We've never impeached an actual criminal. Nixon never made it this far. What should we expect?
|Greg Olear||Jan 17|| 26||1|
WHEN RICHARD M. NIXON resigned the presidency on 9 August 1974, he effectively impeached and removed himself—cockblocking Congress. His subsequent pardon by his successor, Gerald Ford, ensured that Tricky Dick would forever avoid any meaningful repercussions for his actions. He was free to fade into a cushy private life, where he was exploited by the devious likes of Dimitri Simes. Thus did Nixon bequeath a template to future Oval Office criminals: How to Get Away With Abuse of Power.
The flip side is, Nixon denied future lawmakers a precedent for how to impeach and remove a brazenly corrupt POTUS. And in the long annals of the United States, Nixon remains the lone example of an outright crook. Yes, I know—Bill Clinton was impeached. But the charges against him pale in comparison to what Nixon did, and certainly to what Donald John Trump has done. Clinton lied under oath to cover up the affair he was having with a subordinate; he took “deny ‘til you die” to such an extreme that he perjured himself. This is odious behavior, to be sure, and unlawful, but unworthy of the disproportionate and highly partisan response. Clinton was not—and is not, despite what some QAnon zealots might say—a longtime money launderer for the Russian mafiya. He did not extort a key strategic ally to benefit his own campaign materially. He did not involve Al Gore, Madeleine Albright, Hazel O’Leary, and Robert S. Bennett in the execution of that abuse of power. He did not have goons track the movements of Ambassador William Green Miller to menace him, nor did he engage in a smear campaign against him. He did not appear at rallies, at which he yowled falsehoods and impugned Newt Gingrich and Kenneth Starr. Learning about Trump’s impeachment from Bill Clinton’s is like trying to learn Hebrew from watching a few episodes of Shtisel. It’s a bowl of apples versus a warehouse full of oranges.
Thus, as the impeachment trial looms in the Senate, we really don’t know what will happen. And by “we,” I mean literally anybody. Not me, not you, not Adam Schiff or Nancy Pelosi, not Mitch McConnell or John Roberts, not Donald John Trump or Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. We may as well forecast who will win the World Series in 2025. As Chris Berman used to say on NFL Primetime: “That’s why they play the games.”
So I will resist the urge to make any predictions. Instead, I will present 14 impeachment questions I’m curious to have answered:
1. Will Mitch McConnell agree to the Clinton rules for the trial?
The biggest wild card in the impeachment process is that the Senate Majority Leader will come up with some crafty way to avoid having a fair trial. Few politicos are more cunning than the Turtle—but his hands may be tied. The poll numbers show strong support for a fair trial. The American people have learned from two decades of Law & Order and similar shows what fair trials are supposed to look like. And the Lev Parnas documents and interview on the eve of the Senatorial swearing in make it impossible to insist on Trump’s innocence. The music has stopped, Pelosi is sitting comfortably on her throne, and Mitch can’t find a chair.
2. How will the Democrats present the case?
Per the Clinton rules, the House impeachment managers have 24 hours to present their case. There are plenty of ways this might be done, and while some are probably better than others, I have the fullest confidence in Adam Schiff to make the right call. Sam Smith once wrote of Michael Jordan that he was better at basketball than anyone else was at anything else. I think this applies in this context to Schiff. There is not a single human (other than maybe Kamala Harris, who as a Senator is a juror and must be mum) who I would rather have in charge of this.
3. Who will stand up to defend Trump, and how on earth will he (it will likely be a “he”) do so?
The Clinton rules also allow 24 hours for a defense. And, like, who is going to fall on the grenade this time? And what on earth will he say? Trump is so clearly guilty that even the blowhards in the House—Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan, Doug Collins, Elise Stefanik, and so on—did not even attempt to defend what he did. They just bleated and brayed and attacked the process. How can the GOP attack and control the process? My guess is they will talk about Hunter Biden for 23.95 of those 24 hours, but I am interested to see what else these dimwits come up with.
