House Impeachment Hearings Over: What Now?

Ken AshfordCongress, L'Affaire Ukraine, Polls, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

I join everybody else in believing that President Trump will be impeached by the House. Sadly, I think two or three Democrats will not join the rest of the party, but I doubt there will be any Republican defectors, and the GOP will make mincemeat of that.

In the Senate, I had hoped there would be signs of adulthood, but this gives me pause:

A group of Republican senators—Mike Lee (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), John Neely Kennedy (Louisiana), Lindsey O. Graham (South Carolina), Ted Cruz(Texas) and Tom Cotton (Arkansas)—met with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, senior adviser Jared Kushner, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway. Just to be clear, these are the potential jurors in the forthcoming trial. They met on Thursday to “map out a strategy” or the impeachment, “including proceedings in the Senate that could be limited to about two weeks, according to multiple officials familiar with the talks.” This is while Trump himself was wining and dining Mitt Romney and Susan Collins and other Republican soon-to-be jurors.

It doesn’t look like Republicans are prepared to do anything remotely close to keeping an open mind. They just want to put this behind them.

No wonder Trump felt emboldened this morning:

President Trump spent 53 minutes of his Friday morning on the phone with the hosts of “Fox & Friends” — his latest call-in to one of his favorite TV shows….

President Trump spent a chunk of the interview repeating a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election. “That’s what the word is,” he claimed without evidence.

Trump also said that Crowdstrike is owned by “a very wealthy Ukrainian,” but it’s actually a publicly-traded company. Its largest outside shareholder is Warburg Pincus, a New York City private equity firm from which Trump plucked one of his top economic advisors.

Nothing the GOP has said about the impeachment hearing witnesses, their testimony, the rules and circumstances, can change these facts.

Though this isn’t the word-for-word transcription of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine’s President Zelensky, the content not omitted or redacted in the published telephone conference memo is damning enough:

The GOP wants the public to forget that Trump asked for a favor.

The GOP wants people to forget that 18 USC 201 Bribery says no public official may demand or ask for anything of value for personal use, and Trump specifically mentions Biden during the call, making this about his personal re-election campaign.

The GOP wants people to forget that 52 USC 30121 Contributions (campaign finance) says no candidate may solicit anything of value from a foreign national.

The GOP wants people to forget Trump used his office for the purposes of campaign work — while not a Hatch Act violation, certainly an abuse of office.

The GOP wants people to forget that Trump removed former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch after assassinating her character — not merely removing her at his discretion as executive, but an unlawful retaliatory firing — also implying during the July 25 call that she would be harassed or persecuted in some way even though she had already been recalled from her position as Ambassador to Ukraine.

And the GOP wants want you to forget that Trump intimidated witnesses even as they testified before Congress, a violation of 18 USC 1512.

But facts are stubborn things and in this case, the facts before us are simple, straightforward, inescapable as presented during the hearings to date and in published government documents. Trump bribed Ukraine’s Zelensky, violated campaign finance law, tampered with witnesses, and abused his office.

We don’t even need to look at his extortion (18 USC 872) or weigh whether he committed Honest Services Fraud (18 USC 1346), or his role in obstruction of proceedings (18 USC 1505) and contempt of Congress (2 USC 192 – preventing witnesses from testifying or withholding evidence), or conspiracy to defraud the United States by agreeing to commit any of the above acts with Rudy Giuliani and/or others (18 USC 371).

Republican lawmakers, aides and strategists surveyed by CNBC’s John Harwood have uniformly treated Trump’s bribery — asking for foreign interference in our presidential elections again — as an inconvenience, some annoyance which will blow over.

None of the elected Republicans so far have been willing to live up their oath of office to defend and protect the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. The only elected Republican to do so had to leave the GOP because he believed impeachment hearings were warranted.

Voters can’t forget this at the polls: our democracy and the Constitution are inconveniences to the Republican Party.

But I think voters are not paying attention. And the polls will drive the votes.

Desire for impeachment is relatively steady, but sagging slightly. This is particularly true with independents.

Of course, these are national polls, and Senators are expected to follow their state. And that looks even worse for the prospects of removal.

Susan Glasser of the New Yorker is pessimistic as well:

Confronted after the hearing with Hill’s unequivocal statement that Ukraine had not interfered in the U.S. election, the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, a man who once mocked Trump for being in the pocket of Vladimir Putin, simply refused to accept it. “I think they did,” he told reporters. On Friday morning, Trump called into “Fox & Friends” and repeated the Russian conspiracy theory about Ukraine all over again on live TV.

The denial was telling. If Republicans were now willing to disavow a fact they had previously acknowledged, it seemed more and more apparent that they could not be swayed by any of the actual evidence against Trump. On Wednesday, Sondland told the committee that Trump had personally directed him to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to force Ukraine’s hand on the investigations, leveraging a White House meeting sought by Ukraine’s new President. “Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland testified. “The answer is yes.” But many committee Republicans simply twisted that statement around, repeating Trump’s misleading words to Sondland that there had been “no quid pro,” as if the President’s denial were the only proof needed of his innocence. As Thursday’s hearing wound down, Will Hurd, a retiring Texas representative who was once seen as a possible Republican vote for impeachment, used his questioning time not to engage with Hill but to announce that he saw “no evidence” of impeachable offenses. There was no one left to persuade, at least in the House of Representatives. It was a surprisingly definitive moment.

There is, of course, another narrative of the hearings, a nobler one, a patriotic and inspiring and surprisingly feminist one. This is the version of impeachment where, whatever the result, America and the body politic are better off for the process and the chance it afforded to observe the personal courage of Marie Yovanovitch, who was smeared by the President but not intimidated by him, and the unyielding conviction of Fiona Hill, as she dismantled the conspiracy theorists arrayed before her and did not back down when they hectored her. Hill and Yovanovitch were fierce, smart, and uncompromising in their insistence on facts. They came to the center of political attention as genuinely apolitical experts who have remained nonpartisan over their long careers, which was almost inconceivable to the partisan warriors who dismissed their sworn testimonies because accepting their nonpartisanship would mean having to accept that there is a world beyond the you’re-with-me-or-against-me one that Trump has imposed upon the Republican Party.


What it all means is that the impeachment investigation is a movie that seems to cut short in the middle of the story. That’s because we know the ending. This is not Watergate, and the movie we are watching is not “All the President’s Men.” The other narrative of impeachment, the political one, is what will shape the conclusion, no matter that there are important plotlines still unresolved. Both Republicans and Democrats know this to be the case. Listen to the viral clip of Adam Schiff’s powerful closing statement on Thursday. His voice cracking with emotion at times, Schiff spoke more intensely and with more passion than I have ever heard from him. He demolished the fact-free defenses of Trump offered by the Republicans as “absurd” before saying that Trump’s offenses are far worse than the Watergate crimes of Richard Nixon. But the real difference between now and the Nixon era, he said, is that Republican leaders eventually went to Nixon and persuaded him to resign for the good of the country, whereas the Republicans on Schiff’s panel showed definitively over these last few weeks that they will protect Trump no matter what he does. “The difference between then and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump. It’s the difference between that Congress and this one. And so, we are asking, where is Howard Baker? Where are the people who are willing to go beyond their party to look to their duty?” Schiff knows the answer to his question. That he persisted in asking it anyway is the reality of impeachment in 2019.

Sad but true.


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