Trump, allies aim to delegitimize impeachment from the start

President Donald Trump and his Republican allies spent weeks trivializing the House impeachment inquiry ahead of Tuesday's historic unveiling of formal charges against the president.

News 12 Staff

Dec 11, 2019, 11:57 AM

Updated 1,647 days ago

Share:

By JILL COLVIN and ZEKE MILLER
Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - They're calling it a circus, a farce and even zany.
President Donald Trump and his Republican allies spent weeks trivializing the House impeachment inquiry ahead of Tuesday's historic unveiling of formal charges against the president.
Where Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton treated the prospect of impeachment as a serious threat to their presidencies, Trump's boosters have tried to brush off the whole thing. Believing that acquittal by the GOP-controlled Senate is all but certain, they're out to convince voters to punish the president's Democratic accusers - or at least tune out the Washington spectacle.
To that end, they have belittled the impeachment process with mockery, schoolyard taunts and an unyielding insistence that Trump did not a single thing wrong. They have stonewalled, refusing to allow witnesses to testify; protested by declining to send their own lawyers to hearings; and dished out the ultimate Trumpian insult: calling the proceedings boring.
In the process, the president and his allies have largely glossed over the substance of allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making light of what is likely to be only the third presidential impeachment in the nation’s history.
It’s a strategy borne of Trump's instincts and informed by the results of polling and focus groups. The president and his allies believe the effort has been effective, especially when it comes to keeping independent voters skeptical of the process. It is also a reflection of the country's increasingly polarized political environment.
"Why would we legitimize this process that the American people can't even follow, aren't digesting,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday when asked why the White House had chosen not to participate in the House proceedings. She equated cooperation to “colluding with an illegitimate process.”
She showed her disdain for the effort by accusing Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., of “playing a game of Inspector Clouseau, Secret Squirrel” by waiting so long to unveil the articles of impeachment that were announced Tuesday.
GOP critics have been going all-out to find new ways to mock what Trump has long called a “witch hunt” and a “sham.”
Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, compared the impeachment hearings to “the cantina bar scene in Star Wars. It's surreal.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed the “zaniness that's taking place on Capitol Hill.” And Rep. Devin Nunes, the House intelligence committee's top Republican, called the House hearings “a show trial, a planned result of three years of political operations and dirty tricks.”
But even if GOP legislators are more than willing to complain and erect parliamentary roadblocks, many lawmakers, particularly the senators who would serve as jurors in an eventual Senate trial, have been less comfortable defending the president’s conduct.
Nor has that been a priority for White House aides, who have been firing off rapid response emails about procedural unfairness but have done little to engage on the substance of the charges.
During the early days of the inquiry there was tension between the West Wing and the president's outside allies, who felt the White House was doing too little to defend the president against the charges. Trump himself was initially unwilling to bring on new staff or set up a “war room," concerned that such a move would suggest he felt vulnerable or make him look guilty. Ultimately, Trump consented to the hiring of former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and Republican strategist Tony Sayegh, a move that has helped to mollify some outside critics.
There also was a sense of confusion early on, as administration officials and allies struggled to keep up with rapidly unfolding news about Trump's attempts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden. Even some of the president's closest supporters were unclear about details of his interactions with the president of Ukraine.
With little clarity about what really had happened, Republicans took aim at the process, seeing it as an easy place to start. Once the scope become clearer, officials inside and outside the building began to refine their messaging, based in part on polling and focus group testing.
America First Policies, a nonprofit backing Trump’s policies, for instance, conducted focus groups early in the process that focused specifically on independent voters who might be open to voting for Trump in 2020.
Kelly Sadler, a spokeswoman for the group, said the sessions turned up frustration with Congress over endless investigations and not perusing bread-and-butter issues. Many people, she said, felt the impeachment inquiry was highly partisan - a sentiment reflected in polling data - and felt the whole endeavor was a waste of time and money, especially given the quickly-approaching 2020 election.
The group has targeted its advertising to speak to those frustrations, which are also reflected in messaging from the American Action Network, which is tied to House GOP leadership and has spent millions on anti-impeachment ads.
As Republicans have pushed to delegitimize the House impeachment process, they also are professing great reverence for an expected Senate trial on friendlier turf. Trump sees a Senate trial as a forum where his allies will be able to publicly defend him and turn the tables on Democrats in dramatic Court TV fashion.
"It’s pretty clear the president wants a trial," said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley. He offered a list of some of the witnesses Trump would like to call, including House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the whistle blower whose complaint sparked the inquiry, as well as Biden and his son, Hunter, who had dealings in Ukraine.
“The president’s eager to get his story out," Gidley said.
But Republicans in the Senate caution that Trump may not get the show he wants because Senate rules require a majority of senators to approve individual witnesses, and some are weary of creating a spectacle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that no decisions have been made yet about the length or structure of a Senate trial.
“The Senate has two choices: It could go down the path of calling witnesses and basically having another trial or it could decide - and again 51 members could make that decision - that they have heard enough,” he said.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


