Sunday, February 2, 2020

Lies and Lame Excuses Complete Trump's Cover-Up

      Republican senators and White House counsel Pat Cipollone reacted with indignation when the House manager Jerrold Nadler accused Republicans of complicity in President Trump's cover-up by voting against calling witnesses in his Senate impeachment trial. Rather than refuting the accusation, however, Senate Republicans effectively proved it last week [Jan. 31] by voting down every Democratic proposal to call witnesses or subpoena documents to make Trump's impeachment trial something other than an open-and-shut sham.
      With only two defections, the Senate's Republican majority rejected, among other proposals, a motion by the Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton to elaborate on his reported account of a direct, early conversation with Trump on Ukraine.
      Bolton's account in his tell-all book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir could have filled the evidentiary gap that Trump's lawyers and Republican senators have repeatedly emphasized in challenging the articles of impeachment voted by the House of Representatives. Despite damning testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Trump's defenders claim that no one has presented direct evidence showing that Trump pressured the new Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on his political rival Joe Biden in exchange for signing off on military aid to the embattled U.S. ally.
      Bolton claims in his book that Trump directed him in May, two months before Trump's notorious July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, to cooperate with Trump's designated hatchet man Rudy Giuliani in digging up dirt on Biden and Biden's wayward son Hunter Biden. Bolton's account  not only fills in an evidentiary gap but also directly implicates Cipollone by placing him in the meeting as well.
      Cipollone's direct involvement in the events at issue should disqualify him from representing Trump in the proceeding under the well established legal ethics rule that a lawyer cannot be both a fact witness and an advocate. But legal ethics is not Cipollone's strong suit. Thus, he was guilty of a blatant falsehood in defending Trump on the Senate floor by claiming that Republicans were barred from the closed-door depositions conducted by the House Intelligence Committee.
      A second member of Trump's legal defense team added another falsehood in a bogus attempt to discredit the House proceedings. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer dubiously enriched by siphoning charitable donations for himself and family members, falsely claimed that the House committee had refused to allow Trump's lawyers to access evidence or cross-examine witnesses.
      Any procedural shortcuts in the House proceedings, however, pale in comparison to the unprecedented procedural flaw in the Senate trial, now apparently to be brought to an end with no witnesses whatsoever. Through history, the Senate has conducted 15 impeachment trials, with witnesses called in every previous instances, including the two presidential impeachments against Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999.
      To justify voting against witnesses, two Republicans once thought open to hearing more evidence offered the lamest of excuses. In the end, only two Republicans voted with the 47 Democrats to break Trump's cover-up by voting to call witnesses or subpoena documents: Utah's Mitt Romney and Maine's Susan Collins. Two others, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, explained their eventual decisions in statements that simply fall apart even on cursory examination.
      Both claimed to have worked with others to allow hearing witnesses before casting their pivotal votes the other way. In her statement, Murkowski acknowledged that additional witnesses might have cured the "shortcomings" of what she called the partisan House process, but said she decided in the end that "there will be no fair trial in the Senate" and that "the continuation of this process will not change anything."
      For his part, Alexander contended in his written statement that there was "no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the U.S. Constitution's high bar for an impeachable offense." Alexander in effect presumed that testimony from the witnesses that Trump had prevented from testifying could not shed further light on Trump's motive in pressuring Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
      Trump's lawyers had grounded their defense on Trump's supposed interest in combating corruption in Ukraine. By the time of the phone call with Zelensky, however, Hunter Biden had left the Ukrainian gas company Burisma and the U.S. State Department had given the new Ukrainian regime a clean bill of health on anti-corruption policies.
      The seeming contradiction could have been explored with testimony from witnesses such as Bolton, Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, or any others in direct contact with Trump. In short, additional testimony could have shown whether Trump's proven conduct — "inappropriate," in Alexander's judgment — met what the senator called the "high bar for an impeachable offense" if motivated solely by personal political benefit rather than any broader policy purpose as Trump and his lawyers claimed.
      With the course of the trial in the balance, Murkowski concluded, with professed sadness, that Congress "has failed." The failure, sad to say, is yet to come, but seemingly inevitable with Senate Republicans having decided to cast their lot with a president who has obstructed the impeachment inquiry at every step. With the cover-up complete, a deeply divided nation will be denied the closure that a full airing of the facts might have allowed.

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