Whenever there’s a new development in the Ukraine scandal, I think of two names: Gorpman and Bleemer. Neither of them belongs to a real individual. They instead come from an article published almost one year ago by Clickhole, a satirical website founded by The Onion, that mocked the most feverish coverage of the Russia investigation.
“The day’s just getting started, and the Trump house of cards is already crumbling,” the article read. “This morning, Special Counsel Robert Mueller dropped a legal bombshell on the administration by filing court documents announcing a plea bargain with Trump’s confidant’s lawyer’s friend’s associate Gorpman, and Gorpman’s testimony could spell major trouble for Bleemer, which must be terrifying for Trump.” It goes on to list a host of other individuals in possible jeopardy, including Feldermeyer, Brenchler, Thranghorst, and even Galloway.
While the article has since been mysteriously deleted, it might well be one of the most quietly influential writings of the Trump era. Gorpman and Bleemer became bywords among journalists and commentators for a few intertwined phenomena: the struggle to keep track of the countless threads in the Trump-Russia saga, the challenge of giving proper weight and context to new developments, and the hyperbolic coverage embraced by some outlets along the way. Chatter about the Clickhole article resurfaced as the Ukraine scandal grew over the last two months—a watchword of sorts against repeating past mistakes. With two weeks of public hearings now complete, however, our great national Gorpman-Bleemer problem appears to be solved.
Clickhole’s original article emerged at the perfect time. By the end of 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s secretive inquiry had scored a few major victories. Federal prosecutors under his command had secured the conviction of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and were closing in on an indictment for Roger Stone, one of Trump’s closest advisers. Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime legal fixer, had pleaded guilty to campaign-finance charges and said he committed them at the president’s direction.
Beyond Mueller, however, the story had become a sprawling mess. In the days before the article came out, Jerome Corsi, a right-wing conspiracy theorist, sued Mueller for probing his connections to Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Maria Butina, a young Russian national who studied at D.C.’s American University, pleaded guilty on December 13 to cozying up to NRA leaders on Moscow’s behalf. And on December 17, federal prosecutors indicted Bijan Kian and Kamil Ekim Alptekin, two Turkish associates of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, for their alleged role in an unregistered lobbying effort to send exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey. Every week brought new names and new bombshells, but fewer of them seemed to fall near the president.
Against this backdrop, the satirical website Clickhole published its short-lived send-up of the Trump-Russia saga on December 18, titled “Legal Bombshell: Mueller Flipped Trump’s Confidant’s Lawyer’s Friend’s Associate Gorpman (Who Could Testify Against Bleemer!) And It’s Not Even Lunchtime.” It seemed to perfectly capture how inscrutable much of the story had become, even to those who covered it for a living, and the sense that none of it was actually bringing people closer to understanding what happened. An excerpt:
Just think of what would happen if Gorpman gives up Bleemer. Among Trump’s business partner’s co-conspirator’s inner circle, perhaps nobody was closer to Bleemer than Gorpman, not even Roscoe. Calderino called Gorpman the “King Of The Keys,” and remember, Calderino was called “The Keymaster” by Roscoe, who Gorpman praised as “Trump’s Personal Key King” so Calderino knows what he’s talking about. If Mueller can use Gorpman to get to Bleemer, then Calderino’s next, which is bad news for Roscoe, and Roscoe leads right back to people who lead right back to Trump.
Bolstering the Gorpman-Bleemer article’s mystique was its quiet erasure. At some point after it was published, the Gorpman and Bleemer article disappeared from Clickhole’s website and social media accounts. The previous URL now brings up a page that says it is inaccessible. (A complete version of it can still be read on the Internet Archive.) Like The Onion, Clickhole does not give byline credit to real-world authors for their stories. The publication did not explain or acknowledge why it removed the article at the time, and Clickhole did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Some Twitter users have noted that the article bears a resemblance to a viral tweet published 10 months earlier.
