By Robert A. Vella
Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans have begun their sham impeachment trial today to cover-up President Trump’s obvious and proven attempt to coerce the Ukrainian government for personal political gain. Since the evidence is stacked against them and the American people have acknowledged Trump’s guilt (regardless of whether they want him removed from office or not), McConnell chose procedural rules designed to ram through the trial as quickly as possible, conceal incriminating evidence, prevent damaging witness testimony, and turn this monumentally consequential trial into a he-said-she-said farce intended to diminish public interest.
The fate of America’s constitutional system based on the rule of law and representative democracy might now rest in the hands of 5-6 Republican senators (some up for difficult reelections this year, and some not) who have the opportunity to do the right thing and stop Trump’s goose-stepping march towards dictatorship. If history is any guide, they will abrogate that duty. The parallels to 1920s Italy and 1930s Germany, when fascism and Nazism rose to power, are eerily familiar. For those who are relying on the November election to kick this criminal mob-boss president out of the White House, you are putting all your eggs into one basket. Emboldened by a victory over impeachment, empowered by cowering government institutions (e.g. the Department of Justice and U.S. intelligence agencies), and aided by authoritarian foreign adversaries (e.g. Russia’s Vladimir Putin), the Megalomaniac-in-Chief will have every reason to believe he can rig the vote or even reject the election outcome.
That’s what’s at stake, folks. It isn’t a prediction, but it is an accurate assessment of this very dire situation.
Still, we are not there yet. Much uncertainty remains. Trump’s henchmen and sycophants are understandably nervous, and that’s why they are pursuing this cover-up so vigorously. Judging by their desperately irrational statements ahead of the trial (e.g. abuse of power is neither a crime nor an impeachable offense, and impeachment is unconstitutional, and we will ignore a Senate vote to remove the president from office), their nervousness is approaching the panic stage.
Hang onto your hats, dear readers. We’re in for a bumpy ride.
Notes: the U.S. intelligence agencies withholding confidential information from Congress is an extremely serious issue threatening Congress’ constitutional status as a coequal branch of government, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to expedite the Obamacare individual mandate case reflects its unwillingness to decide the issue until after the 2020 elections.
GOP begins sham impeachment trial
WASHINGTON — Democrats on Tuesday blasted the top Senate Republican’s proposed rules for U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, saying its failure to guarantee witnesses or that evidence gathered by investigators would be allowed into the record was tantamount to rigging the proceedings.
On Monday, Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed rules that would execute a potentially quick trial. He unveiled a resolution that would give House Democratic prosecutors and Trump lawyers 48 hours, evenly split, to present their arguments over a maximum of four days.
Under the resolution, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, a senior Republican leadership aide said, a motion that would likely fall short of the support needed to succeed.
Like in the Clinton trial, the Democratic House impeachment managers and Mr. Trump’s defense lawyers will have up to 24 hours to argue their respective cases for and against conviction on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But in 1999, the Senate imposed no additional limit on how the time was used. Mr. McConnell’s proposal states that each side much complete its work within two days, beginning as early as Wednesday.
That means opening arguments could be finished by the end of this week, allowing the senators 16 hours for questioning and a subsequent debate early next week over whether to consider witness testimony. In the fastest possible scenario, the Senate could vote to convict or acquit by the end of January.
When the Clinton trial opened, the Senate “admitted into evidence,” printed and shared with senators all records generated by the House impeachment inquiry into Mr. Clinton. Not so this time.
Though the House’s evidence from the Trump impeachment inquiry would still be printed and shared with senators, it would only be formally considered by the Senate as part of its official record if a majority of senators voted to do so. That vote could only take place after the Senate decided whether to call witnesses and seek additional documents — that is, as the trial moves toward conclusion.
If a majority of the Senate ultimately did vote to call a witness for testimony, that witness would first be interviewed behind closed doors and then the “Senate shall decide after deposition which witnesses shall testify, pursuant to the impeachment rules,” if any. Consistent with the Clinton trial rules, this essentially means that even if witnesses are called, they might never testify in public.
The House impeachment managers on Tuesday declared in a letter that Trump’s lead defense lawyer in his Senate impeachment trial is himself a “fact witness” who must turn over evidence, and whose trial involvement raises ethical questions.
The seven managers argued evidence gathered as part of the impeachment inquiry in the House indicates that White House counsel Pat Cipollone witnessed numerous critical events related to the president’s actions, and remains deeply involved in actions implementing Trump’s alleged directive to obstruct the House’s impeachment inquiry.
President Trump’s legal defense team and Senate GOP allies are quietly gaming out contingency plans should Democrats win enough votes to force witnesses to testify in the impeachment trial, including an effort to keep former national security adviser John Bolton from the spotlight, according to multiple officials familiar with the discussions.
While Republicans continue to express confidence that Democrats will fail to persuade four GOP lawmakers to break ranks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has opposed calling any witnesses in the trial, they are readying a Plan B just in case — underscoring how uncertain they are about prevailing in a showdown over witnesses and Bolton’s possible testimony.
One option being discussed, according to a senior administration official, would be to move Bolton’s testimony to a classified setting because of national security concerns, ensuring that it is not public.
Intelligence agencies withhold information from Congress
A long-simmering conflict between the National Security Agency and the House Intelligence Committee broke into the open on Sunday when the committee’s chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff, accused the agency of withholding critical intelligence from his panel, including some that might be useful in the impeachment trial of President Trump.
Since last fall, the committee has been quietly seeking documents and intercepts that the National Security Agency gathered in Ukraine. But Mr. Schiff, a California Democrat and former prosecutor who is one of the managers of the impeachment trial, took the fight public, saying that “the intelligence community is beginning to withhold documents from Congress on the issue of Ukraine.”
By law, the agency could not intercept Mr. Trump’s conversations with President Volodymyr Zelensky, or his predecessor Petro O. Poroshenko. And it would require special court approval to intercept conversations involving Americans communicating with Ukraine, including the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and his key aides.
But the National Security Agency would be free to record Ukrainian officials, including Mr. Zelensky, talking among themselves about those conversations, and those intercepts could reveal how much they knew, and when, about Mr. Trump’s demand to withhold aid from Ukraine in its fight against Russian incursions, and the conditions it would have to meet to get it turned back on.