Rep. Adam Schiff, lead House manager of the impeachment case against President Donald Trump, delivered a tour de force last week, painfully, crushingly detailing the president’s obvious guilt and decimating his defenses. It’s fair to say, however, that this did not go over all that agreeably with Senate Republicans who, determined to sidestep the evidence of Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, opted for phony professions of outrage at being called to account.
Leading the charge was Sen. Susan Collins, whose depressing forfeiture of a once-meaningful reputation for independence has led former admirers to shake their heads at what fear of a Republican primary can do to a person’s conscience. Collins claimed to be appalled at Congressman Jerry Nadler’s use of the phrase “cover-up” to describe conduct by Senate Republicans that can’t easily be described otherwise. Trump’s “defense” of the mountain of evidence against him is the patently false assertion that none of it is “first-hand.”
But Republicans have not merely looked the other way at Trump’s blanket order that the documents reflecting his conduct be withheld and the aides to whom he gave orders be gagged; presented with a simple request that the documents be turned over and the aides be required to tell the truth, they made the request impossible. For his part, the president does not hide the fact that he is hiding the facts. “We’re doing very well,” Trump boasted about the impeachment proceedings last week. “(H)onestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”
Collins is upset about the phrase “cover-up.” Too bad. That is precisely what it is, and her objection to a phrase that fits the GOP’s conduct like a glove makes her look ridiculous. Evidently, in the United States Senate, which Collins claims to revere, it is now permissible to block the truth and impermissible to speak it.
But it wasn’t only the apt use of “cover-up” that Collins and colleagues find offensive. It was Schiff’s reference to a CBS News report that said Republican senators had been warned, “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.” “That’s not true,” shouted Collins, and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski complained, “That’s where he lost me.” Whether the White House used the word “pike” or “spear,” there is no doubt that the message has been delivered — forcefully and repeatedly: If Republicans stand up to Trump, they will sleep with the fishes, politically speaking. “I talk to Republicans all the time, quietly, individually,” said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown on Friday. “(M)any of them tell me that Trump’s a liar … but they’re all afraid of him.” Republicans’ professions of outrage at reports that they are afraid of Trump are, quite simply, as phony as a $3 bill.
Indeed, “phony” is the word that rushes to mind when listening to Trump’s defenses, and one hardly knows which among them is the most laughable.
One potential prize winner: Trump’s contention that he had not demanded a quid pro quo from Ukraine. Knowing that he was guilty of the demand, he uttered the words “no quid pro quo” in a conversation in which he expressly confirmed that he was demanding a quid pro quo. This bit of idiocy would not survive scrutiny by fifth graders. “In other words,” observes Brown University constitutional scholar Corey Brettschneider, “if the president is robbing a bank and says, ‘I am not robbing a bank,’ we should believe him.”
Despite the hokum and the fraud served up by the White House’s smoke-blowing machine, polls show that most Americans get what is going on here. Two surveys released before Schiff buried Trump found that 51% want Trump removed right now. Republican senators will no doubt succeed in preventing that. They are unlikely, however, to prevent a verdict from being rendered against them by history.