While President Trump continues to insist he did not demand a quid pro quo from the president of Ukraine — military and political support in exchange for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son — on Sunday he appeared to be trying out a subtly different defense: If there was a quid pro quo, there was nothing wrong with it.
The exact meaning of Trump’s tweet Sunday night is ambiguous.
“False stories are being reported that a few Republican Senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo, but it doesn’t matter, there is nothing wrong with that, it is not an impeachable event,” he wrote. “Perhaps so, but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo!”
The legal term for this tactic is “arguing in the alternative”: attempting to cover all the bases by presenting more than one competing or even incompatible defense.
On Friday night, the Washington Post reported that a “a growing number of Senate Republicans are ready to acknowledge that President Trump used U.S. military aid as leverage to force Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his family.” Axios subsequently matched the Post’s report.
According to Axios, many GOP senators are expected to ultimately settle on a talking point that Trump’s actions were “inappropriate but not impeachable.”
The shift in strategy comes as evidence accumulates in the impeachment inquiry that began with an intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint against the president.
During a July 25 phone call that was flagged by the whistleblower, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden, his son Hunter and a debunked conspiracy theory about the hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016. U.S. intelligence agencies, private security investigators and special counsel Robert Mueller unanimously say the hacking was done by Russia.
The White House released a memo, which Trump falsely refers to as a transcript, summarizing the July 25 call.
“What I said on the phone call with the Ukrainian President is ‘perfectly’ stated,” the president tweeted Monday. “There is no reason to call witnesses to analyze my words and meaning. This is just another Democrat Hoax that I have had to live with from the day I got elected (and before!). Disgraceful!”
The whistleblower’s lawyer said his client is willing to answer written questions submitted by House Republicans in the probe, which is being led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. But that news didn’t sit well with the president, who wants the whistleblower to be identified — and to testify.
“The Whistleblower gave false information & dealt with corrupt politician Schiff. He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!” Trump fumed. “Where is the 2nd Whistleblower? He disappeared after I released the transcript. Does he even exist? Where is the informant? Con!”
During Mueller’s Russia investigation, Trump refused to testify in the probe, submitting written answers that Mueller later said he considered “generally” untruthful.
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