Will Republicans continue to engage in willful blindness?

Will Republicans continue to engage in willful blindness?
© Aaron Schwartz

One of us is a liberal Democrat who voted for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCongress won't end the wars, so states must Democrats say it's up to GOP to stop Trump 2024 Hillary Clinton to speak at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders summit MORE and learned about decoding Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFranklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Man suspected in wife's disappearance accused of casting her ballot for Trump Stefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' MORE’s words from his former attorney, Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenMichael Cohen on Giuliani's legal fees: He won't get 'two cents' from Trump Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels blast FEC for dropping Trump probe FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE. The other is a conservative Republican who voted for Mr. Trump, served briefly as his White House communications director and thus also has experience trying to translate Trump’s elliptical code words.

During the impeachment hearings so far, two Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee — Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanSunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans GOP votes to replace Cheney with Stefanik after backing from Trump Roy to challenge Stefanik for Cheney's old position MORE of Ohio and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikStefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' Kinzinger: 'I would love to move on' from Trump but he is the leader of the GOP Maryland GOP governor: Trump is 'toxic for the Republican Party and for the country' MORE of New York — were particularly ready to buy into these Trump code-word games.

Cohen, who served as Mr. Trump’s attorney for 10 years, was quite experienced with Trump’s reliance on code words, often hearing him use “message” words that were exactly the opposite of the truth. For example, in 2018, Cohen was asked by the Senate and House intelligence committees whether he had had discussions with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign about the Trump Organization building a Trump Tower in Moscow. As Cohen subsequently testified, the answer was yes, and Trump was fully briefed. After receiving this question from the two committees, Cohen visited with Trump in the Oval Office to get guidance as to how he should answer. The code words were clear: “Michael, no Russia, no discussions, no Russia,” Trump told him. Cohen got the party-line message — to lie, consistent with Trump's public denials during the campaign. (Cohen subsequently pled guilty and is serving prison time, in part as a result of following Trump's instructions-by-code to lie to Congress, knowing he was doing so for Trump's benefit.)


During last week’s televised impeachment hearings, committee Republicans accepted the truth of Trump’s denials: “No quid pro quo, no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo.” They said there was “no direct evidence” of Trump linking military aid to Ukraine with requiring Ukraine's President Zelensky to announce corruption investigations of Democrats.

But what exactly did Trump say during his call with Zelensky? Wouldn’t that be “direct” evidence? Let’s re-read key parts of the summary transcript of the call.

First, the context: President Zelensky said his country was "almost ready to buy more Javelins" — anti-tank missiles — from the United States for defense purposes.

Trump then said, immediately after Zelensky's reference to military weapons: "I would like you to do a favor though."

The word "though," in plain English, is the same as "but" or "however."


Then Trump immediately referenced the need to investigate the Democrats, based on the utterly debunked ultra-right conspiracy theory that Ukraine had the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server that had been hacked into by the Russians during the 2016 campaign. Trump mentioned the company, Crowdstrike, which helped the DNC to track the email hack to the Russians.

Then comes his direct ask: “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... The server, they say Ukraine has it.”

Note the words "I would like you to." This is more than just asking a "favor." It is consistent with Lt. Col. Vidman's interpretation at Tuesday's hearings that it sounds more like an "order" than asking for a "favor."

Just two paragraphs later in the summary transcript — not more than a couple of minutes of conversation — Trump mentions a second “favor” to Zelensky. Specifically, Trump calls this “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 if you can look into it ... ,” he said.

Republicans try to deny the second favor — but they are undone by the words “the other thing.” In the context of Zelensky asking for a shipment of Javelin missiles, Trump asks for two “favors” — benefitting him personally and politically.

Trump has trouble pronouncing the three Latin words, “quid pro quo.” Here are three other Latin words that Republicans should recall when reading the summary transcript of the Trump-Zelensky July 25 call: "Res ipsa loquitur" — "the thing speaks for itself."

Even indirect or so-called circumstantial evidence is still evidence that can lead to a conviction, based on a jury’s reasonable inferences. We are compelled to ask Republicans: If you heard the Godfather telling his consiglieri, “I don’t like that guy,” and shortly thereafter "that guy” is shot, would you vote to acquit because there was no direct evidence of the Godfather giving the order?

We shall see whether Republicans will continue their willful blindness to the evidence, direct and circumstantial, until they will have to vote whether to impeach in the House and remove in the Senate. If they do, we shall see, about a year from now at the polls, whether Republicans engaging in such sophistry will be held accountable and sent back to private life.

Lanny Davis, an attorney in Washington, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996 to 1998 and was a member of President George W. Bush's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, 2006-07. He is a co-founder of the law firm of Davis Goldberg & Gaiper PLLC and the strategic media and public affairs firm Trident DMG. He authored "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics and Life" (2013). Follow him on Twitter @LannyDavis.

Anthony ScaramucciAnthony ScaramucciInfluential Republicans detail call to reform party, threaten to form new one Anthony Scaramucci joining CNBC as a contributor Biden doubles down on normal at White House MORE is an American entrepreneur, founder and co-managing partner of SkyBridge Capital. He served briefly as White House communications director. Follow him on Twitter @Scaramucci.