During Thursday’s mark up of the articles of impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans unveiled a four-point defense of President Trump that is stunning in its simplicity and blows massive holes in the Democrats allegations of abuse of power. Essentially the Democrats are accusing Trump of shaking down Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky by withholding aid and demanding announcement of investigations, including one involving Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
To this, the central charge in the articles of impeachment, Rep. Jim Jordan and others presented four specific facts. First, both Trump and Zelensky say there was no pressure applied. Second, the transcript does not indicate Trump making any demands or setting any conditions. Third, Ukraine was not aware that the aid was delayed. And fourth, aid flowed without any announcement of investigations. Taken together, these four defenses have more than enough weight to crush the Democrats’ case, but lets look at them one by one.
The fact that Zelensky says on the record that he did not feel pressure from Trump is an important one that has been widely ignored. As Rep. Matt Gaetz argued, there can’t be a shake down if the person being shook down has no idea its happening. Unless Zelensky is lying, the entire case against Trump just disappears.
Democrats on Thursday, as they have before, but more vehemently so, said that of course Zelensky must be lying. He needs American aid so he is lying to stay on the good side of the president. Setting aside the fact that the Democrats making this claim have no evidence to support it, it also undermines the credibility of Zelensky, one of the very things they accuse Trump of doing.
As to the transcript itself, the GOP members honed in on the fact the “favor” in the conversation was not a “a favor for me,” but a “favor for us.” And later the “us” is clarified as “our country.” This also strikes at the core of a case that depends upon the claim that Trump’s only interest in Ukraine policy was getting dirt on Joe Biden to help himself politically.
When Trump says, after asking Zelensky to investigate Ukrainian interference in 2016, “our country has been through a lot.” He means the Mueller probe, and he’s not wrong. How much evidence or information about Russian interference exists in Ukraine is up for debate, but the fact that it is a legitimate subject of interest for the President is not.
One of the few facts in all of this where there is some debate is when exactly Ukraine became aware that the military aid had been delayed. But all versions place it very late in the timeline of events, certainly long after the July 25 phone call with Zelensky. That’s like trying to blackmail someone with scandalous photos of them without letting them know you have any scandalous photos of them. It’s impossible.
The delay of the aid was part of a wider set of concerns regarding how much Ukraine could be trusted with the money. Throughout the late summer and fall, through a set of meetings and phone calls with American officials Zelensky proved to Trump that he could be trusted. That is what Trump wanted to know and why he released the aid without any announcement of investigations.
And that final fact, that the aid was released without the announcements Democrats claim were the condition to release them, really puts the period on the sentence. Democrats claim the aid was only released on September 11 because the White House became aware of the whistleblower report. But this ignores the fact the aid had to release by September 30, and doing so is a two-week process.
So essentially, aid was released on or about the deadline set to release it. That is a much more plausible explanation for the timing than some whistleblower report spooking Trump. Is it possible Trump was angry at yet again being undermined by people in the federal government for exercising his legitimate powers? Sure. But there is no evidence to suggest that Trump was ever planning to ultimately kill the aid.
These four basic points will make up the core of the Republican defense of Trump on abuse of power charges. The White House should be very happy. Unlike the serpentine choose your own adventure story the Democrats have cooked up, this is a straightforward and simple defense, it can be explained quickly and it all makes perfect sense.