Ah, the majesty of democracy! White House legal arguments on process, substance, and the gravamen of impeachment may have delivered a heart-punch to Democratic House Managers over the weekend. Democratic leaders have angled, agitated, and sought to link disparate inferences, presumptions, testimony, and strained arguments to remove the 45th president. But by all indications, it is just not working. As a result, a final vote could come by week’s end.
The most obvious truths about this impeachment trial are becoming settled facts. House Democrats gave short shrift to due process, avoided exculpatory witnesses, did not wait for the judiciary. They rushed the House process, probably to preempt the 2020 primary season.
If Pelosi’s delay cost a few days, that may have been to court Senate witnesses, win wavering Senate Republicans, hold Senate Democrats, or give Joe Biden a running start in Iowa as primary competitors – and Senators – Sanders, and Warren stayed locked in their seats, drinking milk.
In any event, that is ancient history. What has happened may be the tide turning. By the end of last week, Democrats – wearied and meandering – changed their approach. Senators were obviously impressed, so they started upping the ante.
Chairman Schiff asserted senators agreed with him that President Trump embraced a “scheme,” fixated on Biden, behaved as a “tyrant,” wanted to be “king,” committed “bribery,” and “we all know”… various things no one knows and most do not believe or remain unproven.
Not so subtly, Schiff began offering loaded, compound sentences. He asked rhetorical and leading questions, answering them himself. He asserted that “we all know” what President Trump “is capable of …and did,” then offered his opinions. He blended innocent facts with fatuous assertions, seeking to undermine the 2016 win and 2020 election, saying Trump is “cheating.” More than a few eyes rolled.
Schiff’s caustic commentary got longer, along with dramatic pauses. He refused to address legal bases for inquiries about criminal behavior by a former Vice President and his son. He refused to see legal justifications, whether anti-corruption statutes or a US-Ukraine treaty, for seeking information. He read every presumption against the President. None of that helped him.
Chairman Nadler stretched credulity, quoting America’s Founders out of context, declaring President Trump a “dictator,” offering a perambulating definition of “high crimes” as anything but “crimes.” His unspoken thesis is words are empty vessels, into which we may pour what we wish. An easier trick is pulling a sock around a basketball; he convinced very few.
Then came the President’s team. The defense included a powerful condemnation of House process, lack of procedural fairness, partisan roots for impeachment, and a litany of gaps in substance, plus suspect motivation for this national spectacle. As a result, “the odds are growing against additional witnesses being called,” say those who know.
If a majority in the Senate lines up against witnesses – and indications are wavering Republicans have had enough – the process could move quickly. Most Senators know Americans are uneasy.
While two-thirds of Americans surveyed last week favor more witnesses, that is deceiving. Many presidential supporters recognize the swap of John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney for grilling of the Bidens, Schiff’s staff, and whistleblower might vindicate the President.
A prolonged trial might also “give the lie” to Biden’s innocence. That would, in turn, upend the Democratic primary process, opening further investigations of Joe Biden, possibly reshaping both presidential and congressional races across the country in 2020.
The question is whether Democrats and moderate Republicans – i.e., Senators Collins, Murkowski, Alexander, and Romney – want to be tagged with prolonging an inevitable outcome, embarrassing Biden, interfering with the primary process, and extending the House mess.
Smart money says “no.” Any benefit to either side of calling witnesses is likely outweighed by the damage done by the other side’s witnesses.
Whatever Bolton and Mulvaney add, the impact of grilling Biden, Schiff’s staff, and whistleblower under oath could be devastating to Democrats.
The seminal question: If the outcome is foregone, does anyone gain from more witnesses, political division, open-ended assertions, revelations of more skullduggery by the father-son Biden team? Probably not.
If there is more to be discovered on Joe Biden and his son – and there may be – the proper venue is the Justice Department. If there is more to know about Bolton and Mulvaney, why did the House not await judicial rulings? And will anything they say differ from what they have stated? Probably not much.
So, where does that leave us? Democrats may gamble and seek witnesses – after a mandatory question period. They know Republicans would likely to close off debate and call a vote.
If witnesses are not called, a quick vote would almost certainly produce acquittal, even with Democrats voting conviction. That would bring to end the worst example of petty, partisan misuse of a constitutional provision by the US House in our Republic’s history. The spectacle having run its course, Americans would go on with life.
By way of footnote, we are not at that finish line yet. After the White House defense wraps up, a 16-hour question period begins. Tedious as that will be, Chief Justice Roberts selects questions from senators – presenting them alternately to House Managers and the President’s team.
Only then, after repeated arguments, recriminations, thrust-and-parry jousting by lawyers, will the vote on witnesses and documents come, then arguments over motions, and a rollcall vote.
By that point, every American will be sleeping, standing behind a chair – as weary senators did to stay awake, or watching pregame Superbowl shows. This will prove one of the most unnecessary, unproductive, ignoble enterprises in modern times. Ah, the majesty of democracy!