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The third man
On Wednesday, Trump became the third U.S. president in history to be impeachment by the House of Representatives. As far as I can tell, he's not happy about it. I picked up that vibe from his extensive use of capital letters and exclamation marks.
But Trump is expected, in short order, to be acquitted by the Senate. So why does Trump care so much?
Trump is not an expert in many things, but he understands the media. He knows that, from now on, any discussion of his presidency will mention that he was impeached.
And Trump is not accustomed to being held accountable for his actions.
This is a person whose companies filed for bankruptcy four times but was able to convince much of the public that he was a business genius. This is a person who spent years pushing a racist conspiracy theory about President Obama but was embraced by the Republican Party. This is a person who has been accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women — and was caught on tape bragging about it — but was still was elected president.
But impeachment will leave a permanent stain.
It is richly deserved. It is uncontested that Trump asked the President of Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. And multiple Trump appointees have said that Trump withheld hundreds of millions in military aid to pressure the Ukrainians to do his bidding. Trump then issued a blanket order prohibiting members of his administration from cooperating with the impeachment investigation.
In the end, 230 members of the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power and 229 voted to impeach Trump for obstruction of Congress. For 195 Republicans and 3 Democrats, however, it wasn't enough. But, for that group, it seems like nothing would be enough.
Short-term memory problem
The current Republican defense of Trump is, roughly, that none of his conduct rises to the level of an impeachable offense. But accepting that defense requires you to ignore what many of the same Republicans were saying just a few short weeks ago.
In September and October, dozens of Congressional Republicans argued that Trump's conduct was not impeachable because there was no evidence of a quid pro quo. The implication was if there was evidence of a quid pro quo, that would be a serious and impeachable offense.
Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), who was moved to the Intelligence Committee so he could play a larger role in the impeachment process, tweeted, "It's been very clear. No quid pro quo."
Congressman Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said "There is clearly no quid pro quo. I'll continue to base myself on facts [and] the truth."
In a particularly striking example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said "listen to the diplomats: no quid pro quo"
Hours after McCarthy's tweet, the diplomats started talking. And the diplomats said, unequivocally, that there was a quid pro quo.
Bill Taylor was the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. He is not a Democrat or a member of the deep state. Taylor was recruited out of retirement by the Trump administration in June to replace ousted Ukranian ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Taylor testified that there was a quid pro quo:
Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, 'everything' was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelenskyy "in a public box" by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.
In November, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified. Sondland is a major Republican fundraiser who donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration. He confirmed Taylor's testimony and said that there was a quid pro quo.
I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a “quid pro quo?” As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.
...By the end of the August, my belief was that if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention to fight corruption, specifically addressing Burisma and 2016 server, then the hold on military aid would be lifted.
So McCarthy explicitly said to listen to the diplomats about the quid pro quo. The diplomats testified that there was a quid pro quo. McCarthy and the rest of the Republican caucus pretended like it never happened.
The Democratic committee chair who opposed impeachment
One of the two Democrats to vote against both articles of impeachment against Trump was Collin Peterson (D-MN). The other, New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew, will reportedly become a Republican in the coming days.
Peterson was also the only Democrat to co-sponsor legislation authored by Congressman Steve King (R-IA), who openly promoted white nationalist for years. The bill would have blocked California legislation mandating that all eggs sold in the state be cage-free. Peterson only dropped his co-sponsorship after it was highlighted in the January 14 edition of Popular Information.
When Trump triggered a government shutdown because Democrats wouldn't approve billions for a border wall, Peterson argued Democrats should just give him all the money:
Give Trump the money. I’d give him the whole thing . . . and put strings on it so you make sure he puts the wall where it needs to be. Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.
Peterson is a senior member of the Democratic Caucus and is chair of the House Agriculture Committee.
What happens next
The House of Representatives adjourned before naming impeachment managers who will present the case against Trump in the Senate. That also means that articles of impeachment have not been officially transmitted to the Senate. But those things are likely to happen soon.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that he wants to skip having an actual trial with witnesses and proceed quickly to a vote for acquittal. In an op-ed, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), a former prosecutor, blasted McConnell's plans:
I have never been in a courtroom where the accused can unilaterally block witnesses from testifying or prohibit prosecutors from asking witnesses questions. No court would allow a trial to proceed this way, and neither should any member of the Senate.
Democrats have requested "to hear from four additional witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the president’s misconduct and to review documents that shed light on why the administration initially decided to cut off military aid to Ukraine."
McConnell has already rejected that request. But McConnell does not have unilateral authority to set the rules for Trump's impeachment trial. Every Senator gets equal say.
That means any four Republican Senators have the power to ensure a fair proceeding. There are three Republican Senators facing tough reelection campaigns who might benefit from showing some independence from Trump – Martha McSally (R-AZ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Susan Collins (R-ME). Others, including Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), have pledged not to turn a blind eye to Trump's misconduct.
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