President Trump's defense asked the question in Monday's presentation whether Joe Biden was actually acting in the interests of the United States when he helped push out a Ukrainian prosecutor.
The implication was that he was not, and that he was really working to help his son, Hunter Biden, who was earning millions form the corrupt Ukraine gas company Burisma.
Yet, if you listened carefully, or asked Republicans about it, none of them actually say that Biden did anything wrong.
Longtime Trump lawyer Eric Herschmann made the charge most bluntly, asking, "Are we really to believe that it was the policy of our government to withhold a billion dollars, a billions dollars of needed guarantees in aid to Ukraine, unless they fired a prosecutor on the spot?”
He was referring to Biden's now well-known boast to have done just that by forcing the Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to make good on promises to get rid of then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in 2016 in return for loan guarantees.
Poroshenko hadn't done so earlier, despite pressure from not just the United States, but the International Monetary Fund, European leaders, and Ukraine anti-corruption advocates. The problem with Shokin was that he was not investigating corruption, in the assessment of the international community. Indeed, the probe of Burisma that Shokin's office was handling was technically open, but inactive.
In the Trump presentation, though, Shokin is portrayed as investigating Burisma, and Biden is portrayed as demanding an improper quid pro quo.
Herschmann and the other Trump presenters never explain that Biden was acting as the point man for something the United States and its allies were seeking, and that Ukraine leaders had pledged already to address.
They never say he did something rogue, or that he acted improperly.
And neither do Republican senators, even as they repeat the unsavory details of Hunter Biden's role with Burisma as detailed by Team Trump.
One, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), was among a bipartisan group of senators who signed a letter to Poroshenko -- not long before Biden forced out the prosecutor -- expressing concern about corruption generally and specifically asking Poroshenko to "press ahead with urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General's office."
Asked about that late Monday, Johnson noted he hadn't called for Shokin's removal. "I didn't know Shokin from Adam until all this happened," he said, explaining that the prosecutor's office was rife with endemic corruption, and he was focused on that.
Yet Biden's pressure campaign on Shokin was in line with cleaning up that office. Asked if there was any way at all that Biden strayed from U.S. policy, Johnson mentioned none.
"Listen, you take a look at the timeline of all his involvement and Hunter's involvement and the payments -- they [the defense team] related the $83,000 a month [that Biden was paid] to an average American salary. They didn't relate it to just normal board members in the U.S., which make a whole lot less than Hunter Biden -- and those board members are actually qualified," Johnson said. "Listen, I keep hearing, there's no wrongdoing there. Was it right? Does that look good? I would argue not."
Asked again what Joe Biden might have done wrong, Johnson again offered nothing, instead pointing to Trump's state of mind.
"No, the point is, was the president justified in considering, in terms of whether we provide hard-earned tax-payer money to Ukraine? Are they going to clean up corruption?" Johnson said. "And quite honestly, just on a human basis, after you just endured a special counsel on a completely false narrative, I'm sure, as a human being, [Trump] goes, 'Look at what Joe Biden actually admitted to. Why don't you investigate him?'"
He then delved deeper into the president's psyche, asking reporters to empathize with Trump's alleged concern that Ukraine hacked the Democratic National Committee computer system, and that the Deep State was out to get him.
"You have to understand that human element in terms of what the president's thinking was, as well," Johnson said. "My discussion [with Trump] is always about his longstanding, 'Europe doesn't do enough.' I mean that's been repeated time and time again to all kinds of people, and then just overall corruption. Yeah, and his suspicion that maybe something in Ukraine, some actors in Ukraine, possibly working with the DNC, might have helped create this whole false narrative that subjected him to a special counsel for however many months and 30-some million dollars. I'm just asking people, put yourself in the president's place. Two weeks in office, already two phone calls with world leaders were leaked. And take a look at, now, the abuse of the FISA court, talk about people in his administration going around their own chain of command, and all of a sudden there's a whistleblower report over a phone call that he feels was completely appropriate, as does President Zelensky. I dunno. Try and put yourself in the president's position."
Democrats were not buying the conspiracy talk at all, but they did see it as another reason for Senate Republicans to back calls for witnesses and documents that could shed light on what the president really was thinking.
"They're saying, 'Here's all these things we're asserting to show you why President Trump could easily have asked for that.' Well, great. Then give us the witnesses and documents that will show us that was really his concern," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). "I'm really interested in this serious corruption issue. If President Trump was interested in the Biden corruption issue, isn't it odd -- isn't it odd -- that the DOJ puts out a statement that says he never once raised it with Attorney General Barr?"
Kaine was referring to a statement from the Department of Justice after Trump released the edited transcript of his July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky asking for probes of the Bidens and the debunked DNC server claims. Trump told Zelensky to speak with Barr about the investigations, but the DOJ statement said "The president has not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son."
"Attorney General Barr can investigate the activities of an American citizen," Kaine said. "But Barr says he never even mentioned it to him once. What does it tell you that president Trump is pressuring Zelensky to do it, and all of his handlers are pressuring -- announce it, announce it, announce it -- and oh, by the way I'm never going to mention it to my own attorney general?"
"The way I read that, as an attorney, is [Trump] knew he would laughed out of the headquarters of the Department of Justice," Kaine said. "So that's why he was leaning on Zelensky and not even mentioning it. He knew this thing was completely bogus but he thought he could muscle Zelensky."
Kaine thinks witness testimony and documents would reveal what the president was actually thinking, and eliminate the speculative mind-reading.
"They're making the argument, factually, no he had a real legitimate concern," Kaine said. "Guess what? The documents and witnesses will, I think, conclusively prove whether that is right or whether they're just inventing it because they're good lawyers and they're standing up and they've got to have something to say."
One point those lawyers made that perhaps Johnson did not hear was to caution against reading the minds of presidents, or as Alan Dershowitz argued against, take a psychoanalytical approach to determining impeachment.
"Like all human beings presidents and other politicians persuade themselves that their actions ... are primarily in the national interests," Dershowitz said. "In order to conclude that such mixed-motive actions constitute an abuse of power, opponents must psychoanalyze the president and attribute to him a singular self-serving motive.
"This is precisely what the managers are claiming," he continued. "Here's what they said, quote, 'Whether the president's real reason, the ones actually in his mind are at the time legitimate.' What a standard! What was in the president's mind? Actually in his mind?" Dershowitz said, sounding incredulous.
"Would you want your actions to be probed for what was the 'real reason' and why you acted?" Dershowitz said. "It clearly shows, in my mind, that the framers could not have intended this psychoanalytical approach to presidential motives to determine the distinction between what is impeachable and what is it not."