The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Moynihan was wrong. Very likely a majority of senators will, with their votes to acquit, conclude that Trump and his lawyers are perfectly entitled to their own facts.
Saturday’s opening arguments for Trump’s defense were, by Trumpian standards, tame. Senators, perhaps caught off guard by the sober presentation, were on their best behavior; I saw nobody doing crossword puzzles or sending S.O.S. signals.
There was familiar invective from Trump’s lawyers (“fake,” “blind drive to impeach,” “staged public hearings,” “secret hearings in the basement bunker,” “shell game,” “they are here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history"). But their arguments were surprisingly lawyerly, and they at least attempted to mount a serious defense of the president — a feat that filled White House Counsel Pat Cipollone with pride as he completed the second of Trump’s allotted 24 hours of defense. “You’ve heard you’re not going to hear facts from the president’s lawyers,” he said. “That’s all we’ve done.”
This was true — if you subscribe to Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” theory of epistemology.
Alternative Fact: “President [Volodymyr] Zelensky and high-ranking Ukrainian officials did not even know — did not even know — the security assistance was paused until the end of August, over a month after the July 25 call.”
Actual Fact: Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper testified that the Ukrainians were inquiring about the status of the security assistance on July 25.
Alternative Fact: “They kept telling you it was Russia alone that interfered in the 2016 election, but there is evidence that Ukraine also interfered.”
Actual Fact: “We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered,” said Trump’s FBI director, Christopher Wray.
Alternative Fact: The administration fought subpoenas because “the subpoenas were not authorized because there were no votes” to start an impeachment inquiry.
Actual Fact: The administration fought the subpoenas even after the formal vote to open the impeachment inquiry.
Alternative Fact: “The transcript shows that the president did not condition either security assistance or a meeting on anything.”
Actual Fact: The “transcript” is not an actual transcript but a partial reconstruction of the call by the White House. It includes the Trump phrase “do us a favor though” immediately following the Ukrainian president’s mention of military help and immediately before Trump’s request for investigations.
Alternative Fact: “They design[ed] a mechanism here where the president was locked out and denied the ability to cross-examine witnesses” in the House impeachment.
Alternative Fact: “The Democrats’ allegation that the president engaged in a quid pro quo is unfounded.”
Alternative Fact: “The Mueller Report … after $32 million and roughly 500 search warrants, determined that there was no collusion.”
Actual Fact: “We did not address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term,” Mueller testified.
There were other, innuendo-based arguments Saturday that will likely reappear in Trump’s lawyers’ arguments over the next two days: Trump had good reason not to trust the intelligence community, Ukraine is a mess, Adam Schiff is an incorrigible liar, and the whistleblower is in cahoots with Joe Biden. But Saturday was the factual portion — or what passes for it.
It was close enough to reality for Trump’s Republican defenders in the House. Speaking to reporters after Saturday’s argument ended, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who previously said that, “when we start to look at the facts, everybody has their impression of what truth is,” declared that Trump’s lawyers had “annihilated” and performed a “surgical dissection” of the case for impeachment.
“Totally eviscerated,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.).
“Completely destroyed,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (La.).
“Completely shred[ded],” Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) contributed.
In the alternative-factual world they call home, this is probably true.
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