Who has leverage in the impeachment fight?

Who actually has leverage in the Impeachment fight? Is it Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, or Trump?

The House passed two Articles of Impeachment back before Christmas on December 18th. Meanwhile McConnell (Senate Majority Leader) and Lindsey Graham (Chairman of Judiciary Committee) were both signalling that the Senate trial would be a total sham and that they would instantly acquit Trump.

This is why, after rushing through impeachment due to its national security implications, Pelosi became reluctant to hand it over to the Senate urgently. Not a surprise, because no prosecutor wants their case to be put through a sham trial. Indeed, although people unfailingly try to read into her public statements to intuit motive, she has been fairly upfront: she wants to know what rules the Senate will agree upon before she sends the articles over.

Since then, people have argued about who has the most leverage in the impeachment fight. In order to judge this we have to figure out what the incentives are on each side.

Best outcomes for each player:

Pelosi & House Dems: (1) Senate holds a fair trial with witnesses; convicts Trump. (2) Failing that, continued scrutiny on Trump’s crimes, and plenty of heat on GOP Senators for running a sham trial.

McConnell & GOP Senators: (1) The House to not have impeached at all. (2) Failing that, articles of impeachment to arrive at the Senate as soon as possible, so that the trial can be quick and painless without TV drama; acquittal without much focus on what Trump crimes they might be covering up.

Trump: (1) The House to not have impeached at all. (2) Failing that, a Senate trial full of drama: Hunter Biden, Pelosi, and Schiff called to the witness stand; grandstanders Jim Jordan & Matt Gaetz yelling and disrupting; chaos; for nothing to make any sense; acquittal and an abject apology.

Worst outcomes for each player:

Pelosi & House Dems: (1) A super-quick Senate trial, no witnesses, over before one can blink: and exoneration for Trump. (2) The public losing interest in impeachment.

McConnell & GOP Senators: (1) Continued drip-drip of impeachment-related news; (2) Continued focus on the sham Senate trial; (3) Articles to drop into the Senate at any moment without much warning, perhaps during a low cycle for Trump, or during a vulnerable moment for GOP senators.

Trump: (1) Conviction. (2) Non-acquittal—have the impeachment charge hanging over his head. (3) A “proper” Senate trial with witnesses, serious questions, proper handling of processes by Chief Justice Roberts.

So, who has leverage?

With this laid out, one can see that no one is getting best outcome. Trump/McConnell aren’t getting the House to un-impeach (even if that were possible), and Pelosi is probably not getting a conviction in the Senate and possibly not even a fair trial.

But Pelosi is already sitting on her 2nd best outcome, while avoiding Trump and McConnell getting theirs. And she is doing this while avoiding what she wants least: she postpones the inevitability of a sham trial, while the constant will she/won’t she news dribbling out of the House keep the public mind on impeachment. She gets to bask in constant breaking of impeachment-related news: the latest being Lev Parnas’s phone records being released to the House. Finally, she also has Trump and McConnell stewing in one of their least favored situations, at least for the moment.

So I ask you: what is her incentive to deliver articles to the Senate, without assurances that the trial won’t be a sham one?


Indeed, through the din of pundits arguing this way and that, the actions of the players have confirmed the landscape of leverage as I’ve laid out above.

Pelosi hasn’t said much about when she intends to proceed. When asked, she has been consistent: some variant of wanting to see what the rules of the Senate are going to be before she decides on House Managers, or how to proceed. While McConnell and Trump keep rattling the cages.

One day McConnell dares Pelosi to send along the House’s “shoddy work product“. Another day Trump claims the holdup is “unfair” while Pence’s Chief of Staff states confidently that she won’t be able to hold onto them for long. Then McConnell chides Pelosi for the “fantasy” of daring to believe she can shape the trial; while Lindsey Graham tries to “break the deadlock” by moving forward without the articles being received at the Senate. Then McConnell colorfully says Democrats are “floundering” and warns that if Pelosi doesn’t send the articles over soon, that the Senate will move on to other business: to this, Pelosi retorted that . This is akin to threatening Pelosi with legislation while they wait: as if to threaten that then the Democrats will be left a dry husk of a pointless impeachment.

The one thing they haven’t done is stay silent. From the day the Articles of Impeachment passed the House, through their recess, till today, they have kept up the goading.


I believe they are bluffing. For the reasons I listed above, I believe Pelosi can afford to wait as long as she wants, perhaps forever. She is the master of the wait. She withstood intense pressure from her own caucus to start impeachment until she was good and ready; she can face down McConnell without flinching. Trump is already impeached.


