Either Murkowski will vote no, or if she votes yes, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will likely abstain as presiding officer from breaking the 50-50 tie. Either sinks the measure. All this likely means a quick, witness-free acquittal.
Alexander’s statement has larger importance. Because he showed flickers of candor his colleagues won’t, he actually demonstrated just how dangerous a threat Senate Republicans will pose to our political system if they acquit without a fuller trial — something Alexander is enabling.
Remarkably, Alexander admits Democrats successfully proved one of the gravest charges against Trump.
“There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven,” Alexander says, conceding that Trump explicitly demanded that Ukraine investigate not “corruption" but Joe and Hunter Biden. Alexander adds:
There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a “mountain of overwhelming evidence.”
This is a startling admission that Trump did corruptly condition an official act — by withholding nearly $400 million in taxpayer-funded military aid from an extremely vulnerable ally — to extort its president into helping smear a domestic political rival.
Alexander concedes: “It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation.” But Alexander claims this conduct nonetheless isn’t impeachable:
The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday.
What Alexander fails to acknowledge is that Trump’s own conduct was both an effort to solicit foreign help in rigging that very election and a clear sign Trump believes it’s absolutely within his authority to continue using his official powers to do just that.
The claim is that, given that Trump’s conduct wasn’t impeachable (which is itself absurd), the true mechanism of accountability is the next election. But Alexander himself concedes Trump actually did engage in conduct designed to cheat in that election.
Trump’s whole defense has been that none of this was remotely questionable. He has endlessly claimed his call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect.” He said in reporters’ faces that he wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens — after a whistleblower revealed Trump’s pressure on Ukraine had deeply alarmed his own officials.
Trump’s position is not really that his conduct was morally or legally justifiable. On a very deep level, such considerations are irrelevant to Trump. When he claims he did nothing wrong, what he really means is he did nothing for which he should be held accountable.
We know this, because Trump’s team worked to cover up his “perfect” conduct throughout the scheme. White House lawyers buried the perfect-call summary on a secret server. His attorney general and director of national intelligence tried to block the whistleblower complaint from exposing the scheme to Congress.
Thus, Trump demonstrated a willingness not just to use his official powers to cheat in the next election but also to manipulate the levers of government to get away with it.
Trump openly solicited more foreign interference in our election on national television. The ringleader of his scheme, personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, continued soliciting foreign help in smearing Biden — even as Trump was being impeached for this.
There is zero doubt Trump will continue to abuse his powers in any way he sees fit to solicit more foreign interference — or potentially to wield the government against his 2020 opponents in more grave ways.
Alexander’s position is self-refuting
In this context, Alexander’s position — that Trump did solicit foreign help in the election, but it’s up to voters to impose accountability for it — refutes itself. While acknowledging the corruption Trump is capable of, it clearly tells Trump he can continue corrupting that very mechanism of accountability with impunity.
Voting no on witnesses underscores this impunity. It’s a surrender to Trump. Not only is Trump getting acquitted; his very efforts to corrupt that accountability mechanism will not get a full public airing, as he has decreed, which itself will deprive voters of their means to hold him accountable.
Any senator who fancies himself principled enough to admit Trump’s wrongdoing — but will acquit — at least owes it to the country to allow the trial to fully flesh out that wrongdoing. This way, we can at least fully grasp what Trump is capable of doing to our political system, which Alexander himself says is the people’s last resort.
Trump himself did not want us to learn this, which is precisely why he blocked witnesses from the House and, now, with Republicans’ help, the Senate. Former national security adviser John Bolton and others can reveal untold new information about how far Trump was willing to go in using his official powers to secure outside interference, the conduct Alexander claims to decry.
The fact that acquittal is certain is not an excuse. This in no way settles the question of whether the country is entitled to a full exposition of the very conduct the Senate will declare does not merit removal. This, too, refutes itself: Republicans are voting against witnesses precisely because it renders that preordained acquittal politically easier to execute.
A vote against witnesses — especially when paired with an acknowledgment of Trump’s corruption — can only be a vote to carry through Trump’s own coverup to completion, leaving the country exposed, adrift and in the dark, unable to know precisely what Trump is prepared to inflict on us.