With the 51-to-49 vote not to call witnesses, the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump is on track to an acquittal. And so the Trump impeachment saga is coming to an end not with a bang but a whine. “We wuz robbed!,” shriek the foot-stomping Democrats as they repeat their poll-tested mantra that the trial was rigged because no witnesses were called to testify. Consequently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decreed that the president will remain impeached forever and his presidency and all that flows from it will be deemed unclean and illegitimate.
Obviously, this latest failed effort to depose Trump has left the Democrats frustrated, bitterly disappointed, and, quite possibly, wondering how their surefire impeachment gambit turned into such a political train wreck. Though the Democrats never believed that they could actually remove Trump from office, when they launched the impeachment proceedings, they and their wholly-owned mainstream media adjunct anticipated that there would be bilateral support in the House for impeachment, which would cause the president material political damage. Instead, there was bilateral opposition to impeachment as all House Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted not to charge the president. And now the Senate Republicans — and possibly a handful of Democrat senators — are poised to acquit Trump. How, the Democrats may ask, did things go so wrong?
On this last point, maybe I can help explain why the impeachment became an unmitigated, self-defeating mess. Having spent almost 50 years as a grunt-level, in-the-trenches prosecutor and courtroom lawyer, as events unfolded, I spotted a number of glaring case prep and trial errors by the House Democrats.
First, the Democrats should understand that not all impeachments are created equal. For example, Bill Clinton was impeached after a multi-year grand jury investigation by Independent Counsel Ken Starr and an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives in which Clinton’s lawyers participated and were able to present and cross-examine witnesses. All of this resulted in Clinton, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, being charged with the actual crimes of lying under oath and obstruction of justice.
In marked contrast, the House voted to impeach Trump for non-crimes of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after a relatively brief 78-day investigation by the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, most of which took place in camera in a secret underground bunker. For all but the last week (by which time it was too late to affect the outcome) Trump’s lawyers were excluded, not allowed to call or cross-examine witnesses, and questioning of witnesses by Republican committee members was severely restricted.
This kind of one-sided, Soviet-style, police-state proceeding could not be better calculated to alarm and repel fair-minded people and may explain why Trump’s impeachment never gained traction with Republican and Independent voters, as the president’s approval ratings have risen throughout the proceedings. Put another way, the process stunk like a rotting fish in the hot summer sun, and the noxious odor never went away. Unsurprisingly, this blatantly unfair, kangaroo court frame-up not only offended voters but also gave ample political air cover to any House member or senator opposing impeachment.
Even worse, having a certifiable mental case like Adam Schiff preside over the House proceedings and then serve as one of the House managers at the Senate trial was a calamitous and entirely avoidable self-inflicted wound. Ever since Trump’s 2016 election, Schiff has exhibited a messianic detachment from reality and sociopathic compulsion to prevaricate. For years, he has publicly and repeatedly insisted that he has secret, conclusive proof that Trump colluded with the Russians. Even after the exhaustive investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General exposed Russian collusion as a hoax, Schiff has neither retracted his claim nor disclosed his hidden evidence.
Further to this point, as the president’s lawyers utterly deconstructed the flimsy articles of impeachment before the Senate, like a desperate barricaded man, a flailing Adam Schiff tried to resurrect the disintegrating prosecution case by once again alluding to the thoroughly debunked Russian collusion hoax, even going so far as to invent a hypothetical conversation between Trump and Vladimir Putin. This absurd performance was nothing short of deranged.
Equally unhinged, while chairing the impeachment inquiry, Schiff — earnestly and with a straight face — recited a totally fictitious conversation about aid to Ukraine in which Trump supposedly told President Zelensky the following:
I know what you want. I have a favor I want from you though. And I’m only going to say this seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of it on this and that.… You know what I’m asking, so I’m only going to say this a few more times in a few more ways. And, by the way, don’t call me again. I’ll call you when you’ve done what I’ve asked.
Now anyone who has been paying attention knows that the transcript of the Trump–Zelensky call totally contradicts Schiff’s narrative. All of this raises the question as to why, after Schiff had been exposed as a lying fantasist regarding this central event, did the Democrats designate him as one of the House managers to present the case for impeachment before the Senate? Did the House Democrat leaders even consider the near-certain probability that the president’s lawyers would jam the video of Schiff’s dramatic reading of his completely false and disproven version of the Trump–Zelensky phone call down his lying throat?
But as bad as Schiff has been, he does not hold a unique distinction among the benighted House managers for idiotic, self-defeating behavior. Take, for example, House Manager Jerrold Nadler’s bizarre attempt to intimidate the senators by claiming that a vote to acquit Trump would be tantamount to engaging in a cover-up.
Slick move, Jerry. Crapping on the jury is always a winning technique.
As is getting caught hiding evidence favorable to the defendant. Time and again, the president’s lawyers were able to play video excerpts of witness testimony in the House proceedings that supported Trump but had been omitted from the House managers’ ludicrously selective and deceptively one-sided presentation. This kind of game-playing is what is known among trial lawyers as “greasy kid stuff” and is the mark of litigators whose incompetence poses a constant latent threat their cause. Or, as we used to say in the old Justice Department, such advocates are walking violations of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The House managers had to be brain-dead to think that they wouldn’t get caught hiding exculpatory evidence when it was readily available to the defense.
And then we come to what may be the dumbest move of all. By charging Trump for asking Ukraine’s help in investigating possible corruption involving Vice President Biden and his wastrel son, the House Democrats launched a prosecution that required the defense to lay out the extensive factual record that fully justified the president’s request. That’s why, in one of the high points of the Senate trial, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi spelled out in damning detail the facts surrounding the $1 million-plus dollars paid by Burisma Holdings to Hunter Biden even as his father threatened to withhold $1 billion in aid to compel Ukraine to fire the prosecutor who was investigating that company.
By the time Bondi had finished her excellent and comprehensive presentation, it was clear that there was ample probable cause for Trump or any reasonable person to believe that an investigation of the Bidens was plainly and fully warranted. So it is that the ill-conceived abuse of power article of impeachment laid the predicate for what will undoubtedly become the political kneecapping of Joe Biden’s presidential bid. Maybe that’s one reason why in his recent public appearances, Trump has reveled in the fact that he has been impeached.
This is by no means a complete catalog of the House Managers’ self-defeating, unethical, and dishonest acts that will result in Trump’s acquittal. But you get the idea. Having been cossetted, protected, and praised by their mainstream media fan club, the House managers have presented their case with fatal arrogance and stupidity, all but guaranteeing the president’s upcoming acquittal.
As Trump’s lawyers calmly and without breaking a sweat dissected the House managers’ embarrassingly fatuous case, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), another Democrat Mensa candidate, raised the possibility of impeaching Trump again. We should be so lucky. This first impeachment has energized to the point of frenzy Trump’s already enthusiastic political base and driven his approval ratings and campaign fundraising to new heights. With luck and a little hard work, maybe the House Democrats can squeeze in a couple more half-baked impeachments between now and Election Day.
If they do, they will deserve the sincere thanks of Donald Trump and his grateful supporters.
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor. He is a regular contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer and blogs at knowledeisgood.net. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.