Most notable was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s appearance on “60 Minutes.” Interviewer Scott Pelley tripped up McCarthy immediately — by quoting Trump directly.
“What do you make of this exchange?” Pelley asked the California Republican. “President Zelensky says, ‘We are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.’ And President Trump replies, ‘I would like you to do us a favor though.’”
“You just added another word,” McCarthy replied.
Pelley had not added a word. Nor is this line buried in the rough transcript provided by the White House; it’s one of the most-talked-about moments in the five-page document — a document Pelley clearly assumed the ranking Republican in the House had read.
“He said, 'I'd like you to do a favor though'?" McCarthy asked.
“Yes,” Pelley replied, “it’s in the White House transcript."
McCarthy's response? Criticize Trump's predecessor.
“When I read the transcript, President Zelensky brings up a Javelin is a protection for antitank, something that President Obama would not sell that President Trump did to protect the Ukraine,” he replied.
Pelley didn't press him on the “favor” line.
Later, McCarthy reiterated a line that's been deployed frequently to dismiss the complaint from an intelligence community whistleblower.
“The question before the House of Representatives is to impeach the president based upon a phone call that the speaker never even heard,” he asserted. It’s an odd line — since the White House’s rough transcript describes the call itself in detail, matching what the whistleblower reported. The House Democrats’ impeachment push is predicated not on how the call came to light but on what the call contained.
“Mr. Leader, with great respect to you, and I apologize for interrupting, but these are the White House talking points that were emailed to the Congress earlier this week,” Pelley replied. “And I am asking you was it appropriate for the president to ask for investigations of his Democratic rivals with another foreign leader?"
“I've never seen one talking point from a White House,” McCarthy replied. “I'm talking to you based upon the most important facts we have. The whistleblower wasn't on the call. The IG, inspector general, didn't read the call."
“But you and I have all the information we need,” McCarthy added. “The president did nothing in this phone call that's impeachable."
It's worth noting that McCarthy's declaration that he had all the information he needed is undermined a bit by his not being aware of what the transcript said.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, McCarthy’s No. 2, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), was similarly trying to defend Trump. He disparaged Obama for not selling Javelin missiles to Ukraine and dismissed the impeachment push as unwarranted and biased.
Scalise was much more aggressive in defending Trump. That favor? Well, it wasn’t about Biden, he told host Chuck Todd, but instead specifically centered on Trump pushing for an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s network in 2016. Scalise argued that the “favor” was therefore part of Trump’s effort to uncover foreign interference in the election that year.
Never mind, of course, that there has already been a full investigation of the issue and a dozen indictments obtained against Russian intelligence officials. Never mind that Trump himself reportedly told Russian officials that he wasn’t interested in their interference efforts — and never mind that a primary reason to question the perpetrators of the hack is to muddy Russia’s involvement.
What about the Biden request?
Zelensky “and President Trump are talking about that in the conversation, things that both of them are doing to clean up corruption and drain the swamp,” Scalise said.
This is miles from reality. The rough transcript contains precisely no mentions of corruption at all, and Zelensky’s insistence that he’s advocating for “open and candid” investigations leads to Trump mentioning only one investigation he’d like to see: that of Biden and his son Hunter.
After the interview, Scalise tweeted a clip, celebrating how he battled Todd on what he called “Democrat talking points.” Then he claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was “trying to shield their members from voting on” impeachment by moving forward an inquiry without a vote — ignoring, of course, that public pressure from more than 130 House Democrats got Pelosi to call for the inquiry in the first place.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was on CBS’s “Face the Nation” one day after playing golf with Trump. Among other things — such as comparing the whistleblower complaint to the Salem witch trials — Graham claimed that the complaint was unfairly predicated on hearsay and that “the hearsay rule was changed just a short period of time before the complaint was filed.”
That’s a reference to a report from a Trump-friendly media outlet last week suggesting that rules were changed to allow the whistleblower to present secondhand information. That claim has been debunked. The idea that secondhand knowledge is somehow inadmissible, meanwhile, has been undercut by the ways in which the whistleblower’s assertions about the Trump-Zelensky call echo the White House transcript.
On CNN, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, was interviewed by Jake Tapper.
