Trump's impeachment defense rests on a foundation of falsehoods

When weighing the seriousness of the Ukraine scandal, consider the simple fact that Trump seems wholly incapable of telling the truth about what transpired.
Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda
Donald TrumpCzarek Sokolowski / AP
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By Steve Benen

Perhaps more so than any other figure in American public life, Donald Trump has earned a reputation for saying things that aren't true. It's a problem that, in a quantifiable sense, is getting worse as his presidency continues.

The Washington Post reported yesterday, for example, on the third anniversary of the Republican's inauguration, that Trump has made "more than 16,200 false or misleading claims" since taking office. The report added, "In 2017, Trump made 1,999 false or misleading claims. In 2018, he added 5,689 more, for a total of 7,688. And in 2019, he made 8,155 suspect claims."

But as the Senate's impeachment trial gets underway, CNN's Daniel Dale narrowed the focus a bit and examined Trump's "compulsive" dishonesty about the scandal that threatens the Republican's presidency.

President Donald Trump is dishonest about a whole lot of things. But he is rarely as comprehensively dishonest as he has been about his dealings with Ukraine and the impeachment process.

From the eruption of the Ukraine controversy in September to the Senate trial that officially began on Thursday, relentless deceit has seemed to be Trump's primary defense strategy in the court of public opinion. He has made false claims about almost every separate component of the story, from his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to the whistleblower who complained about the call, to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's own relations with Ukraine.

Dale's report documented 65 specific claims Trump has made about the controversy, each of which were false. That seems like an awful lot of lying -- which continues on a nearly daily basis.

Indeed, it's surprisingly difficult to think of any aspect of Trump's Ukraine scandal in which the American president has managed to make an accurate claim and stick to it as the story continued to unfold.

But there's a larger significance to this, beyond simply marveling at one person's capacity for brazen dishonesty. More important is the degree to which Trump is relying on public deception as part of his response to the political crisis, and the implications of such a strategy.

The Washington Post had a good report along these lines in early November, noting that the president has made falsehoods "central" to his impeachment defense, pushing a series of demonstrable lies that "crashed headlong" into reality as more information came to light.

This matters on the surface, insofar as it's problematic when a president tries to deceive the country on matters of historical significance, but it also matters because it suggests something important about his likely guilt.

If Trump's behavior were as "perfect" and "beautiful" as he's repeatedly claimed, he won't feel the need to lie so often and so much.

Indeed, the campaign of deception adds weight to the seriousness of the scandal itself. The evidence now shows that Trump extorted a vulnerable foreign ally, tried to leverage taxpayer financed and congressionally approved aid for domestic political gain, sought foreign interference in an American election, made every possible effort to obstruct the investigation into his misconduct, and then lied about everything that transpired.

When weighing the seriousness of the scandal, it's no small detail that Trump seems wholly incapable of telling the truth about the scandal that led to today's trial.

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