During the Watergate scandal, it was believed Senate Republicans would never vote to remove Richard Nixon. That was the case all the way up to the moment investigators discovered a cache of secret White House audio tapes showing Nixon knew about the burglary of the Democratic National Committee as well as participated in its cover-up. Soon afterward, Nixon resigned knowing his fellow Republicans would abandon him.
I was thinking about this as I read about the cache of documents Lev Parnas provided to House investigators who led last year the impeachment of Donald Trump. Parnas is one of Rudy Giuliani’s henchman. He has been at the center of the president’s bid not only to smear Joe Biden but rewrite US history so Ukraine, not Russia, attacked our sovereignty in 2016. (That, as I have said often, is a lie straight from the Kremlin.)
Parnas’ documents show the extent to which Trump was involved in ousting Maria Yovanovitch. They show a dirty prosecutor offering “dirt” on Joe Biden in exchange for getting rid of the former US ambassador to Ukraine. They show the “dirt” wasn’t anything but public statements (lies) made by corrupt former Ukrainian officials. The documents show a Ukrainian mobster’s scheme to give the president “dirt” in exchange for help in fighting extradition to the US on bribery charges. The Post, the Times and other outlets are still sifting through it all. I defer to their reporting.
No one should give Parnas the benefit of the doubt. No one should believe he has a moral core. But we can have some faith in the direct material evidence he’s providing. We can have some faith in the evidence corroborating what we already know. Parnas was arrested late last year for violating US campaign-finance law. Since then, his attorneys have sought leniency in exchange for useful information about the president. Tuesday night saw the first round of documents released by the House. Wednesday night saw the second round. I have no doubt there’s more information to come. All of it, I have no doubt, is going to hurt the president and in turn hurt Senate Republicans.
The information may come from goons like Parnas champing for a plea deal with prosecutors. It may come from House subpoenas for administration documents tied up in the courts. It may come from FOIA lawsuits by news organizations searching for the same. What’s certain is the information will come out—the good, the bad and the ugly. Uncertain is the timing. It may come out during Trump’s impeachment trial. It may come out after the Senate Republicans vote to acquit. There are 10 months before Election Day. That’s a lot of time for Senate Republicans to break under pressure.
We’re already getting a taste of the future. Parnas gave an interview to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Wednesday night. He produced “one bombshell after another,” wrote Susan Hennessey of the Brookings Institution. This morning, CNN’s Manu Raju asked a vulnerable Republican senator if, in light of Parnas’ interview, she would support calls for new evidence during the president’s impeachment trial. Martha McSally, he said, “lashed out when I asked if she would consider new evidence as part of the Senate trial. ‘You’re a liberal hack—I’m not talking to you. You’re a liberal hack.’ She then walked into a hearing room. (Manu Raju is neither a political liberal nor a hack.)
It was not known before the president was impeached whether he knowingly broke the law by withholding $400 million in aid to Ukraine. The White House claimed to be withholding the money to encourage Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts. But thanks to lawsuits by the Center for Public Integrity and Just Security, we know—after Trump’s impeachment—he did break the law and he knew at the time. The US Government Accountability Office confirmed this morning that’s what the president did.
If I were a Senate Republican, I’d worry most about the House Democrats. After releasing two rounds of Parnas documents, the chairs of the impeachment committees issued what could be interpreted as a threat. “There cannot be a full and fair trial in the Senate without the documents that President Trump is refusing to provide to Congress,” they wrote. Put another way: call for new evidence or we’ll do it for you.
In the case of Richard Nixon, the smoking gun was revealed before the president resigned, which he did before Senate Republicans officially turned against him. That gave the party time and space enough to back away. In the case of Donald Trump, however, the timing is much different. What if they lay down their political lives for this president only to find out later information Trump tried to keep under wraps emerged to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt he’s guilty of a multiverse of crimes?
Well, we already know one way he is. There’s more to come.
And the Republicans know it.