Impeachment Trial: Why Democrats didn’t call witnesses

There was a period of dashed hopes on Saturday morning during the impeachment trial of former president Trump. After securing a last-minute and unexpected motion to call witnesses, based on resurfaced testimony from Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), the House Impeachment Managers in conference with Senate Democrats and negotiation with Senate Republicans ended up deciding to call the vote instead.

They did win a concession to read Herrera Beutler’s statement into the Congressional record, and a historically unprecedented 57-43 impeachment vote to convict with 7 Republican Senators crossing the aisle to vote to convict the president of their own party of inciting sedition. But many Democrats who had gotten our hopes up for the prospect of getting to the bottom of what really happened on January 6 were quite deflated, and there were plenty of folks angry at Democrats for “caving” to Republicans once again.

The Real Reason Democrats didn’t call witnesses

As the Democrats have been making the press conference and media rounds to talk about the impeachment and talk about why they ultimately ended up deciding not to move forward with calling witnesses, some of the anger is subsiding but plenty of people are still miffed.

In my opinion, what is probably the strongest reason of all that Democrats didn’t call witnesses, is the one fact not being widely cited by the Democrats including the House Impeachment Managers. And that argument is: walking and chewing gum at the same time was not going to be possible. Calling witnesses would have meant getting led down the garden path by the Masters of Game Delay.

There was some optimism before the impeachment trial that the Senate would be able to find a way to handle the trial and also juggle legislative business plus confirmation hearings and votes for Biden cabinet members and other high-level executive positions. Unfortunately, the parliamentary rules for impeachment proceedings are both old and strict, and preclude the Senate from taking up other regular legislative or executive business while the trial is in progress from Monday to Saturdays until complete, according to the rules of 1868.

The only way to get around this is to have the chamber meet in a separate session. And the only way to get a separate session is via unanimous consent — which requires a full 100 votes. After the vote on calling witnesses, McConnell indicated he would withhold his party’s support for unanimous consent to do any other business besides the trial. He also reportedly threatened to obstruct and delay the rest of the 2-year legislative agenda, including the confirmation of Merrick Garland as AG. Everyone saw the struggle to get to just 57, so I agree it does not seem credible that enough GOP Senators at that point would have suddenly found an “I am Spartacus!” moment.

It would have sandbagged Biden’s agenda

Not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time would have tanked Biden’s ability to get the help to the American people that they need — full stop. No budget reconciliation and covid relief plan. No cabinet nominations. No other executive branch noms. No economic plan.

It would only play into the hands of Republicans to obstruct Biden’s agenda indefinitely and infinitely. Their base is rewarding them only for loyalty to Trump, and punishing any of the “deviants” who vote to hold him accountable. The GOP would just blame the Democrats for not getting anything done, and for dragging out this “highly political” trial that actually they will be drawing out with procedural nonsense and legal abuse — a Trumpian specialty!

I think it’s arguably just as important that Democrats be able to say that they got swift and solid help to Americans in a time of crisis, otherwise the 2022 midterms are the next jump point for authoritarian takeover. We can still pursue justice via other means that are just as enduring and have the potential to uncover so much more about the events leading up to and surrounding January 6.

The Other Good Reasons

Beyond the parliamentary jiujitsu, there are several other compelling reasons Democrats didn’t call witnesses:

