Dana Milbank: A shame Trump canceled subscription. Here's a perfect impeachment defense.
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Dana Milbank: A shame Trump canceled subscription. Here's a perfect impeachment defense.

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“I’m not frustrated at all,” Kellyanne Conway, the brains behind President Trump’s communications strategy, insisted Friday morning as she answered questions in the White House driveway about Trump’s muddled messaging on impeachment.

“It’s not frustration,” the presidential counselor elaborated. “It’s consternation.”

Why she thought that word sounded better — consternation means “amazement or dismay that hinders or throws into confusion” — is a mystery. But the definition fits the moment.

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Milbank

The Washington Examiner had just published a conversation in which Conway mocked and demeaned a reporter, describing herself as “a powerful woman” and threatening to have the White House expose details about the reporter’s personal life. Now Conway was fielding questions about that episode and about Trump’s confused impeachment response.

“There is no coherent message coming out of the White House on impeachment,” one of her interrogators observed.

Conway attempted to refute that observation — with 20 minutes of incoherence.

She spoke about due process. She spoke about Andrew Johnson. She said Adam Schiff is a liar. She spoke about Nixon. She spoke about unmasking the whistleblower. She spoke about Bill Clinton. She spoke about corruption in Ukraine. She spoke about the Founding Fathers. She spoke, in no particular order, about fake news, cross examinations, the Second Amendment, Robert Mueller, parking tickets, Nancy Pelosi, Twitter trolls, “cable news cranks” and journalists’ “presumptive negativity.” She challenged the character of witness William Taylor, Trump’s acting ambassador to Ukraine. She called Democrats an “angry mob” trying to “undo” the 2016 election and “interfere with” 2020. She offered various explanations for why it wasn’t a quid pro quo to ask for a probe of Joe Biden while suspending military aid. She explained why this clear violation of election law would be neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor.

Somewhere in the middle of this ramble, Conway proposed an entirely new defense of Trump’s behavior with Ukraine: Regardless of what happened, it wasn’t a quid pro quo because Trump did not desire in his soul for it to be a quid pro quo.

“There was no quid pro quo intended,” she reasoned. “I think intent matters. And when people say ‘this is what the president intended, this is what the president believes’ ... you don’t know that. So let’s take a deep breath and stop pretending we know what’s in somebody else’s heart, mind or soul.”

Genius! Trump can never be impeached because what matters is what is in his heart and his soul, and only he knows that. Likewise, he can’t be prosecuted for shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue (as the administration argued in court this week) because we cannot know where his heart and soul intended the bullet to go.

Republicans have been complaining that the White House lacks a consistent message on impeachment. The main defense — about the secrecy of the process — will become irrelevant when proceedings become public next month. “It’s hard,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham complained on Fox News. “’It’s like you’re fighting a ghost, you’re fighting against the air.”

Or maybe it’s that there is no good defense.

Really, the problem is the White House has too many messages — and none of them very good. Consider some of the lines Trump and his allies have tried in recent days:

The call was perfect.

The emoluments clause is phony.

Adam Schiff is a corrupt liar.

Adam Schiff is the whistleblower’s secret informant.

Bill Taylor is part of a coordinated smear campaign by radical unelected bureaucrats.

Democrats are an angry pack of rabid hyenas.

What are Democrats hiding in their Soviet-style star chamber?

Human scum!

It’s a coup!

No, it’s a lynching!

No, it’s a witch hunt!

The few attempts at a coherent defense have crumbled. “No quid pro quo” became “We do that all the time.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell disputed Trump’s claim that McConnell described the Ukraine call as “innocent.” Reporting by The Post and the New York Times undermines the claims that Ukraine didn’t know the funding was withheld and that Trump’s real motive was fighting corruption.

Trump’s solution to the stream of bad news: He ordered the White House to cancel its subscriptions to those two newspapers.

That’s too bad, because Trump and his aides now won’t be able to read this coherent, straight-from-the-soul message I have developed for him, guaranteed to put an end to impeachment:

I am in way over my head.

I have no idea what’s legal or illegal.

My staff is incompetent.

I wasn’t supposed to win the election.

You can’t impeach me — because I quit.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

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