We have become so accustomed to Democrats’ inability to pierce the Republican smokescreen, whether on Robert S. Mueller’s report or on President Trump’s self-dealing, that many political watchers cynically roll their eyes at the prospect that public impeachment hearings might actually move public opinion in a meaningful way. Perhaps we are underestimating the Democrats.

Consider House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) who issued an appropriately stern response to Republicans’ “witness” list (of people who have not witnessed anything relevant) including a demand for the whistleblower to testify publicly.

Schiff wrote, “The committee ... will not facilitate efforts by President Trump and his allies in Congress to threaten, intimidate and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm.” He explained, “The impeachment inquiry, moreover, has gathered an ever-growing body of evidence — from witnesses and documents, including the President’s own words in his July 25 call record — that not only confirms, but far exceeds, the initial information in the whistleblower’s complaint. The whistleblower’s testimony is therefore redundant and unnecessary. In light of the President’s threats, the individual’s appearance before us would only place their personal safety at grave risk.”

Republicans can hop up and down all they like, hollering “Unfair!" but they have no substantive response to Schiff. The whistleblower would be endangered and future whistleblowers chilled if he was forced to come forward, and his complaint as Republicans pointed out was simply hearsay, now replaced by direct testimony of percipient witnesses.

Democrats also seem to have the big picture clearly in mind. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” explained, “The president broke the law. He went on a telephone call with the president of Ukraine and said ‘I have a favor, though,’ and then proceeded to ask for an investigation of his rival.” She continued, “And this is a very strong case of bribery, because you have an elected official, the president, demanding action of a foreign country in this case, and providing something of value, which is the investigation, and he is withholding aid, which is that official act.” She concluded that “the constitution is very clear: treason, bribery or acts of omission. In this case, it’s clearly one of those.” That’s it. She’s got it.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, was equally adept in blasting Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for suggesting former vice president Joe Biden’s work carrying out U.S. policy to end corruption in Ukraine was the same as the president using his powers to extort Ukraine:

CHUCK TODD: Let me start with this: Will there be new information the public learns from these public hearings on Wednesday morning?
REP. JIM HIMES: There will be new information. I suspect most of the public has not read the release transcripts. And what they’re going to hear is -- they are going to hear immensely patriotic, beautiful articulated — articulate people telling the story of a President who -- let’s forget quid pro quo; quid pro quo is one of these things to muddy the works -- who extorted a vulnerable comp -- country by holding up military aid. So yes, they are going to hear something new.
And Chuck, if you’ll, if you’ll grant me one second here, my head is only now decombusting from the exchange you had with Rand Paul. I’ve spent 11 years in public service defending the press, and when Senator Rand Paul comes on and says that what Donald Trump did -- and the transcript is there -- extorting a foreign government for his personal political gain, and that’s exactly the same thing as Joe Biden, “Exactly the same thing,” is what he said, as Joe Biden saying that this prosecutor should be released. When Joe Biden is acting in consistency with American foreign policy and back then we had a whole list of things that had to be done and this was American foreign policy, it was European Union policy, it was IMF policy that this prosecutor needed to go.
When Rand Paul says that that’s exactly the same thing as the president of the United States saying, “You need to find dirt on my political opponent,” and with all due respect, Chuck, when you say, “Well, do two wrongs make a right?” Let’s be very clear. The president of the United States demanding, extorting a vulnerable country to do his political bidding, to go after his opponent, has nothing to do with Joe Biden executing the foreign policy of the United States or Hillary Clinton, who is a private citizen, doing opposition research on her, on her presidential opponent. Those are radically different things. What the President did is wrong and impeachable.
CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you something. You just said you think the words quid pro quo shouldn’t be used anymore. . . .
REP. JIM HIMES: Well, I have two problems with quid pro quo. Number one, when you’re trying to persuade the American people of something that is really pretty simple, which is that the President acted criminally and extorted, in the way a mob boss would extort somebody, a vulnerable foreign country, it’s probably best not to use Latin words to explain it. But the other thing I object to is that this is where the Republicans went. Extortion doesn’t require a “you give me this and I’ll give you that” kind of quid pro quo. It’s simple requires using your muscle to get something that you don’t have a right to. . . . And what we’re dealing with here is corruption, abuse of power in a way that damaged American national security.

Himes says Democrats have prepared for Republican histrionics. “Well, of course that’s been the strategy all along, of course, has to been to attack the process,” he warned. “And when you look at their witness list, you can sort of tell what they’re doing.”

It is telling that Republicans’ talking points generally fall within one of three categories, none of them germane to the issue of Trump’s guilt.

Some choose to bury their heads in the sand, as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) did when he said he won’t read the transcripts because his mind is made up. (“No. I don’t care what anybody else says about the phone call. The phone call I made up my own mind is fine. I think this is a bunch of BS.”) One would think that would disqualify him as a juror (not to mention as a senator).

Other Republicans raise ridiculous false-equivalences, ignoring the difference between Trump’s solicitation of a bribe for personal gain (an investigation into a political opponent) and the ordinary conduct of foreign policy. (Witnesses make clear that Rudolph Giuliani was operating some other scheme outside of and in contradiction to U.S. foreign policy.)

And finally, some choose to ignore what is in front of them, specifically a transcript in which Trump specifically raised CrowdStrike and the Bidens. They cannot explain why such matters would be raised if not to pressure Ukraine into helping him win reelection. Republicans choose to believe and simply repeat Trump’s denial he did anything wrong. (They do not quite explain how and why Trump suspended aid if the political dirt and the aid were not linked.)

You come away with the clear impression that Republicans are either victims of the Fox News propaganda operation (i.e., they believe conspiracy facts and ignore actual facts) or are simply giving enough fodder to keep the factually inured base on board, hoping that will be enough to save Trump and themselves. Democrats nevertheless do seem prepared to present a simple, clear and factually irrefutable case that Americans of good will should be able to comprehend. The more responsible Republican senators will have a tough time finding a logical rationale not to convict Trump (which doesn’t mean they won’t try).

Would it be easier if witnesses such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton performed their civic obligation and testified, as have the raft of patriotic Americans who have already come forward? Sure. But one cannot rely on Republicans developing a conscience and a spine at this late date. You go to trial with the evidence you have, and right now the evidence of Trump’s solicitation of a bribe, extortion of an ally, obstruction of Congress and witness intimidation is overwhelming.

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