Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 27, 2020
It’s difficult to think of something more stupidly uncomfortable than this Senate marching in rank towards dismissal that Donald Trump did anything at all wrong in this Ukraine mess and the obstructive cover-up that followed.
At this point, we might as well skip forward to the final votes.
Pundits, cable television talking heads and the president himself have dutifully kept busy trying to talk up totally predictable defense arguments being spun up to counter the intricate House arguments for witnesses and conviction on impeachment charges.
Let’s be real here. In this political fight, there is no chance, none, that 20 Republican senators are changing their votes towards conviction, and pretty solid political calculation that even four votes needed for more witnesses will not be forthcoming.
We most likely could all agree with The Washington Post article this weekend noting that Republicans adopted a new defense strategy this past week at President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate: Boredom.
The newspaper said that a top White House aide called the trial “unwatchable,” Trump’s campaign manager compared the proceedings to watching paint dry, and several Republican senators entertained distractions while downplaying the three-day prosecution as repetitive and unexciting. “They’re really not bringing forth new information,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, said of the House impeachment managers.
“I’ve not heard anything new,” added Sen. Rick Scott, R-FL.
What etched my brain were the absolute certainties I heard from those senators interviewed on both sides, about conflicting fact as well as opinion.
Of course, there is just a possibility for some trouble in the dismissal soup from John Bolton, who, the New York Times has just told us, is circulating drafts of his book that sayt Trump told him in August that he wanted to freeze the military aid until Ukrainian officials helped with the investigation of Joe Biden. That assertion baldly disputes what Trump’s defense says.
And that was before lawyers for Trump opened arguments that sought to downplay or outright dismiss any evidence or partial evidence brought forth by House Democrats. Instead, voters tuning in for the two remaining days of Team Trump presentations could only prepare themselves with fortified information filters and N0-Doz tablets as an aggressive defense aimed its cannons at reinterpretations of individual words and a general attack on the prosecutors themselves and lead advocate, Rep. Adam B. Schiff,D-CA.
Along the way, Trump’s lawyers are presenting information in a way that continued to be both partisan and misleading, omits facts, presented claims that lack context or minimized evidence. Rather than defend Trump, they describe the impeachment process as a warped frame intended to steal the November elections by seeking to remove Trump.
Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist devoted to covering the impeachment, did a terrific job worth a look at the battle to fight facts with “alternate facts.”
For Milbank, the president’s lawyers show that they live in “a world in which Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election in 2016; where the FBI and intelligence community are disreputable; where the United States, not Europe, gives Ukraine the bulk of its foreign aid; where there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine and where a “transcript” of President Trump’s call conclusively proves it; where the halt of military aid to Ukraine was routine, and where Ukrainian officials didn’t even know about it; where the president was barred from impeachment proceedings; and where Robert Mueller totally vindicated Trump.”
On the Constitutional issues, New York Times columnist Russ Duhout, not a liberal firebrand, noted that a curious partisan reversal has taken place. “Trump’s opponents are suddenly constitutional originalists, seeking to ground their case for impeachment in 18th-century history and founding-era rhetoric. Meanwhile, his most persuasive defenders are more likely to invoke a kind of living constitutionalism, in which the limited, sporadic way that impeachment has been actually used over the centuries matters more than what the founders contemplated.”
While all this is happening, we’re continuing to see leaks of useful information from Rudy Giuliani henchman Lev Parnas leak out, including a Trump tape ordering the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine for being an obstacle to his desires for anti-Joe Biden dirt.
Not that it matters — Republican ears are shut to hearing negative takes on Trump’s behavior. There is not even much curiosity.
A lawyer friend of mine paying close attention to the proceedings has wondered aloud what the state and Washington,. D.C. bar associations are making of lawyers who present nonsense as fact. Lawyers are not supposed to lie when they appear before a court, presumably even an impeachment court that has a day job as the U.S. Senate.
Of course, one could argue that both sides have stretched definitions for what passes as usual ethically acceptable behavior for lawyers.
Because of the format, argument seems to pass as “evidence,” both sworn and unsworn testimony, like that gathered by reporters in front of cameras, have been allowed into the formal record. Totally made-up depictions of what happened or might have happened are considered fair game.
And all of it is under the watchful eye of an inert Chief Justice, who has accepted the least intrusive role possible.
In the end, none of this matters. What does matter is who has the votes and who has the loudest Twitter feed, the most access to television and the political battlefield.
And that was known from the start.
Maybe we need #Make Impeachment Great Again hats.