Republicans' opening salvo on impeachment shows they think Americans are totally ignorant

Republicans' opening salvo on impeachment shows they think Americans are totally ignorant
PBS NewsHour

In advance of the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats worked to draw the battle lines for the American people.

“We intend to conduct these hearings with the seriousness and professionalism the public deserves,” House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff wrote in a letter to his colleagues. "The process will be fair to the President, the Committee Members, and the witnesses.”

Schiff also released a six-page memo outlining the rules of engagement for the hearings. Following up on questioning from Republicans intended to reveal the identity of the whistleblower, Schiff preemptively warned that members “shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House," according to the House Code of Official Conduct. "I will do my utmost during the hearings to safeguard the rights of the witnesses and all Members of the Committee, just as Committee Members should strive to conduct themselves with “dignity, propriety, courtesy, and decorum.”

And in a preview of the questioning, Schiff also noted that he plans to "yield extensive time" to the lead lawyer for the Democratic majority. Only after the conclusion of that extended questioning will members be recognized for their customary five-minute rounds.

Republicans, on the other hand, sought to dismiss the entirety of the public hearings as an unnecessary and partisan-driven endeavor. The game for House Republicans is to keep the number of their members who ultimately vote for any articles of impeachment to zero—the same number of GOP lawmakers who supported the procedural vote to move forward with the inquiry. Keeping that number as low as possible in the House will allow Trump to dismiss the whole inquiry as a partisan sham and create more incentive for GOP senators to follow suit and vote for acquittal in the Senate.

With that in mind, the Republican memo outlining the caucus's defense of Trump slammed the closed-door testimony to date as "purely information control," allowing Schiff to "selectively leak cherry-picked information to help paint misleading public narratives while, at the same time, place a gag order on Republican Members present."

Of course, that criticism ignores the fact that all the transcripts are in the process of being publicly released. It also sure doesn't seem like that supposed "gag order" has prevented Republicans representatives like Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan from running to the microphones after every hearing to spin what was revealed.

But the memo homes in on four central defenses of Trump's actions.

  • The July 25 call summary "shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure";
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Trump "have both said there was no pressure on the call";
  • "The Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call";
  • Trump and Zelensky ultimately met and "U.S. security assistance flowed to Ukraine in September 2019—both of which occurred without Ukraine investigating President Trump's political rivals."

All of these contentions are refutable and require that one views the available evidence either not at all or with a prejudicial set of blinders on. In the July 25 call, for instance, Trump asked Zelensky to "do us a favor though" immediately after Zelensky inquired about acquiring U.S. anti-tank missiles that Ukraine needed to defend itself against Russian aggression. Trump proceeded to mention investigations into the Bidens repeatedly throughout the rest of the call. The idea that Trump's actions showed no "evidence of pressure" is pure fantasy—unless you're intellectually committed to ignoring the obvious inference of a global super-power repeatedly telling a much smaller country dependent on foreign aid that investigating certain entities would be a good idea.

The same goes for the GOP's second contention. No way in a million years was Zelensky going to admit to feeling pressured in a public setting with Trump given that Trump's funding whims pose an existential threat to his country.

Furthermore, multiple reports have shown that Ukraine was indeed aware of the hold very early in the process. In particular, reporting from the Associated Press has revealed that Zelensky's incoming administration was already fretting over the Biden probe Trump wanted as far back as May. The New York Times reported that Ukraine was clear about the hold by early August at least. And in newly released testimony, State Department employee Cartherine Croft said that Ukraine officials knew about the frozen funds "very early on," well before it was publicly disclosed.

The GOP's final talking point rests on the idea that simply because everything turned out okay, there was no harm done—yet another exercise in cognitive dissonance. As multiple officials will tell Americans during the hearings, a desperate scramble ensued both inside the administration and among Ukrainians to get the funds released before they would disappear by the end of September. But either way, seeking foreign help in a U.S. election is a criminal offense, not to mention that Trump's actions clearly endangered Ukraine's national security and, therefore, damaged U.S. national security in the process.

All of the Republican talking points require a studied aversion to the truth that will fall flat on anyone who actually watches the public hearings with the intention of gathering the facts.

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