The first step in this shell game is to eliminate the importance of the “quid pro quo.” Asked by host Margaret Brennan whether a quid pro quo for the president’s political benefit would be appropriate, Kennedy sidestepped: “Here are the two possible scenarios. Number one, the president asked for an investigation of a political rival. Number two, the president asked for an investigation of possible corruption by someone who happens to be a political rival. The latter would be in the national interest. The former would be in the president’s parochial interests and would be over the line.”
You may have noticed that Kennedy’s two distinct scenarios are, in fact, one scenario. It is literally impossible for the second scenario not to also be the first scenario and vice versa. But by pretending there is a distinction, the investigation of a political rival can be cast by Kennedy or another Trump defender as the investigation of someone “who happens to be a political rival” — a far less sinister action.
The second step is to muddy the discussion of the president’s motive. Kennedy summarized how he’d assess motive this way: “Did he have a culpable state of mind? For me, Margaret, there are only two relevant questions that need to be answered. Why did the president ask for an investigation? And, number two — and this is inextricably linked to the first question — what did Mr. Hunter Biden do for the money?”
Here Kennedy offers one question that actually matters and one that is essentially useless except as a shield for the president. “What did Mr. Hunter Biden do for the money” has no actual relevance to the president’s motive. If the president asked a foreign government to investigate someone for his personal political gain, it does not matter whether that person was doing wrong. The only reason to bring Hunter Biden’s record into the discussion is to confuse observers.
The third step in Kennedy’s shell game is to distort the impeachment process. Asked to assess Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony that “There was no doubt that the president was seeking political investigations of political rivals,” Kennedy instead criticized House Democrats. “I think that Speaker Pelosi’s decision and Adam Schiff’s decision to prevent the Republicans from calling their own witnesses in the live testimony is just doubling down on stupid,” Kennedy said. “The American people, I think, are going look at this and go, ‘I get it.’ They’re going to give the president a fair and impartial firing squad.”
Here Kennedy, despite studying law at the University of Virginia and Oxford University, seems incapable of distinguishing between the House investigation — equivalent to a grand jury, where only the prosecution presents evidence — and the Senate trial — equivalent to a criminal trial, where both sides can present evidence. If the House investigation is an “impartial firing squad,” then so is your typical grand jury. That’s surely not something Kennedy actually believes, but pretending, so let him yet again muddy the waters.
In three steps then, Kennedy avoids the damning testimony against the president from witness after witness. You’ll see other variations of these tricks from other Republicans. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for example argued Sunday that the president’s actions don’t matter because “every politician in Washington, other than me, virtually, is trying to manipulate Ukraine to their purposes.” Expect more of these games from Republicans, because the evidence in the president’s favor is nonexistent.