Republicans are going to smear the Ukraine whistleblower. Don't buy it.
More than two and a half years into the Trump presidency, Republicans have a tried and true strategy when it comes to dealing with whistleblowers or any other witnesses who threaten to expose the president and his administration's corrupt or unethical behavior. Following the president's lead, they do everything in their power to discredit the individual and destroy his or her reputation, questioning the subject's honesty and integrity, portraying her as a politically-motivated opportunist, and digging up whatever kind of dirt they can — true or not — to sully the person's name. After tarring and feathering the witness or whistleblower in question, they move on to the press and the journalists who reported the story, fulminating against the "fake news" media and the dishonest reporters who would do anything to bring down the president. Finally, if things really look bad, they point to a vast "deep state" conspiracy to undermine and ruin President Trump, who has spent the past three years fighting off baseless smears and treacherous attacks from people within his own government.
By now, this is all excruciatingly familiar, and Republicans are already following this strategy to a tee in response to the latest scandal involving Trump's request that the newly-elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Republicans wasted no time after the news broke last week in attacking the anonymous whistleblower as a liar, a Democratic operative, and worse.
The former acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, opined that it was "a clear example of someone from the deep state" trying to take down the president, while the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, speculated on CNN that the whistleblower was "a Democrat holdover who is trying to destroy Donald Trump," before also bringing up the all-powerful deep state. "You don't think there's a deep state?" Giuliani barked at CNN's Chris Cuomo, attacking the host and his network for unfair and biased coverage. Meanwhile, various conservative outlets reported that one of the whistleblower's attorneys is a "Democratic operative" who worked for both Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, even though the lawyer in question, Andrew Bakaj, was a mere intern for the two senators almost 20 years ago, according to his LinkedIn profile.
On Tuesday, Fox News' Sean Hannity, who has been one of the most vocal proponents of the "deep state" conspiracy theory over the past two years, reported that the intelligence community inspector general had found signs of "political bias" in the whistleblower in favor of a "rival candidate against President Trump in 2020," though failed to mention the inspector general also found that the complaint's allegations were credible.
After the White House released a non-verbatim summary of the call on Wednesday, put together from "notes and recollections" from those who were there, Republicans could no longer flat-out deny that the president had asked the Ukrainian president to investigate one of his political opponents, which he very clearly did ("I would like you to do us a favor," the president said, before asking Zelensky to get in touch with his attorney general to investigate the Bidens). Republican apologists have claimed there is no clear quid pro quo displayed in the transcript (nor any mention of the $400 million in military aid to Ukraine that Trump ordered to be frozen one week earlier), but the intent is clear, and one can only imagine what is missing from the original conversation.
With congressional Democrats finally launching an impeachment inquiry this week, most Republicans seem prepared to defend the president until their last breath, and will continue in their attempts to discredit the whistleblower and everyone involved in the latest scandal, just as they've done with every other whistleblower and witness over the past three years. In response to the transcript, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, remarked that it reads like "a classic mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader." Remember, last year Trump said that "flipping" — that is, cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for a reduced sentence — should be illegal, which reveals the kind of mob mentality that has come to prevail in the modern GOP.
The whistleblower report has now been provided to the congressional intelligence committees and, according to Schiff, the whistleblower has asked to testify and could do so as early as this week. One can only hope that he or she is prepared for the mudslinging vitriol and intimidation tactics that Republicans are getting ready to deploy.
Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.