  • Witnesses are not generally called live onto the Senate floor — for impeachment trials, depositions are taken in trial committees, then read into the record. Senators have to submit their questions in writing, and there is no live cross-examination. In other words, the thing most folks would be looking for which is public testimony, would not be forthcoming — the committee work could take weeks or months, and Republicans benefit more from agenda delays because their base no longer even cares about policy anymore.
  • Entering Jaime Herrera Beutler’s statements into the record accomplished the same thing a deposition would have done — it read her testimony into the official legislative annals of history. It gave additional ammunition to any of the potential federal, state, or local investigations that may follow the conclusion of the trial. And it showed indelibly the lengths to which even Republican lawmakers were willing to go to pursue justice against this lawless president.
  • No more Republican votes were going to change anyway — the trial was at “peak persuasion” because the rest of the pack were going to hide behind the procedural issue regardless. In other words, like SCOTUS to Trump’s frivolous election fraud claims, they refused to hear the case “on the merits” even though they were subject to a binding resolution on that very question that their chamber had passed on Tuesday. They chose to ignore their own binding resolution and continued to cite the fact that Trump was no longer in office as the reason the Senate lacked jurisdiction to censure him — despite the fact that it was now minority leader Mitch McConnell who insisted on delaying the start of trial past inauguration day in the first place.
  • They had already effectively made their case — as “beyond a shadow of a doubt” as is ever likely to happen in any impeachment trial ever, yet still falling on deaf ears, there isn’t much doubt that the House Managers overwhelmingly presented a successful case. I’m sympathetic to the argument that it may have proved diminishing returns as pursued through additional Senate trial time, and is undoubtedly better pursued by the justice system and through other committee work in both the Senate and the House.
  • A 9/11-style commission is much more appropriate to actually get to the bottom of the political aspects of the crime — the independent commission created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today is going to have far more time, budget, reach, and depth than a drawn out trial in the Senate, and it won’t cannibalize the agenda of other business. It can go all the way down the rabbit hole and lead us to evidence on other potential co-conspirators, including Cruz, Hawley, Tuberville, Lee, Gomert, Greene, Jordan, Gosar, et al, all the financial ties in and around the Ellipse rally, and perhaps new federal charges for Trump’s pardoned felon buddies Bannon, Stone, and Flynn. Democrats didn’t call witnesses because now, they can call as many witnesses they like without any pressure or obstruction from Senate Republicans.
  • His lawyers are just lying — the defense portion of the witness process would be just as looney toons and Four Seasons Total Lawyering as in the main show. Trump’s lawyers are just distorting, distracting, and debasing the profession of law with their clownish disregard of the augustness of the chamber in which they stood. Giving them more time to muddy the bulk of the trial record, and more time to delay delay delay and inject the Big Lies over and over again into public consciousness, would not have necessarily been worth the tradeoff in what we might learn from additional witnesses ourselves.
  • Other witnesses went cold — Pence’s staff spoke up to refute the claim that Trump evinced concern for him during or soon after the January 6 attack. They said the former president did not contact Pence at all that day, or for 5 days afterward. And yet, when contacted by the House Impeachment Managers, they indicated they would not be willing to go so far as to testify in the trial.
  • Enthusiasm for the trial would wane in the public eye — unfortunately, the general public has a much shorter political attention span than most of us Blue Check intellectuals. While it would be total catnip for us, it would like start to have diminishing returns in the eyes of the voters, especially when they discover that other business is not proceeding. Regardless of the fact that it’s actually the Republicans holding other legislative business hostage for the trial, it will be blamed on Democrats and our entire political system has been primed to blame everything on Democrats and is generally successful — like muscle memory.

I will be looking forward to the results of the independent commission, as well as the continued criminal prosecutions of the insurrectionists and at some point, hopefully, whoever it was on the inside who was helping them.

The Republican Party is a criminal organization

Only 7 out of 50 among them are patriots — the rest, cowards and knaves who continue to seek destruction of this republic out of self-interest and an authoritarian’s need to dominate others. Today’s impeachment vote of acquittal for Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection was brutal but of course, not surprising. It highlighted once again something that’s been hiding in plain sight for some time — that the Republican Party is a criminal organization.

“Law and Order” is just another Big Lie

It’s used to cover up quite the opposite — criminality, entitlement, sadism, and a zeal for the domination of others. Including both the violent insurrectionist kind and the pasty jowly turtly slow walking kind on the right wing. The GOP is an insult to the rule of law.

There is no best time to impeach a president

Unfortunately the spineless toothless Republican Senators defanged the Constitution today, by casting into doubt its power to achieve healthy checks and balances between the branches of government. They gleefully gave up the role of Congress in moderating the chief executive — to the probable detriment of us all.

As usual, they performed a series of timeline hacks, rhetorical games, and parliamentary tricks that resulting in the “logical” impossibility of ever successfully impeaching a US president. They are masters at avoiding responsibility for their actions, and fiercely protect their own, even despite heinous crimes.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his merry band of “institutionalists” have managed to do more damage to our institutions than any other Republican administration, and that’s truly saying something.

In addition to sowing doubt about our elections, throwing SCOTUS and the courts under the bus despite having packed them with conservative judges and loyalists for years, damaging our sovereignty and our national security, and impugning our reputation with nations around the world, they’ve managed to turn the United States into a kleptocracy. It’s official: the Republican Party is a criminal organization.

