We Don’t Need Witnesses
What difference at this point does it make?
POLITICO has uncovered a memo from Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden during the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton arguing that there was no need to call witnesses.
In January 1999, then-Sen. Joe Biden argued strongly against the need to depose additional witnesses or seek new evidence in a memo sent to fellow Democrats ahead of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Biden circulated the four-page document, titled “Arguments in Support of a Summary Impeachment Trial,” on Jan. 5, 1999. In his memo, obtained by POLITICO, Biden cited historical precedents from impeachment cases going back to the establishment of the Senate and asserted “The Senate need not hold a ‘full-blown’ trial.
“The Senate may dismiss articles of impeachment without holding a full trial or taking new evidence. Put another way, the Constitution does not impose on the Senate the duty to hold a trial,” Biden wrote at the time.
The Delaware Democrat added later: “In a number of previous impeachment trials, the Senate has reached the judgment that its constitutional role as a sole trier of impeachments does not require it to take new evidence or hear live witness testimony.”
Biden also said senators should take into account the impact drawing out the impeachment proceedings would have on the country.
“In light of the extensive record already compiled, it may be that the benefit of receiving additional evidence or live testimony is not great enough to outweigh the public costs (in terms of national prestige, faith in public institutions, etc.) of such a proceeding,” Biden said. “While a judge may not take such considerations into account, the Senate is uniquely competent to make such a balance.”
The article notes that now-Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer joined him in this fight, which they lost.
In fairness, the situation is somewhat different this time, in that President Trump has stonewalled the investigation:
The Senate agreed to depose former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, whose affair with Clinton led to just the second presidential impeachment in history, as well as two other witnesses.
Despite those interviews, Clinton was acquitted by the Senate in February 1999. Clinton’s administration cooperated more with the special counsel, leading to a more voluminous record of evidence in his trial. The Trump White House has refused to make officials available for interviews or key documents to House investigators.
Regardless, Biden was almost certainly right in 1999. Not only does the Senate have no obligation to hold a full-blown trial, much less call witnesses, but there are negative consequences to doing so. While I continue to believe Clinton was guilty of the crimes for which he was impeached and should have been removed, I’ve come to believe our national treatment of Monica Lewinski was shameful. We all knew that Clinton had lied about the affair. What was the point of further humiliating her on national television?
Likewise, I believe Trump attempted to leverage crucial aid to Ukraine for dirt on Joe Biden and then attempted to cover it up once caught, including obstructing the Congressional investigation. He was therefore rightfully impeached.
I’m actually more sympathetic than my colleague Steven Taylor and most legal analysts to Alan Derschowitz’ argument that Presidents routinely leverage their office, including in negotiations with foreign leaders, to gain electoral advantage and that doing so is not inherently criminal. Still, withholding Congressionally-authorized funds to get dirt on Biden is arguably beyond the pale and within the discretion of Congress to declare a high crime.
Further, obstruction of Congress’ duty to investigate the matter—let alone as part of an impeachment inquiry—is clearly an impeachable and removable offense.
But, as in 1999, we already know two truths. First, the President committed the actions for which he has been impeached. Second, there aren’t enough members of his party in the Senate willing to vote to remove him from office for said actions.
So, what purpose does calling witnesses serve?
John Bolton can testify directly that which has already been reported: that he was present when Trump issued an order specifically predicated on a quid pro quo. But Derschowitz, one of the President’s attorneys in the trial, has essentially admitted that was the case and simply argues that it’s not an impeachable offense.
And, like it or not, we’re not likely to see more than one or two Republicans cross over. Indeed, they may well be offset by red-state Democrats voting to acquit.
One could, I suppose, argue the flip side of Biden’s second point: that questioning could serve the American public by shining a light on what Senate Republicans are about to countenance when they acquit the President.
But a majority of the American public already thinks Trump guilty and deserves to be removed from office. They are not, alas, distributed equally among the 435 Congressional Districts and 50 states. To the extent Senators are going to be punished at the ballot box for their vote, it’s already baked in. One can scarcely imagine the American who currently thinks Trump innocent who is persuadable.
As for Biden…just another reason he cannot be President. He willingly offers up ammo for the opposition; first with SCOTUS, now this.
But you are correct; we don’t need anymore witnesses. Everyone…everyone…knows what Trump did. Everyone knows he is guilty of a crime.
I’ve said for weeks…we know Trump is guilty…it’s Senate Republicans that are on trial.
They have been weighed, they have been measured, and they have been found wanting.
American Democracy will die later today. Long live Donald J. Trump, KOTUS.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl:
We’ll have another election in November. The White House will be up for grabs along with a third of the Senate and the entirety of the House. If the American people* want to oust Trump and punish Republicans for enabling him, they will. If they don’t, that’s democracy, too.
*All the usual caveats about the undemocratic nature of the American electoral system apply.
I think it’s within the realm of possibilities that the GOP loses the Senate over this.
The word is out this morning that Susan Collins will vote for witnesses – and McConnell would never allow that unless he had the votes to suppress testimony.
A huge majority of Americans want to hear from witnesses. They have the votes to dodge justice – today – but it will be a short-lived victory.
I think one can argue, as you note, that the Clinton case had been extensively, I’d say obsessively, investigated and aired prior to reaching the Senate. I think it’s also fair to say all impeachments are politically motivated. One should also note that Nixon was forced to resign largely because the impeachmemt investigation discovered a massive pattern of additional offenses, while acquiting Trump will allow his stonewalling to stand as precedent, damaging future oversight as much as impeachment. That said, the biggest impact of testimony would be to further embarrass senators voting for acquital, damaging their reelection prospect, threatening their slim majority and Moscow Mitch’s cockamamie job. And he has apparently succeeded in stopping this threat to his precious.
