If you were on trial on national television, facing the possible loss of your job and the probable loss of what remains of your reputation, you might not place your fate in the hands of Devin Nunes.
Nunes is a one-time dairy farmer who now milks the bursting udders of an entire herd of conspiracy-minded cows.
Mad cow disease had the rare power to leap across species through an unusually mysterious vector known as a prion. Mad Devin disease appears similarly devastating to the human brain through an unusually mysterious vector known as Vladimir Putin.
Nunes led the herd in arguing that this is a victimless crime – the Ukraine president got his stupid missiles anyhow
The California congressman – who somehow qualified as the most senior Republican on the House intelligence committee – opened his defense of Donald Trump with a long moo about Moscow and the Democrats’ interest in the Mueller investigation.
“After the spectacular implosion of their Russia hoax on July 24, in which they spent years denouncing any Republican who ever shook hands with a Russian,” Nunes explained, “on July 25 they turned on a dime and now claim the real malfeasance is Republicans’ dealings with Ukraine.”
This was a curious turn, even for the nonsensical Nunes. In the court of American public opinion (where we’re told this impeachment thing will really play out), the concept of innocent Russian handshaking is not entirely obvious.
It also seemed like a rookie mistake to suggest that the impeachment of the president was an indictment of all Republican dealings with the former Soviet Union.
“In the blink of an eye, we’re asked to simply forget about Democrats on this committee falsely claiming they had ‘more than circumstantial evidence’ of collusion between President Trump and the Russians,” Nunes said, reviving the Democrats’ case against Donald Trump in ways that didn’t seem entirely helpful to Donald Trump.
Among the things Nunes wanted us never to forget was “them trying to obtain nude pictures of Trump from Russian pranksters who pretended to be Ukrainian officials” and something about “fabrications of Trump-Russia collusion from the Steele dossier”.
Thanks to Nunes, these nude Trump pictures are now seared into our collective minds.
Lest we forget, when Nunes was actually running the intelligence committee, he used its resources to turn on the US’s intelligence community for having the temerity to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Less the cream of the cream, Nunes is more like the curd of the absurd. This sadly is the bovine bedlam we’re all committed to for the next 12 months of American politics.
It’s a place where the best defense of Trump exhorting a foreign leader is that he was somehow rooting out corruption; where he was supposedly investigating foreign interference in the 2016 election when he was bribing a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election; where the FBI and CIA have undermined themselves; and where the Democrats have been colluding with the Russians.
Nunes led the herd in arguing that this is a victimless crime – the Ukraine president got his stupid missiles anyhow. In fact Nunes was really arguing that impeachment is the criminal victimization of a poor helpless crusader for truth, justice and good government, who happens to live in the people’s house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
By some miracle of telekinesis, Nunes’s brain created a White House video featuring our humble hero, who insisted that his own impeachment wasn’t all it seemed on live television.
“What’s going on now is the single greatest scam in the history of American politics,” said the real estate guy who is something of an expert in scams.
Trump placed impeachment at the heart of the mother of all big government conspiracies involving Democrats taking away everyone’s guns, healthcare, votes, freedom and judges. The Democrats currently control the House of Representatives, which is an awesome branch of government, but not quite that awesome.
“It’s all very simple,” said our very simple president. “They’re trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you.”
This may come as news for anyone who is not circling the barnyard. Trump was apparently fighting for regular Americans when he was extorting the Ukraine president to smear Joe Biden.
Trump and Nunes are obviously hoping that voters cannot see through the fog on this farm. These hearings are so darn complicated and foreign, maybe Americans will never remember whether four legs are good or bad.
This is the latest in a long line of so-called defense strategies that have run the gamut from unlikely to unbelievable. First came the wild fabrications: Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was supposedly perfect, and the whistleblower doesn’t exist. Then came the wild conspiracies: the Democrats were themselves fabricating evidence in secret hearings that somehow included Republicans. We spent an epoch or two debating Latin tit-for-tats. Now we have arrived at the stage of debate that involves hurling turds at a wall in the hope of finding something adhesive.
As with most TV shows, the impeachment hearings are less about substance and more about style. The Democrats carefully cast as their first witnesses a pair of diplomats who seemed to have stepped out of a kinder, gentler era of American values.
William Taylor, the US ambassador to Ukraine, is a Vietnam veteran who previously served in the same position under President George W Bush. Taylor looks like he was chiseled whole out of granite, and he tolerated no end of Republican stupidities with a stony certitude. It was frustratingly hard for Trump’s allies to chip away at his central revelation that Trump himself was personally interested only in the Bidens, not Ukraine.
George Kent, a bow-tied foreign service official in charge of the entire European and Eurasian region, was so steadfastly committed to old-fashioned American democracy that he was happy to express his unease with Hunter Biden’s business interests in Ukraine. Sadly for Trump, these good government types take a seriously dim view of a president corruptly using American military aid to manipulate American elections.
The first day of the public impeachment hearings was not a fair fight. Against these diehard diplomats, the GOP relied on Jim Jordan, who just can’t seem to shake off the stench of sex abuse at Ohio State University, where he used to coach wrestling.
Then there was the flustered questioning from John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican who was briefly Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence – until he was overwhelmed by his own problematic relationship with the truth on his personal résumé.
“Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call?” Ratcliffe barked at the two unimpeachable witnesses. “Shout it out – anyone?”
As Taylor tried to explain that it’s for congressmen to answer, Ratcliffe withdrew his own question.
“This is your job,” said Taylor, speaking on behalf of us all. If only Republican members of Congress understood the strange foreign language these career diplomats speak.
• Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist