White House Lawyers Attack Democrat ‘Mind-Reading’ in Senate Impeachment Trial

Adam Schiff (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

The White House legal team relied on a repeated theme in its attack on House impeachment managers’ case against President Donald Trump in the Senate on Saturday: they accused Democrats of “mind-reading.”

White House Counsel Michael Purpura first used the phrase after quoting several Ukrainian officials, from President Volodymyr Zelensky on down, denying that they had felt any pressure from President Trump, or that they believed a temporary hold on U.S. aid was connected to a demand for investigations.

“The fact that President Zelensky himself felt no pressure on the call and did not perceive there to be any connection between security assistance and investigations would, in any ordinary case, in any court, be totally fatal to the prosecution. The judge would throw it out, the case would be over; what more do you need to know?” he said.

In response, he said, House Democrats had to pretend that Zelensky and the Ukrainians were not telling the truth: “They tell you that the Ukrainians must have felt pressure, regardless of what they’ve said. They try to overcome the devastating evidence against them by, apparently, claiming to be mind-readers. They know what’s in President Zelensky’s mind, better President Zelensky he does.”

Later, White House attorney Jay Sekulow made the same point, after noting that President Trump and President Zelensky had, in fact, held a meeting, without any preconditions, at the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2019.

He quoted that one of the Democrats’s star witnesses, Dr. Fiona Hill, testified that the meeting Zelensky wanted was not necessarily at the White House itself, but simply a “White House-level” meeting with the president.

He mocked the idea that an article of impeachment could be based on the idea that a meeting took place in one place rather than another.

He then declared: “This case is really not about presidential wrongdoing. This entire impeachment process is about the House managers’ insistence that they are able to read everybody’s thoughts. They can read everybody’s intention, even when the principal speakers, the witnesses themselves, insist that those interpretations are wrong.”

Sekulow returned to the theme later, wrapping up his presentation by quoting President Zelensky’s answer when asked about a “quid pro quo.”

“He says: ‘We had a good phone call’ — these are his words — ‘it was normal. We spoke about many things. I think — and you read it — that nobody pushed me’.”

Sekulow concluded: “They think you can read minds. I think you look at the words.”

Finally, White House Counsel Patrick Philbin noted that lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, had misled the public  about his committee’s past contact with the so-called “whistleblower.”

Philbin added:

This is relevant here, I think, because as you’ve heard from my colleagues, a lot of what we’ve heard over the past 23 hours, over the past three days, has been from Chairman Schiff. And he has been telling you things like what’s in President Trump’s head, what’s in President Zelensky’s head. It’s all his interpretation of the facts and the evidence, trying to pull inferences out of things.

He then played a clip of Schiff appearing on Meet the Press in March 2017, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd that there was “more than circumstantial” evidence of “Russia collusion.”

Philbin explained:

They want to tell you what President Trump thought, they want to tell you, “Don’t believe what Zelensky said, we can tell you what Zelensky actually thought. Don’t believe what they other Ukrainians actually said about not being pressured, we can tell you what they actually thought.” That it is very relevant to know whether the assessments of evidence he’s presented in the past are accurate. And we would submit that they have not been

Criticism of “mind-reading” arguments appears frequently in the work of Dilbert cartoonist and political prognosticator Scott Adams, who is known to have a following in the White House, and who dissects “mind-reading” arguments in his new book, Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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