Trump de­fense: If it swims and quacks like a duck, it’s a pi­ano

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Fol­low Dana Mil­bank on Twit­ter, @ Mil­bank. Dana Mil­bank Colum­nist

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.

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