This entire episode is about Trump attempting to rig the 2020 Election. Do you think he is going to be cowed in that effort? Or emboldened? Do you think this Ukraine scheme is his only gambit? What is he already doing that we do not know about? What else is he going to do between now and November?
What if he decides to simply cancel the Election? Because, as Dershowitz explained, if Trump believes it’s in the Nations best interest for him to be elected again, then it’s legal. Who will do anything about it? Republican Senators whose seats will not be at risk with no election being held? AG Barr?
The Senate, in not removing Trump, will tacitly endorse the rigging of elections by the President. If elections are rigged, then it is not Democracy.
Thus…Democracy will die later today. Long live the KOTUS.
The comparison between Clinton’s and Trump’s impeachments makes very little sense in this context, IMO.
Look, Clinton’s impeachment is a long time ago and I’ve forgotten most of the details. But I don’t think any witnesses who could have been called would have brought any additional wrongdoing to light. All the other accusers had already been heard and their stories (justly or not) had been found wanting.
The case with Trump is radically different, of course. With additional witnesses, additional shit would come to light. So I think the comparison fails.
I don’t even disagree as a matter of principle. But impeaching a president for lying about a consensual blowjob while not arguing for impeaching a president for lying about his reasons for invading a country and subsequently engaging in torture is… strange.
So unless I missed something, your moral and (arguably) legal compasses are way, way off.
I guess the Dems need to start asking allies for support? India? China?
If it’s to get elected, it’s in the public interest, and can’t possibly be impeachable, say the Republicans.
Just because one person (Dr. Joyner) has accepted the truth from the House evidence doesn’t mean that witnesses are useless. They would theoretically sway those less decided and their constituents (who could in turn influence their elected officials). At the very least those Senators would have to face a vote in the face of direct sworn testimony and not material they never heard first hand. Or likely even reviewed.
When the potential witnesses later speak out after an acquittal, these Senators are going to mouth platitudes about how they based their decision on the evidence before them, and not what these people say.
The Republican Senators are going to look bad by not allowing witnesses. They realize, however, that they’d look even worse by acquitting after hearing damning testimony.
It could diminish the horrible precedent being set for Congressional oversight of the Executive?
You note, but don’t give due, to the big difference in the impeachments of Clinton and Trump. Clinton cooperated with the investigations of him
Trump has taken the position that there is NO testimony or evidence his administration has any obligation to provide Congress in order to check him. This unprecedented position has been held through not only the Ukraine matter, but Mueller’s Russian investigation and in matters of Trump’s likely violations of the emoluments clause. Now, with the impeachment trial presided over by Chief Justice Roberts, we have a public, government trial with all three branches participating that is sanctioning the position that the Execution in no longer co-equal, but untouchable.
Subpoenas ignored, depositions denied, and documents secreted away on secure servers is now the standard. How does any push against that not serve a purpose?
“We’ll have another election in November.”
And the Senate is deciding that illegally putting a thumb on the scale is acceptable (at least when their party does it).
I agree with all of this. However there is a difference between recognizing there’s no practical or de facto effect as opposed to upholding the spirit of the law. Think of it this way: you are driving at night through an empty mall parking lot and come across a 4-way stop sign. There’s nobody around – no cars and no people with you having a clear line of sight for thousands of feet. Do you stop at the stop sign?
Practical answer: no. Why should you? There’s no real reason to other then the rules say you have to. No safety issue, no issue of priority. Nothing’s going to change if you blow through it, do a rolling stop or properly halt the vehicle to do it right.
Ethical answer: yes. You stop every time, even when no one is around because that’s the law. The wording doesn’t say “if people are around” or “if you can away with it”. It always helps instill the habit of stopping automatically when you see the sign to prevent future accidents. Get loosey-goosey with it in this situation and soon you’re rolling through stops signs in more dangerous situations because “nothing happened last time, it’s fine”
I agree calling witnesses will do zero to change anyone’s mind if they are determined to support Trump. They’ve already sacrificed their dignity and morals so what’s a little more on the altar of Cult45? However, it’s *blatantly* apparent we didn’t have all the necessary facts and evidence at the time to really support the case. New evidence that will – for the record, at least – prove how this man has managed to screw up the Presidency and fail at crime. All of this needs to come out publicly so that it’s persevered for all time. They’re gonna blow through the stop sign no matter what, James – might as well get it on camera so there’s proof in case somebody actually decides to do something.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl:
Look, I dislike Trump immensely. So much so that I endorsed and voted for Hillary Clinton, easily the Democratic nominee I’ve liked the least, after a lifetime of voting Republican.
I think he should have been impeached multiple times over and should be removed from office.
But, even if he’d been successful in the Ukraine gambit, digging up dirt of Joe Biden’s son isn’t “rigging the election.” Aside from the methodology, it’s not even unsporting. It’s what campaigns do.
I’m much more concerned about Russian and other interference in the manner of 2016. But even that’s not rigging an election.
Voter suppression comes pretty danged close. And there are likely other methods in play that certainly qualify. But none of that’s at stake in the vote as to whether to have witnesses.
The rule of law ultimately rests on the willingness of those in power to abide by the law. This is far more important than the letter or spirit of the law.
This is what America is rapidly losing now.
“But, even if he’d been successful in the Ukraine gambit, digging up dirt of Joe Biden’s son isn’t “rigging the election.””
