After two days of “debate” (i.e., canned speeches on the left, faux outrage on the right), the House Judiciary Committee has voted to approve the two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. The vote was on pure party lines.
Spoiler: the full House will vote to impeach on a divided party-line vote, and the Senate will vote to acquit on a divided party-line vote.
Greg Sargent notes how the Senate trial will be a made-for-Fox News affair:
It has often been observed that one of President Trump’s biggest allies in the impeachment battle is Fox News — that if Richard Nixon had enjoyed the benefit of such a powerful purveyor of propaganda, he wouldn’t have been driven from office.
You could not ask for a clearer indication of this than the interview that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just gave to Sean Hannity about Trump’s coming trial.
The interview showcases how Trump’s propagandists have succeeded in creating a universe that is as hermetically sealed off from this scandal’s widely and firmly established set of facts as one half of a divided cell is from the other.
In this universe, it’s simultaneously the case that everything Trump said on his corrupt call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was absolutely fine and that the key elements of Trump’s pressure on Zelensky simply never happened.
And in this universe, it’s not just fully understood that Trump’s acquittal is assured in advance and that the trial will be gamed to Trump’s maximum benefit. It’s also understood that this is how it should be. Indeed, the interview appears designed to reassure audiences of all this.
That was plainly evident in McConnell’s quotes about how this process will unfold. As McConnell said: “Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.”
McConnell also said: “We’ll be working through this process … in total coordination with the White House counsel’s office and the people representing the president in the well of the Senate.”
Many have sharply criticized McConnell for telegraphing that the trial will be gamed in advance to assure Trump’s acquittal and to make it as politically painless as possible.
That’s true, but it’s worse than this. Note that Hannity treated this not just as utterly unremarkable, but as how things ought to be.
It’s not. As Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz write, the framers designated the Senate for impeachment trials to create an “extraordinary court” composed of “the nation’s leading statesmen,” one up to the gravity of weighing “great offenses against the people.” The Senate would not be prone to factional pressure (senators have six-year terms) and would be independent of the president.
But you cannot watch this McConnell interview without coming away convinced that he is trying to reassure the faction known as Trump and GOP voters that the Senate trial will be conducted in full accordance with Trump’s wishes and needs.
“I’m going to take my cues from the president’s lawyers,” McConnell said. “I’m going to coordinate with the president’s lawyers.” And: “There’s no chance the president will be removed from office.”
It has been reported that McConnell wants a quick, un-circus-like trial, whereas Trump wants it to be weaponized against potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden. Here McConnell is plainly trying to put the Fox News audience at ease: The GOP Senate’s interests are 100 percent joined with Trump’s.
Hannity also dramatically misrepresented the evidence against Trump. Hannity said of Ambassador Gordon Sondland: “The one fact witness said, ‘The president said he wants nothing, no quid pro quo,’ That was the only fact witness that I saw.”
This is a monumental absurdity. Sondland testified that there was a “quid pro quo” in which a White House meeting was conditioned on Ukraine announcing a Biden investigation, as Trump wanted.
What’s more, Sondland also admitted that he actually did directly inform a top aide to Zelensky that the military aid was conditioned on that investigation.
In other words, the extortion demand involving military aid actually was made of Zelensky, by one of Trump’s chief ringleaders, who also explicitly testified that he understood this to be what Trump wanted, as one understands that 2+2=4.
What’s more, this “no quid pro quo” quote from Trump — which came in a call with Sondland — came after the extortion plot was uncovered. And on that same call, Trump reiterated the demand that Zelensky do his corrupt bidding.
But Trump has magically claimed his own quote, delivered even as the corrupt scheme was being executed, as exoneration. In Hannity-land, the power of Trump’s declared self-exoneration, as a reality-defining force, is absolute. It walls out all contrary facts, rendering them nonexistent.
Hannity also said there was zero “evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever” on Trump’s part:Did you read that transcript? I read it over and over again. I certainly don’t see what we hear Joe Biden bragging about: “You’re not getting the billion taxpayer dollars unless you fire the prosecutor he knew was investigating his son.”
This is utter nonsense. Biden worked to oust the prosecutor, but this was U.S. policy and supported by international institutions, and the prosecutor actually was not “investigating his son.” Meanwhile, on the call, Trump actually did pressure Zelensky to carry out his corrupt bidding, after Zelensky requested military aid.
The disinformation bubble
McConnell also claimed twice that Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump “for three years.”
Not really. A rump of Democrats supported an impeachment inquiry earlier, but Democratic leaders emphatically and concertedly resisted even such an inquiry throughout most of his presidency, only doing so after the Ukraine extortion plot surfaced.
The important point here, however, is that this nonsense is necessary to reverse-justify McConnell’s naked corruption of the process. In the disinformation bubble that is Hannity’s show, millions of Trump and GOP voters are now reassured that McConnell will shape the trial entirely in sync with Trump’s political needs, and that Democrats have rendered it the correct and justified thing to do.
This interview belongs in a time capsule. It will benefit future generations who study the impeachment and all-but-certain acquittal of Trump, and the degree to which Trump’s defenders corrupted our discourse and political system to make that outcome possible.
We don’t yet know what the future consequences of this corruption will be. But future generations will, and interviews such as this one will help demonstrate to them how it happened.