Friday morning, CBS News reported that the Trump administration is warning Republican senators, “Vote against the president, and your head will be on a pike.”
Maybe that accounts for their increasing desperation and hypocrisy. On Thursday night, CNN reported on a new set of GOP talking points: Because Trump will likely block subpoenas of witnesses or evidence in the Senate trial, they would have to go to court, which could take a long time. But that’s exactly the argument for which they’ve trashed House Democrats.
In fact, in his masterful opening on Tuesday, House impeachment manager Adam Schiff hit back at Trump’s attorneys after they mocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for saying “we cannot be at the mercy of the courts” in the impeachment process after the Trump administration ignored multiple subpoenas as well as court rulings against it. Unfortunately, journalists occasionally parrot that line, too. Pelosi did say that, but she added: “The courts are very important in all of this. Those [subpoena] cases will continue.” She has also insisted that she “never said you cannot proceed without the courts.”
“While these lawyers for the President are here before you today saying the House should have gone to court, they’re in court saying the House may not go to court to enforce subpoenas. I kid you not,” Schiff said, adding later: “Why didn’t the founders require the exhaustion of legal remedies before impeachment? They didn’t want to give that power to the courts!”
Of course, the Senate could have voted to subpoena witnesses and documents on Tuesday when Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer proposed multiple amendments to Senate rules to do just that. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell held his caucus together to vote down those amendments, saying the Senate will vote on these issues after a day of debate on trial rules, three days of hearing the House case, three days of the president’s defense, and two days of senators’ interrogating both sides—a delay of at least nine days, and possibly more. So McConnell himself has already built in at least some of the delay his caucus is now decrying. That delay could lengthen; as I write, Trump is complaining that his lawyers will open their case on Saturday, in the “Death Valley spot” on TV. That’s right: The president is complaining about a move McConnell made to try to help him.
On Friday, Schumer mocked the new GOP arguments as hypocritical, given their party-line vote to delay considering the matter. “If subpoenas are issued from the Senate, they will be bipartisan,” Schumer argued, “and they will be signed by the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court,” John Roberts, who presides over the Senate trial. (Senate Democrats also proposed an amendment to give Roberts himself the power to subpoena evidence and witnesses, but the GOP voted it down.)
There’s no sure way of knowing that bipartisan subpoenas signed by Roberts would sway Donald Trump to waive executive privilege, or force the courts to expedite a ruling on whether Trump’s privilege claims are sound. But there’s at least one witness the Senate could call easily: former national security adviser John Bolton, who has said he is willing to testify in the Senate trial if subpoenaed. The Senate has not called him.
There are many reasons McConnell wants to rush this trial. One is that even if they don’t call new witnesses or receive new documents, new and damning information emerges all the time. Since the House voted to impeach Trump, indicted Rudy Giuliani crony Lev Parnas has given impeachment investigators a trove of documents implicating Giuliani and Trump in the scheme to deny military aid to Ukraine unless its government announced an investigation into Trump’s political enemies, including former vice president Joe Biden. The impeachment managers have woven Parnas’s colorful texts and damning notes into their case against Trump. Just last week, the General Accounting Office found that Trump broke the law by withholding the military aid that was allocated by Congress.
On Friday, ABC News reported on the existence of a recording in which Trump can be heard in a meeting with Parnas and Giuliani and other associates demanding the firing of Ukrainian ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
“Get rid of her!” the voice that sounds like Trump says, like the mob boss he increasingly resembles. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.”
This is the man the Senate GOP seems to be marching in lockstep to protect. They don’t want to find their heads on pikes, victims of the ruthless political mob boss. But those up for reelection in swing states could find their careers just as dead, if voters are paying attention to the masterful case presented by Schiff and the House impeachment managers, and the craven cowardice of Senate Republicans.