More from News 12
2:10
STORM WATCH: Strong storms can bring damaging wind, flooding through early this evening

STORM WATCH: Strong storms can bring damaging wind, flooding through early this evening

2:27
Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts provides summer entertainment in Katonah

Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts provides summer entertainment in Katonah

1:38
Weather On The Road: Matt Hammer visits New York Boulders stadium

Weather On The Road: Matt Hammer visits New York Boulders stadium

2:58
Food Truck Friday: The Patty Wagon from Freddy's Restaurant in Pleasantville

Food Truck Friday: The Patty Wagon from Freddy's Restaurant in Pleasantville

0:19
Investigators probe vandalism incident at Pawling High School construction site

Investigators probe vandalism incident at Pawling High School construction site

0:18
New Windsor police: 25 businesses denied alcohol to decoys during underage sales enforcement detail

New Windsor police: 25 businesses denied alcohol to decoys during underage sales enforcement detail

2:14
Mount Vernon police respond to shooting on First Avenue and Third Street

Mount Vernon police respond to shooting on First Avenue and Third Street

0:43
East Fishkill police: Garbage truck collides with car on Route 52

East Fishkill police: Garbage truck collides with car on Route 52

Traffic alert: Route 22 reopens in Town of Dover following road closure caused by vehicle crash

Traffic alert: Route 22 reopens in Town of Dover following road closure caused by vehicle crash

0:51
Manhattan DA: NYPD deputy inspector from Rockland indicted for covering up drunk driving incident

Manhattan DA: NYPD deputy inspector from Rockland indicted for covering up drunk driving incident

1:40
Teen driver avoids jail time for 2022 crash that killed a Yonkers police officer

Teen driver avoids jail time for 2022 crash that killed a Yonkers police officer

1:19
Vietnam and Korean wars veterans honored at Rockland County dinner

Vietnam and Korean wars veterans honored at Rockland County dinner

0:27
State police: Missing woman whose remains were found in Putnam was a victim of homicide

State police: Missing woman whose remains were found in Putnam was a victim of homicide

1:14
City of Newburgh remains offline for 3rd day after cybersecurity attack

City of Newburgh remains offline for 3rd day after cybersecurity attack

1:46
Parents: Suffern High School students suspended, banned from prom after livestock senior prank

Parents: Suffern High School students suspended, banned from prom after livestock senior prank

1:51
John Oliver delivers kitchen equipment to cake bear makers as next LWT episode nears

John Oliver delivers kitchen equipment to cake bear makers as next LWT episode nears

0:48
Gov. Hochul's pause on Congestion Pricing Plan could face legal pushback

Gov. Hochul's pause on Congestion Pricing Plan could face legal pushback

0:35
Wake held for 13-year-old killed in Harrison accident

Wake held for 13-year-old killed in Harrison accident

0:25
Coach USA files for bankruptcy, seeking to sell assets

Coach USA files for bankruptcy, seeking to sell assets

News 12 Book Club

News 12 Book Club