As the House impeachment managers' opening argument neared its end last week, White House Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Ueland was quoted saying, "I can't wait for the revenge."
Presumably, he was referring to the opening argument from Donald Trump's legal defense team, which began with a relatively brief presentation on Saturday morning. Those waiting for "the revenge," however, will apparently have to keep waiting -- because all the president' lawyers had to offer was a peek into an alternate reality. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank summarized the presentation nicely:
As outlined in two hours on the Senate floor, theirs is a world in which Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election in 2016; where the FBI and intelligence community are disreputable; where the United States, not Europe, gives Ukraine the bulk of its foreign aid; where there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine and where a "transcript" of President Trump's call conclusively proves it; where the halt of military aid to Ukraine was routine, and where Ukrainian officials didn't even know about it; where the president was barred from impeachment proceedings; and where Robert Mueller totally vindicated Trump.
It was bewildering. Team Trump based the first day of its opening argument on a series of "facts" that weren't especially factual. An Associated Press report took stock of the most glaring "false assertions" from the president's attorneys, and there were more than a few.
The larger context was of particular interest: Trump's lawyers have had several weeks to prepare for this presentation, months if we include the period leading up to the House's actual impeachment vote. This means they had ample time to do their homework, get their facts together, and build their most persuasive case.
It made it all the more glaring when the president's defense team struggled so embarrassingly to offer an opening argument in line with reality.
But the line that stood out most for me wasn't a delusional claim or an obvious falsehood; it was a failure of self-awareness.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, while accusing House impeachment managers of failing to provide senators with the whole story, argued during Saturday's proceedings, "Impeachment shouldn't be a shell game. They should give you the facts."
Well, sure, of course they should. But as historian Kevin M. Kruse noted soon after, "This is an interesting argument to make on behalf of a president who blocked witnesses and withheld evidence to a room half-filled with his allies who voted against subpoenaing them."
It's not exactly a secret that Trump and most everyone in his employ have refused to cooperate with the process in any way. Literally zero documents have been shared with investigators. Subpoenas have gone ignored. Key witnesses have been instructed not to answer any questions. Even when House Democrats invited White House officials to participate in the impeachment proceedings, the president and his operation refused.
Who, exactly, is playing a "shell game" with the facts?