Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Trump’s impeachment defense convinces no one

Early Returns
Bloomberg

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My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Ramesh Ponnuru had an excellent column Tuesday knocking down the various impeachment defenses Donald Trump's lawyers were likely to make. He concluded that "the arguments for acquittal don't have to be persuasive. They just have to sound plausible."

My colleague, it turns out, is an optimist.

Plausible was a good two or three rungs above where Team Trump seemed to be aiming. The first lawyer, Bruce Castor, rambled so long he almost didn't get around to making an argument, drawing universal bad grades for his efforts. The other lawyer, David Schoen, at least avoided becoming a laughingstock, but his presentation was just as unconvincing. He revived last year's defense — that Trump shouldn't be impeached because Democrats wanted to impeach him. Except that back then at least Trump's lawyers could argue that Democrats wanted to remove him from office because they were afraid he'd defeat them in the 2020 elections. Now that he's out of office and we have further evidence that he's a weak national candidate, neither of these is a remotely viable theory.

What else? Schoen, who did a lot of shouting, talked about how dangerous it would be to broach the possibility of impeaching other former presidents, suggesting Jimmy Carter as a possibility. Really? No one thinks that the only thing between Carter and impeachment and conviction right now is the lack of a precedent for trying a former president (not to mention that Trump was impeached while he was still in office). Nor did Schoen even hint at what the harm might be if future Houses and Senates somehow decided to go into the business of impeaching Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan. 

And that was really the high point. It all went downhill from there.

There are two points to be made here. One is that, as Ted Boutrous said, "There are so many stellar, renowned lawyers and constitutional scholars who are closely identified with the Republican Party — and not a single one of them would agree to defend Donald Trump in a Senate impeachment trial for his inciting of an insurrection against our country." Trump was reportedly angry with his attorneys, but he has only himself to blame. Both for what he did in the first place to get himself impeached, and then for driving away all those impressive lawyers with his ongoing antics.

The other point is that my colleague Ramesh overshot. Republican senators aren't looking for plausible arguments. They're looking for words that sound as if they might've come from plausible arguments. So we got one long riff on "due process" and another on "free speech" and, well, those are good enough to give them something to say when they're talking to Trump's strongest supporters. And far too many Republican politicians aren't interested in talking to anyone except the most dedicated partisans.

1. Hahrie Han and Liz McKenna at the Monkey Cage on Democratic organizers in Arizona.

2. Dan Drezner on international rankings.

3. Harold Krent, cited by the Trump lawyers, clarifies his actual position on post-presidential impeachments (he argues that the impeachment has to come before the official leaves office, but once that's happened, the Senate has to try the case). Key comment: "that the Trump brief cited so extensively from academics who embrace the power of the Senate to continue the trial is telling."

4. Michelle Goldberg on why the House managers should call witnesses. Again: This could be done with videotaped depositions, with the transcripts released and both sides free to use excerpts as they see fit. It worked in Bill Clinton's trial.

5. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Tara Lachapelle on Fox News and Trump.

6. And Nathaniel Rakich and Jasmine Mithani on absentee voting in 2020.

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