In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday, Scott Pelley asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about the phone call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that now sits at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the President. And then this happened:
Pelley: What do you make of this exchange? President Zelensky says, “We are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.” And President Trump replies, “I would like you to do us a favor though.”
McCarthy: You just added another word.
Pelley: No, it’s in the transcript.
McCarthy: He said - “I’d like you to do a favor though?”
Pelley: Yes, it’s in the White House transcript.
Oomph. Double oomph.
A quick glance at the transcript – released by the White House last week – confirms that Pelley was right and McCarthy was wrong. Here’s the relevant bit: “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike.”
(For more on what the heck Trump was talking about there, read this.)
Why was McCarthy trying to hang so much on the word “though?” Because, I think, he saw a potential loophole out of Pelley’s question. See, if Trump hadn’t said the word “though,” then, I suppose, you could make the argument that Trump wasn’t tying his request for a “favor” to the military aid package that the US was holding up at Trump’s request.
Which is a streeeeetch anyway. But even more so when the transcript proves that Trump used the word “though.”
This isn’t, necessarily, to pick on McCarthy – although his attempt to pull a “gotcha” on Pelley really backfired. Rather, it’s to illustrate how incredibly difficult it is for Republicans to defend Trump’s conversation with Zelensky. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan had a similar swing-and-miss on that front with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday.
The reality is that it is very, very difficult to read the rough transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call and conclude anything like, “Nothing to see here, folks!” Whether you think this is impeachable conduct or not is a separate issue, but common sense would dictate that a conversation like that one bears some investigating.
Unfortunately for Republicans like McCarthy, they long ago abandoned common sense when it comes to Trump. Knowing that even the tiniest of breaks with Trump’s accepted line of response – This is a witch hunt! Also, a total hoax! – will draw the President’s attention (and ire), they twist themselves into pretzels to try not to make the big boss angry. Because they don’t like him when he’s angry.
Staying on Trump’s good side might have political benefits – like Trump not backing a primary challenger against you – but it forces such tortured-logic defenses that it’s painful to watch. This is, of course, the price of being a Republican in Trump’s Washington these days.