The House impeachment inquiry has just begun, and it feels like we already know enough to vote to impeach. But here’s one thing everyone should remember: The least likely result here is that the Republican Senate would ever vote to throw Donald Trump out of office.
If the House impeaches — and I’m guessing it will — 20 Senate Republicans would have to desert Trump to get a conviction. At this point, I see a possibility of one, and that’s only if you can convince yourself that Mitt Romney — who called Trump’s latest call for foreign help in smearing Americans “appalling” and obviously “politically motivated” — actually has the spine to back up his words. If this gets nearly as big as I think it might, there will probably be more than one. But 20? In this Senate? In this world?
So I look at this a little differently. I see the impeachment inquiry as a do-over for the Mueller Report and one that might actually work — if what working means is a chance to persuade those not rabidly loyal to Trump that he is unfit to be president.
The Mueller report failed in its purpose, which was to offer an account of Trump’s many misdeeds revealed in the Russia probe. Not because it lacked thoroughness and not because it lacked facts that clearly implicated Trump. It failed because it didn’t contain an easily understood narrative and a much-needed conclusion. And it failed because when Mueller testified, he had no interest in providing the needed narrative. He kept saying it’s all in the report.
In a world in which people would read 400-page reports and would be willing to invest the time to connect the dots, the Mueller report would have gotten us exactly where we are today — with the House looking to impeach and Senate Republicans looking to rescue Trump from Democrats and, more to the point, from himself. But we don’t live in such a world.
So, a do-over. And what this do-over has is a clear and easy narrative. It also has Trump now flaunting his misdeeds, asking from the White House lawn for help in investigating the Bidens from Ukraine and, yes, China. This is apparently illegal. But more than that, it’s definitely impeachable.
And we already know that some combination of Bill Barr, Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani and Trump has privately asked Great Britain, Australia and Italy to either investigate the Bidens and/or Trump’s favorite conspiracy theory — that the Clinton-loving FBI and American intelligence agencies were the real villains, and not the Russians, in 2016 election interference.
Remember, this is just the beginning.
For instance, we know that Trump advisers (not that he listens to anyone’s advice) had warned him that there is nothing to investigate, that here is no conspiracy, that he should stop listening to Giuliani. And can anyone — we’re talking to you, Cory Gardner — defend Trump asking China, of all countries, to lead an investigation of any Americans, much less one running for president? A reporter asked Trump if he had ever asked a foreign country to investigate corruption of anyone who wasn’t a political opponent. And guess what?Trump couldn’t think of one.
For me, it was basically over once Trump released the reconstructed phone call transcript, which is now under question for its accuracy, and then the whistleblower report of a since-confirmed secret server which the White House regularly abuses by hiding Trump’s word-for-word transcripts of politically dangerous phone calls.
So, impeachable offense (almost certainly) and coverup (very likely) and then the coup de grace — our old friends quid, pro and quo. The very first witness, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative to Ukraine, told House committee members in a private session that Joe Biden was a “man of integrity” and had done nothing wrong in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the House released texts which might as well have had “quid pro quo” stamped all over them. We remember Trump’s “I need a favor, though” line from his phone call with Ukraine President Zelinsky. Bill Taylor, a top career U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, had texted European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland — a political appointee who gave a million dollars toward Trump’s inauguration — “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland’s answer was for Taylor to call him, presumably to cut off the paper trail.
A few days later, Taylor texted Sondland with this: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance to help with a political campaign.” Apparently understanding this could be problematic, Sondland waited five hours before texting back that there was no quid pro quo. He did everything but include a wink emoji.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told The Wall Street Journal that the very same Sondland had revealed to him that there was, in fact, a potential quid pro quo on the $400 million in military aid to Ukraine that Trump was holding up. Johnson then asked Trump about it, who denied any quid pro quo.
Here’s the Journal on Johnson’s conversation with Sondland: “Mr. Johnson said Mr. Sondland told him, Ukraine would appoint a strong prosecutor general and move to ‘get to the bottom of what happened in 2016 — if President Trump has that confidence, then he’ll release the military spending,’ recounted Mr. Johnson.
And more from Johnson: “At that suggestion, I winced. My reaction was: ‘Oh, God. I don’t want to see those two things combined.’”
I think we can put to rest the concern that the impeachment inquiry would be too narrowly focused. The danger now, as in all things Trump, will be in keeping the narrative sufficiently straightforward that no one could possibly be confused about high crimes or misdemeanors.
Flickr Creative Commons image by Marvin Moose