Trump’s White House lawyers opened up their defense of Trump on Saturday. It was a classic example of how a skilled lawyer can combine a series of isolated events, statements and comments to distract people from the main thrust of the story-line.
Mike Purpura opened with the infamous clip of Adam Schiff paraphrasing what Trump had said in the July 25 phone call.
He continued on to the meat of the issue – whether there was pressure on Zelensky to conduct the investigations. Purpura’s arguments boiled down to the following:
- Zelensky said he never felt pressure. And he could not have felt pressure since he was unaware of the hold on the aid until the report was published on Politico on August 29. Evidence that he was unaware is that he never raised the issue of the aid until after that date.
- Nobody ever heard Trump or anybody representing him say there was a quid pro quo, and Trump, himself, repeatedly said there was not.. Sondland’s assumption was just that – an assumption.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow – the long time far right lawyer connected with the Christian fanatics – came next. Much of his presentation revolved around the claim of Trump and co. that the “deep state” (the same “deep state” that many on the left used to talk about) was out to get him. He cited as evidence the ruling of the FISA Court (named after the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act) had ruled in December of 2017 that the FBI had misled the court in its request for a wire tap of a Trump election official. Sekulo also repeated Trump’s claim that he was concerned with two things: corruption in Ukraine and also “burden sharing” – that Western European countries (especially Germany) share the financial burden of helping Ukraine.
Next came Patrick Philbin, who focused largely on defending Trump against Article Two of the impeachment charge – that of obstruction.
Philbin rested much of his case on the claim that Trump defied the subpoena’s because they were not authorized by the House as a whole, that they came strictly from one House committee. He claimed that the Democrats didn’t have the House as a whole to vote on the subpoenas due to partisanship. It was “only after five weeks of hearings that the House decided to have a vote,” Philbin complained. He repeated the complaint that the White House was “locked out” of the process, including being denied its right to cross examine witnesses. This argument doesn’t explain why, in that case, Trump’s ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, was not even allowed to review his own notes before testifying. In that case, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the supposed illigitemacy of a subpoena.
Philbin questioned whether a “political bias” was what motivated the whistle blower, and he cited a report that the whistle blower had worked with Biden in Ukraine. He also attacked Schiff for having talked with the whistle-blower prior to that individual’s having made his complaint.
Finally came Pat Cipollone, who started with the criticism that Schiff had not testified before the House Judiciary Committee. This contrasted, said Cipollone, with Ken Starr – chief investigator for the Republicans in the Clinton impeachment – who did so testify at that time.
Cipollone, too, denied that Trump had refused to invite Zelensky to the White House. He cited a letter from Trump to Zelensky which said “whenever ou would like to come to the White House, give us a call.” (This is like when when you talk with somebody you really don’t want to see but don’t want to say so. Instead, you say “come on by some time.”) As with the other lawyers, he cited statements from people like Volker and Sondland (two of Trump’s “three amigos”) which shed doubt on the quid pro quo claim. Cipollone concluded that the impeachment was nothing but an attempt “to stop an election…. and to remove the president of the United States from the ballot.”
The House impeachment managers held a press conference afterwards in which Schiff replied. His main point was that the defenders of Trump did not deny that Trump had solicited Zelensky to get involved in the US elections. Of course, Trump never explicitly said such involvement was the price for a White House visit and for dispensing the $391 million in aid. But consider the July 25 phone conversation: First the issue of US military equipment (the Javelin missiles) was discussed, and then Trump went directly to “But I’d like you to do us a favor, though…” Furthermore, Zelensky had been prepped in advance about what Trump wanted.
Regarding Trump’s alleged concern that the financial burden be shared with Germany and other countries, Schiff pointed to the phone call the next day between Trump and Sondland. His first question was “will Zelensky do the investigation?” He also wanted Sondland to “call Rudy” – not call Merkle (which he would have if burden sharing had been his concern).
Schiff also said it was simply untrue that Zelensky was unaware of the hold on aid. Just a few days after the July 25 phone call, the then-deputy foreign minister in Ukraine said he received a cable from its US embassy informing him of that freeze, and in fact Gordon Sondland said he’d talked with Ukrainian officials about the freeze. “If the freeze was so above board,” Schiff asked, “why didn’t the president notify congress?”
For those who are unsure, here is an accounting from the NY Times of some of the discussions:
Volker Advises Yermak Ahead of Trump-Zelensky Call3: On the morning of July 25, 2019—ahead of the planned call between President Trump and President Zelensky- Ambassador Volker advised Andrey Yermak:
[7/25/19, 8:36:45 AM] Kurt Volker: Good lunch – thanks. Heard from White House—assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / “get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck! See you tomorrow- kurt
Yermak’s Informal Readout of the Trump-Zelensky Call: Following President Trump’s July 25 call, Ambassador Volker received the following readout from Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Yermak and confirmed his intent to meet Giuliani in Madrid:
[7/25/19, 10:15:06 AM] Andrey Yermak: Phone call went well. President Trump proposed to choose any convenient dates. President Zelenskiy chose 20,21,22 September for the White House Visit. Thank you again for your help! Please remind Mr. Mayor to share the Madrid’s dates
[7/25/19, 10:16:42 AM] Kurt Volker: Great —thanks and will do!
