“And by the way — lawyer lawsuits?” Sekulow began. “Lawyer lawsuits? We’re talking about the impeachment of a president of the United States, duly elected, and the members — the managers are complaining about lawyer lawsuits? The Constitution allows lawyer lawsuits. It’s disrespecting the Constitution of the United States to even say that in this chamber — lawyer lawsuits.”
Sekulow added that it was “a dangerous moment for America when an impeachment of a president of the United States is being rushed through because of lawyer lawsuits. The Constitution allows it, if necessary. The Constitution demands it, if necessary.”
There was one problem: Sekulow was referring to a quote that doesn’t appear to exist. He appeared to have badly misunderstood what one of the Democratic impeachment managers said.
Shortly prior, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) laid out her case against Trump. In the course of it, she referred to “FOIA lawsuits” — not “lawyer lawsuits” — referring to the Freedom of Information Act.
And it wasn’t just one wayward acronym that could explain the misunderstanding; Demings’s remarks repeatedly referenced the law.
“The president’s lawyers may suggest that the House should have sought — that this House should have sought these materials in court, or awaited further lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act, a.k.a. FOIA lawsuits,” Demings said. “Any such suggestion is meritless.”
She added soon after: “FOIA lawsuits filed by third parties cannot serve as a credible alternative to congressional oversight.”
The next person to refer to “lawsuits” after that was Sekulow, eight minutes later.
What’s even more remarkable about the flap is that the White House actually stood by Sekulow’s allegation. Asked about the remark by reporters later in the night, White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland reportedly walked away, only to return a while later — apparently after checking? — and suggest that Sekulow had not erred.
“When you read the transcript, it says ‘lawyer lawsuit,’ ” he said.
It’s not clear to what transcript Ueland is referring, but the Federal Document Clearing House transcript includes no references to “lawyer lawsuits” besides Sekulow’s. And video of Demings’s remarks are clear that she did, in fact, say “FOIA lawsuits” both times. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) also referred to “FOIA lawsuits” shortly before 2 p.m. — hours before Sekulow’s retort. There are no other references in the transcript to “lawsuits” that could even have been reasonably mistaken for “lawyer lawsuits.”
It might seem like a small point in the grand scheme of things, even if you set aside Sekulow’s demonstrative and indignant response to something that doesn’t appear to have actually been said. But if anything, the White House’s remarkable double-down would seem to speak volumes about its strategy here — and its devotion to the facts.