The search for a single Republican who hasn’t sold himself to the devil has yielded no one but found one willing to add perjury to his list of sins. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on TV that everything he will do at the impeachment trial in the Senate will be “in coordination with Donald Trump and his White House lawyers.” This despite the fact that under Article I, he will be raising his right hand and swearing, “I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”
And with that, the impeachment hearings have confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that the executive and legislative branches are dead to us, for now.
But there are ways to seek incremental justice in places beyond Republican power in courts that wouldn’t dare announce they were on the take, much less actually be so.
A case in point: Just this week, hours before his impeachment, at a rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Trump ran deeply afoul of the law in his continuing campaign to terrorize Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, two formerly anonymous government employees who had the bad luck to exchange texts while working and during an affair expressing their hope that Trump not be elected. Trump has long tormented the two as “so in love” they “couldn't see straight,” but he ventured into actionable territory in Hershey when he said, “I heard that Peter Strzok needed a restraining order to keep him away from his once lover.”
What Trump’s done to Page—he demeans her far more than Strzok—is classic defamation. Page has already filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Justice Department for violating federal privacy law. Back in 2017, then-Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isghur Flores, now a CNN commentator, released many of Page’s texts to beat reporters with the proviso they not be sourced to Justice and with the excuse they were already in the hands of a congressional committee.
Page has an equally solid case against Trump himself. Don’t just take it from me, although I’d reactivate my membership in the D.C. Bar to take the case pro bono. Former White House Counsel John Dean and constitutional lawyer George Conway agree.
Trump’s made the devilishly hard-to-prove defamation easy to prove in his case, because he committed every element on live TV and added an actionable slander to his usually cruel tirade by implying that Strzok had engaged in conduct so dangerous it warranted a restraining order. “Ah, Lisa, I hope you miss him,” Trump purred. “Lisa, he'll never be the same.” Page denied that there was any such order. There are no public records to back up Trump’s claim.
Second, Page is not a public figure, except as Trump has made her so. Famous politicians having extra-marital affairs, like Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Donald Trump, assume the risk they’ll be tabloid fodder (or not if willing to pay off a porn star as Trump did), but not a GS-15 who lived at home while getting her law degree and quietly worked her way up at the FBI. The affair was not part of the inspector general’s investigation (which found no political bias in launching the Russia investigation nor that she had a part to play).
Third, presidential immunity doesn’t apply because Trump’s statement did not come within his presidential duties. Trump wasn’t doing the government’s business but furthering his own campaign at a rally. The affair itself was never part of any government inquiry.
Fourth, just because he added folderol doesn’t mean he isn’t knowingly making a false statement of fact with reckless disregard for the truth. It’s his M.O. to add, as he did with Lyin’ Ted’s father being involved in the Kennedy assassination and Obama being born in Kenya, “I don’t know if it’s true. The fake news will never report it. But it could be true.”
Fifth, his malice goes without saying. A few weeks earlier at a rally in Minnesota, Trump added sound effects to his regular mocking of Page, breathlessly imitating an orgasm. Only someone with a particularly vile mean streak would try such a thing. Only an audience with no sense of decency left would laugh uproariously and face explaining to their children later what Trump’s panting was all about.
Outside the Capitol, in other venues, there are still small victories to be had. Trump can no longer run his own foundation (leave aside he can still run the world), his children must go to ethical boot camp before they can get near another charity. Trump University is gone and despite Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ fierce resistance, students are getting their money back. The cases of women who’ve alleged sexual abuse by Trump are moving forward despite Trump’s claims he can’t be sued. A district court judge in Texas has ruled that Trump cannot take $3.6 billion from the military to build his wall. If Rudy Giuliani’s shenanigans come before the Southern District of New York, odds are he will soon be keeping company with Trump’s prior fixer, Michael Cohen. And far from Washington, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg didn’t take Trump’s attack on her silently for being named Time’s Man (or Teenager) of The Year, an honor he thinks he deserves.
And there is a happy ending for Page—she’s back with and gets emotional help from her husband and two children—if only Trump would let her have it.
While Trump rages against the impeachment hearings and corrupts the executive and legislative branches, all that’s left to stop him is the judiciary, a lower court in the defamation case, and the highest in the case of the Supreme Court, which has just agreed to hear three separate cases involving Trump’s financial and tax records, his most closely held and potentially devastating secrets. Impeachment remains a political process but turns judicious with oaths to be sworn, evidence to be weighed, and if McConnell would allow, witnesses to testify, all presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts, who has said he wants to uphold the independence of his branch and did so when he kept crucial parts of Obamacare in effect.
Roberts is perhaps the last and only hope among Republicans in Washington, and the one man in power who could do the right thing: force the Majority Leader to recuse himself for having declared himself unable to be impartial or punish him for perjury if he tries. Roberts can serve the country by presiding over a fair trial. We will be watching.