Let the DOJ do its work

Even Trump’s own lawyer advocated for it, along with McConnell. Though he can’t be trusted and will surely have tricks up his sleeve, it would be cathartic to see Attorney General Merrick Garland and the much-maligned Department of Justice bring down the largest RICO case in the history of history. I hope that karma brings justice to all of them, regardless of the actual outcome here and now.

Impeachment vote 2021: Why the Senate must convict

The articles of impeachment 2021 are so much clearer and simpler than last year’s impeachment — it’s the Marie Kondo version of indicting the president’s conduct. His coup attempt most certainly did not spark joy!

At least, not to the patriots who defended the United States Capitol from invasion on January 6, several of whom lost their lives including Brian Sicknick who lied in honor last week, as well as 2 Capitol Police officers who took their own lives subsequent to the events of that darkest of days in American history.

That is why it is important to both get the memory of that day seared into the historical record, and continue good faith efforts to seek justice for the trauma inflicted upon the nation by its supposed guardian. The House impeachment managers are doing an incredible job evoking both the clarity of the law pointing to his guilt, and the emotional gravity of what Republican House #3 leader Liz Cheney referred to as the “gravest violation of his oath of office by any president in the history of the country.”

He’s guilty

He said he would do it, and he did it — Trump refused to accept the results of a free and fair election, convinced his supporters it was stolen from him (and them), and that they had to “fight like hell” to “take their country back.” And yet Republicans want to claim that he could have had no idea what they would do, and that the whole thing was “obviously” an innocent misunderstanding and a “boys will be boys” sort of thing.

Nonsense — his droogs Mike Lindell, Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, and of course his royal brood were involved in planning this, along with multiple sitting members of Congress, some of whom spoke at the “Save America” rally at The Ellipse. Rally organizer Ali Alexander fingerprinted Reps Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama as his co-conspirators in the endeavor.

They made sure security was intentionally lax by decapitating the defense apparatus during the lame duck period, and installing a bunch of loyalist partisan hacks into “acting” positions of power who were pliable or even eager to do the president’s ill bidding.

Free Speech does not protect the abuse of public trust

Trump’s lawyers filed a brief indicating a First Amendment defense for their client, which former acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler ripped to shreds in a scathing essay. Free Speech does not give you a license to be incompetent at your job, and the Trump’s failure to secure the Capitol during a violent insurrection was a dereliction of duty of the highest order — even if he hadn’t been involved in sowing it, planning it, funding it, promoting it, hosting it, and encouraging it.

1A also does not give you the right to use words to plan criminal activities, because that would be absurd. It would essentially render all law meaningless as a deterrent, so long as you only ever give orders to someone else to carry out your dirty work indirectly vs. getting your own hands dirty.

His conduct is not defensible

Republicans are trying to squirm away on procedural grounds so they can remain cowardly supplicants to the tyrant they love or fear, or both. They do not want to have to confront the reality of Trump’s abhorrent and unforgivable behavior on January 6, their role in enabling it, and their continued role in undermining small d democracy in this nation.

There is no defense of Trump’s behavior, but the GOP wants to pretend it has a mere technical disagreement with a document’s language as an excuse to not put themselves on record for the more serious and obvious hypocrisy of giving egregiously anti-American behavior a pass — it’s like a plea bargain of sorts.

He cannot hold public office

Breaching the public’s trust is grounds for disqualification from holding future office. Why should a free people suffer the tyranny of one who abrogates duty and holds in contempt an oath they swore, as if words have no meaning? Which, in essence, is the argument of Mr Textually from day 1 of the Trump impeachment trial.

The idea that a former official cannot be impeached is baseless, because the provision of preventing them from holding future office is enumerated in the Constitution to explicitly explain the rationale. And if ever there were a case of clear unfitness for duty, it is before the Senate right now.

Acquittal nullifies impeachment power altogether

If fomenting an armed insurrection to stay in office when you lose a democratic election is not an abuse of power, I really don’t know what is. If throwing out the will of the people and keeping yourself in power by force is not a violation of the oath of office, then oaths are worthless and there’s no point in speaking them anymore. They will have become dead sea scrolls, in a language dead to us and on a parchment too brittle for continued use.

Let us not throw out the Constitution while professing to save it. Senators know better, and they know that We the People — and not their ever-shrinking base — know they know it as well. The game theory is on our side as the timeline keeps ticking away.

Senators should vote to convict, for what is most certainly the highest presidential crime ever committed in the history of this nation. To preserve this republic, if we can keep it, Congress must hold him accountable for his behavior and apply consequences for defiling the founding principles of America.