The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Nadler calls Trump’s bluff

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

When the House Intelligence Committee held depositions of key witnesses, President Trump’s lawyers cried: “Unfair! Secret hearings!” In fact, a slew of Republicans had the right to ask questions, though some chose not to attend. When the hearings moved to a public phase, the White House hollered: “Unfair! Trump’s lawyer isn’t present!” When the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), invited Trump’s lawyers to attend, the response was: “Unfair! We’re not coming!”

What is unfair is that Trump and his lawyers have given up any semblance of fidelity to facts, have smeared distinguished witnesses, attempted to intimidate the whistleblower (and put his or her safety in jeopardy), hurled baseless accusations at House Democrats investigating presidential wrongdoing and, worst of all, obstructed Congress by refusing to produce documents and blocking critical witnesses from testifying.

On Sunday, Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, sent Nadler a letter declining to show up for the Wednesday hearing but reserving the right to participate later on. The New York Times wrote: “The refusal to send lawyers Wednesday continues a pattern of stonewalling by Mr. Trump, who has sought to block witnesses and documents, as he and his allies call the proceedings ‘deranged’ and a ‘witch hunt.’”

There is no mystery as to what is going on here. Trump has no facts to put forth and no valid constitutional argument that bribery (specifically mentioned in the Constitution) and obstruction fail to meet the standard for impeachment. (As the Lawfare blog puts it, “There is every reason to believe that the drafters of the Constitution had in mind a scope that easily encompasses Trump’s conduct. ... The transcript [of the July 25 call] makes clear that Trump tied together the request for a personal favor with the delivery of military aid. But even if he had not made such a direct connection, this sort of corrupt use of public office to obtain a private benefit fits squarely within the definition of bribery when the Constitution was written.”)

The impeachment inquiry into President Trump has exposed troubling cracks in the political system. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

Instead, Trump (like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) plays the same card that every corrupt authoritarian does in these situations: He attacks the investigators as corrupt and unfair. “Republicans battling the potential impeachment of President Trump have flitted among a multitude of shifting — and, at times, contradictory — defenses and deflections as they seek to cast doubt on a narrative supported by mounting evidence: that Trump subverted U.S. foreign policy to further his personal aims by pressuring Ukraine to launch politically motivated investigations, using hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid as leverage,” The Post reported last month. “While those attacks — at least 22, according to a Washington Post tally — have done little to undermine the core allegations under investigation in the House, they have been remarkably successful in one respect: keeping congressional Republicans united against impeachment as the GOP casts the probe as partisan.”

Sign up to receive Opinions columns like these in your inbox six days a week

Republicans remain united not because truth, the Constitution or fairness are on Trump’s side. They are on his side because they have chosen to put blind tribalism above their constitutional obligations. Republicans think they have a captive base insulated by Fox News (the equivalent of Pravda) and by the allegedly more sophisticated conservative pundits who cannot stand up to the mob, for fear of losing readership, speaking fees, access and political relevance in the Trump era. Whatever procedural requests Democrats grant will be dismissed as insufficient. There is no process that will meet Trump’s definition of “fairness,” because any limitation on his conduct and any criticism are by definition unfair in his narcissistic, self-deluded view.

So let us not play along with the Republican pretense that Trump is being treated unfairly. He is afforded every opportunity to participate in the process. Congress has begged him to release documents and let witnesses testify. Are none of these exculpatory? Do they all confirm what we already know, namely that Trump invited foreign interference in our election, used his public position (i.e. a White House meeting, release of aid) to get political help (in the form of a spurious investigation with no basis in fact) against a political rival?

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

What is unfair is that Trump and his Republican cohorts are doing everything in their power to obstruct and delegitimize the only real constitutional check on a lawless executive. It is the American people who should be hollering at them.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: What to do about the Kremlin’s propagandists

Jennifer Rubin: Answers to these five questions will determine the path forward on impeachment

Evan Thomas: When his party rebelled, Nixon went quietly. Trump probably won’t.

Henry Olsen: Conservatives’ debate over their future is going to be bitter and fierce

Danielle Allen: Stand and deliver, senators

The latest commentary on the Trump impeachment

Looking for more Trump impeachment coverage following the president’s acquittal?

See Dana Milbank’s Impeachment Diary: Find all the entries in our columnist’s feature.

Get the latest: See complete Opinions coverage from columnists, editorial cartoonists and the Editorial Board.

Read the most recent take from the Editorial Board: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.

The House impeachment managers weigh in in an op-ed: Trump won’t be vindicated. The Senate won’t be, either.

Stay informed: Read the latest reporting and analysis on impeachment from the Post newsroom.

Want even more? Sign up for the Opinions A.M. and P.M. newsletters, delivered to your inbox six days a week.