Perhaps you know the old lightbulb joke, how does Bill Gates change a lightbulb? He doesn’t, he simply declares darkness the new standard. In that tradition I give you the Republican White House defense of Donald Trump at his Senate impeachment trial. Despite Republican efforts to conceal the majority of the evidence of Donald Trump’s abuse of presidential powers, the evidence that has been obtained in documents and previously deposed testimony is so compelling and so inculpating that it became essential for them to declare that abuse of power is not, in fact, a crime, and therefore not impeachable. In other words, Senate Republicans have declared darkness the new standard.
They could find no Constitutional scholars to participate with them in this fiction of legal legerdemain, so they enlisted instead America’s most famous (and fame hungry) criminal appellate lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, to concoct a workable lie for them. That lie comes in the form of brazen repudiation of the words of Alexander Hamilton. Dershowitz has, in effect, said sorry, Al, but abuse of power is not an impeachable offense after all.
Not so fast, says the incomparable Adam Schiff. In a virtuoso two hour and twenty minute speech, Congressman Schiff enunciated the prosecution’s brief in language both persuasive and shatteringly logical. I’ve neither the space nor the disposition to cover the vast depth of House Manager Schiff’s brief. Nothing but the original could do it justice. You may find the whole thing on YouTube and, if you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to do so.
But it was a single insight in the middle of his speech that exposed the essential hypocrisy of the Republican position. One oft repeated talking point of Trump’s defense, used to rehabilitate his treacherous actions (whether impeachable or not), is that Trump was merely holding back the Ukrainian aid because he was concerned about Ukrainian corruption, and that the European Union wasn’t contributing its fair share in economic support to Ukraine.
“There’s something else remarkable about this,” Congressman Schiff said, “that I was struck by yesterday as we were going through the importance of the witness testimony, and looking at some of those redacted emails in which the administration sought to hide some of its misconduct … We see there’s a desire not to let people see about this hold [on the Congressionally approved Ukrainian aid.] If the president was fighting corruption, if he wanted Europeans to pay more, why would he hide it from us? Why would he hide it from the Ukrainians, why would he hide it from the rest of the world? If this was a desire to see Europe pay more, why didn’t he charge [ambassador to the European Union Gordon] Sondland to ask Europe to pay more? Why wouldn’t he be proud to tell the Congress of the United States ‘I’m holding up this aid, and I’m holding it up because I’m worried about corruption!’ Why wouldn’t he? Because of course it wasn’t true!”
In order to believe such a thing, we would have to believe in a modest Trump who eschews praise and does good deeds deliberately under the radar in order to avoid distracting with personal credit. Yep, that sounds just like Donald Trump, doesn’t it?
Never before has the expression “straining at gnats and swallowing camels” been more applicable than it has been of late to the Republicans defending the indefensible Donald Trump. As Schiff puts it in his speech, “So much of the last three years has been a combination of shock and yet no surprise.” The Republicans appear so terrified of Trump that there is no low too low for them. They will even let Trump endanger America’s strategic defense against the Russians in Europe in order to protect him. By doing so they betray America’s long tradition of defending freedom worldwide. “That’s what America is about, right, defending freedom?” Adam Schiff reminds them, “Not exporting corrupt ideas. That’s what we’re supposed to be about, right?” Not any more, apparently.