The House Republican impeachment defense of President Trump has been an experiment in pointillistic surrealism, in which disconnected pieces of information — some true, some false — are slushed together into a dreamlike haze in which nothing is certain. The most emblematic moment in this defense came during Monday’s impeachment hearings when Steve Castor, the Republican lead counsel, answered a series of simple, obvious questions about President Trump’s motives to discredit Joe Biden.
Or at least the questions were expected to be simple and obvious. In Castor’s hands, they were rendered obtuse and enigmatic.
“Would you agree that Joe Biden was a leading contender to face President Trump in 2020?,” asked the Democratic lawyer. Castor shook his head, “I wouldn’t agree with that.”
At this point, Castor was told that Biden had announced his candidacy in April and that Trump has tweeted more than 25 times about him and has mentioned him innumerable times at public rallies. Castor shrugged that he does not have a Twitter account nor does he follow the president’s rallies. (“I think it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from his tweets and rallies,” Castor said). Does Trump actually have a motive to hurt the image of a candidate he is reportedly obsessed with and denigrates in public constantly and who has led the polling since he announced his candidacy? Who can say?
Castor also wouldn’t agree that Ukraine’s announcing a corruption probe of Biden would in any way hurt Biden’s candidacy. (“No … I slightly disagree with the predicate,” he responded.)
Castor refused even to concede that Trump had asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. For the record, here is the portion of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump requested an investigation of the Bidens:
“The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
The Democratic lawyer displayed this passage and asked Castor, “President Trump was asking Ukrainian president Zelensky to have the Ukrainian officials ‘look into’ the Bidens, correct?”
“I don’t think the record supports that … I think it’s ambiguous,” Castor insisted.
Words can mean anything. Maybe Biden isn’t actually running for president at all.