During his campaign rally in Lexington, Kentucky, this week, President Trump turned over the lectern to Sen. Rand Paul and applauded as the Kentucky Republican delivered an astonishing smear.
Paul, who owes his political career to being former congressman Ron Paul’s son, first attacked Hunter Biden for profiting “only because of his family connections.” The libertarian Paul, who claims to champion privacy, also called on the media to out the Ukraine whistleblower and demanded that Congress subpoena the anonymous official.
Trump smiled and pointed approvingly at Paul.
Declared Paul: “The whistleblower needs to come before Congress as a material witness because he worked for Joe Biden at the same time Hunter Biden was getting money from corrupt oligarchs.”
Thus, in one sentence, did Paul attempt to out the person he thinks is the whistleblower and, with no evidence, suggest the whistleblower was wrapped up in allegedly sinister activities between the Bidens and corrupt oligarchs.
Trump applauded. “Wow, that was excellent,” he said.
Indeed, it took Paul only two minutes to spew all that slime — an extraordinary output.
And Trump knows something about slime excellence. With his congressional allies, his response to impeachment has been a veritable seminar on smears. The late Roy Cohn, who was Trump’s counselor after he was Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s, would be proud of his protege.
The day before, on the White House South Lawn, Trump proposed that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Purple Heart recipient and National Security Council official who testified in the impeachment probe, has a political vendetta against Trump.
On what evidence? “We’ll be showing that to you real soon,” Trump replied.
Trump further alleged that the whistleblower is “a big anti-Trump person” and an “Obama person” who should be outed because he or she deceived. “Some people would call it a fraud; I won’t go that far,” Trump said, then did: “But when I read it closely, I probably would.”
Calumny complete, Trump distanced himself from the slander, saying “maybe it’s not him” and “I don’t know if it’s true or not.”
Innuendo seems to be all that remains at the president’s disposal as any last remnant of a factual defense crumbles. On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released revised testimony by Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who now says that, come to think of it, he does recall telling a senior Ukrainian official “that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing” involving Hunter Biden and Democrats.
In a transcript of his original testimony also released Tuesday, Sondland, a Trump donor and political appointee, said the Ukraine project “kept getting more insidious” as he learned what Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was seeking. Sondland called “improper” and presumably illegal Giuliani’s attempt to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son.
Ironically, the action that set impeachment in motion was itself an attempted smear; Trump had sought the public announcement of a probe into the Ukrainian company Hunter Biden advised — which would have left Trump free to speculate, as he did with Hillary Clinton’s emails, about nefarious conduct.
Since then, Trump has smeared each of the participants in the inquiry. The whistleblower’s informants are “close to a spy.” Longtime ambassador Bill Taylor, the White House said, participated in “a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.” Trump and his allies attacked Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump recalled, with false allegations of misconduct; State Department officials didn’t defend Yovanovitch against what John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of State, last week acknowledged was a smear. NSC official Vindman’s loyalty to the United States has been challenged by Trump allies because he came from Ukraine as a child refugee.
Trump and his allies are trying hard to amplify speculative reports in conservative media claiming to out the whistleblower, whose identity is protected by law. Trump, in demanding the unmasking, has asked if the whistleblower is “on our Country’s side.”
Now Sondland, one of the “three amigos” who implemented Giuliani’s shadow Ukraine policy, has, under oath, confirmed the Ukraine quid pro quo in more detail than the whistleblower did and acknowledged apparent illegality. The latest deposition transcripts also show that another of the amigos, former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, testified that Giuliani sought dirt from Ukraine on the Bidens even though Volker told him the claims had been debunked and were “simply not credible.”
After Tuesday, none of Trump’s arguments in the Ukraine matter remains credible. Slander is the last refuge of this scoundrel.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.