Friday, January 31, 2020

Lessons from the Senate impeachment trial.

The vote on Friday afternoon to permit witnesses and documents was 49 yes to 51 no. Collins and Romney were the only Republicans votes to permit witnesses.  The vote on acquittal will be held Wednesday.  It is a foregone conclusion, the vote will be to acquit.

There are at least twelve lessons we can take from the Senate trial to date, assuming next Wednesday the vote is to acquit.

Lesson one: We cannot trust the guy in the White House to do what is in our national interest if he can do something else to benefit himself, even if it undermines his own  publicly stated foreign policy that has bi-partisan support and funding. Quid pro quos are ok if they serve to advance our foreign policy. However, the quid pro quo that his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney asked us to get over it, was very unique and corrupt. Trump engineered with Ukraine did just the opposite: he undermined his own administration's stated foreign policy to advance his personal political goals; he used extortion to pressure a reluctant corruption reforming Ukraine president to do a favor for him that was corrupt in itself; to cook up dirt on Joe Biden. The White House defense team impeached Hunter Biden, but they never were able to prove Joe deviated from US policy to get rid of a corrupt prosecutor that refused to crack down on any corruption. More vigorous prosecution would have hurt Hunter, not have helped him. Using corruption to fight corruption does not advance ending corruption. He used a national security tool with bi-partisan support and broke a law to do it;...military aid to help Ukraine fight off Russian the bargaining chip contrary to his own administrations stated foreign policy to give Ukraine lethal military aid; and he sent a signal to Russia that he himself did not care a "s...t" about Ukraine (per Trump political appointee EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony ) to do it just as Ukraine was trying to negotiate with Russia to settle the conflict, and to get the best deal, they had only their backs covered by the US to .give them the power to reach a decent deal.

Lesson two:   The executive branch has won a power struggle with the legislative branch damaging the balance of power., shifting more to the executive branch.  Trump just got away with his refusal to honor any Congressional subpoena whether or not it was subject to executive privilege, a claim never made by any president in the 250 years of this country. He did lose on the timing of the acquittal vote. It was after the Super Bowl and the State of the Union address so he could not tout the acquittal.

Lesson three: Trump did all in his power to keep the full story from voters by stonewalling key witnesses and documents from Congress and the public.   The Senate continued the Trump stonewalling strategy. The GOP conducted a pseudo-trial rigged to keep the truth from the American people by refusing to allow heretofore first-hand witnesses to give testimony or to allow back up documentation to corroborate witness testimony, but hidden by the Trump administration from public view.  

Lesson four: John Bolton holds the closest thing to a smoking gun that could destroy the White House claim that Trump was concerned about general corruption in Ukraine as the motivation for his scheme. Bolton has unimpeachable credibility as the long time darling of the conservative hawks.  In his leaked book manuscript, Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, was in the room as Trump told him the reason he had not unfrozen the aid was to get the Ukrainian president to announce the favors: to investigate Burisma and the Bidens and to support the Russian propaganda line that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the DNC server in 2016.  The GOP Senate managed to keep him from testifying in the trial with their 51 to 49 vote against any witnesses. Per Bolton, Trump only cared about getting evidence damaging to the Bidens.   Bolton's manuscript was leaked in the morning before the  Senate trial vote on permitting witnesses. Per the leaked Boston manuscript: In May Trump told Bolton to call the newly elected president of Ukraine to talk to Guiliani about the scheme to find dirt on the Bidens. Bolton never made the call.  The scheme was begun in May and the White House chief lawyer for his defense, Pat Cipollone, in the Senate trial was in on the planning meeting as were Bolton, Rudy Guiliani, and Mick Mulvaney. The White House defense team impeached Hunter Biden, but they never were able to prove Joe deviated from US policy to get rid of a corrupt prosecutor that refused to crack down on any corruption. More vigorous prosecution would have hurt Hunter,. It would not have helped him.. In short, what Joe Biden was doing did not advance Hunter Biden's cause; it had the potential of hurting him.
While it was a shame Bolton could not testify under oath at the Senate trial, expect him to testify before the House Oversight Committee under oath this spring. While the White House tries to block the publication of his book, his live sworn testimony will still echo until the November elections.