State Department Officials Discuss a White House Visit and Ukraine Statement4: On August 9, 2019, Ambassador Volker had the following exchange with Ambassador Sondland about arranging a White House meeting after the Ukrainian President makes a public statement:
[8/9/19, 5:35:53 PM] Gordon Sondland: Morrison ready to get dates as soon as Yermak confirms.
[8/9/19, 5:46:21 PM] Kurt Volker: Excellent!! How did you sway him? 🙂
[8/9/19, 5:47:34 PM] Gordon Sondland: Not sure i did. I think potus really wants the deliverable[8/9/19, 5:48:00 PM] Kurt Volker: But does he know that?
[8/9/19, 5:48:09 PM] Gordon Sondland: Yep
[8/9/19, 5:48:37 PM] Gordon Sondland: Clearly lots of convos going on
[8/9/19, 5:48:38 PM] Kurt Volker: Ok—then that’s good it’s coming from two separate sources
[8/9/19, 5:51:18 PM] Gordon Sondland: To avoid misundestandings, might be helpful to ask Andrey for a draft statememt (embargoed) so that we can see exactly what they propose to cover. Even though Ze does a live presser they can still summarize in a brief statement. Thoughts?
[8/9/19, 5:51:42 PM] Kurt Volker: Agree!
State Department Officials Seek Giuliani’s Guidance on Ukraine Statement: On August 9, 2019, after Mr. Giuliani met with President Zelensky’s aide Andrey Yermak, Ambassador Volker asked to speak with Mr. Giuliani about the Ukranian statement:
[8/9/19, 11:27 AM] Kurt Volker: Hi Mr Mayor! Had a good chat with Yermak last night. He was pleased with your phone call. Mentioned Z making a statement. Can we all get on the phone to make sure I advise Z correctly as to what he should be saying? Want to make sure we get this done right. Thanks!
Gordon Sondland: Good idea Kurt. I am on Pacific time.
Rudy Giuliani: Yes can you call now going to Fundraiser at 12:30
Ukrainian Aide Seeks White House Date First5: On August 10, 2019, President Zelensky’s aide, Andrey Yermak, pressed Ambassador Volker for a date for the White House visit before committing to a statement announcing an investigation explicitly referencing the 2016 election and Burisma:
[8/10/19, 4:56:15 PM] Andrey Yermak: Hi Kurt. Please let me know when you can talk. I think it’s possible to make this declaration and mention all these things. Which we discussed yesterday. But it will be logic to do after we receive a confirmation of date. We inform about date of visit and about our expectations and our guarantees for future visit. Let discuss it
There is more such discussion at that link. It is crystal clear what was happening.
As with Senator Schumer and other Democratic Senators, however, there was one issue of which they steered clear: That was the FISA court ruling earlier in 2019 that FBI agents had misled the court regarding their reason for wanting to tap the phone of Trump campaign aid Carter Page. There is an easy explanation for that, but one all the capitalist politicians steer clear of: This is common practice of the FBI! In fact, as long ago as August of 2002 the NY Times reported “The nation’s secret intelligence court has identified more than 75 cases in which it says it was misled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in documents in which the bureau attempted to justify its need for wiretaps and other electronic surveillance, according to the first of the court’s rulings to be released publicly.”
Another significant political issue is the attack on the whistle-blower for his alleged political links with Biden and, presumably, the Democrats. It is entirely conceivable that this individual, who apparently is a CIA agent, did work with Biden in Ukraine. After all, they are or were all part of the US state apparatus. But what this complaint against Trump means is that the individuals in the apparatus (such as Marie Yovanovitch and others in the diplomatic corps) are more loyal to the apparatus and to US capitalism than they are to Trump, personally. This presents a huge stumbling block to Trump’s drive for one-man rule.
There is also Trump’s ongoing assault on the media. His success in this has led other Trump loyalists to take up the assault. The latest example of this was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s verbal assault on an NPR reporter who dared to press the question to him of his lack of support for former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Calling a woman reporter into a private room and shouting and swearing at her is just one step away from a physical assault.
Under bonapartism, the ruler can simply execute or imprison any government worker who is not fully compliant. Unfortunately for Trump, he cannot do that. If he gets reelected, we can expect him to start replacing noncompliant officials at almost all levels.
We recently had the case of former Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher. This is the war criminal who was accused of murdering an Iraqi in cold blood, in addition to other war crimes. His own fellow Seals said he was completely out of control. Gallagher was court martialed but ultimately cleared of all wrong doing by Trump. Since then, Gallagher has been hosted by Trump and since then, the NY Times has reported Gallagher “is making appearances at influential conservative gatherings and rubbing elbows with Mr. Trump’s inner circle at Mar-a-Lago.” We can look for government positions for Gallagher and his type in the next Trump administration, should he be reelected.