Obvious Crime and Possible Punishment

I still think the Democrats should have impeached the Toddler for obstruction of justice as soon as Robert Mueller delivered his report. Mueller said the president would have been indicted for obstructing the Russia investigation, except that he’s president.

Better late than never though. The two articles of impeachment now before the Senate are supported by so much evidence, it’s only Republican fealty to their Dear Leader that will keep him in the White House. That he abused his power for personal gain, and that he committed a crime in doing so, is obvious, despite his interference with the House’s investigation. That the president has obstructed Congress by not turning over a single subpoenaed document and by ordering everyone and his sister not to testify is as plain as the orange cast of his face.

Impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff opened today’s proceedings, speaking for two hours and twenty minutes. He was brilliant:

Jennifer Rubin wonders if some Republican senators were exposed to the evidence for the first time:

Given how firmly some Republican senators are ensconced in the right-wing news bubble, and how determined they are to avoid hearing facts that undercut their partisan views, it is possible many of them are hearing the facts on which impeachment is based for the first time. [Schiff] took them through in meticulous detail the scheme President T—– devised to pressure Ukraine to help him smear former vice president Joe Biden.

Schiff was confronting not only the public but also the Republicans with an indisputable factual account for which T—–’s lawyers have no answer. So how are they to acquit?

… Nope, the claim there is no evidence of a corrupt quid pro quo is unsustainable; in fact, there is overwhelming and uncontradicted evidence. Nope, you do not want to adopt the crackpot theory that abuse of power is not impeachable. Schiff is leaving them no legitimate basis on which to acquit. He mocked [White House Chief of Staff] Mulvaney’s comment that we should just “get over it,” challenging the senators to tell their constituents that none of this mattered.

And that is what the trial is about. It’s about making clear to the entire country that Trump did exactly what he is accused of, but that his own party, suffering from political cowardice and intellectual corruption, do not have the nerve to stop him.

Rubin’s colleague at The Washington Post, Paul Waldman, reminds us how we got here:

President T—– is on trial in the Senate, but so is the entire Republican Party. And 1,300 miles away in Guantanamo there’s another trial taking place, one that implicates the [Grand Old Party] just as much.

In these two trials we can see the complete moral wreckage of their party, and how they’ve carried the country down with them.

What does the trial of a group of alleged terrorists have to do with impeachment? When seen from the perspective not of one president but of what Republicans ask all of us to accept and how they frame their own moral culpability, they are waypoints on the same devolutionary road.

To understand how, we’ll have to briefly revisit one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history, the torture program initiated by the George W. Bush administration as part of its “War on Terror.” After the September 11 attacks, the administration began scooping up suspected members of al-Qaeda all over the world and interrogating them to stop future attacks. Worried that they weren’t getting enough information, they decided that the prisoners should be tortured. The problem was that no one knew how to go about it.

So the CIA hired two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, to design a torture program. Neither had ever interrogated a prisoner in their lives, but they somehow convinced the government to pay them $81 million to devise a series of techniques they essentially cribbed from a 1950s-era military program meant to teach service members how to survive the kinds of torture American POWs had endured at the hands of China and North Korea during the Korean War.

From the beginning, the Bush administration attempted to minimize what it was doing, portraying it as the gentle application of pressure to encourage prisoners to be more forthcoming. They devised the euphemism “enhanced interrogation” as though it were some kind of sophisticated program….

The truth of what went on was utterly horrific….

The use of torture was a clear violation of both U.S. law and international treaties to which the country is a signatory. So the Bush administration’s lawyers drew up legal opinions with new and bizarre ideas to justify their actions; one such document claimed that if the torture wasn’t so unbearable that the victim went into organ failure, then it wasn’t technically torture….

Mitchell and Jessen are now defending the program in pretrial proceedings in the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other al-Qaeda defendants. If you’re wondering why Mohammad is on trial almost 17 years after he was captured, it’s in large part because convicting him in court — where rules still apply — has been complicated by the fact that he was tortured for so long. But as Mitchell said on the stand Tuesday, “We were trying to save American lives.”

So what does this have to do with the Trump impeachment? In the early 2000s, a Republican administration and nearly the entirety of the Republican Party discarded what we assumed was an almost-universal moral position, that torture is wrong. But when they did so, they felt it necessary to clothe their ethical abdication in a combination of euphemism, bogus legal justifications, and fear-mongering.

Consider where we are today. The Republican Party is in a loosely analogous situation: The president of the United States did something awful, and they are attempting to defend it. But this time around, they can barely muster the energy to dress up what he did in a covering of moral argument.

Their defenses of Trump’s behavior are halfhearted at best. Instead, they’re finding the safest harbor in arguing that sure, Trump did what he was accused of, and if you don’t like it, you can shove it….

But here’s a key difference: You can’t argue that Trump’s actions, like Bush’s, were in some way a misguided attempt to save U.S. lives or even serve U.S. interests. The point of Republicans’ final moral descent is to protect Trump himself. And that of course is why he’s being impeached: Not just because he coerced a foreign leader, but because he did so to serve his own personal interests.

Republicans now believe that if T—– can get away with this, then he should get away with this. There are no more principles, not even ones they feel they need to pretend to believe in. There is only [Dear Leader]; he alone is what they serve.

The story of the Republican embrace of torture reminds us that T—– didn’t create the moral vacuum that lies within the [Republican Party]. He exploited it to get elected and counts on it to survive, but it was there before. And their pathetic sycophancy toward him shows that there are absolutely no actions they will not defend, even those done for the worst possible reasons.

As bad as this is, we can choose a different president, a much better president, less than ten months from now. Charles Pierce of Esquire called attention to news very few people noticed on Tuesday [Pierce always adds an asterisk to “administration” and “president”, when referring to T—– and his crowd, for obvious reasons]:

The biggest news about this corrupt administration* was not made in the Senate chamber on Tuesday. It was made out on the campaign trail by Senator Professor [Elizabeth] Warren. From CNBC:

“If we are to move forward to restore public confidence in government and deter future wrongdoing, we cannot simply sweep this corruption under the rug in a new administration,” Warren wrote in [her] plan. The progressive Democrat cited a report by a nonpartisan good government group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which found “unprecedented” corruption in the Trump administration, as well as other reports of self-dealing among administration officials and the president’s family members.

“That’s why I will direct the Justice Department to establish a task force to investigate violations by Trump administration officials of federal bribery laws, insider trading laws, and other anti-corruption and public integrity laws, and give that task force independent authority to pursue any substantiated criminal and civil violations,” she said.

Make no mistake. If we ever are going to repair the damage done by this administration*, it is going to have to include a thorough fumigation of every corner of the national executive. The first big mistake made by President Barack Obama was his determination to look forward, and not back. Too many of the criminals working for the last worst president in history skated. Too many Wall Street vandals got away clean. That cannot be allowed to happen again. The corruption of this administration* is unprecedented. It demands this kind of unprecedented response.

…. we might as well look to the future, because the present is too dismal to contemplate.