On Day Three of the Trump impeachment trial, the House managers decided to shake things up by introducing two surprise guest stars — Joe Biden and Rudy Giuliani.
They may be the oddest of odd couples, but if not for Biden and Giuliani, there would be no impeachment trial. It was Rudy who whispered into Donald Trump’s ear that Ukraine was the actual 2016 election schemer — and not Russia — and it was Rudy who convinced Trump that they could put the squeeze on Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Bidens, father and son.
This was at the heart of the charge that Trump abused his power — Trump’s dangling a much-sought White House visit to newly elected Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and, when that didn’t get Trump what he wanted, withholding $390 million in military aid for an ally fighting the Russians. This was the quid pro quo on steroids. Until Zelensky publicly announced he would launch an investigation into the Bidens and into the much-debunked Cloud Strike conspiracy theory — that’s the quid — there would be no quo.
Everyone knew — as we saw in video after video of House testimony — that Rudy was Trump’s man in Ukraine, that Rudy, as Trump’s personal lawyer with no government portfolio, was the guy who could make things happen. Rudy trumped any ordinary diplomat — it was Rudy who got Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired, after all — or the NSC advisor or, it seems, even the secretary of state.
It was Rudy in the infamous July 25th phone call, we were reminded, whom Zelenzky told Trump he’d be delighted to finally meet. That was the quid Zelensky offered. It turned out not to be quid enough.
Then there was the question whether Democrats would risk spending much time discussing Biden and thereby help do the work that the Trump lawyers would surely do themselves. Democrats had been discussing an offer of a trade — to call one of the Bidens as witnesses if John Bolton and/or Mick Mulvaney were also called — but Joe Biden refused to go along.
Several Republican senators said that the Democrats’ decision to bring up Biden was to open the door for Trump’s lawyers, as if they needed any prodding. Smearing Biden has been at the heart of this entire affair.
But House managers made the right choice. To get to Giuliani — whose presence in this matter, Adam Schiff said, is the most obvious evidence of Trump’s dangerous lack of judgment — they had to bring in Giuliani’s campaign, as approved by Trump, to get Biden.
It harkens back, of course, to Nixon days when Watergate never would have happened if Nixon hadn’t been out to spread dirt on Ed Muskie, the early Democratic leader, during the 1972 election campaign. This time it was the threat that Biden — the early leader and maybe still the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic primary — presented to Trump.
And so the House managers went all in. Rep. Sylvia Garcia spent most of an hour making the case for Biden’s innocence against charges that, as vice president, he had forced the removal of a Ukraine prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, a clearly corrupt Ukrainian energy company, in order to save his son, who was on the Burisma board. There are at least two problems with the charge. The prosecutor, Victor Shokin, was one of a long line of corrupt Ukraine prosecutors whom everyone, from the European Union to the International Monetary Fund, wanted removed. And Shokin, Garcia said, was no longer even looking at Burisma at the time, and his removal would “only increase the chance that Burisma would be investigated for possible corruption.”
There’s no question that Hunter Biden shouldn’t have been involved in Burisma. But there is much question about why Trump suddenly cared. In 2017 and 2018, Trump approved military aid to Ukraine with no mention of corruption or of Burisma or of Hunter Biden, who was on the board then. In 2019, Joe Biden announced he would run for president, and to make the clear connection, Garcia showed a FoxNews poll with Biden leading Trump.
Garcia asked why, if Trump cared about corruption, he never seemed to mention any corruption unless it touched the Bidens? Why didn’t he offer to join Zelensky, the reformer, in fighting corruption rather than insisting he publicly announce his intention to investigate the Bidens? Why did Trump ignore the entire U.S. intelligence community’s finding that the Ukraine 2016 election conspiracy was bogus or the Defense Department’s decision that Ukraine was, in fact, fighting corruption?
Zelensky held out for months until he finally relented and scheduled an appearance on CNN to discuss the investigations. He was saved by the whistleblower, whose report Trump had sought to bury. He was saved by the rough transcript of the July 25 call. At this point, Trump had no choice but to hand over the military aid.
We already knew much of this if we watched the non-Fox news or if we occasionally read a newspaper or if we tuned in for any of the House impeachment hearings or if, as I’d maintain, we were simply sentient human beings. But we got a good eight-hour dose of it Thursday, told from beginning to end, of how Trump’s abuse of power could be summed up in three little words — talk to Rudy.
The day was, at times, dramatic, starting with House manager Jerry Nadler’s presentation showing a young Lindsey Graham explaining during the Clinton impeachment trial that you don’t need to be guilty of a crime to be impeached and removed from office. But most of the day was spent showing how Trump wasn’t interested in corruption unless the corruption fighters believed in weird conspiracy theories and that Biden’s fight against Ukrainian corruption was somehow corrupt in and of itself.
The House managers have one more day to make the case against Trump before giving way to Trump’s lawyers. But they may have wasted the perfect closing argument when Schiff explained why it wasn’t enough to concede that a self-interested president had gone well over the line this time, but that he must also be removed from office.
Schiff told the senators that they know that Trump won’t “do what’s right for the country” but only “what’s right for himself.” And then: “This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.”
Right does matter. Truth does matter. And we have been lost. The question is whether — and how — we will find our way back.