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. Read the memo.
Why it matters: 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.
Details: 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.”
Seriously? This is your plan? See my earlier post which addresses each of these bogus talking points. Just admit it, Republicans, your defense is always IOKIYAR.
UPDATE: Steve Benen adds, “The first point is wrong, rejected by many Republicans, and oblivious to the fact that the scandal is about more than just Trump’s July 25 phone meeting with Zelensky. The second point has never made any sense. The third point has been debunked, as has the fourth.”
Between the lines: 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.
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 big picture: 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.
Residing in the fever swamps of right-wing conspiracy theories is in no way “reasonable,” even if Trump genuinely believes the lies, disinformation and propaganda he finds there, and propagates himself daily on Twitter and Facebook.
As Michelle Goldberg writes today, To Exonerate Trump, Republicans Embrace Russian Disinformation:
On Friday, House investigators released the transcript of the former National Security Council official Fiona Hill’s testimony from last month. It showed a Republican staff member trying and failing to get Hill to concede that there might be some validity to the conspiracy theories underlying Donald Trump’s demands of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
“Are you familiar with the, you know, the allegation about Serhiy Leshchenko?” asked the Republican aide, Steve Castor. He added, “You know, relating to publicizing Manafort’s role in the Ukraine?”
Leshchenko, whom I interviewed in October, is a former member of Parliament in Ukraine and probably the most famous investigative journalist in the country. He helped expose the so-called black ledger that listed $12.7 million in secret payments to Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, from his client Viktor Yanukovych, the wildly corrupt Russian-aligned oligarch who ruled Ukraine until 2014. Manafort is in federal prison in part for failing to disclose or pay taxes on the millions he sucked out of Ukraine. Nevertheless, to make Trump’s demands of Zelensky seem just and rational, some Republicans have started painting Manafort as the victim of Leshchenko’s plotting.
Hill, a Russia expert and co-author of a psychological study of Vladimir Putin, tried to shut down this line of questioning. “The Ukrainian government did not interfere in the U.S. election,” she said, adding, “The Ukrainian Special Services also did not interfere in our election.” As the Republican questions continued, Hill seems to have grown almost indignant. “I’m really worried about these conspiracy theories, and I’m worried that all of you are going to go down a rabbit hole, you know, looking for things that are not going to be at all helpful to the American people or to our future election in 2020,” she said.
She is right to be concerned. This week, as part of its impeachment inquiry, the House begins public hearings into Trump’s attempt to extort Ukraine’s president into starting bogus investigations to benefit Trump politically. Republicans have telegraphed several possible defenses of the president.
The Washington Post reported that House Republicans may try to throw the hapless Trump lackeys Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney and Gordon Sondland under the bus, suggesting they “could have acted on their own to influence Ukraine policy.” Other Republicans have settled on calling Trump’s actions “inappropriate” but not impeachable. But the House Republicans who are actually involved in the hearings seem set to go all in on the fantasy of Ukrainian election interference [Russian dezinformatsiya (disinformation)]. To exonerate Trump, they are ready to help cover for Russia.
These “useful idiot” Republicans make Vladimir Putin so happy. They are all “Putin’s puppets” now, not just Donald Trump. And the conservative media entertainment complex is his Russian asset propaganda media.