Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Trump's defense threw gaslighting spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck. Not much did

Ken Starr may have beaten the world record for the longest period of time standing without collapsing under the weight of his own hypocrisy

Ahmed Baba
Washington DC
Tuesday 28 January 2020 23:14 GMT
Trump's lawyer Eric Herschmann launches attack on Obama during impeachment trial

We all knew President Trump's impeachment defense was going to be weak, hypocritical, and dishonest, but they really exceeded expectations. I've documented and analyzed every day of Trump's presidency since it began. I'm not surprised by much, but at times even I was stunned by their opening arguments.

Over three days of presentations, President Trump's lawyers threw gaslighting spaghetti at the wall so that Fox News could peel off what stuck and run them as soundbites for the GOP base. The disjointed nature of the arguments was jarring, as Trump's lawyers at times contradicted each other. It was also clear they didn't update their defense after the revelations from former National Security Adviser John Bolton's book were released, which reportedly confirm the quid pro quo at the core of this impeachment case. Many of the debunked arguments were the same we've heard for months, but if you listen to Trump's lawyers closely, their defense unraveled into what appeared to be a slow-moving confession.

First, they claimed President Trump did nothing wrong and his call with President Zelensky was fine. Next, they made the case against the use of impeachment itself. Then, they spread conspiracy theories about the Bidens and essentially claimed that Trump’s push for Ukraine to announce a Biden probe was justified. Finally, they claimed that abuse of power isn't impeachable and that even if Trump did launch an extortion plot, it wouldn’t have been an impeachable offense. This is an authoritarian view of executive power that believers of the conservative unitary executive theory espouse. It's intrinsically antithetical to the Founding Fathers' intentions for executive power.

President Trump's impeachment defense essentially went from "he did nothing wrong" to "he's above the law, he did it, and he did it because Biden is corrupt... get over it". It feels like this Senate trial is an extension of Trump's alleged extortion plot. To me, it’s clear that what Trump set out to accomplish in Ukraine is being accomplished in his Senate trial by his very own defense team as they smear Joe Biden.

President Trump's legal team continued to make the same debunked defenses we've already covered, so let's dissect what's relevant. Trump’s lawyers repeatedly claimed the July 25 transcript memo shows the president did nothing wrong. This is false. The transcript memo shows he solicited foreign election interference in the form of investigations of his political targets.

When it comes to the evidence proving Ukraine's military aid was withheld in pursuit of announced probes, Trump's lawyers were misleading. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone claimed Trump withheld Ukraine's aid because of burden-sharing. That's contradicted by multiple witnesses who indicated it was about the Bidens. Also, America's allies do, in fact, contribute to Ukraine, with the European Union contributing more than America.

President Trump's lawyers also repeatedly claimed that Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that's why he pushed for the probes. This is undermined by the fact Trump never mentioned Ukraine's corruption in 2017 and 2018 and didn't withhold aid until Biden began beating him in 2019 polls. Indeed, he never once mentioned the word "corruption" to Zelensky on his calls and only discussed Biden and the Ukraine meddling conspiracy theory.

Perhaps the most ridiculous moment of the trial came on Monday with the entrance of Ken Starr, the Independent Counsel who made the case for impeaching President Clinton. Starr, the personification of partisan, weaponized impeachment, argued against partisan, weaponized impeachment. Ken Starr may have beaten the world record for the longest period of time standing without collapsing under the weight of his own hypocrisy. Starr apparently believes a president lying about an affair is more impeachable than a president allegedly extorting election interference and then covering it up.

Ari Melber, an attorney and host on MSNBC, perhaps summarized Ken Starr's performance best: “This was a disaster for Republicans. A total, unmitigated legal and Constitutional disaster... Constitutionally, we watched Ken Starr punch himself in the face and then walk off the floor.”

Alan Dershowitz, formerly Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyer, claimed abuse of power is not impeachable and a crime must be committed. To is credit, Dershowitz did address the fact that in 1998 he said a crime was not required for an offense to be impeachable, claiming he hadn't done enough research and instead had accepted academic legal consensus. Unfortunately for him, in that moment, he admitted it's the legal consensus that abuse of power is impeachable. Not only is Dershowitz undercut by legal consensus, then, but his point is made irrelevant by the Government Accountability Office's conclusion that the Trump administration committed a crime by withholding Ukraine's congressionally approved aid.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi led the smearing of Joe Biden. Bondi claimed Biden extorted Ukraine into firing corrupt Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin because he was investigating Burisma, a company Hunter Biden was on the board of. I firmly believe that's a lie. For one thing, Shokin was fired because he wasn't investigating corruption; for another, the Burisma probe had been dormant for a year.

On Monday, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) said the quiet part out loud and gave the GOP's game away: "I'm really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters... Will they be supporting VP Biden at this point?" This is can only be compared to GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) 2015 comments on how the Benghazi investigations damaged Hillary Clinton.

Investigating political opponents and falsely crying corruption is apparently the GOP's modus operandi. They did in the 90s. They did it in 2016. Now, they're doing it in 2020. Unfortunately for them, calls for Bolton to testify are growing and 75% of Americans now support calling witnesses, including 49% of Republicans. This will make it much harder for them to make this the trial of Joe Biden when, day by day, so much is stacking up against Donald Trump.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in