“You really don't have any problem with the president of the United States leveraging his power to push a foreign leader to investigate a political rival?” Tapper asked.
“What I have a problem with is what the Democrats are doing,” Jordan replied.
Much of the interview centered on Jordan misrepresenting the allegations focused on Joe and Hunter Biden — allegations that have been broadly debunked. Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani has been trying to gin up a theory that Joe Biden called for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating a company for which his son worked.
In reality, there was no such investigation at the time of the firing, there’s no evidence that Biden was concerned about such an investigation, there’s no evidence Hunter Biden would have been implicated in any investigation, and there’s a lot of evidence that other world and government leaders wanted to see the prosecutor ousted.
Here’s a key exchange.
TAPPER: I think that you came here and leveled a bunch of accusations and allegations about -- about Hunter Biden.JORDAN: I stated the facts. I didn't level -- I just said the facts. Did he get paid $50,000 a month?TAPPER: He was paid by a foreign company, yes. He was paid by Burisma.JORDAN: Fifty thousand a month.TAPPER: But Joe Biden was trying to get a prosecutor who was not pursuing corruption fired. And it was supported ...JORDAN: It’s amazing the gymnastics you guys will go through to defend what ...TAPPER: Sir, it's not gymnastics. It's facts. And I would think somebody who's been accused of things in the last year and two would be more sensitive about throwing out wild allegations against people.JORDAN: I’m not throwing out wild allegations. I’m throwing out the facts.
A reminder that there’s a difference between offering isolated facts — like Hunter Biden’s monthly payments — and conveying factual information like what is understood to have actually happened in Ukraine.
Even on Fox News, Trump's team found no respite. Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller spoke with the network's Chris Wallace, offering many of the same defenses of his boss.
“Both the director of national intelligence and inspector general said they also found [the whistleblower's] comments to be credible and a matter of urgent concern, and they turned it over to the Justice Department,” Wallace said at one point. “So despite all that, they thought that this was a credible — a complaint."
“And they're wrong, Chris,” Miller replied.
“Well, on whose basis?” Wallace asked.
“Chris, I’ve worked in the government now, the federal government now for nearly three years,” Miller said. “I know what the deep state looks like. I know the difference between a whistleblower and a deep state operative. This is a deep state operative, pure and simple."
Wallace then indirectly noted that the acting director of national intelligence had served in the government for a bit longer than three years.
“For reasons I cannot fathom,” Miller said later, “the media, which is ordinarily interested in sunshine and transparency above all else, is remarkably uncurious about the information Ukraine possesses about the corruption of the previous administration."
Wallace responded by asking Miller why Trump decided to withhold aid that the State Department had already decided to clear, given its progress in fighting corruption.
“Why did the president, if the argument is corruption,” Wallace said, “why did the president go against his own Pentagon and his own State Department?"
“Chris, I don’t understand how you can ask that question while at the same time admonishing the president for wanting to get to the bottom of perhaps one of the biggest corruption scandals concerning Ukraine in the last few years, which is Burisma Holdings,” Miller replied. It’s a neat trick: alleging that the “scandal” is “perhaps” one of the biggest in years even though there’s no evidence to that point — which is why Trump needs to “get to the bottom” of it.
“I’m not admonishing anybody,” Wallace replied, adding: “With all due respect, this is an exercise in obfuscation. Why did the president go against his own Pentagon and State Department?"
“There’s a tone of judgment — there’s a tone of judgment in all of your — there’s a tone of judgment in all of your questions, so yes, you are admonishing,” Miller said, without answering the question directly.
He did praise a whistleblower, though: his boss.
“When he says, or she, that the president is hurting national security by trying to get to the bottom of a gigantic scandal that nobody has unearthed,” Miller claimed — again asserting that the scandal is both massive and devoid of evidence of its scale — “the president is the whistleblower here. The president of the United States is the whistleblower."
Last week, Trump the whistleblower decided to accuse Ukraine of having emails that were deleted by Hillary Clinton for no other reason than that a reporter appears to have misunderstood the “server” he was referring to in his call with Zelensky as being Clinton’s server and not a DNC server hacked by Russia.
Talk about wild accusations rooted in secondhand evidence.