by Conrad Black
The next step in the impeachment of the president needs to be considered in both its legal and political aspects.
The legal issue is easily determined, is evident from the first few days of proceedings, and remains a foregone conclusion. It was obvious from the endlessly repetitive and absurdly overstated arguments of the House managers, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) in particular, that they had no legal case. There was no evidence that the president committed a high crime or misdemeanor as the Constitution requires for a president to be removed from office in such a proceeding.
What was alleged was not anything that could be so described, and they fell far short of proof that what they alleged even occurred. They tried to mislead the Senate and the public by splicing quotes, quoting previous witnesses out of context, and immersing their turgid presentation in a vast, confected odium that they try to spread over the president and his reputation like a lethal gas.
Underscoring their incandescent hatred of the president, Schiff acknowledged that Trump must be removed now to prevent his reelection, that an unnamed source had been cited by CBS who alleged Trump had told Republican senators that if they deserted him their heads would be put on pikes. Nadler accused any Republican voting to acquit the president of “treachery” and of participation in the (inevitable) “cover-up” of Trump’s crimes: again, no evidence of any probative value was adduced that he had committed the acts objected to, which were, in any case, not illegal.
Chief Justice John Roberts reminded Nadler of where he was, though dutifully equivocal as he is, he addressed the admonition to both sides. In two hours on Saturday morning, the president’s counsel, Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, reduced the interminable malign verbosity of Schiff and Nadler to rubble.
Legally, there is no case and the barrage of unsupported allegations prosecutors launched came from the same Schiff who said he had solid evidence of Trump-Russian collusion and that he had not met the whistleblower (until the normally docile New York Times corrected him). And both he and Nadler claimed throughout that Trump had been fairly treated by the House Judiciary Committee when everyone in the world who watched its ludicrous proceedings saw in five minutes that the president could not call or examine witnesses, and his counsel was not allowed to be present. These people are so consumed by their hatred of the president they cannot even speak truthfully in the presence of millions of viewers who know what they are saying is false.
Schiff and Nadler even broke out the violins for the Ukrainians, to whom Trump has supplied the anti-tank weapons that have enabled them to stabilize their border with Russia, hardware Obama had withheld.
The political question—which side wins the public relations battle—is less clear, though the trend is parallel to the legal case. The comparatively sane and civilized anti-Trumpers may be considered well-represented by Peggy Noonan, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that witnesses should be called to remove any doubt about the thoroughness of the case, as something so serious as the attempted removal of the president for misconduct should not be shut down without a proper airing. She then proposed reciprocal witness-examination rights—the prosecutors could have John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney and the defense could have Joe Biden and Rudy Giuliani.
I am an unconditional admirer of Noonan’s, but this isn’t really a quest for clarity, it’s a desperation play to sling as much muck as possible at the president and even to circumscribe whom the defense might call as witnesses—omitting the phony whistleblower, who repeatedly has been identified and who could be relied upon under examination to acknowledge his partisan background and close cooperation with Schiff and his office in preparing his complaint, which bears little resemblance to the kinds of misconduct against which the statute it shelters under was designed to protect.
(I can’t imagine what in this profane circus Peggy Noonan wonders young Americans should watch to remind themselves of the greatness of the authors of the Constitution; Madison, Hamilton, and the others would be mortified by this ghastly burlesque of a solemn judicial process.)
Trump asserted no pressure, legitimately requested an investigation of the Bidens—of course the United States would wish to know if the former vice president had been influence-peddling in a foreign power—but Trump did not try to dictate the verdict of such an investigation. The ”president’s great defense” as Peggy mockingly calls it, was not that he was pressing for less corrupt government in Ukraine, though he was; it was that he asserted no pressure and wanted the facts and not a partisan assault on a political adversary. Imputation of a shakedown is an unsubstantiated finding.
It now emerges that Bolton may allege that Trump did connect aid to an investigation of Biden, and Bolton, a struggling author whom Trump fired as national security adviser—may aspire to be a more willing Christine Blasey Ford, (the last-ditch blocking witness in the Kavanaugh hearings). This may create a stronger public relations argument for witnesses. This reeks of a style similar to the “Access Hollywood” tape (revealing Trump’s macho indiscretions of 11 years prior, though recorded without his knowledge by Billy Bush, and released just weeks before the 2016 election), and of the tortuous but unpersuasive Christine Blasey Ford appearance in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. The Democrats are pulling out what is at the very bottom of their bag of tricks, yet again.
The question is whether the prosecution has bombed so badly, despite the predictable chirpings of idolatrous praise for Schiff from the Trump-hating media, that the president can merely say that Bolton is lying and seeking revenge for being sacked as national security adviser and drive on. Nadler and Schiff so antagonized even those Republican senators who are not conspicuous supporters of the president that Senate majority leader McConnell could probably get a vote to shut it down on the basis of the Democrats’ failure to make their case.
It is Trump’s call whether he wants to add one chapter: a possibly fierce showdown with Bolton, who won’t have any supportive documentary evidence, in exchange for an exposé of the pitiful Hunter Biden, and stripping naked the whole whistleblower fraud and the profound duplicity of Schiff. (There is no reason to oblige Noonan by giving Joe Biden the attention or to let Giuliani loose—Trump’s tactics, with his accusers flailing desperately, will not be set by his enemies.)
The public is tired of this farce; even Peggy Noonan only wanted a vote of censure (which would be completely unjustified and impossible to get through the Senate). This controversy will be dead a week after it ends and is beyond redemption by sour grapes from John Bolton (who was regarded as a saber-rattling lunatic by those who now want him to testify).
It is with trepidation that I take the liberty of giving absolutely unsolicited advice, but I say shut it down this week: throw it out.
It is a dead, rotting fish, devised and promoted for contemptible motives by unworthy legislators and unsupported by law or fact. This isn’t even a third rail of sexual harassment with millions of credulous women on their feet screaming for the emasculation of a federal judge; it is an abusive perversion of the Constitution, an outrage and a disgrace.
The high court of the whole enfranchised nation will determine whether the president retains his office, in nine months, and this kind of unfounded assault must be discouraged, lest it become routine, like conspiracies in the army and the praetorian guard in the later Roman Empire. The Trump-haters corrupted the Justice Department and the intelligence agencies; the Democrats cannot be allowed to hobble any further on the crutch of claiming Trump is a moral pariah unfit for office because they say so.
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Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world as owner of the British telegraph newspapers, the Fairfax newspapers in Australia, the Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times and scores of smaller newspapers in the U.S., and most of the daily newspapers in Canada. He is the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, one-volume histories of the United States and Canada, and most recently of Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other. He is a member of the British House of Lords as Lord Black of Crossharbour.