Ev­i­dence? Pshaw! The truth is what­ever Trump be­lieves

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Milbank

No­body ever ac­cused Pres­i­dent Trump of be­ing con­sis­tent.

For weeks, the pres­i­dent clam­ored for a “fair trial” in the Se­nate to clear him of impeachmen­t charges.

“I look for­ward to it,” he said on New Year’s Eve.

Trump also stated he wanted his aides “to tes­tify in the Se­nate where they’ll get a fair trial.” White House coun­sel Pat Cipol­lone urged House Democrats to fin­ish impeachmen­t “so we can have a fair trial in the Se­nate.” Now the House is about to de­liver the impeachmen­t ar­ti­cles — and sud­denly Trump has lost en­thu­si­asm for a trial.

“Many be­lieve that by the Se­nate giv­ing cre­dence to a trial,” Trump tweeted on Sun­day af­ter­noon, “rather than an out­right dis­missal, it gives the par­ti­san Demo­crat Witch Hunt cred­i­bil­ity that it oth­er­wise does not have. I agree!”

Lest “many be­lieve” that was just a fleet­ing thought, Trump retweeted it Mon­day morn­ing.

“Many be­lieve,” of course, is Trump­s­peak for “I be­lieve.” And I un­der­stand why “many be­lieve” a fair Se­nate trial would hurt Trump, if it means pro­duc­ing the doc­u­ments and wit­nesses Trump re­fused to pro­vide to the House. His de­fenses would wither faster than his ex­pla­na­tions for the as­sas­si­na­tion of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani.

First, Trump said Soleimani was plan­ning “im­mi­nent” at­tacks on U.S. in­ter­ests. When law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Repub­li­cans, said their clas­si­fied brief­ings pro­duced zero ev­i­dence of an im­mi­nent threat, Trump took his case to Fox News.

“I can re­veal that I be­lieve it would have been four em­bassies” that Soleimani at­tacked, Trump de­clared.

But it turns out Trump be­lieves this in the ab­sence of ev­i­dence. Asked by CBS News’s Mar­garet Brennan on Sun­day about whether there was a spe­cific threat to four em­bassies, Trump’s de­fense sec­re­tary, Mark Esper, replied: “I didn’t see one with re­gard to four em­bassies.”

So, CNN’s Jake Tap­per asked Esper: “Was Trump em­bel­lish­ing?”

“I don’t be­lieve so,” Esper replied. This is be­cause Esper shares Trump’s ev­i­dence-free be­lief that Soleimani would have at­tacked four em­bassies.

This is fun! The truth is what­ever Trump be­lieves it to be — much as when he said his net worth was based on how he feels.

There was a time when peo­ple got in trou­ble for making things up like this. Ge­orge W. Bush never lived down the in­fa­mous “Six­teen Words” in his 2003 State of the Union ad­dress: “The Bri­tish govern­ment has learned that Sad­dam

Hus­sein re­cently sought sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties of ura­nium from Africa.”

And when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion used talk­ing points falsely claim­ing the at­tack on U.S. diplo­mats in Beng­hazi was sparked by an anti-Is­lam video, Repub­li­cans an­swered with years of rage.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., called Obama White House of­fi­cials “scum­bags” that “lied about” the Beng­hazi at­tack. Se­nate Re­pub­li­can Leader Mitch McCon­nell (Ky.) said the ad­min­is­tra­tion “made up a tale” and de­clared it “wor­thy of in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

But now Gra­ham and McCon­nell can both be ex­pected to em­brace Trump’s faith-based de­fense, both on the “im­mi­nent” Iran threat and on the pres­i­dent’s in­no­cence in the Ukraine af­fair. It brings to mind the “I Be­lieve” num­ber from the mu­si­cal “The Book of Mor­mon.” (“I be­lieve that God lives on a planet called Kolob! ... And I be­lieve that the Gar­den of Eden was in Jack­son County, Mis­souri.”) A Re­pub­li­can just be­lieves.

How would the I-be­lieve de­fense play out in the Se­nate trial?

Chief Jus­tice John Roberts: Did Pres­i­dent Trump ask the govern­ment of Ukraine to an­nounce in­ves­ti­ga­tions into a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent and a dis­cred­ited the­ory about Ukraine in­ter­fer­ing in the 2016 elec­tion? Cipol­lone: I don’t be­lieve so. Roberts: Did Trump with­hold se­cu­rity aid to Ukraine and a White House meet­ing con­tin­gent on th­ese in­ves­ti­ga­tions? Cipol­lone: I be­lieve oth­er­wise. Roberts: Did Trump di­rect of­fi­cials to defy sub­poe­nas and with­hold doc­u­ments? Cipol­lone: I be­lieve you are mis­taken. Gra­ham: Move to dis­miss! Trump, af­ter ex­press­ing his new­found be­lief that a Se­nate trial wouldn’t help his case, moved on to sharing other be­liefs Mon­day with his Twitter fol­low­ers, in­clud­ing a be­lief that “I was the per­son who saved Pre-Ex­ist­ing Conditions in your Health­care” and a be­lief that “the cor­rupted Dems [are] try­ing their best to come to the Ay­a­tol­lah’s res­cue.”

His ev­i­dence for the lat­ter be­lief: a doc­tored pic­ture of Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wear­ing Mus­lim garb in front of an Ira­nian flag.

It’s a safe bet that when the trial begins late this week or early next, Trump’s Se­nate syco­phants will seek the dis­missal he re­quested. Oth­ers may try to blow up pro­ceed­ings by haul­ing in Hunter Bi­den. I’d like to think the req­ui­site four Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tors will join Democrats in de­mand­ing a le­git­i­mate trial. But I’ll be­lieve it when I see it. Fol­low Dana Milbank on Twitter, @ Milbank.

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