Like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump is about to be impeached on the eve of Christmas. The grinches were Republicans in December 1998. Now they are Democrats.
Even as former Trump campaign officials Rick Gates was being sentenced to forty-five days in prison and Paul Manafort was rushed to a hospital for a cardiac event, the Democrats moved forward with impeachment proceedings in the House. A formal vote to impeach Trump and set the stage for a Senate trial is scheduled for Wednesday. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests that after weeks of sound and fury, not much has changed. Poll numbers show that 49 percent of Americans want Trump impeached and ousted from office. Meanwhile, 46 percent of those polled do not. Additionally, 85 percent of Democrats want the former to occur; and 86 percent of Republicans the latter. The battle is starting to resemble a political version of World War I trench warfare. Stalemate, not checkmate, appears to be the result.
Or is it?
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is moving for a rapid trial rather than the prolonged one that Democrats are seeking. On Tuesday McConnell rebuffed Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer’s request to call four new witnesses, including White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. McConnell declared, “The trajectory that the Democratic leader apparently wants to take us down before he has even heard opening arguments could set a nightmarish precedent for our institution. If the Senate volunteers ourselves to do House Democrats’ homework for them, then we will only incentivize an endless stream of dubious partisan impeachments in the future, and we will invite future Houses to paralyze future Senates with frivolous impeachment at will.” Democrats are crying foul. The failure of the House Democrats to finish their “homework” was, they say, a direct product of the White House’s refusal to furnish Mulvaney, Bolton and others for testimony. McConnell seems likely to get his way. Senators Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and Joni Ernst don’t appear as though they’re going to budge away from the Republican side when it comes to setting the rules for the Senate trial.
What McConnell’s move does raise, however, is the specter that Democrats will be able to depict successfully the trial itself as part of a larger Republican coverup. The stakes, in many ways, are no longer about removing President Trump from office. They are about whether Republicans or Democrats emerge as winners from what is an inherently political trial.
In that regard, Trump appears to continue to believe that the best defense is a good offense. Otherwise, why would he be closely consulting with Rudy Giuliani who has been visiting Ukraine to try and unearth information about Joe and Hunter Biden? Giuliani not only spoke to the New York Times, but also appeared on the Laura Ingraham show on Monday night to state that he played a key role in forcing out former American ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch because she was corrupt. Giuliani told Ingraham that Trump was merely trying to root out corruption in Ukraine: “So, he is being impeached for doing the right thing as president of the United States.” In a tweet on Tuesday, Giuliani added, “Yovanovitch needed to be removed for many reasons most critical she was denying visas to Ukrainians who wanted to come to US and explain Dem corruption in Ukraine. She was OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE and that’s not the only thing she was doing. She at minimum enabled Ukrainian collusion.”
But the most fervent defense of Trump was delivered by him on Tuesday afternoon. He sent an impassioned six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that cataloged his grievances with both the Mueller investigation and the impeachment proceedings centering on Ukraine. Trump has had a tense relationship with Pelosi but never before has he attacked her as unabashedly as today. His wrath was volcanic. He questioned her Catholic faith in the form of dismissing her avowal that she prays for the president—“unless it is meant in a negative sense.” Exclamation marks studded his epistolary effort. He declared, “you have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!” He also accused Pelosi of seeking to overturn the 2016 election results, alleging that “Democracy is your enemy!”
What if Trump is just getting warmed up?
Jacob Heilbrunn is the editor of the National Interest.