Over the past two weeks of marathon testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, it can no longer be disputed that President Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and members of his administration engaged in a plot to bribe or extort Ukraine into helping the president smear his domestic political opponents. Witness after witness testified to what they saw and the conclusion was inescapable: The president broke the law and abused his power.
This article first appeared in Salon.
This is not really a big surprise, though, is it? After all, we saw the evidence first hand when Trump released that transcript of the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The problem has been that he boldly declared his criminal behavior "perfect." That was so disconcerting and bizarre that it became necessary to reconstruct the events that preceded and followed the call in order to reassure the public that what they saw with their own eyes was actually true.
Over the course of many hours, we've heard from the people who were involved in Ukraine policy in the White House and the State Department and how they reacted when they became aware of this plot, which they all realized at one point or another was potentially illegal and certainly contrary to the U.S. national interest. Thursday's witness, the former National Security Council official and Russia expert Fiona Hill, testified about her experience with Gordon Sondland, Trump's EU ambassador, and the moment she realized that this "irregular"channel was actually a presidential-level domestic political operation.
This is a critical, critical portion of testimony. https://t.co/aO7gJBG8Ia— Josh Marshall (@Josh Marshall)1574361989.0
It was even worse than we thought. The president wasn't just conspiring with his lawyer and a couple of obscure factotums. He had many high-level members of his Cabinet and staff involved as well, including the vice president, the secretary of state, the White House chief of staff, the energy secretary and the national security adviser. If the whistleblower hadn't come forward, there is every reason to believe the plot would have succeeded and we would never have known what happened. After all, half a dozen staffers went through the normal channels and reported their concerns to the National Security Council's legal counsel, and the result was to hide the record of the president's call in a top-secret vault to keep it from being leaked.
If the president had put people other than the far too garrulous Sondland and the out-of-control Rudy Giuliani in charge, it's likely this would have been handled much more discreetly. One cannot help but wonder how many other such "irregular" activities have been successfully covered up. Jared Kushner, for instance, has an expansive portfolio and has been involved with some of the most important foreign policy issues, many of which have had serious consequences in the Middle East and Turkey. Attorney General Bill Barr's single-minded mission to hamstring the FBI and the intelligence community appears even more sinister in this light. Trump's own inexplicable behavior with Russia comes to mind as well.
The fact that they almost got away with this crude and badly executed plot argues for the idea that it was not a one-off.
It is a given at this point that the president will be impeached. The talk among analysts and pundits in the wake of all this naturally turns to whether or not any of this has changed the underlying political dynamic that governs whether or not Trump will actually be convicted in the Senate and removed from office. The consensus is that it will not. Judging by the defiant, unhinged performance by the Republicans during the House Intelligence Committee hearings, in which they used their time to spread bogus conspiracy theories and insult the witnesses, that consensus is probably correct.
There was some hope for a time that a few of the Republicans who have already decided to retire might wish to preserve some shred of integrity on their way out the door, but that does not appear to be something they care about. The one considered most likely to break from the pack, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas — who is now the only black Republican in the House — lugubriously declared at the end of Thursday's hearing that he had not been convinced: “An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear and unambiguous. And it’s not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I have not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.”
Hurd also said that he would like to hear from Hunter Biden, so any notion that Hurd has been acting in good faith must be taken with a grain of salt. But he does raise a good question. If Democrats believe that there's no serious prospect of Republicans changing their minds in the face of such clear evidence — and it appears they are correct — why are they so intent upon rushing through this process? Why not take their time and try to get as much as possible before the public and into the record?
The Mueller investigation took two years and uncovered massive evidence of obstruction of justice. The Republicans had 10 investigations into the Benghazi attack over the course of three years. The Republican National Convention even featured a Benghazi night! House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted they had done it all for political purposes to damage Hillary Clinton in the election — and it worked. In the course of one of those investigations, it was discovered that Clinton had used a personal email server for non-classified State Department business. I don't think I need to tell you how that affected the campaign in 2016.
So it seems counterproductive for the Democrats to be so anxious to close this impeachment inquiry when we now know that the highest levels of the administration were involved. Without hearing from Giuliani, John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who reportedly wants to resign because this scandal is damaging his reputation) — all of whom have been heavily implicated, and all of whom appear to have further political ambitions — this case doesn't accurately convey what happened and continues to happen in this White House. You'd think they'd at least want to hear from Rudy Giuliani's accomplice Lev Parnas, who has signaled a willingness to talk. Who knows what he might have to say?
I realize that Democrats like the idea of having this staid, formal, very tight case, with unimpeachable experts and patriotic public servants as the only witnesses. It leaves less room for them to be called partisan. But in this polarized environment, the whole thing is partisan whether they like it or not. That doesn't make it unethical, dishonest or biased. It's just a function of how politics is organized at the moment.
Since the Republicans are acting as Trump's accomplices, oversight of this corrupt administration requires that the House keeps the pressure on to prevent them from continuing to engage in criminal behavior and abusing their power. An early Senate acquittal is likely to have the opposite effect. If the Democrats aren't doing all this to stop Trump's outrageous criminality and expose the massive corruption of this White House, why are they doing it at all?