The “Ukraine gambit” was not about digging up dirt. It was about manufacturing the appearance of dirt where there wasn’t any. Trump’s goal was to get an announcement of an investigation into Hunter Biden, and he did not care what the investigation showed.
To preserve some tiny shred of the rule of law? To act as though the norms of a real trial actually matter, regardless of the final vote? To stand up for some part of the political culture that sustains our democracy, in the face of soulless cynicism and corruption? To treat the constitutional order as something other than the result of momentary political calculation?
You can’t possibly be naive enough to believe that Trump was asking Zelensky to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, if such happened to exist. He was clearly directing him to announce an investigation into Joe Biden, whether any such investigation ever happened, and by implication to produce dirt on Biden, probably by fabricating it. Not “what campaigns do”, even setting aside the problems of soliciting help from a foreign government…
@James Joyner :
Digging up dirt by involving foreign governments via coercion is very unsporting. It’s straight up banana-republic crap. If Trump wanted dirt, there’s plenty of ways to make that happen without breaking the law or causing an international incident. As you note, it happens all the time. So why couldn’t he do it the regular way? Oh yeah – he’s Trump. A fake gangster of a man with petty ego and revenge fantasies that just *has* to do as much damage to this nation as possible when screwing up.
I really don’t care if Trump’s trying to run around finding pee tapes of his rivals. I care that he’s burning down our norms and international goodwill because he can’t be bothered to not suck at being a tin-pot wannabe. He ruins everything he touches and now we can include ratc*cking on that list.
@James Joyner: I’ve come to accept that we have the illusion of democracy, elections are not elections at all. When those in power are given passes by their pears, big money backs the selection, a social media and press infrastructure deceives the electorate, and political parties rationalize that they function best when fighting – that’s not democracy. Its pure manipulation to give the illusion of democracy. I also don’t believe its a “conspiracy”, its just a trap that has slowly encapsulated the masses who are too confused to realize it.
I agreed with you about witnesses right off the top.
No…it’s at stake in whether to remove, or not.
Name another Candidate who has accepted, much less extorted, Foreign Aid in an election? You probably can’t…because IT IS ILLEGAL.
§ 110.20 Prohibition on contributions, donations, expenditures, independent expenditures, and disbursements by foreign nationals (52 U.S.C. 30121, 36 U.S.C. 510).
Maybe “rigging” isn’t the proper word. Cheating may be more appropriate.
Either way…rigging or cheating…later today Senate Republicans will elevate Trump above the Law. That ends Democracy.
I lived in Washington, DC for six years. During that time, I never stopped being in awe of my surroundings. For instance, on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect, I was at the National Archives, where I saw the actual document, plus the other sacred artifacts of American democracy that are always on display. It was a very moving moment.
I am deliberately using the language of our civil religion, such as “sacred,” because that’s what’s missing now in the Senate trial. Senators are not acting as though they are in awe of anything greater than themselves, or their party, or the next election. Otherwise, questions like, “Should we have witnesses?” would have the immediate and obvious answers. Instead, senators are treating the most “Here I stand” moment with the gravity you might otherwise invest in a co-op board meeting. No sense of awe or sacred obligation there. Just fear of the next primary.
Support for witnesses as of this morning:
James, I don’t know how you can on the one hand say Clinton should have been impeached and removed while being so cavalier about what Trump has done. To me, Trump has attacked the foundation of our democracy and our system. He has broken laws. (Especially if you factor in more than the Ukraine stuff; have we forgotten the Mueller Report?) I’m guessing your Republican roots are still at work.
That’s an interesting take. But the Burisma issue was already out there, so I’m not sure what simply announcing another investigation would have mattered. I think Trump actually believed the conspiracy theories.
I agree with that in the OP. I just don’t think it’s tantamount to “rigging an election.”
But there wasn’t much of a trial in the Clinton impeachment. With the possible exception of Bolton, which would put on the record that which we only have via hearsay, I just don’t know what we’d gain fact-wise. The Trump defense is “Yeah, we did what we’re accused of. It ain’t illegal.”
Biden and Schumer, at a minimum, argued that we didn’t need witnesses last go-round. They’re both open partisans but neither are hacks.
I’m not at all cavalier. As noted multiple times in this post and elsewhere, I think Trump should have been impeached and should be removed. (Although, frankly, I think the Ukraine mess is less awful than the Russia mess—which itself is less worrisome than the open corruption of peddling his office for the benefit of his private business interests.)
@James Joyner: Maybe cavalier is not the right word here. Your posting is very matter-of-fact. Given what has happened with the president and Congress, I think some outrage is called for.
Ever listen to the Jonestown death tapes? Right up until the end, there were people audibly praising Jones for leading them to their deaths. It’s horrifying to hear them tell him how great he is when there’s armed men surrounding them and children are dying in front of them. Meanwhile, you hear some people try to reason with him because it’s finally occurring to them shit just got real but they’re still doing it in a way that’s not out-and-out confrontational to the ideology that go them there. Nobody starts calling the cult a lie that’s getting them murdered but rather they are trying to negotiate for their lives so they can keep living there (this wasn’t the first time he’d led them to the poison vat and demanded they drink). That’s James – he’s trying to work within the framework while still standing up to the current horror in front of him. He’s conservative and still accepts many of the tenants that allow the Senate to do what it’s doing right now.
