On Sunday, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote an angry letter refusing the invitation from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) for the White House to send lawyers to participate in the impeachment hearings that will begin this Wednesday. While it’s possible that they might change their minds in later hearings, for now the White House has made clear that they’d prefer to pretend that the entire process is somehow not real.
The best defense, they’ve decided, is no defense at all.
Cipollone’s letter, like many documents produced by the president’s private lawyers and government lawyers alike, is written in a Trumpian tone, full of preposterous assertions and childish whining, as though the authors were laboring to channel the president’s distinctive rhetorical style. Its central argument is that the president’s rights have been violated, citing “the complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness afforded the President throughout this purported impeachment inquiry.”
Purported? I’d invite any criminal defendant to walk into court and proclaim, “I refuse to participate in this purported trial!” and see how that works out for them.
Of course, impeachment is not precisely like a criminal proceeding, though it has some parallels. In particular, this phase of the process is where the president has the opportunity to mount his own defense. Yet it appears he may choose not to.
Which isn’t all that surprising, because at this point it’s hard to see what brilliant defense Trump might have up his sleeve. In the Intelligence Committee hearings, we saw what the Republican defense of Trump would look like. They had an opportunity for their counsel to cross-examine witnesses at length. They had Republican members present their best arguments for Trump’s innocence. They had Rep. Jim Jordan do his exasperated-shouting routine. They had Rep. Devin Nunes deliver speeches mixing bizarre claims with debunked conspiracy theories. They gave it everything they had.
And what did it amount to? Did they puncture any of the claims against the president? Did they show the witnesses to be liars conspiring against him? Did they produce dramatic new evidence showing that in fact everything Trump did was to serve not his own interests but those of the country?
No, they did not. So if given every bit of “due process” they could want, what would they come up with now? Are there fact witnesses who can prove Trump’s innocence who have to this point been silent? Who might that be? They can call Hunter Biden in to yell at him for a few hours, but what will that change about what Trump did?
Let’s not forget how clear and unambiguous the case for Trump’s wrongdoing is. We have the rough transcript of his phone call with President Zelensky, in which he responds to Zelensky’s expressed desire for military aid by urging him to investigate Joe Biden. We have Trump’s own statement on the White House lawn, when asked what he wanted from Ukraine: “It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens.” We have the acting chief of staff’s statement that yes, there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine, and we all need to “get over it.”
We have the testimony of witness after witness from within the Trump administration, explaining how the president turned over Ukraine policy to Rudy Giuliani, who has been publicly vocal about pushing Ukraine to investigate Biden to help Trump’s reelection. We have lengthy testimony on how important it was to Giuliani and Trump that the Ukrainians make a public show of launching such an investigation.
There are a couple of ways Republicans can spin all those facts. They can argue, as they now appear to be doing, that while Trump did everything he is accused of, all his actions were in fact just peachy. Or they can admit, as a few have, that while it wasn’t appropriate to do what Trump did, but then say his misdeeds don’t rise to the level of impeachment and removal.
But you don’t need a bunch of White House lawyers to do that. The minority members of the Judiciary Committee (among them such intellectual heavyweights as Jordan, Texas’s Louie Gohmert and Florida’s Matt Gaetz) are perfectly capable of yelling at witnesses to produce clips to replay on the evening’s episode of “Hannity.” That’s all the defense Trump wants or needs.
As any parent knows, children between the ages of about 3 and 7 will cry “Unfair!” whenever anything doesn’t go their way. The president seems never to have progressed beyond that stage of development, and so his White House has adopted that cry as their strategy for dealing with impeachment. As long as all they want is to keep the Fox News audience loyal to him, and thereby keep Republicans in Congress too afraid to cross the party’s base despite the facts, it’s a strategy that could work.
The latest commentary on the Trump impeachment
Looking for more Trump impeachment coverage following the president’s acquittal?
See Dana Milbank’s Impeachment Diary: Find all the entries in our columnist’s feature.
Get the latest: See complete Opinions coverage from columnists, editorial cartoonists and the Editorial Board.
Read the most recent take from the Editorial Board: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.
The House impeachment managers weigh in in an op-ed: Trump won’t be vindicated. The Senate won’t be, either.
Stay informed: Read the latest reporting and analysis on impeachment from the Post newsroom.
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