Trump impeachment trial enters a new phase
Mitch McConnell (right) would let no one, including President Trump, stand in the way of his ability to continue next year as Senate Majority Leader. | Susan Walsh/AP

Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET the question-and-answer phase of the Senate’s impeachment trial of Trump began with senators given 16 hours over two days to ask questions of the impeachment managers and the TV lawyers defending the president.

It’s not a normal type of questioning you see in a regular trial. Each senator has a little slip of paper onto which he writes his or her name, the question(s) and to whom they are directed. The slips are collected and given to the Chief Justice who divides them into two stacks, Democratic and Republican. He then alternately pulls from each pile giving the side to which the question is directed five minutes to answer.

Democrats are hoping to use their questions and answers to emphasize the need for the Senate to call witnesses. Republicans will push their point that Trump is not guilty of the House charges but that even if he is, it does not rise to the level of impeachment.

The back and forth among wavering GOP senators who say one minute they might want witnesses and another minute they don’t is a sad spectacle as it makes clear that arriving at truth and achieving justice is just about the last thing on many of their minds.

Nothing they say can be taken at face value.

GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed yesterday that he did not have enough votes (51) to block the Senate from calling witnesses.

That does not actually mean that he does not have enough votes or that he is not on the way to getting them.

What it means is that there are likely three GOP senators who, for reasons of their own political vulnerability in swing states, favor calling witnesses. Four are needed to have enough for the Democratic call for witnesses to prevail. No one wants to be the fourth decisive one to be putting McConnell up on the laundry line to dry out.  In order for a fourth to come forward there have to be several more – maybe a fifth or a sixth or a seventh.

Keep in mind that nobody on the GOP side is above throwing anybody else under the bus if they have to. McConnell will allow witnesses if he thinks he must in order to hold onto his majority leadership position next year. If it were necessary to keep his job, he would be first in line to call for the impeachment of Trump.

Equally disgraceful too are the statements of the GOP senators who have said they favor witnesses (Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski), with a one-for-one deal between both sides. Any normal trial would involve witnesses being called on the basis of relevancy, not on the basis of tit for tat deals between the two sides.

McConnell, it is certain, has told the group that off-and-on want witnesses that they had better get themselves together and put forward a plan that his entire caucus can support. Otherwise no deal.

They are likely scrambling to do that before the end of the current question and answer phase. Meanwhile McConnell is likely twisting arms and making deals that will give him his 51 votes, enabling him to tell them all to go you-know-where.

Absolutely certain in all of this, however, is the fact that justice is not the aim of the GOP senators. The majority, along with the White House, oppose witnesses –  not because they fear the ultimate end of the trial will be anything but acquittal – but because they fear the continuing emergence of new damaging revelations about Trump will hurt all Republicans.

If they are forced to allow witnesses they will push for calling the Bidens. Their plan then will be to have the Senate impeachment trial accomplish for Trump what the president’s squeeze on Ukraine could not: damage to one of his main political opponents.

The actions of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., reflect the hypocritical waffling and wheeling and dealing going on among Republican senators in general. Only yesterday Toomey suggested the possibility of a “one-for-one” deal. Today, a day later, he is signaling he is leaning against having witnesses. The change of heart follows the arm-twisting session McConnell held yesterday after the GOP lawyers abruptly ended their defense of the president to give the GOP senators time to strategize their way out of the mess resulting from the Bolton revelations.

Toomey says now he is “very, very skeptical” that new witnesses would change his mind on the verdict, according to reports in the press.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the holder of the Golden Cup Award for Top Trump Sycophant of the Year, provides another example of the dilemma facing senators who lack any principles whatsoever.

His slavish loyalty to Trump is well known. The Bolton revelations are a special problem for him, however, since Graham is a recipient of money from Bolton’s political action committee.) Both Graham and Bolton have long shared the same passion for regime change and war.)

Graham, who has backed Trump on opposing witnesses, had to put a bit of distance between himself and the president, however, when Trump lashed out at Bolton today in a cascade of tweets. He said this morning that he is “concerned” that attacks on John Bolton’s credibility could increase demands that he testify. “I am concerned when John Bolton’s credibility is attacked, it makes it more likely some will feel the need to call him as a witness.”

Graham’s “concern” about an issue rises and falls in accordance with the effect that issue has upon his re-election chances this year.

Graham has now dropped his claims that the president is innocent of the charges against him and has switched to the Dershowitz argument that almost nothing on earth constitutes an impeachable offense.

“For the sake of argument, one could assume everything attributable to John Bolton is accurate and still the House case would fall well below the standards to remove a president from office,” Graham said.

The Bolton book blows out of the water Trump’s claim that there was no “quid pro quo,” aid in exchange for a promise by Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

The aim of the Trump team and the GOP leadership is to have the entire trial wrapped up in a nice package, bow on top optional, and the president acquitted by the end of the week.

Polls show that 75 percent of the American public has another idea. They want witnesses and documents. They want a fair trial.

The entire situation the country finds itself in is quite extraordinary.

Take the latest on Lev Parnas, for example.

He is someone the president claimed he didn’t know.

We now have an hour-long tape and video of a conversation between Parnas and the president who, it turns out, was a regular attendee at White House events.

Parnas, a man with ties to international gangsters and a man who hop scotched around the world for Trump, has now turned against the president, saying he would testify if the Senate wants him.

Under indictment for illegally funneling foreign money into GOP campaigns, Parnas got a federal judge to allow him to attend the trial in the Senate this week.

The only problem with that is that the Senate doesn’t allow people who are currently wearing law-enforced ankle bracelets onto the floor of the Senate.

We have a sitting president who has six top aides currently in prison or awaiting sentencing and a seventh associate wearing an ankle bracelet – all for crimes they committed at the behest of that sitting president. To make all that worse we see 51 Republican senators wheeling and dealing to use an impeachment trial to let that president off the hook for his crimes.

Republicans are not the only ones of course, capable of displaying unprincipled behavior.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today that he believes Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden is a “relevant witness in the impeachment trial.

“You know, I think so. I really do,” Manchin said. “I don’t have a problem there because this is why we are where we are. Now I think that he can clear himself of what I know and what I’ve heard. “But being afraid to put anybody that might have pertinent information is wrong no matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” he added.

Worry about what West Virginia voters backing Trump will do to him is more important than evaluating a witness based on relevance to the issues at hand.

Hunter Biden is not a relevant witness to Trump’s impeachment trial.  He has no direct knowledge of what Trump was charged with — abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

In any case Manchin does not need to grovel this way. The GOP has a 51-vote majority in the Senate. They don’t need Manchin because with their majority they can call any witness they like. Rather than worrying ab out appeasing them, Manchin should be helping lead a push for real and relevant witnesses.

Some 75 percent of Americans get that without witnesses you can’t have a fair trial. The vote for witness and documents in the U.S. Senate, allegedly the greatest and wisest deliberative body on earth, should be 100-0.


CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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