So hours after a leak from John Bolton's book shows, as if more evidence was needed, that Trump was out to shake down Ukraine and all of the president's men knew it, the president's legal team of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe will return to the well of the Senate today, after honoring the Lord’s day in the wake of that grueling two-hour presentation Saturday.
They’ll be laying into Joe and Hunter Biden, according to a weekend Washington Post report. Or at least White House lawyer Pat Cippolone and Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow intend to. There’s a split between those who want to try and rebut the damning facts laid out by the House managers and those who want to skip the defense altogether and just use the valuable TV time to launch political attacks. The Post didn’t say which side Trump is on, but I think we can guess.
The money sentence from the piece is this one: “Trump’s allies believe that if they can argue that the president had a plausible reason for requesting the Biden investigation in Ukraine, they can both defend him against the impeachment charges and gain the bonus of undercutting a political adversary.”
OK. Now step back for a minute. I thought Trump’s call to Volodymyr Zelensky was perfect. That our president said nothing inappropriate. That he didn’t ask his Ukranian counterpart to investigate the Bidens. Isn’t that what “perfect” means? I mean, that’s what this whole thing is about, isn’t it? Trump is being impeached for asking for a foreign leader to announce an investigation of his domestic political rivals. Trump denies it. (Mick Mulvaney confirmed it, but let’s put that aside for the nonce.)
But now, his legal defense is going to be that he did ask for the investigation, but that it was OK for him to do that! So his defense, if this strategy is pursued, will be to admit that he did what he is charged with.
What is the matter with these maniacs? I thought defense lawyers were in the business of standing up there and saying “my client is completely innocent of all these scurrilous charges.” They did that on Saturday. And they even did it semi-effectively, I must admit. The proceedings demonstrated the same issue that makes it so hard to convict mob bosses of ordering hits, because mob bosses don’t say, “Anthony, I would very much like you to take this gun and shoot our friend Vincent between the eyes, making certain he’s dead”; they say, “Tony, Vinny has become a problem, you follow?” And Tony, being the professional that he is, follows.
Trump speaks mob. So when Gordon Sondland admits that no, Trump never said “quid pro quo,” well, he didn’t, and he wouldn’t.
But now they (or some of them anyway) want to defend the perfect call by saying yeah, he did it, and so what. He had reason to do it. The Bidens are corrupt scumbags. The president—once again, despite all the fake news, all the crybaby socialists, all the Chuck suck-ups and little Nancy boys and Schiffty, uh, “cosmopolitans” out to cut his throat—was simply defending America.
It’s insane. A defense lawyer doing this in an actual trial would be mocked and scorned, maybe disbarred. But they know this isn’t an actual trial. There’s no judge who’ll impose any rules here. John Roberts has said as much. And the jury is rigged.
So they could say anything. They could spend their time acknowledging that Trump: slept with Stormy Daniels and paid her off; sexually assaulted every woman who’s accused him of same; fired James Comey because of Russia; tried to extort Zelensky; and gave the nuclear codes to Vladimir Putin. They could admit anything, because they know their client will be acquitted.
And once he is, the machinery will really kick into gear. Last week, Lindsey Graham reupped his vow to investigate the Bidens after the impeachment trial is over. And don’t forget U.S. Attorney John Durham, the U.S. attorney investigating the “deep state.”
Never forget Durham. Never forget his shocking pre-Christmas statement taking issue with the Justice Department inspector general’s report finding that the FBI, while guilty of procedural errors, had acted appropriately in opening an investigation in 2016 into whether the Trump campaign had helped Russia to help the Trump campaign. Durham said he disagreed with Michael Horowitz, which in a normal Washington where the president wasn't doing WTF stuff three times a day would have registered the shock it deserved to when a U.S. attorney says that his own Justice Department's IG is wrong (and, by extension, that Trump is right to rail about the supposed crimes of the people he calls his political enemies in the government he now heads).
Durham isn’t looking at the Bidens as far as we know, but any deep stater he can manage to indict will help Trump’s re-election chances, which is why Bill “Falangist” Barr appointed him to begin with.
As to Joe Biden, there is a debate, on the broad liberal-left, and with Iowa approaching, about how much all this will damage him if he’s the nominee. The line you hear is that “but Hunter and Burisma” will be the 2020 version of “but her emails,” and it’s going to kill him just the way the emails helped sink Hillary.
That is of course possible. Trump and Fox and the rest of them will repeat the standard lies a million times, and Graham will have no trouble finding corrupt right-wingers in Ukraine who will retail a Trump-friendly version of events.
But history teaches that lies don’t always stick. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. It depends. Every right-wing hit doesn’t work. If they did, Barack Obama would have been off counting communion wafers for Jeremiah Wright.
Three factors differentiate Clinton’s emails from Biden’s Hunter problem. One, Hillary had a history of ethical… allegations, let us say. I don’t think she was guilty of 90 percent of what the right wing accused her of, but the mere fact of 25 years of accusations made a lot of America believe there must have been something there.
Two, Clinton’s way of handling these things didn’t help. Her suspicion of the press, her instinct to rely on the most tight, pro forma language when denying something, made her look guilty even when she wasn’t.
Three, there was, alas, a grain of truth to the allegations about Clinton’s emails to the extent that she just should have used a state.gov address in the first damn place. She’d be president today.
None of these things are true of Biden, or at least they needn’t be. The first certainly isn’t. He’s been in public life for 50 years and has never been attached to any pecuniary scandal (the plagiarism thing was different). The third also isn’t true. He wanted Viktor Shokin fired because the whole Western world wanted Shokin fired. Some percentage of voters will fall for the lies, but the truth gets through to more people than you’d think.
It all comes down to the second thing: How Biden handles it. We’ll see, if he’s the nominee. But if Trump’s lawyers do Biden the favor of admitting the whole thing, that might make it easier for him.