So, finally, this was the day that what was going to happen happened. Democrats control the House and voted to impeach President Trump for some rather obvious attempts to get the Ukrainians to announce that Joe and Hunter Biden were evil and they were looking into that. That would ruin Joe Biden and Trump would not have to run against that pleasant man with all that experience. And they had to announce they were investigating Biden and his son, or there’d be no aid for them, and then the Russians would roll in and there’d be no more Ukraine, ever. Congress wasn’t supposed to know about this. They had appropriated all that money, all that aid, with a near unanimous vote. The chief executive, by law, now was supposed to “faithfully execute” that law, and he didn’t. Those people would get nothing until they announced how awful the Biden Boys were and still are. And it all fell apart. There was a whistleblower. There was witness after witness. Trump had done all this, and more. They had a case. They sent that case to the Senate, which has to try the case. That’s what the Constitution says.
But the Senate is controlled by the Republicans. There wasn’t much of a trial – no witnesses, no evidence of any kind – just shouting. And they had always had more than enough votes to acquit the guy. So they did. Everyone knew they would. What had been the point of all this? No one knew, or everyone knew. Who knows?
But for the record, from what used to be called the “newspaper of record” – the New York Times – it seems that this happened:
After five months of hearings, investigations and revelations about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, a divided United States Senate acquitted him on Wednesday of charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress to aid his own re-election, bringing an acrimonious impeachment trial to its expected end.
In a pair of votes whose outcome was never in doubt, the Senate fell well short of the two-thirds margin that would have been needed to remove the 45th president. The verdicts came down – after three weeks of debate – almost entirely along party lines, with every Democrat voting “guilty” on both charges and Republicans uniformly voting “not guilty” on the obstruction of Congress charge.
Only one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, broke with his party to judge Mr. Trump guilty of abuse of power.
That was the only surprise in all of this, followed by that which surprised no one:
The president himself did not directly address his acquittal, but shortly afterward, he announced on Twitter that he would make a public statement on Thursday at the White House about what he called “our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax.” He then tweeted an attack ad against Mr. Romney that called the senator a “Democrat secret asset.”
And then the other side responded:
Democratic leaders immediately insisted the result was illegitimate, the product of a self-interested cover-up by Republicans, and promised to continue their investigations of Mr. Trump.
“The verdict of this kangaroo court will be meaningless,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said moments before the vote. “By refusing the facts – by refusing witnesses and documents – the Republican majority has placed a giant asterisk, the asterisk of a sham trial, next to the acquittal of President Trump, written in permanent ink.”
And then the other side had their say:
The president’s Republican allies excoriated Democrats for a proceeding they said had damaged the country and its institutions in the name of saving them.
“We will reject this incoherent case that comes nowhere near justifying the first presidential removal in history,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.
Yet at a news conference after the vote, Mr. McConnell declined several times to answer reporters who asked whether he considered Mr. Trump’s actions appropriate.
“This decision has been made,” Mr. McConnell said curtly. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the rearview mirror.”
As expected, the tally in favor of conviction on each article fell far below the 67-vote threshold necessary for removal.
So there really was nothing more to say about this, ever, except that there was Mitt:
In a stinging rebuke of the country’s leader aimed at history, Mr. Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said that Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine was “the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.” Though he voted against the second article, Mr. Romney became emotional on the Senate floor in the hours before the verdict on Wednesday as he described why he deemed Mr. Trump guilty of abuse of power, calling it a matter of conscience. He was the first senator ever to vote to remove a president of his own party.
And he knew what that meant:
“I am sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters,” Mr. Romney said. “Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?”
Yeah, whatever, Mitt, the White House declared victory:
“Today, the sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J. Trump,” said Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary. “As we have said all along, he is not guilty.”
Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign moved quickly to capitalize on the moment, distributing a fund-raising email declaring, “Sorry haters, I’m not going anywhere.”
But there was this:
Several Republican senators ultimately acknowledged the heart of the House case – that Mr. Trump undertook a concerted pressure campaign on Ukraine to secure politically beneficial investigations into his rivals, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., using nearly $400 million in military aid as leverage – but most argued that the conduct was not sufficiently dangerous to warrant the Senate removing a president from office for the first time in history – and certainly not with an election so near.
Sure he was guilty. They can say that now. But it never mattered anyway. He stays. Only the voters can remove him. That’s not their call. But then they were called out on that:
As they closed their case, the seven Democratic House managers who prosecuted it warned that Mr. Trump would emerge only emboldened in his monarchical tendencies and that those who appeased him would be judged harshly by history. Republicans, they said, had chosen to leave the president’s future up to voters despite evidence that he had tried to cheat in the election, and would continue to do so.