James is unfortunately acting like most folks do when confronted with the reality of abuse. Make no mistake here, the GOP is abusing America and is no longer trying to hide it. Rationalizing away terrible and unfathomable betrayals is how our brains work. Coming with ways to mitigate the damage and minimize just how bad something is helps people cope. The Republican party is flat out stating they don’t give a damn about democracy, the rules or 200+ years of Constitutional laws and norms – they’re backing their man to the hilt and it’s now Ride or Die with Cult45 and it’s incompetent, demented leader. People don’t want to accept we’re at a really bad place right now and so they soften the language, both-sides it so it doesn’t look like the end it is. I can’t blame James or any other former conservatives for not being able to fully separate out from the talking points that’s been ingrained for decades – he’s come really far in the last few years and he’s clearly intelligent enough to see what damage this is doing to our nation.
You have profoundly missed the point. The goal is not to pre-judge the content or impact of the witnesses’ testimony, but to cleave to principles like, “If you have a trial, you have witnesses, and all other salient information that may have emerged.” As I said in my second comment, if our elected leaders do not treat these fundamentals as sacred, then we are lost.
Alas, my outrage was pretty much spent two years ago. This is just Trump being Trump and his lackeys being his lackeys at this point. The issue is whether the public will vote the bums out in November.
@James Joyner: I can’t resist in responding to what has to be one of your silliest posts. First, you really didn’t respond to “Daryl.” You use the issue of witnesses to dismiss the notion that somehow Trump’s violation of the law is not going to effect the 2020 elections. Do you seriously want to test that theory, especially in light of 2016? Do you honestly believe that Trump will not be emboldened to try whatever he can to rig the election after acquittal? He started this scheme the day after the Mueller report came out. Do you really believe that having witnesses saying bad things about Trump in the impeachment on TV will have NO effect on the public’s perception of him and his congressional lackeys? Your “Meh” response says it all: You and your Republican friends are fine with Presidents violating the law and cheating in elections, but want Bill Clinton thrown out of office for lying about consensual sex in a civil lawsuit.
But this isn’t really a trial in any meaningful sense.
The House has, for all intent and purposes, already conducted a trial. Its Constitutional role is to adjudicate guilt and it has, granted along party lines, pronounced the President guilty.
The Senate’s role is more analogous to the sentencing phase than a trial. The question is whether to remove the President for the crimes, not whether he did it.
In 1999, there was zero question that Clinton did what he was accused of. But there was a sense that it didn’t merit removal and the Senate voted not to remove him—with even a couple of Republicans joining in.
There’s no question that Trump is guilty. He’s all but admitted to it. But there’s also no real question that Senate Republicans will decline to remove him.
“That’s an interesting take. But the Burisma issue was already out there, so I’m not sure what simply announcing another investigation would have mattered.”
Nonetheless, multiple witnesses testified before the House that the announcement was what Trump was requiring to release the aid, including Taylor, Volker and Sondland.
I don’t think sex between the President of the United States and a just-out-of-college White House intern is “consensual” in the fullest sense. And, yes, perjuring himself under oath in a civil trial that the United States Supreme Court ruled 9-0 could proceed is an impeachable offense.
I don’t see how one could read this post and conclude I was “fine” with Trump’s actions. He was rightly impeached and should be removed. I just don’t think he will be and don’t see witnesses as changing that.
As to Daryl’s point, I simply thought it over-the-top. I don’t think the 2020 election would have been “rigged” if Trump had gotten the Ukranians to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden’s employment.
Initially, this sounded pretty harsh, but then James wrote this:
I can’t even, as the kids nowadays say.
Undisputed fact = “interesting take”
Russian ratfuckery = “the Burisma issue”
Ongoing misinformation campaign = “already out there”
Coerced announcement of a first investigation = “another investigation”
Official criminal investigation by friendly power = “I’m not sure it would have mattered”
@James Joyner: please read @KM‘s comment. She’s absolutely right. You’re still part of a cult.
James- You realize this means that Trump could call another foreign leader and ask them to leak bad news about Democratic candidates offering them some favor, and it is legal, or at least not impeachable.
I can’t find the reference, but I read earlier that there have been 15? impeachment trials in the Senate before this one, and all 15 had witnesses. The only times there had been no witnesses occurred when the subject of the impeachment resigned before the trial.
I hope the next time the Republican Senators are up for re-election the ads are simple. “Senator XX believes you are stupid. He voted that having witnesses at a trial is unprecedented and expects you to believe it. Witnesses that a majority of Americans and bipartisan group of Senators wanted to hear from. Prove to him that you are smarter than he thinks you are”
This is one of the most bizarre contentions you’ve made on this thread. While there are differences between the Senate trial and a criminal trial, it’s still a trial.
Impeachment is more analogous to the grand jury process, or a prosecutor’s decision to indict, not an actual trial. Here’s another reference about that fact. You’re flatly wrong.
I kinda worried about that but really it was the best way to get the point across.
I’m not trying to slag James or really any conservative that still isn’t really getting it but there’s no better example of someone trying to solve the immediate issue (being forced to drink poison and commit suicide) while not truly grasping the problem (cult leader wants you to die and has been making you rehearse taking poison for some time now). The Flavor-aid thing? They’d been doing it for *weeks* – being dragged in, everyone made to think this was it but then being told don’t worry about it, it was just a test. Desensitize people to the point several willingly drank because they didn’t *really* think it was poison, just a test like always. Only when it’s too late do people freak and try to escape; only when it’s too late do people think “huh, maybe we wouldn’t have tolerated the fake poisonings” because it means the real one’s ready to go.
