Whatever claims Donald Trump has made about his influence on the U.S. economy, there’s simply no question that he’s done wonders for one particular profession — fact checking. Rare is the day when President Trump doesn’t personally serve up five or six false or 20 misleading statements, often before breakfast. He lies about important matters like foreign policy, he lies about trivial stuff like how many people attend his campaign events. And in an especially ironic twist, he even personally promotes the hiring of fact checkers, tweeting early Thursday that they make news articles more accurate. “Years ago, when Media was legitimate, people known as “Fact Checkers” would always call to check and see if a story was accurate,” he wrote in a tweet that, of course, is only partially true.
But if you really want to see reality twisted into something unrecognizable without even the slightest sense of regret or remorse — the gold standard of the Trump era — then you really have to trot out Kellyanne Conway, the Trump adviser who coined the term “alternative facts” on a Sunday talk show in January of 2017 to try to explain how Inauguration Day crowds could be record-setting when they weren’t. She was back in action last weekend and in appearances on CNN’s “State of the Union” and on “Fox News Sunday,” she addressed the infamous Ukraine phone call by demonstrating once again that the constraints of reality that limit the rest of us hold no purchase on her.
Asked repeatedly by the hosts to explain whether it was appropriate for President Trump to enlist help for his political campaign from a foreign government, Ms. Conway went in all sorts of directions, none of them actually answering the question. She suggested to Fox’s Chris Wallace that the release of aid to Ukraine shortly after the inspector general informed the House Intelligence Committee about the whistleblower complaint was mere coincidence. But that’s just run-of-the-mill deflection. What’s truly impressive is how she can keep advising everyone to “just read the transcript” of President Trump’s phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky as if it’s exonerating, which it isn’t. There’s simply no question that he wanted Ukraine to investigate former vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden as well as some cockamamie allegations about Ukraine, not Russia, interfering in the 2016 election. And he did so while he was holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in much-needed military aid to Ukraine. So yes, by all means, read the transcript.
Is that quid pro quo? It’s difficult to see it as anything else. Unless, you’re Kellyanne Conway who is certain she never read those actual words (at least not in their original Latin) in the rough transcript of the call, which is true but remarkably unimportant. “I don’t know whether aid was being held up and for how long," she told CNN. Really? Because simply perusing recent media reports drawn from interviews with top Trump administration officials could answer that question. It was held up at the time of the phone call. Even the acting chief of staff has admitted to that several weeks earlier on national television. How does a top adviser stay so ill-informed on an issue that might result in her boss’s impeachment when the rest of the country is hearing about it daily? That’s a talent. What she does know is that Ukraine’s president “felt no pressure” and that the aid has since been delivered. “Quid pro quo, yes or no?” Ms. Conway was asked repeatedly on CNN. She declined to answer directly. Several times. “I just said to you I don’t know whether aid was being held up or for how long," was her most cogent reply to CNN’s Dana Bash.
No doubt Ms. Conway’s explanations of the Ukraine extortion and why it does not constitute an abuse of office will further evolve as events warrant. In all likelihood, she will eventually get around to where Sen. Lindsey Graham and others are — that the Trump administration simply isn’t competent enough to extort and that its Ukraine policy was “incoherent" anyway. “They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo,” the alleged Trump supporter from South Carolina told reporters. Some people might regard such a defense as insulting. But in the Trump sphere, this might be the most credible excuse that’s been offered to date.