As the articles of impeachment were being handed over to the Senate Wednesday, Donald Trump looked to be in a pleasant frame of mind. At a White House signing ceremony on phase one of a China trade agreement, he was clearly enjoying himself as he introduced dignitaries, Henry Kissinger included, and told them how wonderful they were.
You rarely see Mr. Trump laugh, but he came close to it a few times – this, while up on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was accusing him of an “assault on the Constitution” and while, to that very point, highly incriminatory documents were being released by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, further implicating the President in a pressure campaign to get Ukraine’s government to damage the reputation of potential election opponent Joe Biden.
Mr. Trump had appeared, to enthusiastic applause, at the national college football championship in New Orleans on Monday. The tribute really buoyed him, according to one of his wind-up apologists, Senator Lindsey Graham. And he might well have taken pleasure from the Democrats’ listless debate in Iowa on Tuesday. Mr. Biden, still leading the pack, had one of those nights when it looked like he might lose his train of thought every time he opened his mouth.
But the biggest reason for Mr. Trump’s high spirits was that the impeachment ball was now finally in his court – the Senate, where his Republicans hold a majority and where he could still be confident of being acquitted of the impeachment charges, even as more evidence against him poured in.
Mr. Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman, turned on the Trump team, releasing texts and e-mails and doing a media blitz detailing the lengths to which he and companion Mr. Giuliani, the President’s personal legal counsel, tried to get Ukraine to open an investigation into Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter.
“I am betting my whole life that Trump knew exactly everything that was going on that Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine,” Mr. Parnas said. He claimed also that Vice-President Mike Pence and Attorney-General William Barr were in the loop.
This is manna from heaven for the Democrats. Their impeachment case was flagging. The Parnas revelations hardened it at an ideal moment. And, on Thursday, it was hardened some more.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan agency that reports to Congress, found that, in withholding funds pledged to Ukraine while it sought a Biden investigation, the Trump administration violated a law that governs how the White House disburses money approved by Congress.
The wealth of evidence against the President is now such that Senate Republicans will be presented at the trial with an integrity litmus test. Either they will make their vote on the basis of the law and the Constitution, or on the basis of craven partisan politics.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given every indication that it will be the latter – that the GOP senators will vote holding their noses or, such is the stench from all the skulduggery, squeezing them real tight.
There will, should Mr. McConnell and Mr. Trump get their way, be a short trial with minimal media access and with no key witnesses on the Democrats’ list being called. Mr. Trump will be cleared in time for his State of the Union address on Feb. 4.
Ms. Pelosi isn’t so sure. While the President was looking unstressed, she was in fine spirits herself. For almost a month, she had delayed handing over the impeachment articles, awaiting assurances from Mr. McConnell there would be a fair trial with real witnesses before doing so. But she didn’t get them. Mr. McConnell held his ground. Fox News applauded.
But the time lag provided other benefits. Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who knows a lot, came forward to say he is prepared to testify. It won’t look good if the Senate blocks him. More significantly, the time lag allowed for Mr. Parnas to come forward and for the GAO report to appear.
Though the revelations are unlikely to change enough Republican votes to affect the trial’s outcome, they may well move some, maybe enough to enable Democrats to call their witnesses to the trial.
For the other senators from the Grand Old Party, such is the weight of evidence now that their acquittal vote will make looking at themselves in the mirror an unwelcome challenge.
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