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A Cover-Up In Real Time

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Jan. 24, 2020. (Julio Cortez/AP)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Jan. 24, 2020. (Julio Cortez/AP)

It is a testament to the moral perversity of the president’s impeachment proceedings in the Senate that so many damning revelations keep arising outside of Congress, and that GOP senators remain so determined to ensure they never appear in the impeachment trial.

The first part of this week was supposed to spotlight the president’s defense team, a fleet of TV lawyers whose rhetoric, like their client’s, is heavy on ranting and light on truth. Their dubious assignment is to deny that the president pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden (and thereby cheat in the 2020 election) something Trump has done, both in private and public.

But their histrionics have already have been overshadowed by two remarkable new developments.

First, the release of a 90-minute audiotape by Lev Parnas, the indicted Trump donor who, by his own account, worked with Rudy Giuliani to carry out the president’s pressure campaign in Ukraine.

And second, revelations from John Bolton in a forthcoming book that suggest he is prepared to testify, under oath, that the president explicitly told him that he was withholding military aide to Ukraine to pressure that country to investigate Democrats, including Biden. (Bolton also wrote that he was concerned the president was doing personal favors for autocrats, an ominous indication that Trump’s foreign policy decisions are guided by self-interest, not the national interest.)

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Parnas tape dropped first. It captures an April 2018 dinner, where the president talks at length with Parnas, essentially treating him as an advisor on Ukraine. As a reminder: the president has claimed several times that he doesn’t know Parnas.

It’s a disturbing window into how Trump makes foreign policy decisions. We already know that major advisors were so stunned and troubled by the president’s ignorance of foreign affairs that they staged an intervention in July of 2017, during which they attempted to explain who America’s allies were and why they were important. Trump exploded at the idea he had anything to learn and called his generals “a bunch of dopes and babies.”

The Parnas tape shows how Trump prefers to make major foreign policy decisions. He doesn’t consult with his national security staff, or his diplomatic corps, or his military leaders, or the intelligence community. No, he consults with guys like Lev Parnas, who has connections to a Ukrainian oligarch and the Russian mob.

At this point, the Senate “trial” is more properly understood as a cover-up in real time.

If Parnas claims that Marie Yovanovitch, the one-time U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, is bad-mouthing the president, that’s good enough for Trump. He orders her fired, mob-boss style.

The president is also heard asking Parnas how quickly Russia would overrun Ukraine without U.S. military aid. It’s almost as if he’s seeking to figure out if he could extort Ukraine.

The Bolton revelation — that he was an eyewitness to that extortion plan — has sent shockwaves through the GOP. It’s raised the possibility that the Senate might actually have to hear from witnesses. Trump, naturally, denied the Bolton news immediately,  and his legal team ignored the bombshell entirely. But the president is apparently unwilling to go before the Senate to deny this claim under oath. In fact, he has sought to block every single eyewitness to his alleged crimes from testifying.

What’s even crazier is that in this “trial,” the Republican "jurors" have gone along with this plan, so far. They are the ones now seeking to obstruct justice, because they know — we all know — that eyewitnesses such as Bolton (and Mike Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney) would reaffirm the president’s guilt. Aside from a few sober-sounding bromides mouthed by various “moderates,” GOP senators remain united in their desire to bury the truth.

At this point, the Senate “trial” is more properly understood as a cover-up in real time. GOP senators, who announced from the start that they would exonerate Trump, have devolved into mini-Trumps themselves, putting their own interests before their Constitutional oaths and spouting increasingly extravagant deception to justify this corruption.

When directly confronted about Trump’s lies, or asked whether they believe presidents should seek foreign interference in our elections, they can only evade and deflect. Meanwhile, they can’t even cite a single instance in which this president sought to fight corruption.

The best Republicans can do is retreat into righteous self-pity when the Democrats point out their duplicity, and hope Fox News will keep their base safe from the damning facts.

Democratic politicians, the media and the 70% of us citizens who want to hear from witnesses, should do everything in our power to stop this cover-up.

Mitch McConnell knows how bad all this looks. He’s going to do everything in his power to rush this sham proceeding through — call it the Brett Kavanaugh process.

Democratic politicians, the media and the 70% of us citizens who want to hear from witnesses, should do everything in our power to stop this cover-up. And we should do so right now, because it looks like McConnell will hold the vote on whether to call witnesses this Friday. He is assuming, probably correctly, that fewer than four GOP senators will break ranks. The only ones who have shown even a flickering of good faith are Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander.

A good place to start would be for Democratic lawmakers in the House to issue Bolton a formal subpoena. They should also call upon Chief Justice John Roberts -- in his capacity as judge of the impeachment proceeding — to issue subpoenas for witnesses himself.

If Roberts won’t do the bidding of his conscience, Democrats should start calling out Republican politicians, by name, for their astonishing duplicity. And citizens should be staging protests, both in and around the Senate, and in our home towns.

We have nothing left to lose at this point. Except, of course, our democracy.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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