Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) became the latest Republican on Tuesday to suggest that even when Trump is acquitted, he will have learned his lesson. She ventured a prediction that Trump will be “much more cautious” about soliciting foreign assistance.
“I believe that the president has learned from this case,” Collins told CBS News. “The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.”
Appearing on the Sunday news shows this weekend, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) also indicated that Trump mishandled the Ukraine situation. But they both also said they believed Trump won’t make the same mistake again.
“I think that he knows now that, if he is trying to do certain things — whether it’s ferreting out corruption there, in Afghanistan, whatever it is — he needs to go through the proper channels,” Ernst told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Alexander was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether Trump might see his upcoming acquittal as an exoneration and a license to do it all again.
“I don’t think so,” Alexander said. “I hope not. I mean, enduring an impeachment is something that nobody should like. Even the president said he didn’t want that on his résumé. I don’t blame him. So if a call like that gets you an impeachment, I would think you would think twice before you did it again.”
Then host Chuck Todd asked a fair question: “What example in the life of Donald Trump has [shown that] he [has] been chastened?”
Alexander conceded after a beat, “I haven’t studied his life that close.”
But you don’t need to read a Trump biography to see the potential folly of such a prediction; you need only to look at the timeline of the Russia investigation and how it bled into the Ukraine scandal.
It has been noted often that the July 25 call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch those politically advantageous investigations happened literally the day after former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III testified to Congress. So Trump had essentially just closed the book on a lengthy, arduous two-year investigation that began with questions about seeking foreign interference in a U.S. election, and he immediately set about seeking foreign help on a matter that could affect the next election.
That’s not all: Even after the Mueller report came out in April, Trump suggested in a June ABC News interview that he would accept information from foreign sources in the 2020 election.
Part of the reason for Trump’s boldness may indeed have been that Mueller found no conspiracy between his campaign and Russia. Trump claimed “TOTAL EXONERATION” and perhaps believed he had gotten it. But Mueller’s investigation also turned up substantial evidence of potential obstruction of justice; he just decided it wasn’t his place to accuse Trump of a crime.
And crucially, Mueller said in the same report that he considered charging Donald Trump Jr. with a crime for the Trump Tower meeting. That was a meeting in which Trump Jr. entertained a promise of foreign help for the campaign.
Mueller said there were two very specific reasons he opted not to accuse either Trump:
“First, the Office did not obtain admissible evidence likely to meet the government’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these individuals acted ‘willfully,’ i.e., with general knowledge of the illegality of their conduct; and, second, the government would likely encounter difficulty in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the value of the promised information exceeded the threshold for a criminal violation.”
As I wrote after President Trump’s June ABC News interview, neither of those exemptions would seem to apply to Trump soliciting information for the 2020 election. He should clearly have understood that this was potentially illegal by then, and the information may not have been as apparently useless as the information Trump Jr. got in the Trump Tower meeting. And yet, President Trump mused about accepting foreign information and then sought it — all very shortly after the book closed on the Russia probe that could have ensnared his son.
Not only was Trump not chastened by the Russia investigation; he wasn’t even chastened by the impeachment process, as Alexander and Ernst now predict he will be. Trump on Oct. 3 solicited a third country for something that could help in an election, when he urged China to investigate Hunter Biden. This suggestion came just one week after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) launched the impeachment inquiry.
This is also a president who has repeatedly referred to his call with Zelensky as a “perfect call” even as his fellow Republicans were expressing discomfort with it. It’s possible that he doesn’t truly believe it was perfect and that this is just a talking point, just as it’s possible he didn’t truly take the Mueller findings as a “TOTAL EXONERATION.”
But judging by the evidence, it would seem pretty difficult to be as certain as Alexander and Ernst were.
Todd also noted to Alexander that President Bill Clinton expressed regret for his actions amid his impeachment trial. The host noted that Trump hasn’t done anything similar.
Alexander responded: “Well, there hasn’t been a vote yet, either. So we’ll see what he says and does.”
For his part, lead House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) is predicting the opposite of Alexander and Ernst’s assertions, and on Monday, he warned them against the stance they were taking.
“He has done it before; he will do it again,” Schiff said Monday afternoon in his closing argument on the Senate floor. “What are the odds, if left in office, that he will continue trying to cheat? I will tell you 100 percent — not 5, not 10 or even 50, but 100 percent. If you have found him guilty and you do not remove him from office, he will continue trying to cheat in the election until he succeeds.”
Then he warned them even more directly, referring to Alexander’s comments about the House having proved its case.
“If you find that the House has proved its case and still vote to acquit,” Schiff said, “your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history.”