Conservatives are being lead down a bad road and they keep coming up with ways it’s not so bad because they can’t question why they’re following along. The nonsense arguments being put on the floor of the Senate are what we hear being bandied about on FOX to defend obvious wrong-doing. Taking a step back to evaluate, however, means having to question the underlying assumptions of the argument. That’s really, REALLY hard for most people because it means you might be WRONG on multiple levels. Better to address the current crisis and keep carrying on, even if everything disintegrating around you. Now they’re trapped in having to defend this loser or fall victim to the true believers. Now they have to keep sacrificing everything they value just to stay afloat. Eventually you have nothing left to give but yourself….
It was the meh that did it for me. I couldn’t help but wonder what the James of the Clinton impeachment would have said to the James of today. I imagine them enjoying a lively conversation.
I think the Founders had some pretty strong thoughts on depending on the mob to do the right thing. And pretty justifiably so, in my opinion. But regardless, if we want the bums to be voted out, isn’t it worth doing everything possible to bring and keep the corruption in the public eye?
I agree (I think we all do) that calling witnesses will make no difference whatsoever in the outcome of the Senate process. That’s not the point. The point is it’s almost impossible to underestimate how un-informed (or mis-informed) most Americans are, and to use the Senate trial and witnesses for education and publicity.
Trump told Bolton to call Zelensky to ensure that he would meet with Rudy about his desired investigations of Democrats.
This is previous to the, now famous, perfect call.
Both Muleveney…and wait for it…Ciplione were in the room. Yes…Ciplioni, the Impeachment Attorney, was physically in the room while Trump directed Bolton to help pressure the Ukrainian Leader to dig up dirt on the Biden’s. I wonder why he has failed to disclose that?
This was early May.
NY Times has the story. I don’t subscribe so I cannot link.
Trump has already been impeached. So, by definition, it’s a (high) crime (or misdemeanor) and impeachable. That Senate Republicans seem willing to let him get away with it is problematic but doesn’t change the fact of impeachment.
@KM: I was blogging negative things about Trump literally from the day he came down the escalator and started his campaign. I made it clear early on that there was no way that I would vote for him and, indeed, endorsed and voted for his opponent. And I’ve watched essentially zero minutes of Fox News over the last several years.
I think what Trump did here bad and impeachable. I don’t think it’s in the top ten worse things he’s done since taking office. I just don’t think it amounts to rigging an election.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl:
Just to be perfectly clear…Cipplioni is a WITNESS to the very evidence he is trying to obstruct from the Senate.
This is not kosher.
CJ Roberts must intervene.
The meh was a response to “American Democracy will die later today. Long live Donald J. Trump, KOTUS.”
I think our democracy will survive, largely unscathed. And Trump is not a king; he’s more-or-less impotent to enact his policy preferences aside from judicial nominations.
I haven’t been able to figure out why you think “changing that” is the only possible purpose that calling witnesses and having actual disclosure of subpoenaed documents could serve.
It restores the notion of congressional oversight, and holds back the Unitary Executive theory.
The degradation of the former and the rise of the latter are arguably the worst things that this administration has done.
“I don’t think the 2020 election would have been “rigged” if Trump had gotten the Ukranians to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden’s employment.”
What effect do you think such an announcement would have had? Especially if it then leads to Senate hearings and weeks of breathless news coverage? It would have been a repeat of the Benghazi hearings against Hillary Clinton.
Even if it tipped only a couple of percent of the public into believing that Joe Biden is personally corrupt and therefore they vote against him, that likely is a significant effect on the election.
I have to wonder if you believe there are any crimes that a President can commit that do not require removal.
Removal of a sitting president is a disruption of our democracy. I think that has to be weighed against the severity of the crime and the harm of letting the President continue in office.
Did Clinton remaining in office after this crime was known harm the United States?
@Gustopher: Censure seems entirely appropriate for Clinton.
Monica Lewinsky was 23 years old when she pursued Bill Clinton.
It’s been publicly reported that it was 3 years before ever stepping foot into D.C., or meeting Bill Clinton, that Monica had been engaged in an affair with her married former high school drama instructor (Andy Bleiler).
It’s a farce and a fallacy to present Monica Lewinsky as a delicate young flower, ‘fresh out of college’ that the predator Bill Clinton would ravage.
Monica Lewinsky was an experienced lover who eagerly and aggressively pursued Bill Clinton.
But, because Bill Clinton didn’t want Hillary and Chelsea to find out he got a blowjob from a buxom young lass, he should be impeached and removed from office, in addition to losing his law license?
Because of course.. “both sides” ya know.
James, let’s say Trump would have asked the Ukraine government for dirt on any Democrat and they in turn, bug the headquarters of the DNC in let’s say the Watergate complex and turn over to Guiliani all transcripts of the bugged conversations, according to you and Dooshchowitz, no problem, no foul.
Please show me how I am wrong in my interpretation of your position since it borders on lunacy.
Considering the news about removing restrictions on landmines and the redefinition of domestic abuse and sexual assault, I wouldn’t call him impotent at getting what he wants. He’s lost some big battles but his Administration dragging America back to the stone age all across the board. Now he’s toying with Medicaid cuts under the guise of block grants and wants to roll back bribery laws.
He’s getting his way…. or at least, the people who put the bug in his ear are getting their way and he’s profiting off it. Impotent, he is not – inefficient at best, bumbling always but he’s effective at destroying ground you didn’t know you needed to defend.
@Fortunato: Perjury is a crime.
