In the thick of these impeachment hearings, the third in the lives of all baby boomers, maybe it’s worth asking, what do we make of all this? And maybe— having covered presidencies, having covered the Watergate hearings, and having covered the world— maybe BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs, in this Boomer Opinion piece, can help answer the question. Call it Impeachment 101, from one side of the aisle.
Let’s begin at the end: after testimony credibly implicating the president in bribery, his impeachment by the Democrat-controlled House now seems more likely than ever. But if it does come to that, his conviction in the Republican-controlled Senate is a different story. If the Republicans on that side of the Capitol are anything like what we’ve already seen from the Republicans on the other side, they will never vote against the president. Not 14 of them anyway, which is what it would take to convict. The only caveat is, if they see that the ship to which they’ve tethered themselves is sinking, they’ll be pushing women and children aside to jump off. But otherwise, they won’t go against him.
Why not? Because they believe he would never cross the line he’s accused of crossing? Because they believe he’s as honest as the day is long? Don’t make me laugh. They won’t, because they’re scared.
They’re scared because they know, if they nail the president, he’ll nail them back, and he’ll nail them to the wall. This president is the political equivalent of a gangster. He calls anyone who gets on his bad side “losers,” “bad news,” even “traitors.” That’s the political analog of “gangsta talk.” Back when Al Capone badmouthed his enemies, they were scared that he was about to mow them down with a Tommy Gun. Today’s Republican politicians, with precious few exceptions, are scared of the same thing. They turn on him, they get on his bad side, he’ll mow them down with a tweet.
His base will eat it up. And that politician’s career will be history. It already has happened more than once.
Of course none of that changes what we’ve heard at the hearings: Trump tried to bribe the president of Ukraine. The deal was, announce an investigation into the Biden mess and you’ll get what you want from the White House which, as we learn more and more, meant both a prestigious presidential meeting, and a critical check for $380-million in military aid from the U.S. (as if it was Trump’s to give, which it wasn’t). Of course Trump didn’t make the gesture himself; he told his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to do the dirty work (shades of former personal lawyer Michael Cohen). But, according to Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Giuliani’s work was at the “express direction of the President,” and officials like him were ordered to follow Giuliani’s lead.
What’s more, it wasn’t just Trump acting alone. “Everyone was in the loop” Sondland says, and by “everyone” he means Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, even his Vice President Mike Pence. If there’s a Triple A Trump Team, that’s it. No wonder they don’t want to testify under oath. And no wonder, according to Sondland, the State Department “directed” him not to testify either.
Sondland was able to authenticate his assertions. He brought emails which show that Trump’s top team were all in on the president’s bribery blueprint from early May— that’s two months before the infamous phone call when he not-so-cryptically asked his Ukrainian counterpart for “a favor”— to mid September, when the military aid finally was released, not just coincidentally on the very day after the first fishy news from a whistleblower broke. Needless to say, the Republicans don’t like this narrative, and have argued that Ukraine’s president never knew before the call that military assistance to his country had been frozen. That, too, has been blown up in the hearings. It’s another lie.
You have to wonder, by the way, what’s in this for Sondland? After all, according to friends, he had long craved a position close to the pinnacle of power. After his million-dollar donation to Trump’s inauguration, he got it. So by telling the truth to Congress now, and going up against the president who rewarded him with his august ambassadorship, he has very little if anything to gain. Except one thing, perhaps: by telling the truth rather than lying under oath, he might stay out of the hoosegow.
If you’ve followed the hearings yourself, maybe you’ve noticed that the Republicans on the committee haven’t even refuted the basic story of the president’s unseemly behavior. All they’ve done is try to discredit the witnesses and distract from their testimony.
Their biggest distractions? First, complaints that the Democratic chairman won’t call Hunter Biden to testify. Now I won’t say “who cares” about Biden’s cozy deal with a Ukrainian energy company that made him a ton of money because to me, it certainly does suggest an abuse of influence, but I will ask— to use an analogy the president is fond of— even if Hunter Biden also shot someone on 5th Avenue, would it change the fact that Donald Trump had no legal right to put a hold on military aid that Congress had appropriated until Ukraine promised an investigation into Biden’s cozy deal? That’s what these hearings are about, not Hunter Biden.
Second, complaints that the Democratic chairman now won’t call the whistleblower to testify. The question here is, besides outing the whistleblower and making his life miserable if not downright dangerous, what is it that the Republicans actually want to know? The whistleblower’s only participation in this whole sleazy scandal is to have brought it to our attention. He wasn’t even on the infamous call between the two presidents, let alone could he have anything to say that others haven’t already said under oath that would shed light on the propriety and legality of what the president did.
The fact is, the Republicans’ ire over witnesses they aren’t allowed to call is a sham. And why? Because they haven’t uttered a peep about the witnesses the Democrats want to hear from… and have even subpoenaed… but who the president has blocked from testifying. From his national security advisor to his chief of staff to his budget director to his secretary of state. These are key witnesses to how he handled Ukraine, witnesses who— if they were to come in and tell the truth— might even pull the curtain clear off the president’s crime. But their failure to testify doesn’t seem to trouble the Republicans. Only the whistleblower’s, and Hunter Biden’s.
Another sham they’re pushing is that all of the president’s actions were only aimed at rooting out corruption in Ukraine. One trouble is, his phone call with the Ukrainian president put the lie to that lie. The other trouble is, no one can cite even a single instance where Trump turned U.S. foreign policy against another friendly nation where corruption is common to root that corruption out (and let me tell you after covering news in some 80 countries, the list is long). He surely hasn’t gone after corruption in Saudi Arabia. He hasn’t gone after it in Egypt.
But maybe the most hypocritical of all the Republican distractions is their complaint that this whole impeachment inquiry is not how taxpayers want their money to be spent. Hypocritical, because that is the very point of the hearings: having a president hold up congressionally authorized taxpayer money (to fight Russia, no less) for the purpose of advancing his political aims is not how taxpayers want their money to be spent.
So if you want to know what to make of this whole ugly road to impeachment, it depends on who you listen to. The Republicans will tell you that at the end of the day, since Ukraine eventually got its money and didn’t do anything in return, “nothing happened.” We have heard that refrain virtually every day since the public hearings began. The Democrats will tell you that if you try to rob a bank but don’t get away with any money, it doesn’t mean you didn’t try. It’s still attempted robbery and that’s still a crime.
The only difference is, in this case it isn’t robbery. It’s bribery. In the Constitution, that alone is an impeachable offense. Of course the president and his enablers still argue that the transcript of the controversial phone call shows it was “perfect,” but that’s nothing but a con. Because even if that call had never taken place, and even if Ukraine’s president had never known he was being bribed, our president abused his office by withholding favors from a foreign government for personal gain.
That’s what to make of these hearings.