Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes: Trump’s impeachment brief is a howl of rage
“It’s very difficult to sit there and listen to Mr. Schiff tell the tale that he just told,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said. “Let’s remember how we all got here. They made false allegations about a telephone call. The president of the United States declassified that telephone call and released it to the public.” (It’s unclear what about the allegations were false; Trump released the call in a last-ditch effort to forestall impeachment after weeks of stonewalling.)
Cipollone continued: “When Mr. Schiff saw that his allegations were false, and he knew it anyway, what did he do? He went to the House, and he manufactured a fraudulent version of that call. He manufactured a false version of that call. He read it to the American people, and he didn’t tell them it was a complete fake.”
Cipollone’s philippic had effectively zero relevance to the matter at hand, but it was surely not a mistake or a coincidence. The September 26 episode has been at the center of Trump’s defense messaging.
In the president’s reply brief on January 18, Cipollone and Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow wrote, “Mr. Schiff created a fraudulent version of the July 25 call and read it to the American people at a congressional hearing, without disclosing that he was simply making it all up. The fact that Mr. Schiff felt the need to fabricate a false version of the July 25 call proves that he and his colleagues knew there was absolutely nothing wrong with that call.”
And in their longer trial memorandum on January 20, they wrote, “Chairman Schiff began the hearings in this matter by lying once again and reading a fabricated version of the President’s telephone conversation with President Zelenskyy [sic] to the American people.”
There’s no arguing that Schiff’s rendition of the phone call was extremely dumb. There was no need to dramatize or exaggerate the call, which is is extremely incriminating on its own. With his stunt, Schiff gave his opponents a useful tool to demagogue the whole proceeding. It was perhaps Schiff’s biggest tactical error of the impeachment so far.
And it is also completely beside the point. Cries of “fraudulent” aside, Schiff was fooling no one. The transcript was already, at that point, public, so anyone could read it. No one in the room with Schiff believed he was offering the real transcript; it’s doubtful anyone watching on TV or the internet did, either, and in any case Schiff acknowledged it was not real.
David A. Graham: The big untold story of impeachment? It’s incredibly popular.
That didn’t stop Trump from tweeting about it again and again and again. The frequency with which the president has tweeted about the episode has much to do with the frequency with which his lawyers have invoked it. It’s a question of audience. Sometimes lawyers use legalese; this legal team is speaking Hannity-ese. It isn’t trying to convince any senators as a matter of law, because the lawyers know that there aren’t the votes to convict Trump and remove him from office. Nor are they making any attempt to convince the plurality of Americans who support removing Trump.