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How Republicans learned to love conspiracy theories

A clear divide was on display this week in Washington.

On one side were the nine witnesses — all of whom are current or former Trump administration officials.

This group was dealing in something called facts. Texts. WhatsApp messages. Contemporaneous notes from phone calls and meetings. Released rough transcripts. Eyewitness testimony.

Those facts all painted a very similar picture: A concerted effort — from a number of senior officials including President Donald Trump — to force Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for a meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House. When the investigation was not publicly announced, nearly $400 million in US security aid for Ukraine was held up as a way to lever up the pressure on Zelensky to do what Trump wanted.

On the other side of the equation were congressional Republicans — especially those on the Intelligence Committee — and the Trump White House.

This group was dealing in debunked conspiracy theories. Conjecture. A single article written by a questionable columnist. Rumor. What-people-are-saying-ism.

Those conspiracy theories were myriad: Ukraine was meddling in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated infantry officer and now a National Security Council Ukraine expert, might have dual loyalties because he was born in Ukraine. Former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch hated Trump and refused to hang his official portrait in the embassy.

To be clear (again): None of those things is true. And yet, from Donald Trump to California Rep. Devin Nunes (R) and back, Republicans acted as though their conspiracies were of equal value to the facts established by the nine witnesses (and affirmed by the Democratic questioners on the committee.)

The result of this facts vs. conspiracy theories approach to the week’s public impeachment hearings was a reinforcing of this fact: In the age of Trump, tribalism rules Republicans. Facts are less important than desperately clinging to a disproven conspiracy theory that keeps Trump happy.

Here’s the thing: Republicans don’t have to vote for impeachment — if they believe that Trump’s pressure campaign against Ukraine doesn’t meet the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That’s a judgment call. What’s not a judgment call is that, according to established facts, Trump and several of his most senior aides sought to force an investigation into the Bidens using the levers of official government power.

To answer those facts with outrageous claims like that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election or a decorated combat veteran is somehow disloyal to his country are both outlandish and embarrassing.

The Point: This week proved just how far Republicans are willing to go in their total fealty to Trump. And it’s farther than I would have ever thought.

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Thursday

Friday

And that was the week in 18 headlines.

CNN