No witnesses. That is the incredible decision of the Senate on mostly partisan lines. Only Mitt Romney and Susan Collins had the backbone to vote to hear John Bolton, whose manuscript indicates much more about Trump’s attempt to coerce Ukraine into investigating Biden.
It’s a pathetic commentary on the state of American civics that the biggest issue of the Senate impeachment proceedings wasn’t whether President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a favor. It wasn’t whether the Senate would convict Trump; everyone knew from the outset that barring some Earth-shattering revelation, that wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t even whether Trump’s alleged activities amounted to impeachable offenses, although that’s something worthy of thoughtful discussion. Instead, the big issue was the absurd debate over whether, in a trial, to permit evidence and call witnesses.
So it has come to this, as we all knew it would. Republicans in the Senate have decided to hold a sham trial without witnesses or evidence. It’s not because they don’t want to hear the truth, it’s because they already know the truth. They know the president is guilty, and they simply don’t care.
The few GOP senators who pretended at a conscience toward the end have predictably decided to throw in their lot with the majority of their conservative colleagues cravenly engaging in a coverup for the president, while pretending to be deeply offended at the suggestion that that is exactly what they are doing. And why? Because they fear the wrath of Trump’s base and his twitter feed more than they fear the voters or the judgment of history. And because they simply don’t care.
The House impeachment managers put on a masterful legal display, embarrassing Trump’s lawyers at every turn. It was an impressive feat blunted only by the fact that the case was so easy to make. Trump’s guilt is obvious on its face. He obstructed every witness, document and request–not something that innocent people do. His legal defense attempted to use this obstruction of direct witness testimony to claim that the only confirmations of his guilt came not from hearsay. And then former National Security Advisor John Bolton blew that defense out of the water via media reports. The case, then was open and shut.
The key question at hand was simply whether the Senate wished to hear under oath what former National Security Adviser Bolton was already saying publicly: that Trump was directly responsible for attempting to bribe and extort the leaders of a foreign nation to help him smear a domestic political opponent. They decided not to.Again, this was not because they doubted Bolton was telling the truth, but rather because they knew he was.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski decided to take cover behind baseless attacks on the House impeachment process—as if the fact that Republicans in the House were also too cowardly to hold the president accountable had any bearing on the truth of the charges, or as if the president’s attempt to obstruct and delay the inquiry by challenging all witness and document requests somehow rendered illegitimate the House’s decision by moving forward with the damning evidence they had.
But it was Senator Lamar Alexander’s reasoning that was most instructive:
Mr. Alexander could easily have gone the other way. He is retiring from the Senate and free to vote as he pleases without political consequences. And he said in the interview that Mr. Trump had done exactly what Democrats had accused him of doing: He withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate his political rival — a move he could not condone.
“I think he did something that was clearly inappropriate,” Mr. Alexander said. “I think it is inappropriate for the president to ask the leader of a foreign nation to investigate a leading political rival, which the president says he did. I think it is inappropriate at least in part to withhold aid to encourage that investigation.”
“But that is not treason, that is not bribery, that is not a high crime and misdemeanor,” he added, listing the criteria enumerated in the Constitution for impeachable offenses.
Senator Alexander also said some fatuous nonsense about how awful it would be to remove a president in the middle of an election year, ignoring the fact that the question at hand was about hearing from witnesses, not about removing Trump just yet. At the same time, he was ignoring the fact that such logic would give a president imperial abuse of power privileges during an entire quarter of his term. But here’s what’s really important: the fact that Senator Alexander chose not only to not convict Trump for having doing the dirty deed, but to refuse to even hear direct witness to the fact that he did it. He simply didn’t care, and neither did the rest of the Republicans in the Senate (except for Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, who in no way get a pass for their vote since they did nothing to persuade others to take a stand for justice and democracy).
But the American people do care. Support for removing the president has risen steadily in polling as the public hears and understands more about what the president did. Support for hearing from witnesses exceeds 70 percent in nearly all polling. The majority of the public understands that Trump committed a terrible abuse of power. The ones still on the fence want to hear more from those in a position to know.
By refusing to hear witnesses, Republicans in the Senate have illegitimized their own trial process. This, in turn, will only encourage the House to continue holding hearings and call witnesses of their own. The embarrassments for the president will not stop. More revelations will certainly come out.
The only thing Republicans can hope for now is that the public will simply stop caring. That’s a dangerous bet. The country isn’t quite that apathetic about abuses of power, nor as desperate as Republican Senators to overlook the worst behavior in the raw pursuit of power.