You knew matters had gotten desperate on the Senate floor when Adam Schiff, in closing Day Two of the Trump impeachment trial, asked the senators not only to do the right thing — already the longest of long shots — but also to summon the political courage to make the leap.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of the U.S. Senate, courageous is not the first, or the millionth, word that comes to mind. Dysfunctional is near the top. Hypocritical fits in there somewhere. In the Trump era, and as a shout-out to Lindsey Graham, you’d have to add disturbingly submissive.
In reminding the senators how this Senate trial came to be, Schiff spoke of the courage of those diplomats and White House advisers and others who risked so much in defying Donald Trump to testify at the House impeachment hearings.
“They risked everything — their careers,” Schiff said, adding that “I know what you’re asked to decide may risk yours, too, but if they could show the courage, so can we.”
In some arenas, that would have been a big applause line, but, of course, in this trial senators aren’t supposed to say or do anything, much less applaud — on pain of imprisonment, we’re told. But there is no Senate prison, and senators do move around, pass notes, get up from their seats, and even eat food other than milk. Meanwhile, that well-known funny guy Rand Paul writes notes in big block letters: “THESE R NOT MY PARENTS!” “PLEASE HELP ME!”
Sure, it’s easy to poke fun at Republican senators who are unwilling to stand up to Trump. Some of us do it for a living. But their jobs would, in fact, be on the line if they dared to cross Trump and the cultish faithful. You have only to look at the House, in which no Republicans voted for impeachment, to understand the stakes.
But Schiff wasn’t asking for the ultimate show of courage — which would be to vote to remove Trump from office. No one believes that will happen. Schiff and the other House managers made a more than convincing case, in fine narrative form, that Trump had threatened to kneecap Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky if he didn’t play ball on investigating the Bidens, father and son. But the numbers — 20 Republicans would be needed to convict — are the numbers.
As good as Schiff was, and he was very good, let’s face it: Among Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, they’ve already publicly admitted to most of the damning facts. And since Trump apparently set a personal high for tweets Wednesday — some counts had it as high as 141 — he probably admitted to a few more crimes that no one even noticed.
What I do know is that the day after Chief Justice John Roberts demanded more comity from both sides, even as Republicans faked outrage at Jerry Nadler for saying Republicans were complicit in a coverup, Trump tweeted that Schiff and Nadler were “major sleazeballs.” And in a news conference, Trump trolled the Democrats, saying, “Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”
In this case, what courage means is getting the Trump material, which would require four Republicans to vote next week to call witnesses and summon the many documents that Trump has refused to hand over. It’s a no-brainer if you’re looking for a fair trial. Polls show overwhelming public support for witnesses. Still, close observers don’t see four Republican volunteers. And as I pointed out the other day, Cory Gardner could conceivably — however unlikely — risk being the sixth vote or the eighth vote, but he’ll never be the deciding fourth.
Still, Schiff did what he could, telling the story of three days in July — the 24th, when Bob Mueller left the public cold after his House testimony; the 25th, when Trump made his perfect phone call to Zelensky and asked for a “favor, though;” the 26th when Trump asked EU ambassador Gordon Sondland if Zelensky was ready to cooperate, and Sondland told Trump over an insecure cell phone, “he loves your ass” and that he’ll do whatever you want.
It didn’t turn out that way, of course. Zelensky resisted Trump and Rudy’s thugs for months until it became clear that Trump would block the congressionally-approved $390 million in military aid, even to a country at war with Russia, if he didn’t do as Trump asked. (Jason Crow, in his turn as House manager, used his experience as a veteran to tell a moving story about the ragtag Ukraine army at risk of losing American funding, an army formed with volunteers rushing to the front lines in sneakers.) Only the whistleblower saved Zelensky, who had already agreed to go on CNN. When news of the whistleblower emerged, everything changed — and now Trump is in the dock.
And now Schiff was making his ask for the information that Trump wouldn’t provide and the witnesses that wouldn’t appear and the missing details that would take the case against Trump from solid to inarguable. He wasn’t just talking to the senators, of course. He was talking to the millions of Americans who were watching.
“More emails are going to come out,” Schiff said. “More witnesses are going to come forward. They’re going to have more relevant information to share. And the only question is, do you want to hear it now? Do you want to know the full truth?”
I hope he’s not expecting an answer soon. The managers have two more days to make their case against Trump. Trump’s lawyers will have three days to rebut. And then senators will have 16 hours to ask questions. And if anyone still has even a little hope left at that point, the trial will already have been a major success.