A 23 year old is not a crime, and they are able to make their own decisions in life — sometimes very bad ones that result in nationwide humiliation — and I’m pretty sure that no one here is arguing otherwise. Mr. Joyner does have some “eww-icky” in there, and questions the nature of consent with someone twice her age who is the President, but I don’t think he seriously believes that is a crime, just icky.
But perjury is a crime.
(And, on the subject of icky, do we really need Monica Lewinsky’s previous love life, or how she was an “experienced lover”?)
(Also, Clinton broke what should be the iron clad rule of dating someone much younger — it’s ok to be a mistake, but it’s not ok to be a regret.)
@the Q: I think you need to reread what James has written. He’s very wrong in a very different way than you are accusing him of being wrong.
@Kingdaddy: It is nominally a trial with some of the terms and trappings thereof.
In other ways it is really a legislative action (or a committee). And the rules are set by the body (the only rules received from the Constitution are who presides and the threshold for removal). So, despite the terminology, it is not as much of trial as we would like to think.
It lacks discovery. It lacks real subpoena power. (In the sense that either can truly be enforced).
I was already planning a post along these lines and think this discussion has given me some additional thoughts.
Put another way: if one takes a fatalistic view of this process, we are reaching the inevitable end point and there was very little that was likely to change this pathway.
I am less confident of that (as, at a minimum, this administration has laid bare some of the preexisting problems).
Plus: if a president can obstruct justice and also try to leverage public funds for private gain (among other things) and get away with it, what will Trump do the rest of this term? In a second term? What will a smarter, more ruthless president in the future do?
@Steven L. Taylor:
“Plus: if a president can obstruct justice and also try to leverage public funds for private gain (among other things) and get away with it, what will Trump do the rest of this term? In a second term?”
Plus, Trump frequently “jokes” about continuing as President after the end of his second term.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Good points, all. However, James is still wrong in his contention that the impeachment was the trial.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl: @James Joyner:
I think both of you are right in a way about rigging the election.
Trump’s actions wrt Ukraine probably did not rig the election.
He was clearly TRYING to rig the election. There is absolutely no other reason for his actions. What other actions has he taken that he has not been caught in, trying to rig the election? What actions will he take now that the senate has determined that this matter is so inconsequential there is no need to hear from any witnesses, even the ones they pretended to want to hear from? This Ukraine stunt happened the day after the Mueller report came down failing to state outright that he was guilty of a crime.
I work for a big company. We are told constantly that “what you permit, you promote” when dealing with our employees. The Republican Party promotes using US government funds to procure foreign interference in US elections.
One last point. I don’t know who the Democratic nominee will be. For fun let’s say Elizabeth Warren. Actually it doesn’t matter if the nominee is her. I would hope that beginning Monday there are ads up in Arizona saying that “Martha McSally just voted that it would be fine for Elizabeth Warren to use government money to bribe a foreign country to help her get elected, and certainly not a big enough deal for Martha McSally to investigate”. Over the top? Yes. But the Republicans have been careful so far not to say it is only okay for Trump even if that’s what they mean. So make them say it.
That’s orders of magnitude worse than what he actually did—which I’ve already said a dozen times in this thread was legitimately impeachable.
We may just be talking past each other here. I very much agree that Trump was trying to influence the election and that the way in which he was trying to do it was an impeachable abuse of power. To me, “rigging” an election is an entirely different thing, something along the lines of stuffing the ballot box, hacking voting machines to change totals in one’s favor, massive voter intimidation campaigns, and the like.
Look, James. You can’t be rational and actually stick to the definition of words or any kind of previously established common ground. You have to be emotional and willing to agree with anything that sounds negative about the bad guys, regardless of whether or not it’s accurate in the details, because facts aren’t what matters. Remember: when you’re talking about the other side, it’s a cult, and when you’re talking about yourselves, it’s patriotism.
W.r.t. the point in the OP, I would say that witnesses are lose/lose. It’s a lose for the Democrats because it looks like that Republicans are trying to have a fair trial of some kind. It’s a lose for the Republicans because it makes them look weak and as if they’re caving in. The important thing is that the Ds continue to look angry and the Rs continue to look stubborn; as long as that continues, everything will proceed on course.
Of course it’s technically correct, nonetheless I feel compelled to reiterate my original senitment:
We’re (as in Republicans in the Senate) about to set the precedent that:
– extorting a foreign nation under duress, is not a crime.
– encouraging foreign nations to interfere in American elections, is not a crime.
– abandoning our alllies, the Kurds, to slaughter while enabling the release from prison hundred of hardened ISIS terrorists, is not a crime.
– paying hush money to porn stars from campaign funds, is not a crime.
– pardoning – in advance – the criminal acts of a heinous racist who serially abused and degraded immigrants, is not a crime.
– while on foreign soil, trashing the entire U.S. Intelligence community while praising and genuflecting to KGB Vlad, is not a crime.
– profiting wildly from steering military planes and foreign dignitaries to your personal properties, is not a crime.
– moving incriminating documents to inappropriate yet highly secretive servers/locations, is not a crime.
– en masse refusing to comply to all legitimate. lawful subpoenas issued by a co-equal branch of government, is not a crime.
– separating immigrant children from their families, locking them in cages and denying them inexpensive and easily attainable vaccines, is not a crime.
– openly and brazenly intimidating witnesses during a trial, is not a crime.
– demanding that shady underworld figures “take out” a U.S. Ambassador, is not a crime.
– embracing and promoting violent white nationalism, is not a crime.
The list could go on for days, but why.
But yes, it’s indeed correct to say that Bill Clinton lied about a blowjob, so, “both sides”.
