Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin could not have written dialogue that more comically illustrates the weakness of the Republican defense of Donald Trump than what Republicans wrote for themselves during their feeble cross-examination in the first days of public impeachment hearings.
House Republicans have no exculpatory evidence. They have no hidden witness to unveil. They don’t have an ill-fitting glove for Trump to try on. All they have is bad arguments. Here’s how to debunk the five most prominent Republican defenses of Donald Trump.
1) Read the transcript. The most consistent message from the president himself is: “READ THE TRANSCRIPT” (emphasis in the original tweet). The premise of the “read the transcript” defense is that the president never directly said “quid pro quo” during his July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. In Republican logic, “quid pro quo” is a magic phrase; without it, no crime was committed. But the phrase has no more legal power than “abracadabra.” Trump’s memo of the transcript clearly shows that Trump solicited a bribe from a foreign government. “Bribery” is also not a magic word. Federal bribery occurs when a public official seeks “a thing of value” in exchange for some official act or duty.
2) Zelensky didn’t pay up. Republicans argue that Trump’s solicitation was not an illegal abuse of power because Zelensky never announced an investigation into the Bidens, but eventually got his congressionally authorized aid anyway. Yes, attempted crime is still crime, and Trump’s ineffectiveness is no defense for his actions. The mere solicitation of the bribe is the crime itself, regardless of whether the bribe is paid.
3) Hearsay. Republicans are arguing that all the damning testimony should be disregarded. They’re using a legal term of art, “hearsay,” to try to convince people that all the evidence against Trump is “secondhand” and thus somehow not real or trustworthy or whatever. But investigations are not subject to the Hearsay rule, because refusing to listen to all the evidence of a crime when you are trying to investigate that crime is ridiculous. The people who are testifying in this investigation are testifying to their recollections, and the credibility of those recollections can be assessed by the investigators, in this case Congress.
4) The whistle-blower. Republican congresspeople argue that the person who first spoke up should be outed, subpoenaed and forced to offer public testimony – and until then, those claims are suspect. This argument is ridiculous and dangerous. Numerous government officials have come forward to offer testimony, under their own names, that corroborates the whistle-blower’s initial complaint.
5) Too dumb to crime. Whenever Trump gets in trouble, Republicans return to the concept that Trump is too stupid to do whatever it is he’s accused of doing. It sounds like they’re merely infantilizing the president. And most of them likely are.