Opinion: ‘Shut up,’ he explained. Making sense of Trump’s incoherent letter to Nancy Pelosi

President Trump, pictured Tuesday in the Oval Office, has penned a letter to Nancy Pelosi.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump’s six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denouncing his impending impeachments is ... quite a read. What it isn’t is a coherent or convincing defense of the actions for which he almost certainly will stand trial in the Senate for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Rather, it’s a sort of Greatest Hits that will be familiar to any consumer of Trump’s tweets.

For example, he again describes his now-notorious July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “perfect” and insists, as he did in a tweet earlier this month, that when he asked Zelensky to “do us a favor,” the “us” was the United States, not Trump and his personal political interests.


“I said do us a favor, and our country, not a campaign.” Trump says. “I then mentioned the Attorney General of the United States.”

This is not quite the slam-dunk refutation Trump thinks it is. Trump also mentioned in the call that Zelensky should talk to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who has been trying to have Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son — an activity that could benefit Trump’s 2020 campaign if Biden were the Democratic nominee. Was Giuliani, a private citizen, acting on behalf of that larger “us”?

Trump tells Pelosi: “You know full well that Vice President Biden used his office and $1 billion dollars [sic] of U.S. aid money to coerce Ukraine into firing the prosecutor who was digging into the company paying his son millions of dollars.”

Pelosi knows no such thing. Neither do those who have examined both parts of this conspiracy theory — that the fired prosecutor was “digging into” Hunter Biden’s company when Joe Biden intervened and that the vice president acted to help his son, rather than as part of a multinational effort to help clean up corruption in Ukraine.

Trump spins a lot of other Golden Oldies, including the allegation that the Democrats have wanted to impeach him since 2017 (source: a Maxine Waters quote) and that they want to overturn the results of the 2016 election. (“You view democracy as the enemy!”) There’s also the familiar litany of his administration’s accomplishments (Space Force!) that Trump seems to believe should immunize him against impeachment no matter how many crimes and misdemeanors he might commit.

There’s even a reference to Trump’s absurd claim that Rep. Adam Schiff purported to offer a verbatim account of Trump’s comments to Zelensky when Schiff served up a heavy-handed and opinionated paraphrase of Trump’s comments. No sentient human being who watched Schiff’s riff would have thought that he was purporting to quote Trump. But Trump returns to this incident so often, and with such a sense of grievance, that I’m beginning to think he really believes Schiff was trying to pass off his “parody” as a word-for-word quotation.


There are a few bits of news in the letter, including Trump’s claim that Pelosi is “offending Americans of faith by continually saying, ‘I pray for the president.’“

All in all, however, Trump’s letter is not so much a response to the case against him as a rant, reminiscent of the famous Ring Lardner line “ ‘Shut up,’ he explained.” Last month Trump flirted with the idea of testifying during the impeachment proceedings. If this is what he would have said, we didn’t miss much.