Watching the impeachment trial today, I was struck by how old the arguments Trump’s defense put forward were. It was the same nonsense we’ve been hearing for months. Literally. And there’s a very good reason for that: All of these arguments have indeed been on Fox for months.
My colleague Dan Friedman catalogued and debunked the “blizzard of lies” that Trump’s legal team unleashed in the Senate today.
They noted that “security assistance flowed” to Ukraine in September without Zelensky announcing the investigations Trump wanted. The release of the aid, of course, only came after a whistleblower complaint drew intense media scrutiny. As House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of Democrats’ impeachment managers, memorably put it: The Trump administration released the aid because “they got caught.” Trump’s lawyers simply pretended the release of the aid came without public pressure. Purpura also argued that Trump had increased lethal US support for Ukraine, an argument that overlooks the president’s alleged subverting of that very policy to benefit his presidential campaign.
All of these arguments made the rounds in conservative media for months. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the messaging aligns, since the White House sent out talking points to right wingers in September, mere weeks after the scandal erupted, which were subsequently (no surprise here) parroted throughout the echo chamber.
In November, Trump himself delivered the talking points in A Very Special Episode of Fox & Friends. In December, House Republicans released a 123-page “report” on the impeachment investigation that Media Matters described as just a “recitation of Fox talking points.”
These cats have had months to come up with something—anything—that might constitute a remotely credible, even reasonable, defense. And they failed. The defense strategy at this trial was never to convince Senators that Trump didn’t do anything wrong. It was and is to convince them that the waters are sufficiently muddy they can get away with exonerating the president of any wrongdoing.
On The Practice and other courtroom shows, there’s an episode once or twice a season when the defense attorneys decide they can’t win on the merits, and then someone, struck with a moment of brilliance, says, “What if we go for jury nullification?” And then someone else responds, “That never works. But dammit, it’s our only shot.” The only difference between that scene in The Practice and the impeachment trial is that in the Senate, there was no doubt it would work. Because even though the jury in a fictional courtroom drama might surprise during sweeps, Republican lawmakers in the Trump era never do.