Spaghetti or Mud: Pick Your Metaphor

Scott R. Anderson and Quinta Jurecic, writing in Lawfare:

The Republican strategy [was hard]  to suss out. Steve Castor, a House Oversight Committee staffer, walked Kent and Taylor through a rambling line of questioning that never quite added up to anything, to the point where even supporters of the president wondered on social media where Castor was headed. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes held forth on the Steele dossier—a subject that both witnesses were quick to say they knew nothing about. As the hearing went on, other Republicans—most prominently Rep. Jim Jordan—tested out a range of arguments, including that Ukraine and Hunter Biden are corrupt; that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election; that, for those reasons, Trump was right to push Zelensky to investigate these issues; that neither witness had direct contact with the president and that therefore their testimony may not be accurate; that the aid was eventually released in the absence of an announcement from Zelensky and therefore no wrongdoing was actually committed; and that the identity of the person behind the whistleblower complaint remains secret. It’s a scattershot approach that depends largely on the willingness of the president and the press to swallow conspiracy theories and distractions that add up to nothing more than a lot of spaghetti on the wall.

Renato Mariotti, writing on Politico:

If it looked like House Republicans were throwing a lot of mud at the wall to see what might stick during the first day of public impeachment hearings, that’s because they had settled into a strategy many defense attorneys adopt when the prosecution has the goods on their client—confuse the issues and distract the audience from the evidence at hand.

I’ve tried many federal criminal cases, and Wednesday’s hearing looked like a lot like trials in which the prosecution has the defendant on tape admitting to a crime. When defense attorneys can’t mount a defense on the merits, they raise a lot of peripheral issues in the hope of convincing at least one juror that there is reasonable doubt. …

Many commentators have bashed the performance of Republican attorney Steve Castor, openly predicting that he will be mocked on the upcoming edition of “Saturday Night Live.” Certainly his lack of experience trying cases showed. His opening line of questions, which attempted unsuccessfully to get Taylor and Kent to agree to a confusing conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, was particularly choppy. But Castor had very little to work with, and unlike an attorney at a trial, Castor wasn’t allowed to just ask a few questions and sit down. It appeared that he was told he had to fill 45 minutes, which is not easy to do when your side has no legitimate defense on the merits. He tried his best to testify through his questioning and confuse the issues—he spent a lot of time trying to get Taylor to acknowledge that Rudy Giuliani’s “irregular” diplomatic channel wasn’t as irregular as it could have been—but he could have sharpened his questions considerably.