4. How much of an impact will the Chief Justice have on the trial?
Like many justices, John Roberts has made some good decisions and some atrocious ones. He is conservative, but he’s also more in tune with popular opinion than others on the bench. He is very, very smart. And he is not a Trumpist hack. The Constitution allows him to “preside” over the proceedings. Most experts assume he will be aloof, like William Rehnquist during the Clinton trial. But no one really knows. If Mitch McConnell pulls some shit, would it really be ridiculous to expect Roberts to shut it down? After all, it’s not just the fate of the republic on the line here—Roberts’s own legacy is also at stake. For all we know, the ghost of Roger B. Taney came to him in a dream.
5. Will any of the GOP Senators be compelled to recuse?
Val Demmings, one of the House impeachment managers, has already demanded that McConnell do so, as he has been impartial. But I would be shocked if this actually happened. This seems like a way to make Mitch seem like more of a Trumpist collaborator, to give the press something to write about, to push that narrative.
6. How will the new revelations from Lev Parnas be integrated into the trial?
Parnas is a middling mobster who exchanged text messages about what looks like an assassination attempt on the ambassador to Ukraine. He’s only singing now because the feds have him dead to rights. And yet, he is a compelling witness, and wow is he dropping bombs. Will Schiff reveal more than what has previously been reported? Because he certainly knows stuff, and this would be the perfect opportunity.
7. What antics will Mitch McConnell pull to scuttle a fair trial?
McConnell is the Bill Belichick of the Senate. He knows the rules better than anyone, he knows the loopholes, and he knows how best to exploit them. Scuttling the trial while not damaging GOP control of the Senate comprises his greatest challenge (cut to Merrick Garland smiling sadly). He will try to shoot the moon.
8. Will witnesses be called? If so, which ones?
Will the Republicans call Joe Biden and Hunter Biden? Will the Bidens appear if called? Will Roberts overrule and not allow them to? What about the “Three Amigos” and the other Trump minions? Rudy Giuliani? Lev Parnas? Heck, can President Zelensky testify?
9. If Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, or Rick Perry appear as witnesses, will they take the Fifth?
Because they are all clearly complicit. And, as Trump likes to point out, only criminals take the Fifth.
10. Is John Bolton a red herring? A hostile witness? A complete lunatic? All of the above?
Bolton seems like an egomaniacal madman, and while he may know things, I’m not sure his testimony will move the needle. The opposite might be true, of course. But I guess there’s only one way to find out.
11. Will any Republican Senators vote to remove, or will it be a party-line vote, as in the House?
The odds are still on the Senate voting along party lines to acquit Trump, as it acquitted Clinton and Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached. But impeachment is ultimately a political process, and if the American people overwhelmingly want Trump gone, even some GOP Senators will have to vote to remove him, or risk losing re-election. So while acquittal is highly likely, it’s hardly carved in stone. Even if the Senate does not remove him, every GOP Senator who votes to excuse the criminal in the White House will have his or her name in the history books as a collaborator and traitor—for as long as the nation survives.
12. Will any Democrats vote to acquit…or just vote “present?”
Lookin’ at you, Bernie.
13. Will Trump appear?
Bill Clinton did not, but he did appear before a grand jury, and that testimony was used in the impeachment trial. Trump gave some written answers to questions posed by Mueller, but he has not testified at all about Ukraine, which is the basis for the charges against him—nor has he allowed any of his subordinates to testify. Doesn’t he have to appear? And if he does, won’t it be the most watched TV event of all time?
Furthermore: will he want to? In his fantasy, Trump would show up heroically, defend himself using all his best words, and immediately be exonerated. The problem is, that’s not what will happen. Once he enters the Senate chamber and takes the stand, he loses control of the narrative forever. Schiff and his team will eviscerate him—and do so completely and totally, and in the most public way possible. It will be Trump’s greatest humiliation in a lifetime full of them. And deep down, he knows it. Which brings us to the final question:
14. Will Trump resign?
I’ve been saying for years now that Trump will eventually resign. If faced with certain humiliation, and public loss of narrative and esteem, he will do what he has always done in his 70 years on earth—run away and play the victim. Trump is, above all else, a coward. Resignation is the coward’s way out. I expect him to take it—but I’ve been wrong before.