You can only get out of flying dangerous bombing missions if you're found to be insane. But the very fact that you do not want to fly perilous missions is proof you are sane. "Orr was crazy and could be grounded," the protagonist of Catch-22, Yossarian, says of a colleague. "All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions." In the impeachment inquiry into the conduct of Donald Trump, American president, Democrats face a similar dilemma. Except somehow, it is more cynical—and dumber.
By Wednesday evening, Republicans were screaming that Barron Trump was under attack by ivory-tower elitists. But before they rolled out those intergalactic sideshows, the Grand Old Party was leaning into one talking point in particular: they wanted more "fact witnesses." This was as opposed to the expert witnesses who were there—four specialists in constitutional law who weighed in on what constitutes an impeachable offense and whether the evidence gathered against Trump by the House Intelligence Committee fits the bill. Three out of four said yes—this is exactly what the Founders had in mind when they drew up the impeachment language. "If what we're talking about is not impeachable," said Michael Gerhardt, "then nothing is impeachable." The fourth, the witness Republicans called, said a quid pro quo would be impeachable. Considering the president's chief-of-staff and his $1 million donor whom he made ambassador to the European Union already admitted to the quid pro quo, that seems like that.
But no, it was not. The Republicans demanded Fact Witnesses. The parade of witnesses who testified publicly before the Intelligence Committee and described the president's extortion scheme to force a foreign government to undermine free and fair American elections for his personal benefit were not sufficient. They might be experts on Ukraine, they may have witnessed key moments in the plot, but the Republicans have dismissed all the evidence they provided as hearsay. The president's allies want direct witnesses to the crime, which they maintain was not a crime. Just ask them:
.@RepMattGaetz just brought the house down.— Oversight Committee Republicans (@GOPoversight) December 4, 2019
When will Democrats bring in witnesses with actual first-hand knowledge of @RepAdamSchiff's sham #impeachment report?
We'll be waiting. pic.twitter.com/Lx6tk2W0rn
It sounds like Republicans will only be satisfied if folks like Mick Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton and Mike Pompeo testify under oath. These proud American patriots—the president's chief-of-staff, personal lawyer, former National Security Adviser and current Secretary of State—were direct witnesses to the scheme, which the president's allies assure us was no big deal. They can clear all this up! Except the White House has blocked all of them from testifying. Which is, of course, the point. The Republicans will only accept evidence from Fact Witnesses, but as soon as you subpoena the Fact Witnesses, they cease to be available as Fact Witnesses. In the end, there is no way to stop flying dangerous missions.
Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday morning that the House will move ahead with articles of impeachment based on the already overwhelming evidence that Trump forced an attack on American democracy for his own gain. But they will not wait for the Fact Witnesses, so Democrats will miss out on that Republican support they would definitely have gotten—in spite of all available evidence across the last few months—if we could just hear from Mick Mulvaney, who will never testify. That's another Catch-22 built on top: this impeachment is partisan, and it will only be legitimate if it's bipartisan, which will only happen if we hear from the Fact Witnesses, who've been blocked from testifying by the same partisan side demanding to hear from them. It's almost like they don't actually give a fuck.
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