But it turns out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was just getting started.
On Tuesday, he added to the disgrace by claiming that impeachment distracted officials from dealing with the coronavirus. Speaking to radio host (and Post columnist) Hugh Hewitt, McConnell said the virus “came up while we were, you know, tied down in the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government, because everything, every day, was all about impeachment.”
This is gaslighting of the highest order. Leave aside that the president now claims that he presciently “felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic” and that he “always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously."
Look at the calendar. The impeachment trial ended on Feb. 5. In reality, it was over before it even started, thanks in large part to McConnell. The only drama was about whether there’d be any witnesses — and that ended on Jan. 31, when the Senate voted not to hear testimony. That left plenty of time to deal with the virus.
And while some lawyers in the executive branch and Congress were working on impeachment around the clock, impeachment didn’t consume the government. Trump managed to get to Mar-a-Lago at least four times in January and February, working in a few rounds of golf along the way. He held five campaign rallies around the country during the impeachment trial.
Trump even had the bandwidth during the trial to comment on the coronavirus: On Jan. 22, he told CNBC “we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China.” On Jan. 24, he tweeted, “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” On Jan. 30, at a speech in Michigan, he said again, “We think we have it very well under control.” On Feb. 2, referring to his administration’s Jan. 31 order partially banning travel from China, Trump told Sean Hannity, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
Most importantly, impeachment didn’t keep U.S. intelligence agencies from warning the president and Congress in January and February about the danger of the virus. In particular, as Josh Rogin wrote, impeachment notwithstanding, “throughout January and much of February, senior Trump administration officials heatedly debated the scope and scale of the coronavirus pandemic.”
McConnell’s own colleagues got the message, too. Throughout the early weeks of the crisis, senior administration officials repeatedly briefed senators about the coronavirus. What senators were told was “chilling,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), but the administration wasn’t asking for more funds. “Bottom line: they aren’t taking this seriously enough,” because the administration made “no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake,” Murphy tweeted — on Feb. 5. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) found enough time in mid-February, apparently prompted by concerns about the emerging pandemic, to sell 33 stocks worth up to $1.7 million, triggering an insider-trading investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Burr denies wrongdoing.)
The problem wasn’t impeachment — it was the president. There was never any chance that the government was going to take sufficient action on the virus when the president himself wasn’t taking the virus seriously. It was Trump, after all, who claimed — at the very end of February, weeks after the impeachment trial had ended — that criticisms such as Murphy’s were a “hoax” and that “within a couple days,” the number of coronavirus cases “is going to be down to close to zero.”
And the problem with the president stemmed from the very same impulses that got him impeached. Just as his focus on himself, and his reelection, led him to extort Ukraine and lie about it, so, too, it led him to deceive the public about the coronavirus as well. Eager to keep the number of coronavirus cases from going up, he didn’t want to let a cruise ship full of Americans dock. He didn’t want virus warnings to spook the stock markets, lest he not be able to brag about the markets during the campaign. Even as late as March 8, a month after the impeachment trial, he told Republican donors at Mar-a-Lago that his political opponents were “trying to scare everybody, from meetings, cancel the meetings, close the schools — you know, destroy the country. And that’s ok, as long as we can win the election.”
For Trump, it’s always about Trump and only Trump. If anything, it was McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans’ refusal to remove him, not the impeachment itself, that helped bring us to where we are today.