It’s not exactly news these days when Donald Trump tells a lie. As of August, he had made more than 12,000 false or misleading claims over the course of his presidency. Even so, Trump began one of the most critical weeks of his presidency — the House will hold its first public impeachment hearings starting Wednesday — with a whopper that ranks among the most unpersuasive he’s ever pushed.
On Twitter, Trump suggested that House Intelligence committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) released doctored transcripts of impeachment depositions conducted behind closed doors — an explosive claim belied by the fact that not a single Republican or witness who has been in the room for them has said anything of the sort.
Shifty Adam Schiff will only release doctored transcripts. We haven’t even seen the documents and are restricted from (get this) having a lawyer. Republicans should put out their own transcripts! Schiff must testify as to why he MADE UP a statement from me, and read it to all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2019
Schiff’s committee conducted the initial round of impeachment inquiry depositions behind closed doors in part to prevent witnesses from being able to sync up their stories. Despite Republican complaints that the process has been partisan, the 2,677 pages of transcripts that were released over the course of last week show that Republicans were very involved in the questioning. An almost exclusively party-line vote on October 31 set the stage for the public hearings that will begin this week.
Ahead of the release of the transcripts, Trump preemptively complained on Twitter that Schiff “will change the words that were said to suit the Dems [sic] purpose.” But the transcripts were vetted by lawyers ahead of their release and nobody has complained about them. Nonetheless, Trump persists.
Trump’s tweet on Monday represents a departure from what he told reporters last Friday, when he said he wasn’t concerned about any of the impeachment hearing transcripts because it “has all been fine.” In reality, officials who testified in closed-door hearings before impeachment investigators broadly corroborated a whistleblower’s complaint alleging that Trump used military aid to Ukraine as leverage as part of an effort to get the Ukrainian government to do political favors for him. Perhaps most notably, the whistleblower’s account was corroborated in testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who was on Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reportedly said, “I did not think it was proper.”
Trump has dismissed the whistleblower as “fake,” only having “second hand information,” and being “almost completely wrong.” But those talking points are hard to square with the reality of the testimony made public last week. And so now, in addition to his unpersuasive suggestion that the transcripts released last week aren’t legitimate, Trump is trying to tarnish the whistleblower by association.
The lawyer for the Whistleblower takes away all credibility from this big Impeachment Scam! It should be ended and the Whistleblower, his lawyer and Corrupt politician Schiff should be investigared for fraud!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2019
But that, too, is a problematic strategy for Trump and his defenders. Not only has the whistleblower’s complaint been corroborated by congressional testimony, it has also been corroborated by Trump’s White House — so details about the whistleblower’s background and associations don’t really matter. Nonetheless, Trump has taken to insisting that people read a summary of Trump’s call with Zelensky that was released by the White House in September and corroborates key aspects of the whistleblower’s account.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2019
If it was the case that Schiff released doctored transcripts, Republicans who were in the room for the hearings would surely have raised a fuss about them. But they haven’t. Instead, they’ve tried to deflect from the substance of the testimony by raising concerns about process and attacking Adam Schiff.
The overall picture that emerges is one of a president who’s struggling to come up with a coherent response to a scandal whose next chapter will be public hearings. But even within that context, Trump’s suggestion that testimony transcripts have been doctored stands out as perhaps his weakest pushback yet.
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