Trump couldn't get Ukraine to smear Joe Biden, so Senate Republicans did it for him

Trump couldn't get Ukraine to smear Joe Biden, so Senate Republicans did it for him
© Aaron Schwartz

House managers spent the last several days detailing a corrupt disinformation scheme in which President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE sought to leverage vital aid to Ukraine to force its leader to make a public declaration of a debunked conspiracy about Trump’s chief political opponent. Of course, that scheme came crashing down around the president’s head when a whistleblower alerted Congress to his machinations and he hurriedly released the aid he’d held without justification.

But when life gives Trump investigations, he turns them into campaign ads.

Far from being chastened at the exposure of his corruption, Trump pushes on, undaunted and as avaricious as before. So, of course his team of lawyers went to the Senate not so much to defend him, but to continue his campaign of falsehood against his leading challenger.


The president whose candidacy was born on the wings of TV and propelled by the power of showmanship, who whined about the time slot for his first day of defense, saw fit to only take his case to the prime time airwaves once.

What was the most important argument of the president’s defense? What key fact would they present to America when the most Americans would be watching? What was worth possibly preempting the president’s cable news defenders? They closed with Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzThe Hill's 12:30 Report: War over the Supreme Court Dershowitz suing CNN for 0 million in defamation suit Bannon and Maxwell cases display DOJ press strategy chutzpah MORE bizarrely claiming that no quid pro quo could be impeachable. But the real star was Hunter Biden.

The very same fake dirt which Trump abused his power to leverage Ukraine into spreading became the central exhibit presented as his defense. And how does it exonerate him?

It doesn’t.

Any fair reading of the facts leads to the conclusion that while Hunter Biden’s hiring by Burisma does seem unscrupulous of him, it was not illegal. Nor was there any evidence of any official act by the former Vice President to enrich himself or his son, or to illegally benefit the company he worked for.


In place of such evidence, the president’s defenders insinuate nefarious influence in the firing of a prosecutor whose reputation for corruption was so renowned that Republicans, Democrats, allies and international organizations all wanted him fired. But the hushed tones and carefully curated timelines omitting key facts are enough to accomplish the real goal: hurting the reputation and campaign of Joe BidenJoe BidenObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Brad Pitt narrates Biden ad airing during World Series MORE.

And the Republican Senators who most fervently compete for praise from the president have taken their cues. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDemocrats lead in 3 of 4 Iowa House races: poll The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden Poll finds Ernst with 1-point lead in Iowa MORE gleefully bragged that the testimony would hurt Biden in the Iowa caucuses. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Democrats play defense, GOP goes on attack after Biden oil comments Quinnipiac poll finds Biden, Trump tied in Texas MORE created a podcast and a web video to help share the propaganda. Rick Scott actually paid to run an anti-Biden ad in Iowa about it. And at least 13 other Republican Senators have openly validated the smear campaign either on camera or through questions.

Donald Trump failed to get the smear campaign he wanted from Ukraine. Senate Republicans gave it to him instead.

Unsatisfied with an impeachment-cum-campaign ad, the defense also pushed the boundaries of legal theory to new extremes, creating an unprecedented justification for corruption and self-interest in the highest office of the land.

First, Dershowitz advanced a mind-boggling theory that if a president simply believes his re-election to be good for the country, he is free to abuse his power to make it happen.

Then, they brazenly argued that the president can ask for foreign election interference, a revanchist argument intended to dismiss Kremlin election interference in 2016 and pave the way to a repeat performance. The president told George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters Pelosi: White House made 'unacceptable changes' to testing language during negotiations on coronavirus stimulus Infectious disease expert calls White House advisers herd immunity claims 'pseudoscience' MORE that he’d take it again, and now, his lawyers have boldly made the case that he would be right to.

When the Republican Senate summarily dismisses the charges against Trump, they won’t just be exonerating the president, they will be signing their names to these deeply unpatriotic and despotic arguments.

Trump famously claimed that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote. Throughout this trial, his attorneys proved that he can shoot holes in the Constitution on national TV and not lose even three Senate Republicans — not even for a vote to get more witnesses and documents. On the contrary, many of the most high-profile Senate Republicans stood up to help him achieve his corrupt aims and grow his power even further.

I still believe impeachment was necessary, because it laid down a marker to prove that the president’s behavior was not acceptable and that some Americans of conscience did stand up. It was an earned, indelible stain on his administration, even if the odds of conviction were always limited by a Republican leadership intoxicated by his power.

Through their callow, craven behavior, McConnell’s majority actually surrendered its chamber to the president’s disinformation campaign. Worse, it willingly rubber-stamped the single largest, sanctioned expansion of executive power and corruption in American history.

The former is a disgrace — but the latter is a precedent that will haunt our republic until such time as better Senators rise together to reclaim their institutional power and integrity.

Mike Ongstad is a former speech writer to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and presidential campaign adviser to Evan McMullin/Mindy Finn. He is currently the communications director for the pro-democracy organization, Stand Up Republic. Follow him on Twitter @MikeOngstad.