 Lesson five:  Any future presidential bad actors can get away with asking foreign intervention in our elections and pressuring reluctant foreign ally to do it. They know how they can neither be prosecuted for committing  the kind of bribery the President committed or be removed  by impeachment since the Senate concluded such acts  are not harmful enough to justify removing a president.

Lesson six: Bribery has been redefined to the Senate GOP majority mean that political favors are not something of value. That Trump withheld what Ukraine coveted, military aid and an Oval Office visit . in order to get the Ukrainian president to agree to investigate deeds committed by both an American political rival  and Ukraine’s role in 2016 elections to benefit Trump in his re-election, instead of Russia doing it. There is case law on the issue and the Federal Election Commission does consider favors are a thing of value.

 Lesson seven: The GOP is no longer the GOP, but the Trump party. This acquittal vote has just demonstrated his takeover is complete.

  Lesson eight:  Russia won the most.  They have their guy in the White House who perpetuates the myth it was Ukraine, not Russia who hacked the election in 2016. Using freezing military aid as a bargaining chip signals Trump  does not fully  have Ukraine’s back in the conflict with Russia. The Russia hawks in the GOP lost the power struggle battle, but Bolton may the hawk that wins the war.

 Lesson nine:  Any proclamation by Donald Trump he was exonerated by the Senate as not committing the acts as charged will not pass the smell test. He may have been acquitted, but that he was cleared of the charges is not believed by even all of his supporters in the Senate. That was respected retiring GOP Senator Lamar Alexander’s takeaway in his opinion. The House proved their case and justified their impeachment charges even without more testimony and documents so he would oppose the calling of more witnesses and documents in the trial.  This leaves his and others' arguments that even if true, the act itself was just not bad enough to justify removing him for office for it., leaving the question open:  if this is not bad enough, what is?

Lesson ten:  The Senate gave away another chunk of their power., in addition to failure to support their role in declaring war and war powers acts.  The GOP Senate that bellied up over accepted White House interpretations of the Constitution, refused to perform their Constitutionally granted duty to check the President and gave him a green light to defy any Congressional subpoena for any reason and their vital power to hold him accountable.  The executive branch won the power struggle with the legislative branch. Trump just got away with his refusal to honor any Congressional subpoena for any reason whether or not it was subject to executive privilege, a claim never made by any president in the 250 years of this country. His aids have absolute immunity. However, that needs yet to be litigated in test cases and one is pending regarding Don McGahn's role in the Mueller investigation, probably landing in the Supreme Court, long after the November election and years past the Mueller investigation.  The first judge to rule against absolute immunity in the McGahn case concluded we do not have kings.  Appeals through layers of courts have just begun.

Lesson eleven: The door is now open for foreign actors to help Trump get re-elected in 2020, to undertake active measures on his behalf, to use psyche warfare through social media to help him, and there is no way to stop it.  If Mueller could not prove Trump himself conspired with the Russians, we saw him the next day after that publicly announced  conclusion exonerating him not only welcomed foreign interference, he put pressure on a foreign  government not willing to play his game to do the deeds for him.

Lesson twelve: It is now up to the voters in November to endorse or damn Trump's deeds and their Senators who supported him.  The Democrats have a gift delivered to them.  They can now assert the trial itself will be considered a  sham by many voters and they realize the  GOP pulled a fast one on the voters. Trump will not be able to claim he was exonerated of wrongdoing; he was simply acquitted on a party-line vote. Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner was the first Senator from a purple state to swear his loyalty to Donald Trump to deny John Bolton or any other witness from testifying that might show his leader in a bad light.   Gardner, too, needs to be held accountable in November.  

While  John Bolton's book was leaked with bombshell allegations, Lev Parnas, Guiliani's man on the ground in Ukraine, wrote a letter to Mitch McConnell outlining what he would testify to if witnesses were allowed.  He names and says he has documentation. There were more in the loop, including Senators and Congressmen, in on the plans to get dirt on Biden, than we thought.  Now, thanks to the Senate vote against witnesses, neither Bolton or Parnas can testify under oath in the trial. That door has been shut. They may be called to testify at House hearings under oath in the future, however.

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