As impeachment gathers steam, Trump allies throw whatever they have at it

A central question hanging over the imminent impeachment of Donald Trump has been whether Republicans in Congress will — after reviewing the case against him — put their loyalty to the president aside and join Democrats seeking his ouster. The evidence gathered in the inquiry is coming out only piecemeal so far, but the president’s loyalists in both the party and the media are resorting to increasingly desperate and far-fetched defenses, including risking arrest by physically occupying the room where the hearing is being held, and arguing that even if Trump sought a quid pro quo deal tying military aid to Ukraine to assistance with his reelection campaign, it shouldn’t count because he was too incompetent to carry it out.

And in what might be construed as a worrisome sign for the president, Sen. Lindsey Graham could muster only 44 colleagues in support of a resolution denouncing the way House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is conducting the inquiry. There are 53 Republicans in the Senate.

On Wednesday, one day after the U.S.’s top diplomat in Ukraine, William B. Taylor, delivered damning and detailed closed-door testimony to three House committees investigating Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, more than two dozen of the president’s staunchest supporters violated House rules and security protocol and stormed into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, where three House committees were meeting to interview witnesses. At the heart of their protest, which delayed the scheduled testimony of Department of Defense official Laura Cooper by five hours, was the claim that Democrats were conducting the hearings in secret in an attempt to stage what Trump has often described as a “coup.”

“If behind those doors they intend to overturn the result of an American presidential election, we want to know what’s going on,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of the leaders of the GOP brigade.

In fact, many Republicans —including 13 of the the Freedom Caucus members who participated in the demonstration — are members of the committees and are free to attend the meetings, review documents and question witnesses.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who sits on the Oversight Committee, was one of those Republicans drawing attention to the secrecy of proceedings that he himself has been privy to.

“The members have just had it, and they want to be able to see and represent their constituents and find out what’s going on,” Jordan said at the pre-planned press conference that preceded the storming of the SCIF.

Donald Trump
Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

So if Republicans have been in the room during every single deposition in the impeachment inquiry to date, why aren’t the hearings public? Because Democrats don’t want to give their witnesses the option to tailor their testimony ahead of time to match that of prior witnesses. Public hearings, while they make for entertaining workday distractions on cable news, also lend themselves to partisan grandstanding and displays of defiance, like the one former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski engaged in before the House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 17.

In 2016, then-Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., defended the closed-door format he decreed for the House investigation into the deaths of U.S. citizens in the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

“The committee’s preference for private interviews over public hearings has been questioned,” Gowdy wrote in his committee’s final report. “Interviews are a more efficient and effective means of discovery. Interviews allow witnesses to be questioned in depth by a highly prepared member or staff person.”

Gowdy’s argument seems not to have registered with the Freedom Caucus or with the president himself, who, reportedly tipped off about the pizza party in the SCIF the day before it occurred, applauded his defenders Thursday for standing by him.

Democrats plan to make their findings public ahead of a vote on any articles of impeachment they put forth, according to Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. But after Taylor’s opening statement was released, some of the president’s supporters, including committee member turned protester Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., doubled down on what they see as their strongest defense, an argument about the “massively screwed up” process.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal offered what could be viewed as a last-ditch effort to square what Taylor had told the House committees with the president’s claim that “no quid pro quo” was offered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: that Trump can’t be held liable for schemes that he was too incompetent to see carried out.

“Intriguingly, Mr. Taylor says in his statement that many people in the Administration opposed the Giuliani effort, including some in senior positions at the White House,” the Wednesday editorial from the Journal explained. “This matters because it may turn out that while Mr. Trump wanted a quid-pro-quo policy ultimatum toward Ukraine, he was too inept to execute it.”

Graham was pursuing his effort to get the Senate on the record opposing the way the inquiry is being conducted.

“The purpose of the resolution is to let the House know that the process you’re engaging in regarding the attempted impeachment of President Trump is out of bounds,” Graham said Thursday.

But nine Republican senators refused to sign on to Graham’s resolution, a worrisome number considering that the evidence against Trump has yet to be presented.

Much more evidence could be forthcoming. On Friday, a federal judge, citing the impeachment inquiry, ruled that the Justice Department must turn over to Congress secret grand jury testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump.

In her ruling, Judge Beryl Howell rejected another procedural argument made by Republicans that the impeachment inquiry was invalid because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had never held a vote in the full House to authorize it.

“Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry,” Howell wrote.

Assuming all Democrats and independents Bernie Sanders and Angus King vote for conviction, it will take 20 GOP senators to break ranks and vote to replace Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, a prospect that causes National Review editor Rich Lowry to recoil.

“If Senate Republicans vote to remove Trump on anything like the current facts, even the worst interpretation of them, it would leave the GOP a smoldering ruin,” Lowry wrote in a Friday column. “It wouldn’t matter who the Democrats nominated for 2020. They could run Bernie Sanders on a ticket with Elizabeth Warren and promise to make Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez secretary of the treasury and Ilhan Omar secretary of defense, and they’d still win.”

Trump’s removal remains a long shot, and between now and when the Senate votes on whether to convict the commander in chief, Attorney General William Barr may file his own charges against those who investigated Trump for his 2016 ties to Russia. The findings of that investigation, which Trump has demanded for years, may yet convince members of Congress that a “deep state witch hunt” is what has truly prevented America’s “favorite president” from being loved all the more.

But if Barr fails to come up with a convincing case, and the Democrats do, what will take the place of the loyalty to the man who has bullied so many in his party into submission? To hear Lowry tell it, even more bullying.

“He won’t go away quietly to lick his wounds,” Lowry wrote in reference to Trump. “He won’t delete his Twitter account. He won’t make it easy on anyone. He will vent his anger and resentment at every opportunity. It will be ‘human scum’ every single day.”


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