Well before completing his first term, President Donald Trump firmly established himself as the worst president in American history, which should surprise nobody. What we have seen this week suggests that many of the senators now hearing his impeachment trial will join him in historic infamy.
From the very beginning of Trump’s impeachment, a majority of Republican senators have indicated that they would not dare to sanction his unmistakable wrongdoing.
The Republicans stood mutely as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, told the nation that he would manage the trial in lockstep with the president’s lawyers. They said nothing when the president brushed aside the constitutional separation of powers and the prerogatives of Congress by withholding all evidence and witnesses. They pretended to believe McConnell when he promised to conduct the trial fairly, and apply the same standards and procedures seen during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
And then, knowing that McConnell planned to railroad Trump’s acquittal, they falsely swore an oath to do “impartial justice.”
During the first two days of the trial, as the House Democrats set forth the facts and the law, Republican senators have done little to redeem themselves and much to betray that oath. Some of them have violated Senate rules in departing early from the long sessions mandated by their own leadership. Some have rudely made a show of ignoring the case presented by the House managers – including Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, who brazenly perused a book on the Senate floor; Rand Paul, R-KY, who doodled on a pad; and Richard Burr, R-NC, who amused himself with a fidget spinner. Those juvenile acts likewise made a mockery of their responsibilities.
Others have acted out in ways that revealed the truth their party now aims to conceal. So Sen. Ron Johnson, R-WI, a member of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, leaped up from his seat red-faced when one of the impeachment managers displayed a bipartisan letter he had signed in 2016 demanding the removal of Ukraine chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin. That letter decisively disproves Trump’s central accusation against former Vice President Joe Biden – and badly embarrassed Johnson, who later said that he didn’t remember signing it and had been misled.
He looked like a fool, but that isn’t news either.
Perhaps the most egregious conduct in the Senate so far, aside from McConnell’s scheming to fix the trial, can be laid to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC. His longtime association with the late John McCain encouraged mistaken assumptions about his character that he is now disproving every day. While he connives with McConnell to conceal the evidence of Trump’s impeachable conduct, he must endure the continuous playback of video clips that prove his monumental hypocrisy, cynicism and bad faith.
Back when he was an eager young House manager, hoping to make a name for himself by prosecuting Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes, Graham delivered impassioned pleas to the Senate, demanding attention and fairness.
“Do justice to the case,” he said to the senators who might have decided to acquit Clinton in advance. “Don’t decide the case before the case’s end.” While he now excuses and even defends Trump’s stonewalling, Graham said in 1998 that a president who defies congressional subpoenas is subject to removal from office.
“The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day that he was subject to impeachment,” Graham intoned, “because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress, and he became the judge and jury.” Such an arrogant presumption describes precisely what Trump has done more brazenly than Nixon ever dared, yet Graham and his Senate colleagues don’t even whisper an objection.
Four years ago, Graham predicted that if Republicans were to nominate Donald Trump for president, their party “would be destroyed” and “would deserve it.” His defense of Trump, even knowing the crimes perpetrated by him, is destroying the reputation of Graham and every other Republican senator implicated in the cover-up. They could restore a semblance of probity by reversing course on subpoenas of witnesses and documents, but that seems unlikely.
Instead they are engraving the shame of the Senate, once the world’s greatest deliberative body, on their own souls.