A Remedy and an Oath

Adam Schiff closed the prosecution’s case yesterday, calling on the Senate to remove an unfit president from office:

“They gave you a remedy and they meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath and they meant for you to observe it”. 

I couldn’t find a complete transcript of his closing statement. Here’s some of it (the complete video is below):

The Republican party of Nixon’s time broke in to the [Democratic National Committee] and the president covered it up. Nixon too abused the power of his office to gain an unfair advantage over his opponent. But in Watergate, he never sought to coerce a foreign power to aid his reelection, nor did he sacrifice our national security in such a palpable and destructive way as withholding aid from an ally at war. And he certainly did not engage in the wholesale obstruction of Congress or justice that we have seen this president commit.

The facts of President Clinton’s misconduct pale in comparison to Nixon’s and do not hold a candle to [this president’s]. Lying about an affair is morally wrong and when under oath it is a crime, but it had nothing to do with his duties in office. The process being the same, the facts of President Trump’s misconduct being far more destructive than either past president, what then accounts for the disparate result in bipartisan support for his removal? What has changed?

The short answer is we have changed. The members of Congress have changed. For reasons as varied as the stars, the members of this body and ours in the House are now far more accepting of the most serious misconduct of a president as long as it is a president of one’s own party. And that is a trend most dangerous for our country….

It must have come as a shock, a pleasant shock, to this president that our norms and institutions would prove to be so weak. The independence of the Justice Department and its formerly proud Office of Legal Counsel now mirror legal tools at the president’s disposal to investigate enemies or churn out helpful opinions not worth the paper they are written on.

The FBI painted by a president as corrupt and disloyal. The intelligence community not to be trusted against the good counsel of Vladimir Putin. The press portrayed as enemies of the people….Does none of that matter anymore if he’s the president of our party?

I hope and pray that we never have a president like D—- T—- in the Democratic Party. One that would betray the national interest and the country’s security to help with his reelection. And I would hope to God that if we did, we would impeach him, and Democrats would lead the way. But I suppose you never know just how difficult that is until you are confronted with it. But you, my friends, are confronted with it. You are confronted with that difficulty now and you must not shrink from it…. among you who will say enough?

America believes a thing called truth. She does not believe we are entitled to our own alternate facts. She recoils at those who spread pernicious falsehoods. To her truth matters. There is nothing more corrosive to a democracy than the idea that there is no truth.

America also believes there is a difference between right and wrong and right matters here. But there is more. Truth matters, right matters, but so does decency. Decency matters. When the president smears a patriotic public servant like Marie Yovanovitch in pursuit of a corrupt aim, we recoil…. Because decency matters and when the president tries to coerce an ally to help him cheat in our elections and then covers it up, we must say, “Enough. Enough.”

He has betrayed our national security and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less and decency matters not at all. I do not ask you to convict him because truth or right or decency matters nothing to him, but because we have proven our case and it matters to you. Truth matters to you, right matters to you. You are decent. He is not who you are.

In Federalist 55, James Madison wrote that there were certain qualities in human nature, qualities I believe like honesty, right, and decency, which would justify our confidence in self government. He believed that we possessed sufficient virtue, that the chains of despotism were not necessary to restrain ourselves from destroying and devouring one another.

It may be midnight in Washington, but the sun will rise again. I put my faith in the optimism of the founders. You should too. They gave us the tools to do the job, a remedy as powerful as the evil it was meant to constrain: impeachment. They meant it to be used rarely, but they put it in the constitution for a reason. For a man who would sell out his country for a political favor, for a man who would threaten the integrity of our elections. For a man who would invite foreign interference in our affairs. For a man who would undermine our national security and that of our allies. For a man like D— J. T—-. They gave you a remedy and they meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath and they meant for you to observe it. We have proven D—- T—- guilty. Now do impartial justice and convict him.

Unquote.

For the conclusion to his remarks, please jump ahead to 20:00.

Note: The fifty-three Republican senators are expected to ignore Rep. Schiff’s remarks and vote “No” on the articles of impeachment tomorrow.

Enough Said

Adam Schiff spoke last for the prosecution on Day 4 of the impeachment trial. If you were watching one of the Murdoch channels, you missed it. The video is below.

In the first twelve minutes, he reviews the two articles of impeachment.

You can jump ahead to 12:12 to hear him talk about the second article, Obstruction of Congress. The case for that article is so clear-cut and the offense is so serious, that it alone justifies removing this “president” from office:

Article 2 is every bit as important as Article 1. Without Article 2, there is no Article 1 ever again. No matter how egregious this president’s conduct or any other. It is fundamental to the separation of powers. If you can’t have the ability to enforce an impeachment power, you might as well not put it in the Constitution.

At 18:30, he starts previewing the arguments the president’s lawyers are expected to make in the next few days. He knocks each one to pieces. His conclusion at 47:50:

So what do all these defenses mean? … What do they mean collectively when you add them all up? What they mean is that under Article 2 [of the Constitution] the president can do whatever he wants…. That’s really it, stripped of all the detail and all the histrionics. What they want us to believe is that the president can do whatever he wants under Article 2 and there is nothing you [the Senate] or the House can do about it.

At 48:30, he quotes Robert Kennedy, who said:

Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery on the battlefield or great intelligence.

Schiff said he was skeptical of that remark until he realized what Kennedy was referring to. It doesn’t take moral courage to disagree with your enemies, it takes moral courage to disagree with your friends. Or your political party. Or your president. Or the majority of voters who elected you. He was challenging the Republicans in the Senate to exhibit moral courage by standing up for the Constitution.

At 58:20, he repeats the Democrats’ demand for a fair trial in the Senate, with testimony from witnesses and production of documents. Four Republicans would have to join the Democrats to make that happen. The senators will vote on that question after the president’s lawyers use their time to lie, whine and say stupid things.

One note:

At one point, Schiff refers to a CBS news report that someone who works for the president told Republican senators that if they vote against the president, their heads will end up “on a pike”. A number of Republicans claim to have been shocked that Schiff would even mention this report. Apparently, some accounts of tonight’s proceedings led with that story. It’s the kind of fake outrage Republicans have practiced for years and news people love to report. It’s bullshit. But that’s the state of the union today.

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.

Are We Indeed Better Than That?

Two parts of today’s impeachment inquiry stood out. The first was the opening statement of Dr. Fiona Hill, the former White House expert on Russia. The second was Chairman Adam Schiff’s closing remarks. Together they add up to less than 29 minutes. They are worth watching in full. In the end, you may ask yourself if Rep. Schiff is right. Are we Americans better than that?