Trump defense: If it swims and quacks like a duck, it’s a piano
Walk to the back of the impeachment hearing room, into the Republican cloakroom where lawmakers huddle during proceedings, and you’ll find a closed double door with a sign taped to it announcing: “This is not a door. Thank you.”
Pay no attention to the latch, the push bar, the light visible through the crack, the wood panels: This is not a door.
It’s the perfect distillation of the defense of President Trump in these final days of the House impeachment proceedings. This is not a quid pro quo. This is not an abuse of power. This is not an obstruction of justice. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck. This is not a duck. Thank you. The White House declined to offer a defense of Trump as lawyers for the House Intelligence Committee outlined their findings Monday. This left Republicans to defend him with a blend of falsehoods, disruptions and conspiracy theories aimed at causing confusion in the mind of anybody tempted to conclude that a door is a door.
Just seconds after the gavel fell to begin proceedings Monday morning, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., interrupted: “I object!”
A few seconds later, a representative of Infowars, a pro-Trump conspiracy outlet, rose in the audience and started shouting: “Jerry Nadler and the Democrat Party are committing treason in this country! ... You’re the one committing treason!”
At this, Gaetz flashed a smile at his fellow Republicans — and they proceeded to imitate the heckler over the next nine hours. They interrupted the hearings with no fewer than 42 dilatory points of order, requests, objections, appeals, inquiries and just plain outbursts.
“You’re going to try to overturn the results of an election!”
“This is so they can have a press conference!”
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., alleged that a Democratic staff lawyer, Barry Berke, had bribed the committee with contributions: “How much money do you have to give to get to do this?” (Republican Rep. Greg Steube of Florida later derided Berke as a “New York lawyer.”)
But Monday’s session also allowed cross-examination of Intelligence Committee lawyers, which meant, for the first time, that Republicans had to answer for some of their more outlandish claims. “Would you agree,” Democratic counsel Berke asked, “that Joe Biden was a leading Democratic contender to face President Trump in 2020?”
“I wouldn’t agree with that,” replied GOP lawyer Steve Castor with a dismissive shake of the head.
“President Trump was asking Ukrainian President Zelensky to have the Ukrainian officials look into Joe Biden?” Berke asked.
“I don’t think the record supports that,” Castor replied. (In the White House rough transcript of the call, Trump literally asks Volodymyr Zelensky to “look into” Biden.)
Castor further disputed that Ukraine’s announcement of a corruption investigation into Biden would have hurt him politically and that Trump hadn’t cooperated with the impeachment inquiry.
Each time Castor got in trouble, Republican lawmakers interrupted with various objections and points of order.
When Democrats tried to table the interruptions, Republicans required them to do it in writing. Gaetz tried to block a 15-minute bathroom break, losing on a roll-call vote.
Castor kept right on inventing. He misquoted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the 2020 election. He said Trump’s request for announcements of Ukrainian investigations of Democrats “was not asking for a favor that would help his reelection. He was asking for assistance in helping our country move forward from the divisiveness of the Russia collusion investigations.” Uh-huh. And a door is an avocado. Castor demonstrated his professionalism by showing up to testify with his files not in a briefcase but in a reusable shopping bag decorated with an assortment of bread. Republicans, likewise, decorated the dais once again, this time with posters asking “Where’s Adam?” and putting Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s face on a milk carton.
Castor asserted that he sees no “clear evidence that President Trump acted with malicious intent”; he found it all terribly “ambiguous.” By contrast, Republicans saw no ambiguity in everybody else’s malice. In their telling, “Joe Biden’s the one that’s done a quid pro quo,” Democrats had begun a “surveillance state,” committed a “clear abuse of power” and “made Joe McCarthy look like a piker.”
Those Trump backers under the influence of Infowars and Fox News will follow Republicans into that conspiracy funhouse. The rest of us will continue to believe that the hinged slab in the doorway is a door.