the bottom of some of these issues,” Castor snarked.
How Dare You Reveal Chairman Nunes Spoke To Giuliani’s Henchmen
The recently released House Intelligence Committee majority report featured, surprisingly, the revelation that ranking member Devin Nunes (R-CA) was in touch with key players in Trump’s pressure campaign, including Rudy Giuliani and the since-indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. These revelations were the result of congressional subpoenas for Giuliani and Parnas’ phone records — not Nunes’ — but that didn’t stop Republicans from ringing the alarm.
“You don’t just all of the sudden pick up numbers in which you have to match those numbers to actually show where they are and you don’t come up with them!” Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA) bellowed at one point, drawing an understated response from Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman: “Actually, what you just described is exactly how it happens.”
"We're not going to play cute here," Collins says, asking who played "match game" with subpoenaed phone records. pic.twitter.com/puaUTiYMoQ
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) December 9, 2019
The Ukrainians Say It’s All Good!
As if a hostage, with gun to head, can objectively absolve his hostage taker, Republicans have repeatedly pointed to Ukrainians who claim they did not feel pressured by Trump. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to rely on the Trump administration for military aid in the ongoing war with Russia, and Zelensky has yet to meet Trump at the White House — he received only a side-bar chat at the U.N. General Assembly in September.
“Because President Zelesnky would be the target of any alleged quid pro quo scheme, his statements denying any pressure carry significant weight,” Castor said. “He is, in fact, the supposed victim here.”
Castor separately asserted that the Ukrainians weren’t aware of a tie between the nine-figure U.S. aid package Trump held up and the announcement of investigations Trump was pressuring them for. But as Sondland testified, the link between the two things was as simple as a “2+2” equation.