“This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of two mockeries of a sham.” — Fielding Mellish
What we learned on Day One of the Donald J. Trump Senate impeachment trial is that the true defendant in the case is not actually the guilty-as-hell Donald J. Trump.
The true defendants are Trump’s Republican enablers, who, if I were forced to choose, I’d say are more guilty than Trump. And, yes, they will be on trial. Just ask Cory Gardner, who has in the past few days been featured in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post as a senator on the run who refuses to say anything vaguely useful about Trump or impeachment other than, and I think this is an exact quote, “homina, homina, homina.”
The enablers have already had to make a series of hard-to-defend votes, and the votes will get only harder by the time the trial ends. If it finishes up with Democrats able to successfully call the trial a coverup — a useful word, I’ve heard, in impeachment speak — then Republicans lose. That’s why a few Republicans forced Mitch McConnell to back down on his original impeachment rules, which had coverup written all over them.
OK, officially the Senate trial is supposed to render judgment on Trump and his more-than-allegedly corrupt administration. But, even as the proceedings begin, we already know the ending. We already know Trump is guilty. And we already know the Senate will never convict and remove him.
To know he’s guilty, all you have to do is to read the rough transcript of the infamous July 25th phone call — as Trump unaccountably advises in tweets nearly every day. Or if you’re really into it, you could have listened all day and into the early morning as Adam Schiff and the other House managers, including Colorado’s Jason Crow, made their case. (I don’t want to say that Schiff is on his game, but if I were him, I’d dump impeachment and join the muddled Dem race for president.)
And if the House managers didn’t leave you convinced, you could have just listened to Trump’s lawyers counter by relying on conspiracy theories, insults and some easily dismissed, Trump-approved lies to show the boss they were on the case. Someone even alleged that Trump is “a man of his word.” And did you hear the one about House Republicans not being allowed to take part in the depositions in the House basement (otherwise known as a secure room or SCIF)? If you missed it, Trump’s lawyers are in town all week. And maybe for weeks to come.
If anyone was confused about how this will proceed, we were given a long list of clues Tuesday when the discussion centered on procedure and rules of the trial. The rules, as Mitch McConnell outlined them, were basically designed to help Republicans get out of town before, you know, the rubes catch on.
At the risk of understatement, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was intent on slowing things down, offering a seemingly endless series of amendments, calling for documents and witnesses. Let’s just say that Larry Walker’s 10-year wait to get into the baseball Hall of the Fame is a reasonable analogy. The amendment votes, after two hours of debate apiece, would reliably be 53-47, although one came at 52-48 with Susan Collins joining the Democrats. If you need reminding, there are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the Senate.
It was a long night, 12 hours long. Voices would be raised. Insults exchanged. Even Chief Justice John Roberts got engaged, telling the parties to calm down. And, of course, waking up early in Davos, Trump revved up the Twitter machine to hurl one insult after another. I wonder what Roberts would have said about that.
This is the time of reckoning. History is watching, and so, just as important, are the vote counters. Let’s just take the proposed testimony of John Bolton as the most obvious example of the problem Republicans face, particularly vulnerable ones like Gardner and Collins who are facing re-election this year.
All that’s at stake is the Senate majority itself. McConnell doesn’t care about history’s judgment — Merrick Garland can testify to that — but he does care about the majority.
Bolton, the recent National Security Adviser, has said he knows the juicy stuff about Trump, Ukraine, the Bidens and the rest. Hell, he’s writing a book, which presumably will tell all. And though Bolton wouldn’t testify before the House, he has said he would testify before the Senate, maybe counting on McConnell to block it.
In Schumer’s series of amendments, he called on Republicans to subpoena Bolton now. Republicans voted it down 53-47. The defense, in part, is that Democrats will get another vote on this, probably sometime next week. That’s not a sure thing, but Susan Collins, in the Susan Collins way, said she would “likely” vote for witnesses in the second round. Mitt Romney has made similar noises. So has Lisa Murkowski. That could be three. Democrats need four Republicans to make it happen. And so we’re back to Cory Gardner in what would be Gardner’s worst-case scenario. Homina, homina, homina.
Because why wouldn’t anyone want to hear what Bolton has to say? There’s no one — other than Trump — who shouldn’t want to hear it. Republicans are saying that Democrats had their chance in the House impeachment hearings to hear witnesses and collect evidence, and the House managers are responding, so what? Every impeachment trial in Senate history has had witnesses. Every one. You could look it up.
So, if you’re going to argue that the impeachment trial was fair or even remotely impartial, how do you defend blocking Bolton’s testimony? Or Mick Mulvaney’s? Or challenge the Trumpian view that he is not obliged to hand over any of the documents that the House had subpoenaed because he’s Donald Trump. Is Congress really willing to set a precedent that would cede that power to future presidents? (Hint: If that’s what it takes, sure.)
I doubt if any Republican votes to remove Trump. It’s easy to say that we’re close enough to November to let the voters take their turn. But it’s not so easy to say that there was nothing more to be learned or that there weren’t people who had first-hand knowledge or that voters don’t care or to explain how you leave Bolton on the sidelines.
As Schiff said, it’s all going to come out eventually because it always does. And here’s the kicker, eventually is probably going to come long before Election Day in November.