Senate Republicans spent much of Tuesday evening aggressively advancing the coverup that Trump is demanding, and at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Trump went out of his way to cheer what they’ve already done to protect him.
The jarring contrast between Roberts’s admonishment and Trump’s cheerleading for the actual conduct of the Senate GOP captures a truth about our current moment. Neutral calls for both sides to adhere to a mutual set of reasonable standards seem hopelessly out of sync with the wildly lopsided imbalance we’re now seeing between the two parties’ approaches to a lawless, out-of-control president — one who just happens to head one of those two parties.
In Davos, Trump spewed endless lies and distortions about the misconduct for which he’s been impeached, while in effect reiterating his demand that his trial be rigged to keep that misconduct buried:
- Trump claimed the impeachment was a “total hoax” and that Democrats “had no case.” But Trump blocked the testimony to the House of the witnesses with the most direct knowledge of his conduct — including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, both of whom discussed Trump’s freezing of military aid to Ukraine with him. That’s laughable conduct in the face of a supposedly weak case.
- Trump claimed his conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was “totally appropriate” and that his release of the White House summary of it blew up the Democratic case against him. That’s a comical lie: The summary captures Trump making his corrupt extortion demand, and as such, it’s central to the case against him. The summary itself, and the panicked reaction of many of Trump’s own officials to that very call, are discussed at great length in the House impeachment report.
- Trump said Ukraine ultimately “got their money,” as if that’s exonerating. But Trump only released the aid after the whistleblower had come forward. The corrupt scheme was aborted because they got caught.
- Trump laughably claimed he pressed Zelensky on his “perfect call” out of concerns over “corruption.” But Trump nowhere mentions “corruption” on the call; the only investigations he’s demanded would help him politically, such as one into Joe Biden; and the narrative of Biden corruption undergirding that demand is fabricated.
- Trump claimed he’d like to hear Bolton testify to the Senate, but in the very next breath he said doing this would compromise national security. That’s funny given that this whole scandal is about Trump’s subversion of our national security and foreign policy to his corrupt political ends. And again, Bolton didn’t testify to the House precisely because of Trump’s blockade against witnesses and evidence. Trump’s quote will unquestionably be read by Senate Republicans as a demand to keep Bolton from testifying and as a vow to exercise executive privilege to block it himself.
Which returns us to what’s happening in the Senate right now. On party lines, Republicans defeated around 10 Democratic amendments that would have opened the trial to new witnesses and evidence.
It’s not clear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will succeed in getting 51 votes against this when that vote happens later in the process. But we know McConnell is trying to do this — in keeping with his desire to run the trial in absolute conformity with Trump’s legal and political needs — because he told us so.
And so, if McConnell succeeds at that, he will be explicitly and deliberately carrying forward the coverup that Trump himself initiated by blocking witnesses and evidence from the House — all of which, again, were blocked precisely because they’d shed light on conduct that Trump continues to insist was entirely above reproach — to completion.
By showing in Davos that he’s entirely unrepentant about conditioning official acts to pressure a foreign power to help rig the next election on his behalf, and by again making it clear he’ll act to keep Bolton under wraps — both of which constitute conduct for which he was impeached — Trump underscored the case against him.
It’s in this context that Roberts issued his call for civility.
Demands for civility are detached from current realities
Roberts’s interjection came after Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a House impeachment manager, noted that Trump’s legal defenders had lied repeatedly to the Senate, that the legal theory used to close down witnesses is a travesty and that Trump has essentially placed himself above the law in numerous ways.
In his reply, Trump’s counsel Pat Cipollone oozed with phony high dudgeon as he accused Nadler of unfairly criticizing Trump and his team. But Nadler’s criticism was accurate. Cipollone and fellow lawyer Jay Sekulow just did tell repeated lies to the Senate, and it fell to Democrats to correct them.
Yet Roberts then admonished both sides “in equal terms” to stick to language that is “conducive to civil discourse.”
Roberts is correct that both sides grew uncivil, and it’s not clear how much Roberts can or should do to police these proceedings. But what this really shows is that such calls for equivalent decorum and norm-adherence seem completely detached from reality in the face of the gales of bad faith coming from Trump and his defenders — and the extraordinarily disingenuous tactics Senate Republicans are wielding to avoid reckoning with the rigorous, fact-based case Democrats are making.
Trump’s eruption of lies in Davos added the exclamation mark to this wild imbalance.