The Republicans' early response to impeachment: discredit, doubt, delay

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON — There are plenty of signs that the Trump administration has been caught off guard by the explosive events of this week. The president’s lawyer trading barbs on Thursday with fellow Republicans over who was to blame for Trump’s Ukraine predicament, and the president himself talking in wild and ominous tones of “spies” inside his own government, are the clearest signs that the Republicans don’t yet have a coherent strategy.

Republicans have only begun to sketch out the rough outline of what their response will be to House Democrats’ official impeachment inquiry, which was announced Tuesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That response appears focused on a three-pronged strategy: discredit the whistle-blower, cast doubt on the most explosive elements of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and slow down and weaken the Democrats’ process in the House with procedural and historical arguments.

Rudy Giuliani, an attorney and adviser to Trump, said Thursday that the whistleblower was basing his allegations on second-hand information, a criticism that was picked up and repeated by Republican leaders.

“His information is questionable. He says ‘I was not a direct witness...’ and additionally states over 20 times ‘I was told,’ ‘I am concerned,’ ‘I learned,’ and not once did he say ‘I know,’” Giuliani tweeted.

“Under Anglo-American law, that is described as hearsay. Inadmissible because it is inherently unreliable,” Giuliani added.

Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and current attorney to President Trump. (Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy used the same language in a press conference with reporters. “Not one thing is from a primary source,” McCarthy said. “It’s hearsay.”

McCarthy also argued that the reconstructed transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky did not show the president asking for any kind of “favor” that was inappropriate.

“The president did not ask [Zelensky] to investigate Joe Biden. What he asked the president of the Ukraine to do is to participate in an open — from the AG — investigation of what transpired in 2016,” McCarthy said.

Trump’s comment to Zelensky — “I would like you to do us a favor” — was followed by a request “to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike. ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people. ... The server, they say Ukraine has it.”

Broken syntax aside, the mention of Crowdstrike is apparently a reference to an unfounded conspiracy theory, previously referenced by the president, that Ukraine had a role in hacking into the Democratic National Committee and releasing thousands of internal emails.

“That is lawful, for us to look to another government to actually participate in an open investigation of what happened in 2016, because we want to make sure that never happens again,” McCarthy said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

McCarthy also tried to create distance between Trump’s mention of former Vice President Biden and Trump’s request for “a favor” from Zelensky.

“When he said, ‘I have a favor’ … [it’s] 540 words later before Biden ever comes up,” McCarthy said. “Everybody has been misquoting here about what transpired afterwards: participate in an open investigation by the attorney general, which is totally lawful, of something that transpired in 2016. Nothing about a further election. Nothing about Biden and the further election.”

McCarthy’s office has also been at the helm of a push to argue that Democrats should hold a vote in the full House of Representatives before proceeding with an official impeachment inquiry.

“The Constitution does not demand any procedural requirements on the House regarding impeachment — including any requirement of adopting a formal resolution. No votes are needed at this time,” a House Democratic leadership aide told Yahoo News.

But House Republicans are pointing to the 1998 impeachment of Democratic President Bill Clinton. The GOP controlled the House at the time, and passed a resolution to authorize the Judiciary Committee “to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States.”

The resolution passed 258 to 176, with 31 Democrats joining the 228 Republicans in favor. Only one Republican, Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, did not vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

McCarthy’s office pulled up old quotes from Pelosi and other Democratic leaders from 1998 decrying what the current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called a “partisan” and “exceedingly unfair” process.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who is now directing the impeachment inquiry from his position as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, was even more explicit in 1998.

“There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment or an impeachment supported by one of our major political parties and opposed by the other. Such an impeachment will produce the divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come and will call into question the very legitimacy of our political institutions,” Nadler said.

It is too early to say how many Republicans might support impeaching Trump, but right now there are no signs of support within the GOP for such a move.

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