McConnell and Graham must recuse: how to make them

Two Republican Senators have made public comments that show that they cannot be fair jurors in Trump’s impeachment trial. They must recuse.

On December 12th, Senate Majority Leader McConnell went on Hannity’s show on Fox News and laid an egg. He reassured Hannity’s viewers that there was no way Trump would be removed from office and that he was coordinating closely with the White House counsel for the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, going so far as to say that he would “take his cues” from the White House team.

For normal Senate business this would be unremarkable. The Senate Majority Leader coordinating with the White House on Senate business, particularly if they are both of the same party, is quite normal. But he wasn’t talking about normal Senate business.

Senate trials for impeachment are a unique setting, especially impeachment of the President. The trial will be presided over by Chief Justice Roberts. The case for the prosecution will be presented by House Managers—members of the House or counsel selected by them to prosecute the articles of impeachment. The President will be defended by his lawyers. Each side can summon witnesses to the stand.

That leaves the Senators. They will have one job: to shut up and listen. The normally garrulous bunch are not permitted to talk: according to Rule 19, they must not “engage in colloquy“. Any questions they might have must be put in writing and handed to the Chief Justice.

This is because, during the Senate trial, Senators play the role of Jurors. They will take a Juror’s Oath, to be administered by the Chief Justice: ‘‘I solemnly swear … that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.’’ Their role is to be impartial and weigh the facts presented at trial.

This is why Mitch McConnell’s statement was so inappropriate. He was not only reneging on the promise to be impartial, but also colluding with the defense.

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Excuses, excuses!

Since the Whistleblower’s Complaint, Republicans have scrambled to find excuses for Trump. The only problem? The excuses don’t stand up to scrutiny and often contradict each other.

Remember when Trump’s call with Ukraine leader Zelensky was “perfect” with “no quid pro quo” except that his Chief of Staff said yes, there was a quid pro quo, it happens all the time and we all need to get over it? Remember when Republicans stormed the SCIF, courted arrest, and ordered pizza—but the hearing they tried to block still took place, if delayed?

While the Ukraine story that Trump is being impeached over remains a simple one—that Trump held back Ukraine’s military aid in return for two “favors”: that they announce an investigation into Biden, and exonerate Russia from the 2016 election attack—Republicans under the glare of scrutiny have twisted this way and that, scrambled to find one excuse after another, watched their excuses crumble, and scrambled to find new ones, even though they might contradict the old ones.

None of it matters, because the idea is to confuse and obfuscate: a lights-and-sounds show that will distract from the basic fact that Trump has no good defenses left. All of these excuses have been debunked by experts and some actually contradict each other.

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A masterclass in how right-wing propaganda is manufactured

This NYT interview with two Ukrainian oligarchs gives an inside view into how right-wing dirt peddled by the likes of John Solomon and Sean Hannity is manufactured

(Featured image credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images. Source: NYT.)

NYT published an astonishing article this morning about Rudy Giuliani’s interactions with two Ukrainian oligarchs, in that it gives an inside view into how right-wing dirt is manufactured by such luminaries as John Solomon (formerly at the Hill) and Sean Hannity.

Background

Rudy Giuliani had been attempting to get Ukraine leaders to announce an investigation into Biden for almost a year. He was on the verge of getting the last Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to do so, when Poroshenko lost the election to newbie politician Volodomyr Zelensky on 21st April 2019.

This story picks up when Rudy, with his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (now under indictment at SDNY) scramble to influence new President Zelensky to continue the sham investigation of Biden.

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Whistleblower, blow thy whistle

A cinematic treatment of the Whistleblower’s Complaint.

The Scene: Morning of July 25, situation room

Picture this, if you will: It is the morning of July 25. The US President is in the Situation Room speaking on the phone to the new leader of an allied nation. All is routine: a dozen staffers listen in. Transcripts will automatically be produced. That conversation will be treated as “policy” and distributed to the Cabinet and others. None of them suspect anything amiss. The conversation begins with pleasantries.

The allied nation is Ukraine. Volodomyr Zelenskyy has become President a scant two months prior. He used to be a comedian who played a President on TV. He got elected because he promised to drain the swamp of corruption.

Volodomyr Zelenskyy (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

The US President often speaks like a mob boss. He used to be a reality show star who played a successful CEO on TV. He hit upon the slogan “drain the swamp” by accident and milked it to become the President of the United States.

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