The disturbing, divisive undercurrents of the impeachment continue to ripple through our political, investigative and legal systems.
Even as voters were going to primary polls in New Hampshire, Team Trump was in overdrive. It was pushing the powers of the Donald Trump presidency exactly into the kind of abuse that drove efforts to unseat him.
From all the on-the-street interviews in New Hampshire, the key figure was not Bernie Sanders, the narrow winner. Not Pete Buttigieg. Not the surging Amy Klobuchar. The key figure was Donald Trump. Democratic primary voters identified over and over the reason for turning out was to turn out Trump.
Split television screens looked remarkable. Elections were on one side and another Team Trump attempt to undercut democracy on the other.
Trump wants the record expunged that he ever was questioned. And yes, he wants heads on pikes, now.
Trump showed he is interfering in a live federal criminal case. It is a trampling of any remaining bright-line meant to separate pursuit of politics and administration of law in this country. Trump is seeking to lighten federal sentencing for campaign ally Roger Stone. Attorney General William P. Barr, for Trump, moved to undercut what prosecutors seek as punishment.
It is another breach of constitutional limits.
It was not enough for Trump to win an acquittal vote in the Senate. Trump wants the record expunged that he ever was impeached. And yes, he wants heads on pikes, now, and continuing through the year.
Might Makes Right
It turns out the most American of values is an insistence on being right. No matter if it means continuing to flay at horses already declared dead multiple times over.
For the White House, post-impeachment means opening all channels for revenge against anyone who dared to question Trump’s bad behavior in the Ukraine scandal. Trump allies including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Barr have green lights to go after perceived enemies.
The hypocritical thing is that Team Trump’s efforts depend exactly on complaints about unjustified or poorly predicated investigation for which Trump sees himself and his associates as witch hunt victims. But, then, they see the shoe on the other foot.
Graham and Barr now say the Justice Department is ready to review any purported evidence from Rudy Giuliani. The president's personal lawyer has hinted there is enough information from various ousted Ukrainian leaders to suggest there is a corruption case to pursue, years later, against rival Joe Biden, son Hunter and Burisma, the Ukraine energy company that hired Hunter for a no-show job on its board. At the same time, each is trying to ensure that the process is important because the info may be hooey.
Meanwhile, at least two Republican-majority Senate committees are threatening investigations on FISA-violation issues that already have been pursued by the Justice inspector general, even as they promise to out the original whistleblower who first reported Trump’s interest in a personal gain in Ukraine.
At the same time, Democrats are already talking about continuing to investigate every unanswered aspect of the impeachment matters, with information from Lev Parnas, Giuliani’s henchman, and former national security adviser John R. Bolton still arriving and continuing to suggest a longer, broader Trump retribution campaign than outlined even in the impeachment charges.
And all of this has nothing to do with Trump’s tax information, apparent business frauds, outstanding campaign finance violations, allegations of sex assaults and all the rest. It has little to do even with continuing to stiff Congressional calls for information to oversee his administration. If Trump wins in November, we can look forward to four more years of contention.
Do Voters Even Care?
There is a lot that is confusing in all this, including whether any voters actually care. The daily political play by play seems to suggest only that American voters have returned to their opposing corners. They are supposedly so sure in their beliefs and loyalties they will not be persuaded by anything different.
On the legal front, it is confusing that Giuliani, reportedly under investigation himself for various overseas violations, has a front door to Barr. Giuliani delivers materials that others, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ukrainian officials, have just set to one side as useless. Even as he was announcing that Barr would now be accepting these documents, Graham insisted they may all be Russian-influenced hoaxes.
If so, what are we doing, besides carrying out exactly what Trump wanted in the first place. He sought the announcement that someone was investigating the Bidens, even if there is no actual investigation.
Other than Burisma and Hunter Biden having made the appearance of spectacularly bad decisions with worse coincidental timing, what are we saying here? On behalf of a slew of European nations, Joe Biden, then vice president, was calling for more investigation in Ukraine against corruption, not less, including involvement of companies like Burisma. If Joe Biden brought an aura of ickiness to his office, what does this possibly have to do with the case of Trump running a rogue foreign policy through Giuliani in Ukraine for personal political gain?
But in doing so, Barr has announced separately that only he can decide whether there will be any investigation of presidential candidates this year. Given the Trump defense arguments in the impeachment proceedings, what does that do to any “investigations” by the Senate? Barr has established himself as a defender for Trump himself in all things. What happens next, when Biden claims the same blanket immunity for his time in office that apparently justified non-cooperation with the House during the impeachment process? Is Barr stepping into investigations already underway in the Southern District of New York involving Parnas and Giuliani?
Then there is the political case in all this. Joe Biden is dying slowly all by himself, without particular help from any involvement in the Ukrainian scandals. Biden’s poor finishes in the disastrously run Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are a downward spiral.
So, what’s the confusion here?
The call for more investigations here seems aimed at embarrassment, not at uncovering information. The Senate soundly rejected the chance to hear from witnesses. That information could further indict the malfeasance of a president who sees no boundary between public and private concerns, political gain and some vague notion that he can do anything.
The legal set-up is confusing because there is no clear goal by any of the players. The ethical land mines make clarity next to impossible.
The moral case, by contrast, is very clear and very divided. Half the country thinks it is nuts that Trump can go around dismissing experienced national security employees whom he personally dislikes. The other half calls that draining the swamp.
And as a practical matter, most people would rather re-argue the Oscars or count how many days until spring baseball.