One of the unhappy realities of the Republican Party’s lot in life right now is that to defend President Trump against impeachment, you essentially have to defend his rather bizarre conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s role in the origins of the Russia investigation. You have to pretend the CrowdStrike thing is a valid line of inquiry — it’s just part of a broader anti-corruption push in Ukraine! — even though it has been thoroughly debunked and doesn’t really make sense on its face. That’s to say nothing about the baselessness of the other investigation Trump is seeking, the one about the Bidens.
Apparently the conspiracy theorizing has proved contagious. Not only are Trump’s most loyal House Republican defenders pushing these theories, but now his secretary of state is also piling on.
In an interview with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum on Wednesday night, Mike Pompeo defended Trump against allegations of a quid pro quo and then took a detour into his own Biden-related conspiracy theory:
POMPEO: What I know is I was on the call, I listened to the call. I thought the way the president handled it was appropriate. We were incredibly focused on a couple of simple things with respect to Ukraine strategy. And we’ve executed on that. And don’t forget, Martha, this is the administration that provided defensive weapon systems to Ukraine. The previous administration —MACCALLUM: That's true.POMPEO: — I couldn’t tell you why, I couldn’t answer if it’s because of Hunter Biden, that Barack Obama and Vice President Biden didn’t give weapons to Ukraine. They’ll have to answer for that. Maybe — maybe I just don’t have the full story.
Pompeo didn’t really finish his thought on exactly what he might have been referring to, and if you watch the video, you’ll notice he kind of stumbles away from what he’s just said. He even says, “Maybe I just don’t have the full story.”
Perhaps he didn’t really mean to say what he just said, and he was just trying to make a point about how inexplicable it was that the Obama administration didn’t do as much to arm Ukraine as he thinks it should have. But that’s a pretty extraordinary suggestion to make. He’s entertaining the idea that the Obama administration might have withheld weapons systems from Ukraine because of ... Hunter Biden’s employment at a Ukrainian energy company?
But Pompeo’s theorizing fits nicely with the broader Trump team strategy here, which is to muddy the waters by suggesting it was actually the Obama administration that withheld assistance in exchange for personal favors — not, as much more evidence suggests, the Trump team.
I asked the State Department what Pompeo might have been referring to. It hasn’t responded yet.
Also interestingly, in the same interview, Pompeo answered a question about the rough transcript the White House released of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. After Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman reportedly testified this week that there were a few things on the call that weren’t included in the rough transcript, Pompeo was asked whether that was true.
Rather than say yes or no, Pompeo fell back on the idea that this was leaked testimony:
MACCALLUM: He says that there were things that were deleted from the transcript of the call that were specifically about the Bidens and about Burisma, investigating both of those. And he claims that there was quid quo pro for a White House meeting and for the aid to be released to Ukraine. You were on that call, as well. Do you agree with him that those items were not part of the transcript, but they were part of that phone call?POMPEO: Well, I don’t know what any of the witnesses have actually said. We’re now reporting on the leaks from Democrats who have a mission set here to take down President Trump. What I know is I was on the call, I listened to the call. I thought the way the president handled it was appropriate.
Here’s the thing, though: He doesn’t need to depend upon Vindman’s testimony. As he notes, he was on the call and could know himself whether there were things said about the Bidens that weren’t in the rough transcript. He chose to avoid answering that.
President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial
Latest: Trump acquitted on impeachment charge of inciting deadly attack on the Capitol
See the videos: Previously unpublished video shows Pence, Romney, Schumer and others rushing to evacuate the Capitol
Analysis: For Raskin and the House managers arguing to convict Trump, less was more
The evidence: All of the exhibits presented in the Senate trial
What happens next: A guide to Trump’s impeachment
Graphic: Where Senators stand on impeachment
Stay informed: Read the latest reporting and analysis on impeachment here.