Schiff: Trump team’s claim Giuliani wasn’t conducting policy a ‘breathtaking’ admission

In response to a question from Democrat Joe Manchin and Kristin Sinema, and Republicans Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins about whether the White House would assure the Senate that it would not allow private citizens to conduct foreign policy, White House lawyer Patrick Philbin stepped in it, and Rep. Adam Schiff pounced. Philbin answered "I just want to make clear that there was no conduct of foreign policy being carried on here by a private person."

That was all the opening Schiff needed. "We have just heard a breathtaking admission by the President's lawyer," he said. "What the President's counsel said was that no foreign policy was being conducted by a private person here. That is Rudy Giuliani was not conducting U.S. foreign policy. Rudy Giuliani was not conducting policy. That is a remarkable admission," Schiff continued. They have suggested, he said, that "this is a policy issue," about burden-sharing or corruption, but "they have no acknowledged that this was not about policy. […] This was not policy conducted by Mr. Giuliani."

"They have just undermined their entire argument," he added. "If Giuliani wasn't there conducting foreign policy, it must have been a "personal political errand."


We can all stop pretending Republicans want to preserve the republic. They don’t

L'état, c'est moi. I am the state. That is where we are—a declaration of self as sovereign once made famous by France's Louis XIV, whose pre-revolutionary reign as king lasted 72 years until his death in 1715. This appears to be exactly what Senate Republicans are preparing to embrace on Friday when they will likely vote against hearing witness testimony so they can summarily move to acquit Donald Trump without engaging even the most basic due diligence of any fair fact-seeking trial.

At least we won't have to endure any more insulting bothsidesisms from the media like this New York Times classic from December asserting that "the lawmakers from the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them." Actually, House Republicans hadn't even pretended to deal in facts, they were too busy deploying the distraction of emotional hyperbole. 

The failure of House Republicans to lay a factual foundation for Trump’s defense is exactly why, over the course of the past week, the arguments of Trump's legal team have effectively devolved from "he didn't commit a crime" to "it doesn't matter if he did" to "it's perfectly legal and acceptable for a president to break the law in pursuit of his self interests because his interests are the state's interests." 

“If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Alan Dershowitz told U.S. senators Wednesday, only to refute himself on Thursday.

“The idea that any information that happens to come from overseas is necessarily campaign interference is a mistake,” White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin offered. “Information that is credible that potentially shows wrongdoing by someone who happens to be running for office, if it’s credible information, is relevant information for the voters to know about.”

Trump's so-called "information" seeking about Biden was never credible. But that's clearly immaterial to Philbin. He doesn't even think Trump seeking something of value from a foreign government to win reelection is criminal, when it actually is under 52 U.S.C. 30121. But who cares? C'est la vie. He's president. Get over it. 

That's basically the exact same argument Trump made to ABC journalist George Stephanopoulos last June. "It's not an interference, they have information—I think I'd take it," Trump said of dirt offered to him by a foreign government. Trump also told Stephanopoulos that FBI Director Christopher Wray was "wrong" when he advised Congress that politicians should report any approaches made by foreign entities to the FBI.

The next day, Trump was momentarily shamed into walking back his comments, saying "of course" he would report such an instance to the FBI. That whiplash 180 came after Republican lawmakers like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham flatly rejected the idea of accepting foreign help in campaigns. “If a foreign government comes to you as a public official, and offers to help your campaign giving you anything of value, whether it be money or information on your opponent, the right answer is no,” Sen. Graham said on June 14, 2019.

Oh, those were the days, when Trump lackeys like Graham still gave at least some deference to the law.

Now the Wall Street Journal editorial board is endorsing the presidential exceptionalism that Trump’s lawyers advanced. "Every President equates his re-election self-interest with the public interest. It isn’t grounds for impeachment," read the subhead of the board's jaw-dropping editorial. The board cited Philbin asserting, “All elected officials, to some extent, have in mind how their conduct, how their decisions, their policy decisions, will affect the next election. ... It can’t be a basis for removing a President from office.”

In a rebuttal, House Intelligence Committee chair and floor manager Adam Schiff pointed out the disingenuousness of that argument. "We're calling that policy now. It's the policy of the president to demand foreign interference and withhold money from an ally at war unless they get it," Schiff said. "That's what they call policy. I'm sorry, that's what I call corruption."

But by Thursday morning, none other than the GOP chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee was echoing Philbin's folly. “I have no problem with what Philbin said,” Burr told reporters. “I think that the idea that any information that happens to come from overseas is necessarily campaign interference is a mistake. ... If it’s credible information, [it's] relevant information for the voters to know about.” 

In other words, Republicans are removing the origin of the information as the standard of criminality and replacing it with a subjective determination about whether the information is "credible." And according to Trump, the president, his corruption concerns were credible enough to bypass the U.S. Department of Justice on the way to demanding an investigation led by a government so corrupt, he wouldn’t release foreign aid to it. 

It doesn't pass the smell test, folks, but Schiff got it right on both counts. That's corruption, plain and simple. And that's also what Republicans call policy now.

Watch Schiff’s rebuttal.


Trump’s defense lawyers try to memory-hole Mick Mulvaney’s quid pro quo ‘Get over it’

“Get over it,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in October about Donald Trump’s Ukraine quid pro quo. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.” Hours later, under pressure, he walked it back in a statement attacking the media and denying that he said what he said.

Guess which of these accounts Trump’s impeachment team has decided to focus on? What Mulvaney said of his own accord, or the careful statement presumably written by the official White House ass-covering committee?

Yeah, obviously the second one. Two members of Trump’s defense team made that effort during Wednesday’s question-and-answer period. According to Patrick Philbin, “it’s been clear in the record since that press conference that what he was saying was garbled and or misunderstood” and “He immediately clarified, and said on that day, quote, The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. End quote.” Hearing that, you might think that Mulvaney immediately clarified in the same press conference, realizing as he spoke that he was coming across wrong and correcting himself on the fly. He did not. The line Philbin quotes as coming “immediately” was in the statement later the same day. 

But more importantly, Mulvaney was not “garbled.” He was crystal clear. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy” and there was “no question” that Trump had, in blocking the aid to Ukraine, mentioned his conspiracy theory about Ukraine and 2016.

Trump defense lawyer Mike Purpura also read out Mulvaney’s walk-back statement on Wednesday, in response to a softball question from Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Because Mulvaney’s brash honesty in his original press conference is really inconvenient for Republicans hoping their cover-up won’t look too obvious. So sad for them that the cover-up is right out in the open and everyone sees it.