THE scandal might be new but Donald Trump’s response to it was anything but.

Caught off guard by new allegations he sought the help of a foreign leader to find dirt on a potential opponent, America’s beleaguered president deployed familiar tactics. 

Mr Trump is facing a full-blown impeachment inquiry over claims - first made by a whistleblower - that he asked the president of Ukraine to help investigate Democrat rival Joe Biden.

He and his under-staffed White House defaulted to the same basic strategies they deployed to counter special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
US politics watchers have seen them all before:

* Attempt to discredit government officials at the heart of the story; 

* Dispatch Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other allies to muddy the picture; 

* Lean on Republicans in Congress to provide cover;

* Launch  presidential counter-attacks on social media.

And so, just as the president considers himself to be his own best adviser, he often acts as his own most vocal defender.

READ MORE: Whistleblower accuses White House of Ukraine call cover-up

“It’s a disgrace to our country. It’s another witch-hunt. Here we go again,” an agitated Mr Trump said as he returned to Washington after four days at the United Nations in New York. “They’re frozen - the Democrats. They’re going to lose the election; they know it. That’s why they’re doing it. And it should never be allowed, what’s happened to this president.”

The speed at which the whistleblower story enveloped Washington was remarkable. In just a few days, a whistleblower’s complaint that Mr Trump encouraged the president of Ukraine to help investigate Mr Biden led to congressional hearings, allegations of a White House cover-up and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing the start of an impeachment inquiry. The White House was not ready.

While Mr Trump’s strategists have long believed an impeachment push could backfire against Democrats, the president has also voiced concern that impeachment could become the first line of his political obituary.

He lashed out after Ms Pelosi announced the inquiry, firing off tweets from his Manhattan penthouse and winding down his UN stay with a press conference where he seemed aggrieved and subdued.

READ MORE: Donald Trump would have been charged if not president, say ex-prosecutors

The next morning, at what was meant to be a salute to the workers from the US Mission to the United Nations, Trump let loose with a threatening tone on Thursday.

“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” Mr Trump said, according to audio released by The Los Angeles Times

“You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

At the same time, Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, appeared before Congress and acknowledged that the complaint filed by the whistleblower alleged serious wrongdoing by the president.

Aligning themselves with the White House, most Republican legislators at the hearing wasted few chances to try to undermine the unidentified whistleblower’s credibility. 

They tried shifting the focus to Democrats and unproven theories, much like those the Republicans used to attack Mr Mueller when he testified about his Russia investigation over the summer.

Democratic Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut called it a “kaleidoscope of fantabulistic conspiracy theories.”

With his trademark scattershot style, Mr Giuliani played a key role in muddying the facts and trying to undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation.

In this case, Mr Giuliani’s outreach to the new Ukraine government to investigate Mr  Biden made up a major piece of the whistleblower’s complaint, and the former New York City mayor went on the front foot again as scrutiny of his actions intensified.

“The complaint is questionable and the whistleblower is a pure partisan,” Mr Giuliani said, without supplying evidence for either assertion.

He then tried to shift the focus onto Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He claimed the Californian had been trying “frame” Trump for years and “should be investigated for lying, enabling perjury, and trampling on constitutional rights.”

A weary West Wing, the political office in the White House, after being shadowed for two years by the Mueller probe, lacks the organisation required to sustain a serious impeachment fight.

During the Clinton impeachment, the White House had a muscular team of veteran lawyers and aggressive press aides to try to shape news coverage in their favour. 

The Trump White House has no equivalent. 

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham asserts that “nothing has changed” with the whistleblower’s complaint. But the White House has largely ignored substantive questions about the allegations. And its strategy appears hinged on hopes that the partisan frenzy stoked both by both the progressive left and Mr Trump himself will cloud out substantive concerns raised by the whistleblower.

The White House strategy, in close coordination with Trump’s re-election campaign, is aimed at motivating the president’s base supporters to stick with him in 2020. But allies suggest there is a risk that the Trump’s team is focusing too much on the campaign at the expense of the perilous Capitol Hill proceedings that lie ahead.

Mr Trump’s efforts to lean on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is reminiscent of the way disgraced former President Richard Nixon created a team of secret investigators, known as “the plumbers,” to find incriminating or embarrassing evidence about his enemies, said Ken Hughes, a leading Watergate authority and research specialist at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.

“The difference between Nixon and Trump is that, for Nixon, the plumbers’ operation was run and staffed by Americans, but Trump is outsourcing the dirt-digging operation overseas,” Mr Hughes, told USA Today. “So it’s actually shockingly similar.”

Such comparisons are flowing more frequently since Wednesday’s release of a summary detailing Trump’s July 25 call to Mr Zelensky and Thursday’s release of a whistleblower complaint that the administration had taken steps to cover up details of the phone conversation.