Yes, we probably are talking past each other. My real fear is that Trump is already working towards the items you do consider rigging. Or if he is not involved has very carefully made clear that the US Senate is not going to stand in the way of anyone who wants to rig the election for him. He already took care of the DOJ.
James believes that Clinton being in office in the first place was known harm to the US. He has a hard time setting that aside.
I have found, after numerous conversations with many people who are not James, that it is really impossible to understand CDS from the outside.
Stupid cynical nihilism is not a good look on anyone.
I would argue it’s actually worse than the low-information commenter who believes James is endorsing the Republican line on this when he very clearly isn’t. They actually believe in something, even if they are somehow able to write but unable to read.
Clearly Trump was trying to influence the next election, whether you want to call it rigging or not. There is statistical evidence that the Comey announcement about Clinton’s emails (which was a nothingburger at the end of the day) influenced the election enough to change the outcome. This would be awfully similar.
James, I just re-read some of your post. The part that got me is your positive words (even if modest) about Dershowitz’s defense, and calling Trump’s actions “arguably” beyond the pale. This is no time for such mealy-mouthed descriptions. It’s this sort of talk that his defenders latch onto. We all know it’s way beyond the pale. Words do matter. Even if you’re burned out and resigned to things, don’t minimize it.
@Fortunato: Trump’s crimes are worse (not all the things in your list are crimes by the way… abandoning the Kurds is immoral, For instance, but not a crime), but that doesn’t mean Clinton did not commit a crime, or excuse his crime.
Sometimes both sides do it. That’s not baseless bothsiderism, that’s just reality.
Clinton’s crimes rose to the level of impeachable offense, but the remedy of removal from office would have been more harmful to the country than allowing him to continue in office. Disrupting the democratic process over perjury in a case involving his private life rather than official acts… not worth it.
Trump’s crimes rise to the level of impeachable offense, and are directly related to his official acts, and are an attack on our democracy both in terms of the election interference and the destruction of congressional oversight. The remedy of removal is entirely appropriate — it’s mandatory to safeguard our democracy.
To acknowledge that Bill Clinton did crimes is not undermining that, or hypocritical, or anything other than honest.
@Gustopher: There’s no difference between Reid’s last comment and David S’s.
Huh? Why do you say that? It’s almost exactly what he actually did; the only difference is that (a) he didn’t get caught, and so (b) Ukraine actually did what he wanted. Trump’s action is the same in both cases, though. The difference in culpability can’t be that he got caught and so stopped.
A serious question for the hosts here: what is the practical likelihood of new, separate impeachment charges being laid against Trump either (1) this year, or (2) in the event of his re-election? I had originally supposed that one reason for the Dems to put forward such narrow charges was in order to hold others in reserve — but I’m not hearing anyone say that.
It’s not like there aren’t enough other charges to choose from. You could start with the behaviors in the Mueller Report and work your way down to backstabbing our Kurdish allies and trying to have one of his own ambassadors whacked.
I think Trump has done what he set out to do; damage Biden with this Ukraine stunt. And Trump was so brazen about it – shortly after Bob Mueller wrapped up he was on the phone to begin the Ukraine shakedown arrangements.
I now see current Republicans as an occupying force, as a Vichy Government
@DrDaveT: To be effective, Dem’s must absolutely flip the Senate first. Otherwise we’ll end up exactly where we are right now, only next time the charges will be much worse, and Republicans will still let him walk.
The other danger lies in Pence. Impeach Trump again (provided he wins the election), if the charges are brazen enough that even Republicans grow some balls and remove him, then we stand the chance of President Pence for several years. President Pence can do so much more damage silently, over the course of several years, than Trump could ever dream of doing.
Our one saving grace is that Trump is a really bad criminal who hasn’t figured out this government gig can’t be run like his family mafia, different rules apply. Pence already knows that shit, and he doesn’t have verbal diarrhea on Twitter.
***Sorry, not a host, but this has been weighing on me for some time. Enough so that I quit donating to Presidential candidates and am strictly focusing on the Senate races.***
Hey, if you can’t get the meds you need, do what works. Be well.
Good grief. That’s like saying Republicans were already talking about Hillary’s emails, so what did the announcement of an FBI investigation matter? It mattered because it gave huge credibility to the public perception Hillary had been up to no good. In the same way, most people would dismiss Republican claims that Joe did something wrong because Hunter Ukraine 2016 yada yada as incomprehensible partisan trivia. But UKRAINE GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION INTO JOE BIDEN is easy to understand, and the massive Trump propaganda machine headed by the old firm with a proven track record, namely Giuliani, Schweizer, diGenova and Toensing, would have happily supplied the media with a year’s supply of stories from ‘Ukrainian sources close to the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity’.
A benefit of hearing direct from Bolton would have been to take off the table the talking point that none of the House’s witnesses had first-hand knowledge of Trump’s actions. Assuming no evidence would have been led to contradict Bolton’s testimony, it would have made it crystal clear that Trump had been lying through his teeth about the affair from the beginning. Moreover, it would have tagged as a fool or a liar anyone who continued to pretend Trump didn’t do what he stood accused of.
This would not have altered the outcome of the trial. However it would probably have forced more Republican senators into the Rubio position of yes-he-did-it-but-I’m-going-to-acquit-him-anyway. That’s an argument which should damage Republican senators as well as Trump in November.
I don’t disagree; I’m just wondering if the best way to flip the Senate involves rubbing America’s nose in everything Trump has done. If we don’t find some way to break through the orchestrated disinformation campaign, there’s no hope. Even Fox has trouble spinning Trump non-government flunkies testifying before Congress that Trump told them to get rid of an ambassador.
