Surrounded by loving admirers, irony finally succumbed at 6:22 p.m. Monday, when Republicans attempted to force a vote in the House censuring Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and claiming the leader of the impeachment inquiry “misled the American people.”
So, after defending President Trump through 13,435 false or misleading statements as of last week (by The Post Fact Checker’s tally), Republicans are now thoroughly outraged because they think somebody misrepresented something Trump said.
And so Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), with the blessing of GOP leadership, the co-sponsorship of 172 Republicans and a sum total of zero self-awareness, read aloud on the House floor Monday evening a censure resolution saying Schiff “manufactured a false retelling of the conversation” between Trump and the Ukrainian president — an example of “conduct that misleads the American people in a way that is not befitting an elected member of the House.” (Schiff said at the time it was a “parody” and was “in not so many words” what Trump actually said.)
Apparently, Republicans chose to answer Schiff’s original parody with a satire of a censure resolution.
Completing the farce: Just a few hours before consideration of the resolution alleging Schiff misrepresented Trump, Trump served up an entirely new falsehood about Schiff. Without basis, Trump alleged that Schiff invented the whistleblower’s allegations.
“Maybe the informant was Schiff,” Trump proclaimed at a Cabinet meeting Monday. “It could be Shifty Schiff. In my opinion, it’s possibly Schiff.” (Lest you have doubts about irony’s demise, Trump issued this defamation three days after signing a “National Character Counts Week” proclamation endorsing “honesty,” “integrity” and “respect for others.”)
Democrats quickly tabled the resolution in a party-line vote, 218 to 185. But it was an instructive exercise, for it represented the essence of the Republican anti-impeachment strategy. Trump urged Republicans on Monday to “get tougher and fight” on impeachment, but there is no good defense of Trump on the merits in the Ukraine dirt-for-dollars scandal (nor, for that matter, in his willy-nilly pullout from Syria, nor his attempt to award himself the Group of Seven conference). Instead, Republicans complain about process: Schiff is unfair! The proceedings are too secretive! Democrats are ignoring precedents! As The Post’s congressional expert Paul Kane observed last week: “When having trouble arguing the facts, you go straight into a full-frontal attack on the process.”
Alas, for Republicans, the facts are against them on the process, too. Compare what’s happening now with what happened before and during the Clinton impeachment:
- When Trump staff chief Mick Mulvaney is called to appear before the impeachment inquiry — a subpoena is imminent, I’m told — Republicans will howl, as they have before, about the probe’s improper intrusion into White House deliberations. But during their endless probes of the Clinton administration, Republicans hauled in three chiefs of staff (Mack McLarty, Erskine Bowles and John Podesta) and a dozen other senior White House officials — many testifying without protection of executive privilege.
- Republicans are outraged that the inquiry is taking depositions in closed sessions rather than public hearings. Biggs, accusing the Democrats of operating “Stalin-esque, Soviet-style” hearings, sent a letter signed by 76 other Republicans protesting “secrecy.” But Republicans didn’t find it “Stalin-esque” when they hauled 141 Clinton administration officials in for 568 hours of similar private depositions.
- Republicans were outraged that Democrats allowed a staff lawyer to interview a witness, Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski. This complaint, too, might carry more weight if GOP investigators hadn’t approved the same technique to question Clinton administration officials Janet Reno and Louis J. Freeh.
- Republicans are seeking to censure Schiff for, they say, mischaracterizing a rough transcript. But during the Clinton probes, a Republican committee chairman, Dan Burton (R-Ind.), called Clinton a “scumbag” and released selectively edited interview transcripts that omitted exculpatory information. Though Burton fired an aide (David Bossie, later a Trump adviser), he received no reprimand for doctoring transcripts.
Irony is dead, but hypocrisy predeceased it.
And so there was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Fox News last week saying “you have a better chance of getting a fair justice system in China” than under “known liar” Schiff.
And there, on Fox News on Monday, was Biggs, ringleader of the Schiff censure, reciting a list of procedural complaints about due process, transparency, copies of transcripts and the presence of counsel. Schiff “is not a fair arbiter,” Biggs protested.
On the same show, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) continued the complaint. “We can’t see the transcripts,” he protested, saying the censure resolution was to “highlight just how unfair the process is.”
These may be the only arguments Republicans can make in Trump’s defense. But when you’re complaining about process, you’re losing.