The Post delivered another bombshell report just as Democratic and Republican senators departed for the holidays, still at loggerheads about whether a rule would guarantee the ability to introduce documents and witnesses at the Senate’s impeachment trial:

After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, [President] Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions.
The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

The report continues: “One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because ‘Putin told me.’ Two other former officials said the senior White House official described Trump’s comment to them.” In short, “The concern among senior White House officials that Putin helped fuel Trump’s theories about Ukraine underscores long-standing fears inside the administration about the Russian president’s ability to influence Trump’s views.” Finally, "Three former senior administration officials said Trump repeatedly insisted after the G-20 summit that he believed Putin’s assurances that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 campaign. The officials said [chief of staff John] Kelly, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all tried to caution Trump not to rely on Putin’s word, and to focus on evidence to the contrary that U.S. intelligence agencies had collected.”

So where are these former officials? As a preliminary matter, the thought processes of those former senior officials — who would anonymously say that Trump was a Putin puppet but refuse to come forward to provide testimony well before we even got to an impeachment proceeding, in part about Trump’s alleged betrayal of national security — boggles the mind. They have either given cover to a president who is practically a foreign asset, or they are creating unwarranted fear that he is.

Over the past three years, President Trump and some of his allies have at times mimicked Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric on election interference. (The Washington Post)

There could be no better example as to why the Senate must be able to subpoena former officials for the impeachment trial and obtain documents Trump has concealed under a spurious absolute immunity defense. If a former secretary of state or a defense, homeland security or senior intelligence official (e.g., director of national intelligence, head of the National Security Agency) cannot do the patriotic thing when the security of the country is at stake, then it is essential to end the Trump coverup and figure out how to force their appearance in the Senate trial.

“If it is true that Trump was literally repeating talking points given to him by Putin, then it raises even more questions about his behavior and we need all of the White House records the House has asked for in order to have a fair trial," former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told me.

Former prosecutor Joyce White Vance explained: “Russia’s goal has always been to disrupt our country and our way of life. Now, we’ve had more confirmation they seem to be succeeding, with confirmation of what’s been long suspected, that our president’s national security briefings come from Putin, not our own intelligence community.” She cautioned: “This could form the basis for another article of impeachment — a president who doesn’t put our national security ahead of all other concerns.” At the very least, it would shed additional light on the existing Article I that concerns Trump’s otherwise inexplicable obsession with debunked conspiracy theories that brought him to extort an ally at war with Russia.

As noted, on Thursday the Senate recessed, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisting that there be no agreement on the admission of witnesses and documents in advance, but rather that these would be handled as they come up. McConnell said that is how it has always worked. However, it has never been the case that the majority leader conspired with the president or that senators declared they had no intention to be fair. Under these circumstances, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seems entirely justified in holding back the articles of impeachment until this can be resolved.

McConnell talks tough by insisting that he does not want the trial anyway. However, Trump (to whom McConnell evidently thinks he reports) seems frantic to get the clean bill of health from a sham trial.

Pelosi and other Democrats would do well to turn up the heat on Senate Republicans who present themselves as beacons of moderation and fairness. It is time for Democrats to point the finger directly at Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and others. Do they want to be part of a sham that risks leaving in place Putin’s pawn?

The holidays are a good time to reflect on things that matter — family, friends and country. Maybe these Republicans will find it within their own consciences and heed the words of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). “All of us feel a sense of loyalty to party. It’s what makes our two-party system function. . . . But party loyalty must have its limits,” he said. “And as evidence of the President’s impeachable offenses has mounted, it has become increasingly clear that the limits of partisanship have been reached and passed. . . . Democrats and Republicans together face a test before our constituents, our countrymen, and our Creator.” Hoyer ended:

I urge my colleagues in the House and in the Senate: look into your soul. Summon the courage to vote for our Constitution and our democracy. To do less betrays our oath and that of our Founders, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Let us neither turn away from the evidence, which is so clear, nor from our good conscience, which compels us to do what in our hearts we know to be right. Let us not allow the rule of law to end or for tyranny to find its toehold.

The key Republican senators can do this by ending the logjam, vowing to vote for key witnesses, including current and past national security advisers, and demanding relevant documents. If they cannot do this bare minimum, you really have to question why they bother running and serving in the Senate.

Soviet show trials often ended in execution. This impeachment process is not that, says Global Opinions editor Christian Caryl. (The Washington Post)

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