And there was this:
At least one Democrat, Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, glancingly acknowledged that his vote to convict would most likely contribute to his loss this fall in deeply conservative Alabama.
“There will be so many who will simply look at what I am doing today and say it is a profile in courage,” Mr. Jones said before the vote. “It is not. It is simply a matter of right and wrong.”
Few others saw it that way, but there was Mitt, and Dana Milbank watched what was happening there:
Every once in a long while a single act of conscience can repair the nation’s soul.
In the dark days of Joe McCarthy’s terror, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine spoke out against her fellow Republican when nobody else would.
During Watergate, Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee uttered the immortal words – of a president from his own party – “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
Now Sen. Mitt Romney joins that honorable pantheon of lawmakers, from John Quincy Adams to John McCain, who put principle over party.
That’s what he saw with his own eyes:
I was one of the few in the gallery when Romney took the floor at 2 p.m. “I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice,” he said to a nearly empty chamber. “I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am.”
Then Romney, on the verge of tears, paused for a full 12 seconds to pull himself together. This was no ordinary speech. Reporters stampeded into the gallery.
“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did.”
There were gasps. “It was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values,” Romney went on. “The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”
That was amazing, and perhaps pointless:
Romney’s act of bravery – and perhaps political suicide – changed nothing and it changed everything. Trump stood no chance of being removed either way. But here was the Republicans’ 2012 presidential nominee, rebuking his craven colleagues who saw Trump’s guilt but wouldn’t risk their careers. Romney made the vote to remove Trump bipartisan (no Democrats sided with Trump), and in the process made himself a pariah in his party.
Romney will soon be demonized by Trump and his allies the way Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Justin Amash and McCain were before him. Romney has long vacillated between Trump critic and Trump enabler, but Wednesday dispelled any doubt.
Lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, warning that Republicans will be tied to Trump “with a cord of steel and for all of history,” had asked: “Is there one among you who will say, ‘enough’?”
On Wednesday, Romney said “enough.”
But it wasn’t enough, and Helaine Olen wonders about that:
Romney’s now exposed himself to a world of pain and bullying. The immediate response of Trump World? To remind everyone Romney was a not successful Republican nominee for president. “Mitt Romney is forever bitter he will not be POTUS,” tweeted Donald Trump Jr. “He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he’s joining them now.”
The same thing happened to John McCain after he famously voted down the prized Republican “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. Trump and his minions relentlessly bullied him, even as he was dying of cancer. Trump’s fury continued unabated after McCain’s death. “I was not a big fan of John McCain,” Trump said last year, after reports surfaced that officials attempted to hide a ship named after the late senator from him. Another time, he seemed to celebrate the fact McCain was dead.
Yes, those jokes were a bit odd, but Olen sees something odder here:
McCain and Romney have something in common besides simply defying Trump, even as the Republican Party consolidates behind him. They both ran for president as the official nominee of the Republican Party, and they both lost to Barack Obama. It occurs to me this is not a coincidence.
When I first came to Washington as an intern (longer ago then I would like to admit), one thing that stood out to me was how often insiders would defend decisions by elected officials by pointing out that they needed to make this vote or that one to get reelected. When I asked what the point of that was – didn’t you go to Washington to do what you believed was right? – I was more than once dismissed as hopelessly young and naive.
I thought about that Tuesday night, as I sat in a Washington hotel room watching Republicans frantically applaud and cheer Trump’s State of the Union address in which he lied (no, he’s not protecting preexisting conditions) repeatedly insulted the Democrats and turned a serious political address into a reality show, complete with prizes and surprise guest appearances. Any number of them opposed him – sometimes vociferously – when he ran for president in 2016. They accurately took his measure as a man and politician and found him dangerous. But now they are almost all cowed and acquiescent. They are toadies to power.
Too many seek excuses for the Republicans who go along with Trump – they fear their base, they prioritize tax cuts and the appointment of conservative judges, they need to earn a living as lobbyists after they leave office, etc. It’s so much excuse-making. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who just the other day deemed Trump’s actions “inappropriate” but still would not vote to allow the senate to hear from witnesses before voting on impeachment, citing the tautology that it would be “partisan” to do so. (It’s partisan because the Republicans made it that way.) Alexander is not running for reelection, is 79 years old and enjoys an eight-figure net worth. If not now, when?
And then there are the two “losers” that Trump mocks:
You don’t need to agree with McCain or Romney’s politics to understand they are men of principle and courage – who either always believed or came to discover there are things more important than becoming president. They wanted to become president, not simply for reasons of ego and narcissism, but because they wanted the chance to do what they saw as right from the most important position in the United States, if not the world. They understood that ethics and political morals matter, that one should not seek power and influence for the sake of power and influence. There are places you should not go. You do not take health insurance away from millions of people, or vote to allow a criminal president to remain in office. It’s just wrong.
