I applaud Chairman Adam Schiff for his dignified manner in leading the majority during the recent House impeachment hearings. Indeed, I noticed that every Democrat on the dais demonstrated tremendous restraint by using their time to create a record instead of pointing out the transparently asinine questions, statements, and demeanor of the minority.
Indeed, it is hard to find an honest word or sentiment from Republicans during the hours and hours of hearings other than the occasional nod to the patriotism of the two witnesses who are decorated combat veterans. It is true that Colonel Vindman’s loyalty to our nation was questioned because he had been born in Ukraine and wore his army uniform instead of the customary business suit that Jim Jordan has eschewed for his entire Congressional career.
I’m going to include just a few examples of what I mean by disingenuous and/or stupid questions posed by Republicans during the hearings. In fact, I’m going to confine myself to just four questions directed to Ambassador Gordan Sondland.
Sondland, you will recall, is the hotel magnate who donated a million dollars to Trump – AFTER the election. He wanted to be an ambassador, but waited to buy his way in. The million dollars went straight to the Inaugural Slush Fund, which received $107 million in donations (twice that of either Obama inaugural) and is currently under several criminal investigations.
You see, after the shock of winning, Trump suddenly had to do some real thinking about how to make money from the presidency. “I know,” Trump said to Jared and Ivanka, “Why not start on Day One?!”
The million bucks got Sondland his ambassadorship – to the European Union, which does not include Ukraine. Nevertheless, he found himself at the center of Trump’s scheme to shake down Ukraine’s new president to help him win the 2020 election
When it was the Republicans’ turn to ask questions, they had no interest in eliciting new information. Their strategy was to package existing information in a way that would confuse listeners who were not paying a lot of attention. This one’s typical. Republican counsel Stephen Castor notes that Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin had written a letter to Trump and later called him:
Mr. Castor: Okay. I want to turn to the letter from Senator Johnson…. He writes, “I asked him, the President whether there was some kind of arrangement where Ukraine would take some action and the hold would be lifted. Without hesitation, President Trump immediately denied such an arrangement existed.” And Senator Johnson quotes the President saying, “No way. I would never do that! Who told you that?” “…I have accurately characterized the President’s reaction as adamant, vehement and angry.” Senator Johnson’s telephone call with the President wasn’t a public event. It was capturing a genuine, you know, moment with the President. And he had at this point in time on August 31st, he was adamant, vehement, and angry that there was no connections to aid. There were no preconditions! You have no reason to disbelieve that wasn’t the way it went down, right?
Gordon Sondland: No, no reason to disbelieve Senator Johnson.
See? Senator Johnson had spoken with Trump and asked him directly if there were any conditions on Ukraine for Trump to lift the hold. And Trump said,“No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?” I mean, his reaction was adamant, vehement, and angry that there were no preconditions to aid!
And Castor had added this: “Senator Johnson’s telephone call with the President wasn’t a public event. It was capturing a genuine, you know, moment with the President.”
And Sondland testifies that he had “no reason to disbelieve Senator Johnson.”
But let me pause for a moment and ask this. For argument sake, let’s say Johnson was smart. Would he have any reason to disbelieve Trump? Hmm. Let’s ask ourselves a few questions. First, would anyone ever have any reason to disbelieve Donald Trump? Yes. Pretty much always. Does Trump have reason to lie here? Of course.
And let’s face it, Trump’s demonstrated that he doesn’t need a reason to lie. But here he does. Ron Johnson is asking Trump if he has committed a crime. Let’s assume for a minute that he has. You know, because all the testimony in the hearings, not to mention the “transcript” of the phone call with Zelensky, unequivocally say, “Yes! Trump was shaking down the foreign leader of a country desperately under siege from a superior military power.”
So, was the phone call capturing “a genuine, you know, moment” with Trump? Has such a thing ever even existed?
So. Castor? Disingenuous? Or stupid? Or both? I’m going with just “disingenuous.” Johnson. That’s easy. “Stupid.” Sondland. Really hard to tell here. He did build a successful hotel chain.
OK, let’s review. This took up time in an impeachment hearing. An impeachment of the President of the United States that millions are watching. Jeffrey Toobin is watching. Rachel Maddow is watching. Maggie Haberman is watching. Does this lawyer really believe that he’s going to get away with that? Well, yeah. Because Sean Hannity will believe anything. And Tucker Carlson doesn’t care what he believes.
Let’s keep these coming. It’s Rep. Chris Stewart’s turn. He’s a Republican from Utah.
Chris Stewart: So the question before us now is again extortion. That’s the latest version of the charges against the president. I’m not an attorney. Extortion sounds pretty scary…. I had to look it up, what it means. It means obtaining money or property by threat to a victim’s property or loved ones. Mr. Ambassador, I’m going to read you a couple of quotes from president Zelensky and then ask you a question…. Zelensky told reporters during a joint press conference with Donald Trump that he was not pressured by the US president. “Again, I was not pressured.” He used another time, “There was no blackmail.” I would ask you, do you think he felt like he was being extorted by the president, based on these comments?
Gordon Sondland: I really think that’s for the committee and the Congress to-
Chris Stewart: Well, you know what, Mr. Ambassador, it’s really for the American people.
Gordon Sondland: I agree.
Chris Stewart: And the American people aren’t stupid.
Well, Congressman. You better hope that a lot of Americans are stupid. Or not listening. Because I think most Americans with any common sense know that if Trump and Zelensky were at a joint conference, and Zelensky desperately needs support from the U.S., he wouldn’t out the President of the United States and embarrass him before the entire world.
Is Stewart being disingenuous or stupid? Easy call. Stupid.
And then there’s Jim Jordan. He’s not on the Intelligence Committee, but Republicans added him for these hearings because you need a rabid attack dog to make an argument this dumb, this dishonest, and this lame:
…There was never an announcement. You said there were three quid pro quos, but there weren’t because there was never an announcement. I mean this is as clear as it gets….They got the money. They got the money. God bless America. It all worked out. Right? This is crazy what we’re going through because the facts are so darn clear.
Clear? First, Jordan has to know that Ukraine got the money soon after Politico posted a story on August 28 that the money was being withheld by the Trump Administration. And that The Washington Post published that Trump was “attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.” Clearly the jig was up.
I think Jordan is smart enough to know that it would be illegal for President Trump to walk across the street, approach a guy in Lafayette Park and say, “Hey, man, would you like to buy some illegal drugs?”
And if the guy responded, “Well, I happen to be an undercover cop, and I’m afraid you’re under arrest.”
And Trump says, “You mean I don’t just get to say, “Oh dear! Well, never mind then?”
“No,” says the cop. “You don’t get to put your illegal drugs back into your fanny pack and doff your cap and casually walk away.” Then the cop cuffs him. That’s because Trump would be guilty of a crime – soliciting a cop for an illegal schedule two drug. Even though the cop never takes possession of the drug, President Trump has still committed a serious crime.
Couldn’t a Democrat on the committee have pointed that out.
I think Adam Schiff is doing a great job. I not only admire his steely dignity – I think it’s exactly the right way for him to go. But someone on that committee should be dedicated to calling out this crap.
Whether the next hearings in the House are in the Intelligence Committee or the Judiciary Committee or in the Senate trial, Democrats should assign one staffer dedicated only to crazy Republican blather and pass it on to a member who will act as an enforcer. That will create a few viral moments that will be hard for most Americans to escape entirely.
It’s jujitsu. Their dishonesty and stupidity and cynicism is one of their most powerful weapons. It should also be one of ours.