“That call was perfect,” said President Trump on Tuesday about his July 25 conversation with the president of Ukraine, during which he made clear that he expected the Ukrainians to dig up dirt on his potential 2020 Democratic opponent. To Republicans watching Trump for cues about how they’re expected to defend him, it wasn’t exactly a gift. Without much else to work with, however, “This was no big deal” has become the heart of their defense.

What’s so striking about the “Whatever, dude” attitude many Republicans are taking is how sharply it contrasts with the reaction to the call among White House insiders. As the whistleblower complaint documents, among those insiders, the call created a panic.

Many of these elected Republicans have been simply avoiding commenting on this at all, telling reporters that since they haven’t read the documents, or that they’ve got nothing to say. Some senators are saying that since they’d serve as “jurors” in an impeachment trial, it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment.

But the ones who talk are mostly arguing that there’s no there there. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it “laughable to think this is anywhere close to an impeachable offense.” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said: “I’m underwhelmed. I’m not troubled. I don’t think there is anything remotely quid pro quo."

Apparently, because Trump did not conclude the July phone conversation by saying, “All right: you will dig up dirt on Biden and I will release the military aid to your country I’m holding up, because that is the exchange we have agreed upon,” that means it was perfectly fine.

Other Republicans are singing the same tune. Said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.): “It’s just a huge overreach." Added Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa): “There was no quid pro quo, you’d have to have that if there was going to be anything wrong.”

This is literally right out of the talking points the White House distributed to Republicans to tell them what to say.

Now, let’s look at the whistleblower’s report. As it documents, Trump’s phone call to the Ukrainian president set off a scramble to make sure that as few people as possible found out about it. For some, it even sparked a moral crisis. This is the first key passage:

The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They told me that there was already a “discussion ongoing” with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.

Then the whistleblower elaborates:

In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to "lock down" all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced — as is customary — by the White House Situation Room. This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.

Finally, in an appendix to the complaint, the whistleblower says that according to White House officials, it was “not the first time” that the transcript of one of Trump’s calls was placed in this system “solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information.”

In other words, multiple White House officials (and these are people who are working for Trump) seem to have concluded not only that Trump may well have abused his office, but that if the transcript of the call received wider circulation — among the broad circle of government officials who would normally have access to it, or even worse, to the public — then it would be a political disaster.

And they were right. The release of the information, first in the form of news reports describing the call and then in the form of the rough transcript, has taken us to the point where Trump is likely to be impeached. The people who heard the call or saw the transcript immediately afterward knew exactly what had happened and how dangerous it was.

When Trump said “that call was perfect,” he gave up the game just seconds later: “There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. But there was pressure put on with respect to Joe Biden.”

Which is exactly the problem. He may not realize it, but I’m guessing the Republicans repeating "no quid pro quo” do, no matter how much they protest otherwise. Once again, Trump has left them trying to defend the indefensible.

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