I agree that Pence is dangerous, but he’s even stupider than Trump. I really don’t want to bank on “no impulse control, but stupid” keeping us out trouble. “Focused but even more stupid” has less downside risk, even if it’s worse in expectation.
@Gustopher: I am not sure who you were referring to or what you were saying but I commend the following to you from the NY Times today: “On Friday evening, Republican senators voted in near lock step to block testimony from any new witnesses or the production of any new documents, a vote that was tantamount to an acquittal of the impeachment charges against President Trump. The move can only embolden the president to cheat in the 2020 election.” That is to what James Joyner says: “Meh.”
Considering that Trump was emboldened to commit the particularly odious act that started this current mess after he thought he was cleared of doing anything wrong with the Mueller Investigation, would anyone care to predict what completely outrageous thing he will do now…
@DrDaveT: What are the other options as far as flipping the Senate and/or winning the Presidency, BESIDES rubbing America’s nose in all the dirty things Trump has done? I mean….that’s how you train cats to stop pissing on the floor.
@An Interested Party: That’s what worries me the most. The next 9 months will be very dangerous times for “election security”.
I phrased that badly; I was actually suggesting that might be effective. As opposed to those who are saying “If the Senate won’t vote to remove, what’s the point?”
I told you months ago you’d come to this, that in the end you would excuse corruption and even treason.
I were writing you, you’d be less predictable. Also wittier, more interesting generally, smarter. . .
@Steven L. Taylor:
My prediction is that we elect a much more normal President in November and get back to something much more predictable. If he’s re-elected, it’ll be the people (albeit likely not a majority) making the call that what Trump has done is forgivable.
As bad as the Ukraine thing is, I put it relatively low on the list of Trump’s abuses. I’ve been arguing that the self-dealing is impeachable since the election. But even Democrats seem not to care about it. There hasn’t been so much as an investigation, much less impeachment articles.
No, it isn’t. At this point you’re just being obtuse.
“My prediction is that we elect a much more normal President in November and get back to something much more predictable. If he’s re-elected, it’ll be the people (albeit likely not a majority) making the call that what Trump has done is forgivable.”
My prediction is that having avoided being convicted for this, Trump will find further ways to cheat in the 2020 election, so that the people will not get the chance to elect a more normal President, regardless of the percentage who are willing to forgive what Trump did. And the Republicans in the Senate will continue to look the other way so long as the majority of their partisans still support Trump.
I agree the self-dealing is worthy of removal. I am not sure how I would rank it (as I do think the Ukraine business is pretty serious–both in terms of trading public goods for private gain and doing so in a way to influence an election).
The problem is: the self-dealing is complicated (as was the Mueller stuff, which I also think was worthy of removal). The Ukraine thing is relatively straight-forward, and look how hard presenting the case was. The stonewalling over self-dealing would have made that investigation even more byzantine.
Part of the problem with quantifying or “ranking” the self-dealing, is we don’t know exactly how much self-dealing is going on. What we’re able to access at this point in time is profoundly disturbing, but there’s a high likelihood that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If you’re Trump, how do you not get on the phone this week to China, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, etc, and quo all the MFing quid you can?
@Steven L. Taylor:
If you can’t sell Trump’s brazen, black and white, Gambino-style extortion scheme – featuring nightly appearances by Colludy Rudy, Lev and Igor – to the synaptically challenged Trump-a-loons, how in god’s name do you sell the more convoluted (although equally obviously and brazen) myriad self-dealing by the Trump Crime Family?
Trump’s power over Republicans is the unflagging adulation of his cultish horde of MAGAcapped halfwits. He owns the corrupt and spineless Republican coterie because at a moment’s notice he can turn this frothy horde against any Republican should choose.
It is wisdom and foresight on behalf Democrats that they’ve ignored much of the tsunami of crimes spewing from this administration. They’ve ignored anything requiring more than a grunt, or a bumper sticker to explain, in a commendable effort to focus on a single crime of extortion that even an imbecile could grasp.
But as we’ve long suspected, the Republicans don’t give f..k about Trump’s crimes.
As long as Trump is pwning libruls, degrading minorities and waving the flag of White Nationalism, the degenerates that constitute today’s Republican base (not Trumpists – but REPUBLICANS) are with him, lock step. With him to what many hope will be the glorious coming the their End Times.
This is yet ANOTHER instance where Democrats have IN FACT done the right thing, have chosen the wisest path – only to be castigated by those on the right.
This is yet ANOTHER instance of but, but.. ‘BOTH SIDES’ are at fault.
This is the real evil in what’s happening here. Trump has corrupted DOJ and claimed executive privilege over everything. How is anyone to investigate? Right now it looks like journalists have a better shot at getting stuff through FOIA suits (Sekolow’s “lawyer lawsuits”) than Congress has through subpoenas. How long do you think FOIA will last?
No, to the extent that the election isn’t actually rigged, it will be people making the call that the false version of what Trump has done that has been presented to them through their preferred media is not even a crime. You keep overlooking the gap between what people are basing their opinions on and what actually happened.
@DrDaveT: This, times 10. Most of these people actually think Trump isn’t charging the government anything at all for all this stuff that happens at his properties. Not the golf trips, or the foreign dignitaries, it’s all gratis…..because maybe that’s what some of them would do “if they were as rich as Trump and elected President”. He’s some kind of Robin Hood, to them. “But he donates his salary!”