It was a bombshell, a smoking gun, the last piece of the puzzle: first-hand confirmation from former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book that Donald Trump had indeed intended to withhold military aid to Ukraine until he got an investigation into the Bidens.
With the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the invertebrates in his caucus, Trump is tossing this into the ash heap of matters he will never acknowledge, like climate change and white nationalism and people staying at his hotels at jacked-up rates to butter him up.
So despite Bolton’s bombshell, it was business as usual on the Senate floor Monday, as Trump’s defense alternated between ridiculous historical arguments, feeble legal ones, and furious but irrelevant attacks on the Bidens and Obama. McConnell’s big idea—with the assent of members eager not to see their heads placed on political pikes along with the likes of Mark Sanford, Dean Heller, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker — is to keep things moving on Trump’s preferred schedule.
That would mean voting against witnesses and just as quickly acquitting the president this week, just in time for Trump to claim “total exoneration” in his Super Bowl pre-game interview with Sean Hannity, and then run an ad for his re-election amid those for Doritos Hot Flamin’ Nachos, Budweiser, and, most pertinently, Mike Bloomberg. Two days later, Trump can walk into the House to deliver his State of the Union address like the monarch above the rule of law he believes himself to be.
That’s why Ken Starr took us on a walk down memory lane on Monday, lamenting how impeachment had gotten out of hand with the ironic detachment only a bad man who believes he’s a good one can pull off. The singularly unsuited Starr warned of the charges against Trump triggering an “era of impeachment” as though he wasn’t the man who’d brought the most groundless case ever against Bill Clinton for lying in a civil deposition when everyone knows lying is a lesser included offense in an affair.
The case had nothing to do with Starr’s original mandate of looking into a land deal called Whitewater. It’s why Clinton was acquitted, leaving office with an exceedingly high approval rating and why Starr went on to head up Baylor University, where he ignored an infamous sex scandal, including gang rape by its football team, for so long he was eased out.
The rest of Monday turned into a two-fer, proof if any is needed, that parlaying a failed career as a casino mogul into the presidency of the United States was just the beginning of Trump’s luck. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned and Trump promised until his aides told him to be quiet, impeachment might prove to be very, very good for him in the way that what doesn’t kill him has made him strong. The "Access Hollywood" tape didn’t derail Trump’s candidacy, it inoculated him against all other charges he is a sexual predator.
Trump’s trial may leave him better off than if he’d gotten the investigation into the Bidens that he tried to extort from the new Ukrainian president in his perfect call. Mystified Americans would have been asking "Huh, Kiev (or Kyiv), is where? Volodomyr who? President of what?"
Instead, Trump’s attorneys got to hold a sham trial of the Bidens Monday in a way Devin Nunes or Rush Limbaugh could only dream of. Republicans could have investigated the young Biden joining a gas company to a fare thee well when they held both houses of Congress but didn’t. Could it have been that the former vice president, engaged in a moonshot to cure cancer after it had just claimed another of his sons, didn’t seem corrupt until he was Trump's major rival for the presidency in 2020?
Now Burisma joins Benghazi and birtherism among the made-up scandals that have wormed their way into the public's consciousness. Fake news, indeed.
It’s nearly been lost in the mists of time, but many of the same Senate Republicans desperate to come to that conclusion and so performatively bored by Trump’s trial they leave their seats like toddlers in search of a sippy cup, or a Fox News camera, agreed that the new Ukranian president had met anti-corruption goals and was an ally who deserved Javelins to defend his country against Russian invaders — that is before Trump decided to shake down that new president to give himself a 2020 boost.
Even as Trump tries to run out the clock ahead of Sunday’s kickoff, some of the Republican semi-moderates, who want to at least give the appearance of going through a real trial, are wavering as it becomes more and more obvious what a sham this one is.
Sens. Pat Toomey, Mitt Romney, and others are suggesting they’d be open to a hostage exchange, where Democrats get Bolton if they get Hunter Biden. Of course, Hunter Biden has as much to do with Trump’s extortion of a foreign president by withholding appropriated funds as Stormy Daniels does.
The New York Times reported that a number of Republican Senators called the White House wondering "what did the president know and when did he know it," about the Bolton manuscript which had been at the White House for nearly a month. How could they keep saying "anyone who spoke with the president said that the president made clear that there was no linkage between security assistance and investigations" when anyone named Bolton did not.
That’s why White House Counsel Pat Cipollone ended the day by returning to Starr’s absurd argument, lamenting how divisive impeachment can be and calling on Republican senators to wrap things up now and let Trump off the hook, before any more pesky bombshells land: "I would urge you to quickly come to that conclusion so we can go and have an election."
He warned that this is an "age of impeachment." In other words, Democrats will pay a price for Trump’s impeachment the minute one of their own makes it to the White House.
A head on a pike for a head on a pike, Cipollone suggested, unless we can just call the whole thing off before the coin toss.
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She was formerly the first woman columnist at Time magazine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, a weekly panelist on CNN’s "Capital Gang" and managing editor at the New Republic. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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