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Republicans Should Fear the Unknown on Trump Impeachment

Jonathan Bernstein

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It’s not yet clear how much of what Rudy Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and the New York Times in an interview will turn out to be true. Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman under indictment for campaign-finance violations, may have strong incentives to make things up. On the other hand, he’s also turned over a considerable amount of supporting evidence that he worked closely with Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. And what he alleges — that Trump was fully informed all along of a plot to pressure Ukraine to help Trump’s re-election by throwing dirt at Joe Biden — is generally consistent with the evidence that the House considered when it drew up and voted on impeachment. 

Still, the legal analyst Susan Hennessey was correct Wednesday when she cautioned on Twitter that everyone should be duly cautious about the Parnas allegations. There’s danger here for those building the case against Trump; false accusations based on the word of a criminal could be damaging. 

But the danger for Republicans is pretty obvious, too. As someone said Wednesday evening on Twitter, Republican senators don’t even know what they’re covering up for, or at least what they would be covering up for if they follow the White House’s preference to rush through the Senate impeachment trial that starts next week and refuse to hear from relevant witnesses and collect relevant documents. 

Some of those senators, to be sure, just don’t care. They’ve decided they can live with (both politically and ethically) any revelations that may come down the road — that no one who they care about will hold them accountable for burying important evidence, no matter what it turns out to be. Others may really be so fully inside the conservative information-feedback loop that they sincerely think that Trump is an honest, innocent man being railroaded by partisans; they may not even be aware of the considerable evidence to the contrary.

But for anyone else? As I said just 24 hours and a couple rounds of ugly revelations ago: “If new ugly details are still emerging, who’s to say that more won’t turn up later?”

Of course, that doesn’t make decision-making easy for Republicans who are worried — that is, Republicans who are comfortable voting to acquit on the current evidence, but are concerned that they’ll be abetting a coverup if they try to cut the trial short and then will be exposed as more evidence comes out anyway. It’s easy to say that they should just demand a thorough trial. But that, too, has real costs for them; it means voting against the leader of their party on procedural issues, and therefore winning the wrath of the White House and some of their strongest supporters. That’s not something that any politician does lightly. And even a thorough trial could end up producing no new significant reasons to vote to remove Trump, either because that evidence doesn’t exist or because the House Democratic impeachment managers can’t produce it.

It’s easy to say that the political side of those considerations should be irrelevant and that Republican senators should care only about justice. To that I’ll only say: Good luck getting politicians to ignore politics.

A better argument might be that those Republican senators should factor into their considerations the institutional and personal self-interest they have in keeping constraints on the presidency in general and this president in particular. Allow him to treat impeachment as a joke, and both he and all future presidents will be more likely to treat the threat of future impeachments as minor inconveniences. That would be true in any case. It’s especially true if they suspect that Trump really is trying to get away with something, even if they think the proof isn't there or that it doesn’t quite rise to the level of removal from office.

1. David M. Edelstein at the Monkey Cage on the U.S., Iran, China and Russia.

2. Matt Grossmann talks with Justin Grimmer, Will Marble, John Sides, and Lynn Vavreck about bigotry and Trump voters.

3. I really like Paul Waldman’s item on Trump and dishwashers. 

4. Charles Gaba on the individual mandate.

5. S.V. Date on Trump and the truth.

6. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Conor Sen looks back on a great decade for the wealthy.

7. And Alyssa Rosenberg on what a woman in the Oval Office would face.

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To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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