Republicans in Congress are grasping at straws to defend an increasingly indefensible President Donald Trump against impeachment.
The latest plan, according to reporting in The Washington Post, is to saddle the blame for Trump's predicament on his deputies.
It's a stretch. But we are talking about GOP members of the House of Representatives and Senate, after all.
Specifically, they want us to believe that Trump's singular drive to elicit political favors from the Ukrainian government in exchange for military aid was the rogue or incompetent action of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Trump's lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
Apparently they can't read the new Trump rally T-shirts that say "Read the transcript" — let alone the rough and partial transcript itself.
If they could — or would, as is the operative verb in the case of South Carolina's Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham — they would see that it was Trump himself who spelled out the quid pro quo in a July telephone call with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Sondland, Giuliani and Mulvaney all figure large in the Ukrainian story, and they've all implicated themselves — sometimes repeatedly. Now the GOP is hoping to let them take the fall.
The trouble is, they all work for and take orders from the same guy — Donald Trump.
Sondland is Trump's hand-picked political appointee. Giuliani is Trump's personal attorney/fixer. Mulvaney is also a Trump pick — first as his director of the Office of Management and Budget and now as his third chief of staff. They didn't go to all this trouble, or get into all this trouble, on their own.
Of course, it's hard to fault the GOP for its many changing defenses of an indefensible and inconsistent president who himself can't keep all his stories straight.
Just in recent days, the Republicans have fallen all over each other with excuses for Trump.
* Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said it doesn't matter whether Trump made a quid pro quo demand because he didn't have "criminal intent."
* Sens. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin borrowed Mulvaney's line from a White House news conference last month, saying such trades happen "all the time" in foreign policy and are not a serious or impeachable offense.
* Graham even flirted with a presidential smackdown by criticizing Trump's Ukraine policy as too "incoherent" for officials to successfully execute anything as calculated as a quid pro quo.
"What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine: It was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to, they seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo," Graham told reporters.
Aside from Mulvaney's we-do-it-all-the-time excuse, what do the fall guys have to say for themselves?
Sondland, in testimony to Congress, takes his line of orders back to Giuliani, who has suddenly stopped talking so much. But back in September, in two Fox TV interviews, Giuliani waved around his iPad and his cell phone, pointing to text messsages and saying, "It's all here, right here. The first call from the State Department, the debriefing of the State Department."
And who runs the State Department? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, hand-picked twice by Donald Trump — first as director of the CIA and then as a replacement for Rex Tillerson, who Trump fired because he wouldn't, in Tillerson's own words, break the law when Trump suggested he do so. And remember, Pompeo listened in on the Ukrainian call and said nothing.
It's almost hard not to feel sorry for the Republicans who are trying to save Donald Trump from himself.
Okay, it's not that hard.