With much justification, Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement, “The Minority’s rebuttal document, intended for an audience of one, ignores voluminous evidence that the President used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival by withholding military aid and a White House meeting the President of Ukraine desperately sought.” He added, “Tellingly, the Minority dismisses this as just part of the President’s ‘outside the beltway’ thinking. It is more accurately, outside the law and constitution, and a violation of his oath of office.”
The Republicans’ 123-page report asserts that Trump “has a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption” and aversion to foreign aid, and that public criticism by Ukrainian officials justified his suspicion. The defense is ludicrous for a batch of reasons.
First, for a guy so concerned about corruption, he never mentioned it. Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe observes, “Trump never raised a concern with corruption as such on any call with [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky or anyone else.” The Obama administration was interested in fighting corruption and deployed Biden to, for example, pressure Ukraine to oust a corrupt prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Trump thought this was awful and wanted to investigate Biden for doing this.
Second, what Trump did raise in his call with Zelensky was the “Bidens” and the ludicrous CrowdStrike conspiracy. “The other thing. There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump said on the July 25 call. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.” Trump infamously told Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it.” None of this has to do with rooting out corruption.
Third, if Trump was so concerned about corruption, why release aid in September when the plot was uncovered? One would think his deep-seated concern about Ukrainian corruption would not have been alleviated with no additional intervening action on anti-corruption measures.
Fourth, if anti-corruption was his obsession, why did Trump want a public announcement specifically mentioning the Bidens? Trump wanted the PR value of headlines blaring “Ukraine investigating Biden,” but he showed no interest in doing any actual investigation. He never, for example, tasked the attorney general with investigating the matter.
Fifth, as attorney Maya Wiley noted, Trump never bothered to correct or contradict Giuliani in May when he publicly promised to goad Ukraine into conducting probes “very, very helpful” to Trump.
Sixth, if Trump was conducting a serious investigation of corruption, why deny there was a “quid pro quo” — that is, investigations in exchange for release of aid. Instead, he should have declared, “Darn right I’m not giving those people a penny!”
Seventh, the role of Giuliani makes no sense if this was about fighting corruption. He had a skilled anti-corruption fighter in Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump fired at the behest of Giuliani and his cronies. Former prosecutor Harry Litman tweeted that there was “no possible reason to have Rudy running the show of course, much less fire Yovanovitch. The normal career and political officials can and do fight corruption just fine--that’s their main lookout in fact and they all made clear Trump subverted it.”
Ninth, for a guy so interested in fighting corruption, he’s made a practice of cavorting with some of the most corrupt authoritarians on the planet — Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Russian President Vladimir Putin. As Tribe puts it, Trump, “to tell the truth, has never evidenced any such concern in his entire life — whether with Ukraine or with any other government — apart from his manifestly phony comments about ‘draining the swamp’ that he has done more than anybody else to fill.”
Tenth, if the explanation for all of this is entirely innocent, why would former national security adviser John Bolton have characterized the Giuliani-Mick Mulvaney activities as a “drug deal” and told his subordinates to inform the lawyers, and why would the lawyers not have explained to those raising concerns — such as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — that the holdup was entirely appropriate (rather than instructing him to tell no one about it)?
Eleventh, there is no reason to withhold documents or to prevent witnesses such as acting chief of staff Mulvaney or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from testifying if the explanation, supported by documents, shows Trump’s determination to fight corruption. Surely there would be documented evidence of Trump’s “genuine” concern for stopping corruption, right?
Twelfth, Trump should be dying to participate in the impeachment hearings if he had a valid reason for strong-arming Ukraine. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) commented, “If the President thinks the call was ‘perfect’ and there is nothing to hide … [he would] provide any exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power.” Instead, Trump is bent on undermining the process and encourages his helpmates in the House to raise one bogus conspiracy theory after another.
C’mon, who are Republicans kidding? Saying Trump is concerned about corruption is about as believable as saying he is concerned about his own conflicts of interest or nepotism. If this is the best Republicans can come up with, there really is no factual or constitutional defense for Trump.