Sometimes the best defense is the ‘so what’ defense. If everything the Democrats said is true, it’s still not impeachable. If everything Lev Parnas said is true, it’s still not impeachable. That’s what this is about.
Hannity endorsed the argument. Parnas is the former accomplice of Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani who just revealed explosive details about Trump’s scheme to extort Ukraine into doing his dirty political deeds.
The Hannity segment is a fog machine of disinformation and incoherence. But the whole thing is must-watch TV. It features arguments that set up the claim that there’s nothing wrong with anything Trump did. Those will be key to his defense — and to justifying making the trial as much of a coverup as possible.
The ‘so what’ defense
Central to the “so what” defense is the idea that Trump was 100 percent correct in pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into then-Vice President Joe Biden’s ousting of a Ukrainian prosecutor — because that was, as Trump tells it, corrupt.
Trump constantly says this. His call with Zelensky was “PERFECT.” He has claimed an “obligation” to look into the Bidens’ “corruption.” He openly told reporters he wanted Zelensky to announce “a major investigation of the Bidens.”
On “Hannity,” it was treated as a given that Biden and his son Hunter acted corruptly. In demanding an investigation, Hannity said, Trump carried out his “duty.” This justified the withholding of military aid and justifies calling Hunter at Trump’s trial.
“Hunter Biden is needed to test what this case is all about," Priebus told Hannity, who agreed.
The narrative undergirding this — that Joe Biden pushed for the ouster of a prosecutor investigating Ukrainian company Burisma to protect Hunter Biden, who sat on the board — is entirely fabricated. The prosecutor was not sufficiently combating corruption; the prosecutor’s removal was U.S. policy, backed by international institutions; the Burisma investigation was dormant at the time; Hunter Biden’s role was irrelevant. Even if you question Hunter Biden’s wisdom, the narrative about Joe Biden is still an invention.
But the self-assumed power to transform lies into truths through sheer repetition, and through the ability to deceive millions into believing them, is the key here. It’s the lifeblood of the so-what defense.
One side wants real witnesses. The other doesn’t.
In the real world, Hunter Biden has zero direct knowledge of the conduct for which Trump was impeached. But the demand to hear from him can, through disinformation, be placed on a plane of equivalence with the Democratic demand for former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who actually can testify directly to Trump’s motives in freezing military aid.
The game is this: Testimony from the corrupt Bidens is necessary to show Trump was right to be concerned about corruption, and thus to withhold military aid!
So if Republicans muster 51 GOP votes for no witnesses, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes they will, the spin will be that this was a “fair” outcome, because we didn’t hear from witnesses on either side. The so-what defense flows into the claim that we didn’t hear from witnesses who could show Trump acted correctly all along. Neither side got its way!
What’s truly perverse here is that if Trump did nothing wrong, then no one could speak to that more forcefully than the witnesses Democrats want to hear from, and who Trump and McConnell desperately do not. If withholding the aid was correct on the merits, why not hear from those directly involved in that decision?
The answer is that Trump and McConnell know Trump did engage in profoundly corrupt, impeachable conduct. Trump used the power of his office — and the conditioning of official acts, including withholding hundreds of millions in appropriated military aid from a vulnerable ally — to strong-arm that ally into manufacturing disinformation to corrupt the 2020 election on his behalf.
Trump is corrupt, and Joe Biden is not
Meanwhile, Parnas has now claimed that Giuliani, taking direction from Trump, directly ordered the message conveyed to Ukraine that the military aid was conditioned on doing Trump’s bidding.
Priebus says that even if what Parnas claims is true: “So what? Because the Bidens were corrupt!"
In fact, nothing the Bidens did or did not do can render Trump’s conduct defensible. A nonpartisan government watchdog has concluded that withholding the aid was illegal. It may amount to a criminal conspiracy to solicit a bribe from Ukraine.
And the Biden narrative that justifies the “so what if he did it” defense just is made up: Trump cannot make it true, which leaves only his corrupt motive — getting a foreign ally to smear a 2020 rival — behind.
The so-what defense relies on neutral media portraying what’s to come as “partisan combat,” without clearly conveying that one side’s narrative has been entirely fabricated for purely instrumental purposes and also that that side has zero interest in learning the full truth about what actually did happen.
But as Sean Illing notes, we can choose a world in which facts matter. In such a world, the two sides’ arguments cannot be sanitized into equivalence with phrases like “partisan combat.”
In such a world, the “so what” defense must neutrally be described as a “so what if he’s guilty” defense.
Biden did not engage in corruption in Ukraine. Trump actually did do the things he’s accused of, not out of defensible motives but out of profoundly corrupt ones.
If Republicans converge on the so-what defense, their merger with Trump’s actual, unvarnished position — that he has the absolute authority to abuse his power in any manner he sees fit — will be complete.