Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
House Republicans have released a report attempting to rebut the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump — revealing a patchwork of spin, distortions, and outright denials of reality. But more than that, the document echoes the talking points that Fox News has made throughout the entire Trump-Ukraine scandal.
From the start, of course, this story has been laundered from Fox News into Trump’s brain, beginning with the smear campaigns against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, and other figures who have been caught up in the presidential scandal. Indeed, many of this new document’s purportedly factual (but easily debunked) claims about the impeachment inquiry can also be found in Fox host Sean Hannity’s recent “e-book” guide for talking to relatives over the holidays — though what Hannity wrote in just two-and-a-half pages, House Republicans stretched out to 123 pages.
Fundamentally, the House GOP report engages in Fox’s tried-and-true strategy of constructing an alternate reality in which the impeachment witnesses are said to have proved the exact opposite of what they actually testified about, such as claiming that “none of the Democrats’ witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor,” even after multiple people laid out in detail the Trump administration’s quid pro quo demand that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky investigate the Bidens. (And yet still, the report claims: “The evidence does not establish that President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Burisma Holdings, Vice President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, or Ukrainian influence in the 2016 election for the purpose of benefiting him in the 2020 election.”)
“In the absence of real evidence, the Democrats appeal to emotion—evaluating how unelected bureaucrats felt about the events in question,” the report says (emphasis original). This is reminiscent of Fox News legal analyst and Trump acolyte Gregg Jarrett, who previously proclaimed that the impeachment witnesses were really just offering their opinions rather than facts — even those who directly witnessed the key events in question.
Indeed, perhaps one of the most damaging witnesses against the president was Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union — and a Trump appointee and donor. But Fox News’ own headlines variously declared his testimony to be either a nonfactor or really just damaging to the Bidens.
The report also relies on the idea that the impeachment inquiry is based on “the accusations and assumptions of unelected bureaucrats who disagreed with President Trump’s policy initiatives and processes.” Fox News figures ranging from Hannity to “news”-side personnel such as chief White House correspondent John Roberts have also repeated the line that military aid was withheld from Ukraine as a “policy” matter — even while witnesses testified that the aid was withheld to pressure that country into investigating the Bidens. (If a move this egregious is simply “policy,” then we seem to be in the same territory as when Richard Nixon infamously remark to journalist David Frost in 1977: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Nothing would be out of bounds.)
The report even echoes another recent exercise in right-wing media gaslighting, denying that Trump had even tried to obtain the Democratic National Committee’s mythical email “server” from Ukraine: “The call summary, however, demonstrates that while President Trump mentioned Crowdstrike and ‘the server,’ President Trump never made any request that President Zelensky locate or turn over any material.”
In fact, the memorandum from the July 25 phone call shows that after Zelensky inquired about purchasing missile systems from the United States, Trump replied that he would like Ukraine to do “a favor. … The server, they say Ukraine has it.” It’s worth repeating: Not only is there no evidence that Ukraine was involved in the DNC email hack in 2016, but “the server” doesn’t even exist as a single physical object — the DNC emails were constructed across multiple cloud-based servers, and the U.S. security firm CrowdStrike turned over forensic replicas of those virtual disk images to the FBI.