The second and less obvious purpose is to demonstrate to Trump, who is in a rage over Republicans’ failure to adequately defend him, and to his supporters, who will demand that Republicans defend him to the death, that they are actually being fearsomely, mercilessly effective on his behalf.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham just declared that Wednesday’s lawless antics — in which House Republicans stormed a committee room to disrupt the proceedings, possibly creating national security risks — constituted a “bold stand," and that it pleased Trump.
Keep that latter point in mind.
Republicans have argued, variously, that they are being excluded, that Trump is being denied fair treatment, and that the whole process is being concealed from the American people. But journalists have effectively demonstrated that many Republicans who stormed the hearing actually have the right to enter the proceedings, and that many others have actually availed themselves of the opportunity to participate and question witnesses.
Yet there are even deeper absurdities on display here. The other message all this is meant to send is that House Republicans are actually representing Trump’s interests in these proceedings to devastating effect and that their successful exoneration of Trump in them is what’s being concealed from the American people.
A new Wall Street Journal editorial demonstrates how this works. The editorial concedes that some witness testimony — such as that of Ambassador William Taylor, who mounted a powerful case that Trump engaged in a corrupt quid pro quo by withholding military aid to leverage a foreign power into helping him smear a political opponent — doesn’t make Trump’s machinations “look good.”
But the editorial then quotes Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) claiming this about Taylor: “Much of his leaked opening statement collapsed, but Schiff keeps the public in the dark on that!”
The “leaked” opening statement, of course, was the full opening statement, but put that aside. The Journal editorial then notes that “What we don’t know is how Mr. Taylor responded to questions” about what he knew firsthand, adding: “If the evidence against Mr. Trump is so damning, then why not make it all public now so the American people can judge for themselves?”
You see, Zeldin wants you to know that the withering cross-examination skills of Republicans like himself debunked what you think you learned from Taylor in his already-revealed opening statement. The point here isn’t just that the already-known and deeply damning details in Taylor’s testimony should be seen as suspect, simply because House Republicans say so. It’s also that the effectiveness of House Republicans unmasked this, and Democrats are trying to conceal it.
The next phase
Yes, of course the transcripts should be released, and of course the American people should have all the facts. But that will happen; that the initial investigative phase is private is eminently defensible. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has vowed to release the transcripts, with redactions for classified and sensitive information. Might Democrats break this promise? Anything’s possible, but it would be very surprising if we don’t see these transcripts very soon.
Indeed, the very same witnesses Republicans claim they have reduced to a puddle of incoherence will likely undergo open questioning once the inquiry moves into its public phase. The Post reports that Democrats hope to do this by mid-November, and that it will likely include open questioning of Taylor and other key witnesses.
So, good news, Republicans: Whether it’s by released transcripts or by open hearings, or both, the public will get to see all of you modern-day Clarence Darrows ruthlessly dismantle Taylor’s claims.
How this game really works
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the temporary closed-door nature of the hearings actually works in favor of Republicans, not against them. It’s the only thing they have left to cast doubt, however absurdly, on the damning information that’s already right there on the record.
And it allows them to convey to the Audience of One — and his followers — that they are fighting the good fight on his behalf, without their self-ascribed effectiveness actually being subject to outside scrutiny.
There’s another layer of absurdity here. Once the transcripts are released or once we get public hearings, it is highly likely that they will not actually show that Republicans have lacerated Taylor’s case.
But for Trump’s most ardent loyalists, this simply won’t matter. If and when publicly revealed testimony does not exonerate Trump, they’ll simply lie to the contrary, and treat the fact of public release as the hook to claim that the Democratic coverup has been exposed, counting on their massive propaganda apparatus to amplify that story line. This is exactly what happened with the Nunes memo — it was a total fiasco, yet Republicans widely pretended it was deeply revelatory.
The story we’ve seen in this whole scandal is that one after another, Trump’s levees are collapsing in the face of successive waves of factual revelations. Indeed, as the New York Times reports:
Some Republicans are growing increasingly uneasy about the inquiry, and fretting that it could get much, much worse for them. Publicly, they are taking their cues from the president, and Wednesday’s performance appeared intended to please Mr. Trump. The president has fumed publicly and privately that Republicans have not been tough enough in defending him.
So these displays are all about showing that Republicans are fighting for Trump. But they would not be so worried about where this is all going if more public disclosure were likely to help exonerate him.