Stop, Democrats, before you blow it again, and heed the president’s words at a NATO meeting in London on Tuesday—a performance so outlandish that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron were caught on video mocking him.
Not the bits where Donald Trump called the party “crazy” and Rep. Adam Schiff “a sick man” and Speaker Nancy Pelosi a liar.
Pay attention to the part where Trump boasts that his party has never been so united as they are in defense of him since impeachment began.
For once, he’s speaking the truth—ironically enough about Republicans lying for him. To protect him, party members who know better, or once did, are telling whoppers that belie the conclusion of the 17 United States intelligence agencies that unequivocally found that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered with the 2016 election. Republicans don’t care.
In Trump’s rant, more offensive because it was delivered in front of world leaders who don’t act up in front of company, is a warning: In case of impeachment, do not break glass; do not send your crystalline report summarizing the case against Trump to the Senate. It will die an ignominious death there and, worse, live on as Trump declares himself innocent, vindicated by a jury of his peers.
The Senate is no longer the saucer where the House’s legislation goes to cool. With a little more polish than Reps. Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes, they’re all in on the scam, lying on command, as afraid of Trump as their brethren in the lower chamber. They spout Russian propaganda, not as dupes but as knowing accomplices to Trump’s abuse of power.
The recent behavior of Sens. John Kennedy (no relation), Lindsey Graham and now Richard Burr, who ran the Senate Intelligence hearings, which concluded Russia interfered, but now entertains Trump’s notion that Ukraine did, make clear there’s no upside for Democrats in taking a trial to the Senate. To Fox’s Chris Wallace two weeks ago, Kennedy said that Ukraine was responsible for hacking our election. It was demonstrably false—a few Ukrainians wanting Hillary Clinton to win which constitutes a wish, not meddling—and he took the lie back in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. But under pressure—his arm was hard to see, it could have been in a cast from having been twisted so hard—he went back to incriminating Ukraine, defaming The Economist and the Financial Times in the process. They published no articles supporting his assertion.
Kennedy’s a piker next to Graham. The Senate Judiciary Chair had neglected to slake the thirst of Trump for abject submission for a few days. He was laying low while B-roll of his comments about how Clinton should be impeached played nonstop next to his comments that Trump should never be. Graham came back with a bang announcing an investigation of Joe Biden, whom he used to regard as “one of the finest men God ever created,” and his surviving son.
It’s tempting to entertain the prediction that as many as a dozen Republicans might vote for impeachment, given that it was made in The Bulwark, the best place to find out what Never Trumpers/“human scum” are actually thinking. Much of what Trump’s done goes against everything Republicans stand for, and yet you can’t find 12—even among those retiring—to take him on for his unauthorized trade war on soybeans and French wine, or his withdrawing, restoring and then withdrawing troops again in Syria, clearing the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to help slaughter our Kurdish allies.
Fast-forward the impeachment tape. The Senate will put on a show trial in which they attack the sworn testimony from career civil servants detailing how our president secretly subverted our actual foreign policy to pressure his Ukrainian counterpart into helping him in the 2020 election. But they won’t present an actual defense. As much as impeachment is political, it’s also judicial. You don't have to raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth on Fox, in a debate, or a press conference, but you do in hearings. Witnesses lie there—the banks about bad mortgages, the tobacco industry about cigarettes being no more addictive than Twinkies—but those lies are themselves crimes.
Which is why we’ll never see Trump’s advisers appear voluntarily, despite Trump’s tantalizing remark—squeezed in between threats of a longer trade war which sent the market plunging 400 points—that he would love them to do so.
That tells you three things. First, Trump is trying to lure Democrats into his Senate lair. Second, he’s bereft of arguments other than complaints about the process which are without merit. He didn’t get as many protections as Clinton did in his impeachment, he got more. Thirdly, he wasn’t under oath in London. He wants his aides to appear about as much as he wants to give up his tax returns. He’s appealing court decisions ordering him to do both with everything he’s got.
Trump’s aides have reasons of their own for obeying his order not to answer subpoenas. Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were called out in the House report as co-conspirators. If Pompeo were to appear, for instance, he’d be in a bind: Does he lie as he’s been doing since the Ukraine call became public to protect Trump and risk a criminal referral for perjury? Or does he tell the truth under oath, and never eat lunch in the White House mess again?
No one wants to be Sean Spicer, who had to keep pace with the boss’s ever-accelerating pace of prevarication, to his own disgrace. Since leaving, other than bombing on Dancing with the Stars, Spicer’s vanished, breaking another norm. Working in the White House used to be an honor, the world clamoring for your services afterward. Name the great jobs Hope Hicks, John Kelly, and Scott Pruitt have gone on to. Picture Attorney General William Barr, who is Trump’s other private attorney in addition to Giuliani, being anything but of counsel in a law firm. You can’t.
If you think there’s a fair proceeding coming because Chief Justice John Roberts is presiding, remember the political part of impeachment. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be taking an oath to be impartial but he’s already broken it by running a fundraising ad in which he urged voters to contribute to him if they want impeachment to fail.
Trump could win in the Senate without an assist this time from Barr, who lied about the Mueller Report so that Trump could immediately trumpet “no collusion, no obstruction” before anyone even had a chance to read it. You can hear him chanting “no impeachment, no impeachment” in an endless loop as he revels in his acquittal.
A report like the one Democrats released today would be a terrible thing to waste. It’s a compelling narrative of a president who will do anything, sacrifice any principle, jeopardize any ally, abuse any power to win re-election. Dip into the crisp 20-page executive summary but stay for the chapter “The President Put Giuliani and Three Amigos in Charge of Ukraine” and “The President Forced Out the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine,” for the frightening moment when it dawns on Marie Yovanovitch that it’s her own country, not a foreign enemy, threatening her.
For once, Democrats should keep the clock running instead of letting Trump run it out. Wait for those witnesses who were in the room to be ordered to appear to give their first-hand accounts. Take time to follow up on the AT&T logs, which can’t lie, of the type which frequently crack a case on Law & Order, a trail of calls from Nunes (who should be treated as an accomplice now) to Rudy, to the indicted Lev Parnas, to the White House, none likely to be “perfect.” To the question of when Ukraine found out congressionally appropriated military aid had been held up, the answer is likely to be found in a 14-minute call from Rudy back in April to the White House budget office, which had to sign off on freezing the weapons until the investigation of Biden was announced. As a bonus, keeping matters in the House lets senators running for president stay on the campaign trail. It keeps the option of censure open.
The report is so damning, there will be a fresh push to go for broke in the Senate. But back to the judicial part of the procedure, it’s more fragile than it seems. It relies on the assumption that a witness reflexively tells the truth, remembers their solemn oath when tempted to stray, and overall is a good citizen who wants to do the right thing for the country. Such people no longer run the Senate. The saucer is broken into a thousand pieces.
And there’s the No. 1 reason to keep the lights on in the House and resist the darkness of the Senate, where defeat is all but assured: If Trump escapes, he will be better off than if he’d never been impeached at all.