Republicans' false narratives on impeachment are easily debunked

In the face of compelling, overwhelming and damning evidence, Trump's allies are struggling to convince the American public that their president is not a crook

Ahmed Baba
Washington DC
Monday 09 December 2019 23:19 GMT
Pro-Trump protester disrupts impeachment hearing

"If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell."

That quote from 20th-Century poet and author Carl Sandburg epitomizes what the Republican Party did today. In the 2nd House Judiciary impeachment hearing, House Republicans failed to provide a single credible defense of the overwhelming evidence exposing President Trump's alleged Ukraine extortion plot. Like the screaming InfoWars host who interrupted the beginning of the hearing falsely accusing Democrats of committing treason, Republicans threw facts and principles to the wind in their defense of the most corrupt President in modern American history.

The evidence presented by the Democratic House Judiciary Counsel Barry Berke and House Intelligence Committee Counsel Daniel Goldman was compelling, overwhelming, and damning. The House Republican Counsel Steve Castor presented a defense that was cherry-picked, paper-thin, contradictory, and filled with disinformation.

Republicans began the hearing with a series of stunt-like parliamentary inquiries and various Republican representatives shouting out of turn. Then, we had Barry Berke, who followed the Republican shenanigans with some fire of his own. Berke presented a clear and concise case by highlighting the facts of President Trump's Ukraine extortion plot and incorporating clips of witness testimony from the last few weeks. This was very effective.

Daniel Goldman presented the impeachment report put together by the House intelligence committee. Goldman highlighted the key findings of the report, and discussed that just two days ago, Trump said that Rudy Giuliani will submit a report about his ongoing efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine. This highlighted the importance of impeachment, and why it's happening now. President Trump will not stop this conduct.

By the end of Berke and Goldman's presentations, a clear picture of the alleged extortion plot was painted. The case Democrats are making is based on 100 hours of depositions from 17 witnesses and 30 hours of public testimony from 12 of those witnesses. Their case is simple: President Trump withheld military aid and a White House meeting to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election by announcing an investigation of the Bidens and the Russia-created Ukraine meddling conspiracy theory. Republicans did a terrible job of countering this case and offered a series of dubious counter-arguments. Let's debunk them.

Steve Castor's opening statement first leaned on the usual GOP line of defense by attacking the impeachment process. Of course, this is a tired defense. The White House and House Republicans have moved the goalposts on their process arguments for months. But it was in Castor's presentation of the House Republican report that proved to be the GOP's biggest effort thus far to contest the facts at the core of Trump's alleged extortion plot. The effort failed.

Castor spent time during his presentation discussing the debunked allegations against the Bidens and Russia's Ukraine meddling conspiracy theory. Castor claimed a few Ukrainian officials spoke out and wrote an op-ed against then-candidate Trump in 2016. Those Ukrainian remarks came after Trump said he'd consider recognizing Crimea as part of Russia. Castor then tried to make the case that this was election interference. This is an asinine false equivalency that seeks to conflate a few outspoken Ukrainians with the top-down, Vladimir Putin-ordered, Russian hacking and spread of propaganda reaching millions of Americans.

Another line of defense from Castor was that the $391 million military aid was withheld for a good reason, and that President Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine generally. This is contradicted by witness testimony that indicated the aid was withheld to pressure Ukraine and reports that indicate a retroactive attempt to find a legit justification for the hold. That line of defense also runs contrary to the July 25 transcript memo where President Trump specifically asked for investigations into the Bidens and the Ukraine meddling conspiracy theory, not corruption broadly. Multiple witnesses testified that Trump was only concerned about those investigations and former White House adviser Fiona Hill testified that "corruption" was code for the Bidens.

Castor also stated that the aid was released for a good faith reason and no probes were announced. In reality, it was released on September 11 after the White House was made aware of the whistleblower complaint and two days before Zelensky was scheduled to announce the probes on CNN. Castor also claimed that Ukraine didn't know the military aid was withheld until it was publicly reported in August. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia Laura Cooper's testimony directly contradicted this. Cooper said that Ukrainians sent emails on July 25, the very same day as the Trump-Zelensky call, asking about the withheld aid.

Castor also claimed that there was "no pressure" on the July 25 phone call, citing President Zelensky's public statements about feeling no pressure. First off, do you expect the victim of an extortion plot to admit they were being extorted, especially if they're still at the whim of the perpetrator? The pressure was clearly implicit on the call since it came in the context of Ambassador Gordon Sondland repeatedly relaying the quid pro quo directly to Ukrainian officials. Also, Ukraine is a country that is dependent on aid from the US. As Lt Col Alexander Vindman testified, when the President asks a country like Ukraine for a "favor," it's actually a demand. It's important to note Zelensky still has not received a White House meeting.

By the end of the Republican presentations, it became clear they are incapable of forming a coherent defense against certain impeachment in the House, and the polling shows. The bottom line is this: Republicans' false narratives have failed to convince the American people that President Trump is not a crook.

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