Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 28, 2020
One way or another, Donald Trump’s defenders in his impeachment “trial” will wrap up today. Some combination of claiming perfection in the phone call with Ukrainian leader Vlotomyr Zelenskyy and blame for Democrats, Bidens and even Barack Obama will be wrapped up with a never-should-have-happened argument.
From where I sit, that will be an unsatisfying moment, aimed more at setting up a single vote to close down proceedings followed by another to clear the Dear Leader of all accusations, plots, schemes, rude remarks, shakedowns, bribery attempts, matters criminal, Constitutional or just crazy.
Of course, by the rules, what is to follow could be more interesting television than the president’s defense show could manage: What’s up next are possible questions from the jurors — you know, the expansive Senators who have busied themselves with sneaking breaks from the action, twirling fussbudgets, composing threats for their fellow party-members and trying in vain to hide eyerolls at random phrases from one side or the other.
Select Republicans have gotten themselves so jacked up over Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, the prosecution lead, for repeating the anonymous White House remark that would-be rebels among their ranks might face having their head placed on a pike that they are overlooking the fact that it is Schiff who’s been getting death threats for challenging the president as part of his assigned oversight role.
So, with no atmospheric disturbance to alter the inevitable outcome, our concern is clear: What kind of questions will the senators ask? New disclosures of drafts of John Bolton’s forthcoming book and continuing releases of tapes and emails from Lev Parnas, the Trump-Giuliani henchman on the ground in Ukraine, suggests a few pretty direct queries about “no evidence” involving Trump in a plot.
Jennifer Rubin, the somewhat conservative-turned-Trump critic for The Washington Post, has a whole list of legitimate questions that might be directed at the defense team. Basically, her best questions try to skew the hypocrisy of the president’s defense lawyers in denying that anything bad ever occurred, quite apart from what the appropriate punishment might be.
“The central problem for them remains: How do you contest the facts, or claim an absence of evidence when you won’t allow in available evidence?” she queried. Where are the witnesses to the July 25 call who said it was “perfect”?
In all, she offers questions you might find interesting that follow five lines of inquiry. First are questions aimed at exposing lies told by the president’s team, including representations of actual evidence that tell a different story. Second are questions that could only be answered by asking some of the witnesses who are still out there but not being asked, including John Bolton, the former national security adviser whom Trump will not allow to testify but who can collect a $2 million advance for a book deal in which he trashes the president’s arguments that he did nothing to pressure Ukrainians into finding dirt on Joe Biden.
Third are questions that can be termed “So what?,” including whether it makes any difference that Schiff mocked Trump’s conversation or what difference it makes if Trump said “no quid pro quo” when in the same breath he said Ukraine’s president Vlotomyr Zelenskyy needed to announce the investigations? Fourth are the questions that expose the logical inconsistencies in the defense case, like why Trump had to send Rudy Giuliani to turn up dirt from a foreign government when the FBI could settle whether Biden had committed a crime?
Lastly, Rubin argues, there are questions that go to the idea of whether there is any danger in leaving Trump in office. Could a question draw a response that Trump commits to not asking foreign governments to investigate political opponents or vow not to issue blanket blocks against all subpoenas and inquiries from Congress?
Instead, of course, we will get questions from Republican senators exactly about Joe and Hunter Biden’s involvement in the Ukraine, about whether and how Hunter got his job with energy company Burisma because Joe was vice president. Of course he did, but it is impossible to see how that bears on whether the impeachment charges hold water.
We will get questions about why Trump’s support for Ukraine’s military needs against Russia have been superior to those under former President Barack Obama, oblivious that the same arguments about “corruption” actually were in effect in the previous Ukrainian administrations, raising questions about whether aid money would end up in the right hands.
We will get questions about why Schiff had to invent a would-be, mock Trump-Zelenskyy conversation in House deliberations for emphasis when the actual summary, non-transcript was available.
We won’t get questions about All the President’s men involved in a months’ long campaign or why we needed Three Amigos or why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney, Office of Management of Budget officials, Bolton, the lawyer who stuck the actual transcripts and tapes of the phone call into a secretly White House secure server, Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas or Igor Furman all cannot be allowed to testify.
We probably won’t even get a question about on what size of pike Trump wants to mount the head of Adam Schiff. Of course, if we did, I might even have a glass of milk and enjoy the questions.