GOP Tries to Delegitimize Impeachment 12/11 06:30
The president and his allies have largely glossed over the substance of
allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making light of what
is likely to be only the third presidential impeachment in the nation's
WASHINGTON (AP) -- They're calling it a circus, a farce and even zany.
President Donald Trump and his Republican allies spent weeks trivializing
the House impeachment inquiry ahead of Tuesday's historic unveiling of formal
charges against the president.
Where Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton treated the prospect of impeachment as
a serious threat to their presidencies, Trump's boosters have tried to brush
off the whole thing. Believing that acquittal by the GOP-controlled Senate is
all but certain, they're out to convince voters to punish the president's
Democratic accusers --- or at least tune out the Washington spectacle.
To that end, they have belittled the impeachment process with mockery,
schoolyard taunts and an unyielding insistence that Trump did not a single
thing wrong. They have stonewalled, refusing to allow witnesses to testify;
protested by declining to send their own lawyers to hearings; and dished out
the ultimate Trumpian insult: calling the proceedings boring.
In the process, the president and his allies have largely glossed over the
substance of allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making
light of what is likely to be only the third presidential impeachment in the
It's a strategy borne of Trump's instincts and informed by the results of
polling and focus groups. The president and his allies believe the effort has
been effective, especially when it comes to keeping independent voters
skeptical of the process. It is also a reflection of the country's increasingly
polarized political environment.
"Why would we legitimize this process that the American people can't even
follow, aren't digesting," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday
when asked why the White House had chosen not to participate in the House
proceedings. She equated cooperation to "colluding with an illegitimate
She showed her disdain for the effort by accusing Judiciary Committee
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., of "playing a game of Inspector Clouseau,
Secret Squirrel" by waiting so long to unveil the articles of impeachment that
were announced Tuesday.
GOP critics have been going all-out to find new ways to mock what Trump has
long called a "witch hunt" and a "sham."
Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, compared the impeachment hearings to "the
cantina bar scene in Star Wars. It's surreal." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
dismissed the "zaniness that's taking place on Capitol Hill." And Rep. Devin
Nunes, the House intelligence committee's top Republican, called the House
hearings "a show trial, a planned result of three years of political operations
and dirty tricks."
But even if GOP legislators are more than willing to complain and erect
parliamentary roadblocks, many lawmakers, particularly the senators who would
serve as jurors in an eventual Senate trial, have been less comfortable
defending the president's conduct.
Nor has that been a priority for White House aides, who have been firing off
rapid response emails about procedural unfairness but have done little to
engage on the substance of the charges.
During the early days of the inquiry there was tension between the West Wing
and the president's outside allies, who felt the White House was doing too
little to defend the president against the charges. Trump himself was initially
unwilling to bring on new staff or set up a "war room," concerned that such a
move would suggest he felt vulnerable or make him look guilty. Ultimately,
Trump consented to the hiring of former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and
Republican strategist Tony Sayegh, a move that has helped to mollify some
There also was a sense of confusion early on, as administration officials
and allies struggled to keep up with rapidly unfolding news about Trump's
attempts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden. Even some of
the president's closest supporters were unclear about details of his
interactions with the president of Ukraine.
With little clarity about what really had happened, Republicans took aim at
the process, seeing it as an easy place to start. Once the scope become
clearer, officials inside and outside the building began to refine their
messaging, based in part on polling and focus group testing.
America First Policies, a nonprofit backing Trump's policies, for instance,
conducted focus groups early in the process that focused specifically on
independent voters who might be open to voting for Trump in 2020.
Kelly Sadler, a spokeswoman for the group, said the sessions turned up
frustration with Congress over endless investigations and not perusing
bread-and-butter issues. Many people, she said, felt the impeachment inquiry
was highly partisan --- a sentiment reflected in polling data --- and felt the
whole endeavor was a waste of time and money, especially given the
quickly-approaching 2020 election.
The group has targeted its advertising to speak to those frustrations, which
are also reflected in messaging from the American Action Network, which is tied
to House GOP leadership and has spent millions on anti-impeachment ads.
As Republicans have pushed to delegitimize the House impeachment process,
they also are professing great reverence for an expected Senate trial on
friendlier turf. Trump sees a Senate trial as a forum where his allies will be
able to publicly defend him and turn the tables on Democrats in dramatic Court
"It's pretty clear the president wants a trial," said White House spokesman
Hogan Gidley. He offered a list of some of the witnesses Trump would like to
call, including House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the whistle
blower whose complaint sparked the inquiry, as well as Biden and his son,
Hunter, who had dealings in Ukraine.
"The president's eager to get his story out," Gidley said.
But Republicans in the Senate caution that Trump may not get the show he
wants because Senate rules require a majority of senators to approve individual
witnesses, and some are weary of creating a spectacle. Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that no decisions have been made yet about the
length or structure of a Senate trial.
"The Senate has two choices: It could go down the path of calling witnesses
and basically having another trial or it could decide --- and again 51 members
could make that decision --- that they have heard enough," he said.