Republicans have spent weeks calling impeachment proceedings a coup, and then a witch hunt. Confusingly, they appear to believe witch hunts are quasi-judicial proceedings run by actual witches, and accordingly circulated merchandise depicting Democrats as a coven. Then yesterday — of all days to stop talking about witches! — they made the puzzling decision to switch metaphors again, and begin likening impeachment to a Soviet show trial. It was as their sole messaging objective was to make Arthur Miller turn over in his grave.
Just when the party faithful was assimilating the new metaphor — communist witches are plotting to remove President Trump by force and possibly the casting of spells — they excitedly announced a new and surprising development. Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s senior director for European Affairs, had testified that he did not believe Trump had broken the law in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Zelensky.
Republicans immediately seized on this statement to claim vindication. “Mr. Morrison’s testimony was very damaging to the Democrats’ narrative,” said Republican Representative of North Carolina Mark Meadows, a fervent Trump defender. “The Crooked Democrats don’t want people to know this! Thank you to Tim Morrison for your honesty,” tweeted the president.
Of course neither Stalin’s show trials nor the Salem Witch Hunt was known for publicly leaking friendly claims for the defense. Trump’s loyalists did not seem remotely troubled by the contradiction between their attacks on the denouncing the proceedings as a pure sham and claiming they had yielded evidence of exoneration.
So, after complaining for weeks that the proceedings were rigged, and Democrats somehow only leaking the damning bits, Republicans leaked the first remotely spinnable piece of testimony they could find. Almost as if this wasn’t a Soviet-style witch-hunt coup in the first place.
Morrison’s opinion that Trump did not violate the law in his phone call is hardly the positive evidence of innocence his defenders claim. The accusation of literal illegality has never been central to the charges. There are several reasonably plausible arguments that Trump violated the law: He might have violated campaign finance law by soliciting something of value (a publicly announced investigation of his opponent) from a foreign country, or solicited a bribe, or committed extortion, or violated the Hatch Act.
But none of these charges is as cut-and-dried as, say, prosecuting him for shooting somebody on 5th Avenue, mainly because the president of the United States is simply a different kind of animal than the sorts of people who have been prosecuted on these charges before. For that reason, impeachment has never been about illegality per se. Impeachment is a remedy for what the Framers called “High Crimes & Misdemeanors,” a category that has come to stand in for abuses of presidential power that the legal code may or may not be adequate to cover.
In any case, Morrison is not a legal expert on any of these laws. His opinion that the call did not violate any of the potentially applicable laws is of little value — indeed, it is also a position he would have to take, lest he confess to have knowingly participated in a crime. What actually matters in his testimony is that Morrison confirms yet again that Trump made military assistance to Ukraine contingent on the announcement of an investigation into the Bidens.
So far, Republicans have dismissed the procession of testimony and contemporaneous documents as a plot by Deep State saboteurs seeking to frame the president. Now they have decided to praise one of the officials who testified, even thanking him publicly. So presumably Tim Morrison is not one of those Never Trump plotters. And yet he too testified to Congress that Trump insisted Ukraine announce a Biden investigation before releasing the aid Congress authorized.
The evidence that Trump abused his authority over foreign policy for domestic political gain is so manifest and redundant that his defenders have given up anything even resembling a substantive defense. They are shambling from slogan to slogan, never bothering to make any of them hang together.