Gorpman and Bleemer’s legacy lives on, however, in the minds of those who followed both the Russia investigation and the Ukraine scandal. “We use Gorpman/Bleemer as a shorthand for stories that are too weedsy or require significant set up to make clear the stakes and why it’s important,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes wrote in a Twitter conversation discussing the article earlier this month. Shortly after federal prosecutors indicted Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Ukrainian associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce wrote on Twitter that the scandal had “started out pretty simple but each day edges closer to Lawyer’s Friend’s Associate Gorpman (Who Could Testify Against Bleemer!) territory.”
The Mueller report ultimately concluded that Trump and his campaign welcomed foreign assistance during the 2016 election, then obstructed efforts to learn the full scope of their interactions with Russia after taking office. Because Mueller did not conclude he had conspired with the Russian government, Trump said the report’s findings amounted to “total exoneration,” which became the leading public narrative. Mueller declined to flesh out his massive report or make its dense text more digestible for the public during his highly anticipated public hearings before Congress in July. Top Democrats in Congress also lacked the will or capacity to explain it themselves.
The day after Mueller’s hearings, Trump picked up the phone and asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Joe Biden and his eldest son, as well as some conspiracy theories surrounding the 2016 presidential election. The timing sent a signal all its own. Trump had spent more than two years denying that he had colluded with the Russian government while it undermined his 2016 opponent, only to ask Ukraine to do the same to his likely 2020 opponent, as well, as soon as Mueller finished. There was no need to probe countless potential intermediaries and associates for indications of wrongdoing. Trump’s undeniable personal role in the scheme made Gorpman and Bleemer irrelevant.
With two weeks of public testimony now complete, the Ukraine scandal can so far be distilled into three separate articles of impeachment. The first and most urgent one is abuse of power. In the July 25 call, Trump unambiguously asks a foreign government to open an investigation into Biden, who was the Democratic front-runner at the time. There are no good-faith defenses for the president’s actions on this charge. His underlying claim—that Biden tried to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect his son while vice president—is unambiguously false. Gordon Sondland’s testimony confirmed that the goal wasn’t for Ukraine to actually investigate anything; it was for Zelenskiy to publicly announce an investigation that Trump could use to politically damage Biden.
As I’ve noted before, inviting a foreign power to sabotage a domestic political rival for personal gain is a clear abuse of power and thus an impeachable offense in and of itself. But Trump did more than just ask for a “favor” from Ukraine’s president. He also withheld things that Zelenskiy wanted, including a White House visit that would bolster the Ukrainian leader’s international stature and more than $300 million in military aid allocated by Congress, and signaled through intermediaries that there was only one way to obtain them. Had Trump done this to advance legitimate foreign policy objectives, it might be defensible. But the evidence instead shows that Trump made smearing his political opponents the cost of doing business with the United States of America. That justifies a second article of impeachment against the president for bribery.
Finally, there’s the cover-up. Once Congress learned of the scheme and began investigating it, Trump launched a scorched-earth campaign against the legislative branch itself. He falsely denounced the impeachment inquiry as a would-be “coup.” The White House, at his behest, instructed federal agencies to withhold all documents that could be relevant from lawmakers. Trump also ordered executive-branch officials not to testify before the committee even if subpoenaed. Some defied the command, but it gave cover for acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and other key witnesses to defy congressional authority. The House Judiciary Committee approved an article of impeachment for contempt of Congress against Richard Nixon in 1974; Trump’s actions have justified it this time as well.
Trump’s supporters have struggled to mount a credible defense against the allegations as they’ve emerged. Some have tried to manufacture the Gorpman-Bleemer problem for Democrats instead. Fox News pundits and other pro-Trump media outlets tried to dissuade viewers from watching the hearings by describing them as boring and incomprehensible. Some House Republicans used their allotted time to ask witnesses about a multitude of conspiracy theories involving Democratic servers and Ukrainian op-eds, a move that likely pleased regular Sean Hannity viewers and mystified ordinary Americans who haven’t followed the story closely.
All of this may be enough to keep Republicans united and thus save Trump from conviction and removal during his Senate trial. This time, however, it won’t hide what two weeks of hearings and testimony have clearly established: that the president abused his power and committed an impeachable offense. Feldermeyer must be quaking in his boots right now.