Republican lawmakers, conservative pundits and lawyers who argue that there is nothing of significance in the rough transcript of the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky effectively ask that we ignore the words on the page. Given how likely history is to regard Donald Trump’s presidency as both evil and incompetent, those still spinning for him should consider clamming up rather than giving posterity more ammunition to conclude that they, too, were dull-witted, egregiously dishonest or both.

Lawfare provides an apt summation of the call:

As law professor Alan [Rozenshtein] put it earlier today: “The question is not whether Trump broke federal criminal law. The question is whether he has failed to uphold his constitutional duties and should be impeached and removed from office.”
In that regard, while the call provides no shortage of material to analyze, three main issues stand out regarding Trump’s conduct: the question of a possible quid pro quo; the clear evidence that the president solicited the Ukrainian president to deliver dirt on U.S. persons in a gross abuse of their civil liberties; and a just-as-clear attempt at soliciting foreign government intervention in a U.S. presidential campaign.

In all three cases, Trump’s own words incriminate him because 1) The “plain reading of the memo makes clear that the quid is funds for defense equipment, and the quo is help from Zelensky in discrediting the Mueller investigation’s findings and Trump’s potential political opponent, Joe Biden” and 2) Merely asking for help from a foreign power to help smear a private American citizen and thereby provide the president with political ammunition is a grotesque violation of the president’s oath.

As Lawfare notes, “This is the overt solicitation by the president of a foreign investigation into a political opponent — a serious offense in and of itself, whether Trump conditioned aid to Ukraine on the investigation or not” and a gross violation of Americans’ civil liberties when Trump decides to “wield the coercive powers of the U.S. law enforcement apparatus to abuse a citizen’s rights.”

And it is worse than even that. According to ABC News, “'It was clear that [President Donald] Trump will only have communications if they will discuss the Biden case,' said Serhiy Leshchenko, an anti-corruption advocate and former member of Ukraine’s Parliament, who now acts as an adviser to Zelensky. ‘This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.’" Many times.

The whistleblower’s complaint should be enlightening. (Reportedly, the inspector general already investigated and interviewed a bunch of witnesses, making it so much easier for the House to draft articles of impeachment.)

The reason Trump makes idiotic arguments (such as “Look, there’s nothing in the transcript!”) is that he knows there are people intellectually and politically corrupt enough to repeat them. In this case, that includes Vice President Pence, who declared in an interview on Wednesday that the transcript entirely vindicates Trump. By contrast, Trump suggests that the media start investigating Pence’s conversations with Ukraine.

In essence, Trump has to give Fox News, talk radio hosts, right-wing activists and lackeys in Congress something to say while the legitimate media is pointing out that Trump has committed impeachable offenses and was too dense to understand the import of his own words. (Did Trump even read the rough transcript? It’s a few pages long, so it is quite possible he did not.)

If you keep waiting for that moment when Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or the comical Fox News hosts and panelists throw up their hands and say, “I can’t do this anymore! Trump is indefensible!,” do not hold your breath. Graham and McCarthy, as well as most of their Republican colleagues, have either lost the capacity or the will to think rationally and independently; they feel compelled to act like cornered animals facing the snarling teeth of the presidential monster they created. Trump’s media boosters, some of whom know better, are so dependent on their Trump-cult audience that they dare not betray any hint of independent and rational thinking. (Pretending to be as dense as the Trump cult must be demoralizing at some level.)

No matter. Everyone can read the rough transcript for himself or herself. The whistleblower complaint quite likely will contain even more damaging information, new leads, additional witnesses and more presidential self-incrimination.

The House should move quickly if for no other reason that the White House and its defenders are struggling to defend the indefensible. They are back on their heels and grasping at ever sillier rationalizations. Just don’t expect the dead-enders to admit that Trump’s talking points are ludicrous; they think their professional lives depend on propagating them.

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