Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author with Peter Eisner of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
On Capitol Hill the case for impeaching Donald Trump has sharpened into a clear picture of abuse of power. Simultaneously, at the Justice Department, the inspector general demolished a conspiracy theory Trump has cited to justify his effort to destroy public confidence in American national security agencies. But if you expect the President and his backers to turn off the fog machines of lies and distortions, don’t.
Up is down. Black is white. The American people are being told, despite the evidence, that the FBI is crooked, and that House Democrats are only interested in undoing the 2016 election. In Trump – and Trump alone – the GOP Trust.
Moments after the IG reported on Monday that the FBI had properly opened an investigation into Russia’s election meddling on behalf of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, Attorney General William Barr demonstrated that he knows how to speak the President’s language. Barr said the IG had found “a clear abuse” of the system for authorizing sensitive investigations. In fact, the IG concluded the opposite.
Barr’s distortion of the IG’s findings showed how little he seems to respect the office he holds. His predecessors, including Jeff Sessions, generally held themselves above the partisan fray, but not Barr. Still, his distortions were minor when compared with the efforts of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to confuse anyone trying to understand the Democrats’ case for impeachment.
In summary, as the Democrats’ lawyer, Daniel Goldman, touched on, the evidence shows:
- Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has promoted a debunked conspiracy theory that blames Ukraine and not Russia for the cyber-attacks on the 2016 election.
- In spring of 2019, Giuliani began pressing Ukrainian officials to announce investigations into the conspiracy theory and unfounded charges of corruption against Trump’s presidential rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
- Trump handed Ukraine-America affairs over to his private attorney telling top officials to “talk to Rudy.”
- For months Trump held-up nearly $400 million in war-fighting aid to Ukraine because he wanted the country’s new president to do him the “favor” of investigating the Biden family and the conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. (Trump denies any quid pro quo.)
- In refusing all requests for information, Trump committed obstruction of Congress as it sought to investigate him.
Taken together, and as three esteemed constitutional law scholars have testified, the facts present an irrefutable case that the President committed impeachable offenses and a pattern of abuses that support an urgent approach. Having invited a foreign power to attack his election rival in 2016 – publicly asking Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails (Trump claimed that he was only joking) – he had done it again in anticipation of 2020. “The integrity of our elections is at stake,” noted Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler as he explained the urgent necessity for holding Trump accountable
Trump’s request for Russia’s help in the 2016 election was made on camera and the video of it was played at the hearing. His effort to get Ukraine’s aid for 2020 is evident in the record of his phone call with Ukraine’s president and was confirmed by multiple officials in his own administration. With the proof of impeachable offenses all around them, Republicans on the committee fulminated about the unfairness of it all. Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin invoked an old political hooligan, Joe McCarthy, and a new pseudo-threat to civil liberties – “the surveillance state” – to attack the staffers who investigated Trump
“Folks, you have made Joe McCarthy look like a piker,” said Sensenbrenner, implying that the man who got a good chunk of Hollywood blacklisted was basically small-time compared to today’s Democratic Party. “This is a major step in the surveillance state getting out of control.”
What so incensed Sensenbrenner and other Republicans was the fact that House investigators had inspected Rudy Giuliani’s phone records and tracked down the identities of people he had spoken with during key moments in the Ukraine saga. Among them were Rep. Devin Nunes, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Investigators are supposed to connect dots in this way, so this outrage was just a tactic intended to divert attention from the President’s abuse of power.
When they weren’t offering irrelevancies, Trump’s allies on the committee were interrupting, demanding futile roll call votes and even shouting over each other in order to divert attention from the evidence. The disruptions were consistent with a pattern on display ever since House Democrats began to focus on Ukraine. For example, Republicans, lacking proper clearances, delayed an official’s deposition by storming a secure room – a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) – where a deposition was scheduled in October.
In storming of the SCIF, GOPers seemed determined to demonstrate to the president that they are committed to his extreme methods. For decades Trump has followed the playbook given by his mentor Roy Cohn. A notorious lawyer who was disbarred before his death, Cohn taught his disciples to deny all charges whatever the evidence, stay on the attack and disregard the truth.
Trump followed the Cohn method to reach the presidency, and while in the White House he has continued, racking up an astounding record of more than 13,400 false or misleading claims as of October 9th , according to The Washington Post. Along the way, Americans have learned that they should not expect their President to be much interested in the truth, or for that matter, reality, as demonstrated by verifiable facts. Trump proved that a politician could succeed by telling people to ignore what they see and hear. Now everyone in his party seems to be getting into the game.
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In Trump’s screwball world, the president declares impeachment proceedings a witch hunt and Republicans on Capitol Hill take up the chant. Similarly, when he wrongly predicts that the inspector general of the Department of Justice will prove him right about Russia, the attorney general will agree that that is just what occurred, even though it’s not true.
Led by a man who has practiced a funhouse mirror version of politics to great success, Washington Republicans seem to have abandoned any semblance of honesty and respect for the facts. Words have lost their meaning and values have been abandoned. The next election is all that matters, and winning, they seem to have decided, requires doing things the Trump Way.