On Day One of Trump’s impeachment defense, the president’s team dismissed his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani as a minor player in the Ukrainian affair. Trump lawyer Jane Raskin said he was little more than a “shiny object designed to distract you.” Never mind that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to contact Giuliani, assuring him that “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you.”
Before Trump made the not-so-perfect call that would eventually lead to his impeachment, Giuliani ran frequent strategy sessions from the second floor of the president’s Washington hotel that were focused on getting Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Giuliani repeatedly pressured U.S. diplomats and State Department employees to push his “drug deal” (as former national security adviser John Bolton described it). At the same time, America’s Mayor kept feeding Trump a steady diet of conspiracy theories that played into the president’s preexisting prejudices against Ukraine. Far from being a bit player and “shiny object,” Giuliani helped build the Democrats’ case for Trump’s impeachment better than anyone else in the president’s inner circle.
If the claims about Giuliani were not preposterous enough, senators were also forced to endure Kenneth Starr’s self-righteous and hypocritical warnings regarding “the culture of impeachment.” Starr had, after all, once run a four-year investigation into obscure land deals, suicide conspiracy theories and intimate sexual details involving President Bill Clinton. Starr would later claim that Clinton’s abuse of power was the “capstone” of his impeachment case, but that did not stop the former independent counsel from mournfully warning senators Monday that “the commission of a crime is by no means sufficient to warrant the removal of our duly elected president.”
If it is true that Trump killed irony years ago, Starr’s opening statement single-handedly exhumed irony’s corpse from its tomb, dragged it across the Senate floor and demolished all obstacles in its path before finally scattering the bones back into the grave, one by one. As Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes said, “Does Ken Starr know he’s Ken Starr?” That embarrassing performance seemed only to confirm Trump’s previous assessment of the former Clinton prosecutor as a “lunatic” and a “disaster.”
Such insults were never thrown in the direction of Pam Bondi, another member of the president’s legal team. Bondi had safely placed herself in Trump’s good favor by refusing to pursue claims of fraud against Trump University when she was Florida’s attorney general. In 2013, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Bondi’s office was deciding whether to join in the lawsuit against Trump. Four days after the article went to print, Bondi’s reelection efforts were boosted by a $25,000 check from Trump’s foundation. Soon after, Bondi announced she would be not suing the reality TV star.
Such shamelessness in the service of Trump carries with it certain benefits. For Bondi, it was the honor of trotting out the conspiracy theory that then-Vice President Joe Biden had a Ukrainian prosecutor fired for investigating Burisma, of whose board his son Hunter was a member. If it were possible to embarrass the former Florida attorney general, then she would certainly be distressed to learn that Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal dismissed her theory as “discredited” months ago, or that the European Union, the Obama administration and the United States’ closest allies demanded the ouster of the same investigator, in part because his investigation into Burisma had been shelved.
But neither Bondi nor Starr can be shamed. The same holds true of the other attorneys on the president’s defense team, who sullied their reputations this week defending a shameless huckster, and whom history will judge harshly as those whose dunce routines continued to enable this dangerously unbalanced man.