I am not religious, but it occurs to me that a line from the New Testament suits this moment: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?” Romney will likely never be president of the United States, but he still possesses his soul…
Ah, but Donald Trump never had one of those in the first place, at least that’s how Dahlia Lithwick sees this:
“The law is for suckers.” That has been the credo of Donald Trump throughout his personal and business life. James Zirin, in his superb book, Plaintiff in Chief, chronicles the 3,500 lawsuits to which Trump has been a party, a pattern of scorched-earth attacks that include deliberate “delay, counterattack, obstruction, deflection, confusion, threats of ruin, and blanket assertion of attorney-client privilege to avoid accountability.” These were tricks he learned from the notorious Roy Cohn, and they were largely successful in helping him evade legal accountability throughout his business career.
They were, it turns out, the same tricks Trump brought to the campaign trail and later to the White House.
And she quotes Zirin on that:
Trump is very different. His instinctive litigiousness; his abuse of the legal process to obtain leverage, not justice; his mean-spirited statements and conduct; his overblown damage claims; his many lies, exaggerations and prevarications; his willingness to sue, trash, or discard even those who did him a good turn along the way are abnormal by any standard.
Lithwick is sure of that:
It is a paradox that the most litigious country in the world – a country whose founding documents were largely drafted by lawyers, and whose constitutional true north has long been the constraints afforded by the law – elected a man who has spent the bulk of his life creating a two-tiered system, in which some men are bound by law and others float away from it. We knew long before he was elected that Donald Trump would not be bound by the rule of law, or by the norms of a system dependent on checks and balances. He told us as much. During the campaign he floated the prospect of torturing the families of enemies, and rewriting libel laws, and banning travelers to the United States based on their religion. Sure, it maybe sounded like hyperbole, and it maybe sounded like campaign-speak, and even as some of those efforts were effectuated, including the Muslim ban and family separations, and even as the norms about nepotism and self-dealing and disclosure were brushed away, it still seemed as if a country founded on law would locate some guardrails.
And this week proved that:
Just as Zirin promised us, Trump has deployed all of his Roy Cohn strategies to show us that the law is for suckers, and that for great men it serves as a nuisance at most, something to be gotten out of with a squadron of well-paid lawyers, by terrorizing opposing parties and witnesses, by lying fluently and repeatedly, and by declaring victory even when you lost. It should not surprise a soul that he would have brought those tactics to bear as a candidate, as president, and as the subject of an impeachment inquiry. The legal arguments he has deployed throughout this process – that he should have “absolute immunity” from investigation; that he could not be removed from office for crimes; and that he could only be impeached for literal crimes, not high crimes and misdemeanors as the Framers intended – were vintage Roy Cohn. As was the argument, as proffered by Alan Dershowitz, that if the president believed his election interference was in the best interest of the republic, it was both not illegal and also not an impeachable offense. The fact that the Senate and the Justice Department helped him evade accountability, or that White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Dershowitz and Ken Starr served as Roy Cohn mini-me’s, should surprise nobody. Nor should the fact that the “trial” was not a trial and the jurors were not jurors or that a nontrivial number of the jurors voted to acquit him while still acknowledging that what he did was the thing he continues to deny having done.
Nobody should be surprised that in the wake of 3,500 lawsuits, Trump will conclude that he is indeed above the law, that the legal regime exists only for suckers, and also that he can repurpose the machinery of law to investigate, harass, and punish the whistleblowers and the witnesses and those who sought to constrain him. At which point the law won’t just be the thing that applies only to losers and suckers, but also the thing that can be used to put down those who sought justice in the first place.
This is what the nation chose:
We can debate the wisdom of Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi and the tick-tock of the impeachment investigation and trial – whether it should have been broader, or gone longer, or relied upon court rulings that never came. But we can agree that what they attempted to do was use both legal processes and legal arguments to show that when a president abuses the power of his office and denies accountability, it should matter.
They were trying to prove that the law isn’t just there to punish asylum-seekers trapped in Mexico or black men in prisons, but that it should apply to everyone, even the wealthy, and even the people who believe it doesn’t apply to them because it never has in the past.
Donald Trump staked a decades-long business career on the bet that if you’re rich, famous, brazen, and unrepentant, the law will let you do it. He staked his presidency on the same.
Republicans who deplore the death of “unity” today should remember that this was once a nation unified around at least the hope that the law was for everyone, and that going forward, it will be divided around the certainty that some people don’t answer to the courts or the Constitution. Their president will answer to nobody.
All of us now answer to him.
And so it ends. That was the point of all this.