So Busted

If you haven’t already read the NY Times’s Behind the Ukraine Aid Freeze: 84 Days of Conflict and Confusion (The inside story of President Trump’s demand to halt military assistance to an ally shows the price he was willing to pay to carry out his agenda), don’t wait too long to do so. It’s fascinating stuff.

Interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony provide the most complete account yet of the 84 days from when Mr. Trump first inquired about the money to his decision in September to relent.

What emerges is the story of how Mr. Trump’s demands sent shock waves through the White House and the Pentagon, created deep rifts within the senior ranks of his administration, left key aides like Mr. Mulvaney under intensifying scrutiny — and ended only after Mr. Trump learned of a damning whistle-blower report and came under pressure from influential Republican lawmakers.

The name Mulvaney keeps coming up in this thing. As Charles Pierce says, lots of people are feeding Mulvaney to the wolves. He was, the article says, a “key conduit for transmitting Mr. Trump’s demands for the freeze across the administration.” And all kinds of people scattered through many offices of government were involved in at least a piece of this mess.

Greg Sargent has a good synopsis of the piece and argues that life has just gotten a lot harder for Mitch McConnell.

What makes all this new information really damning, however, is that many of these officials who were directly involved with Trump’s freezing of aid are the same ones Trump blocked from appearing before the House impeachment inquiry.

This should make it inescapable that McConnell wants a trial with no testimony from these people — Democrats want to hear from Mulvaney, Bolton, Duffey and Blair — precisely because he, too, wants to prevent us from ever gaining a full accounting.

We now have a much clearer glimpse into the murky depths of just how much more these officials know about the scheme — and just how much McConnell and Trump are determined to make sure we don’t ever learn. That’s so indefensible that it might even breach the levee of the media’s both-sidesing tendencies.

Colin Kalmbacher writing for Law and Crime points to the illegality of the whole mess.

Attorneys for the White House and the Department of Justice (DOJ) scrambled to piece together a legal justification after President Donald Trump withheld military aid to the Ukraine earlier this year.

According to the New York Times, those efforts were focused on sidestepping the Impoundment Control Act of 1974–a law which requires the executive branch to notify Congress if and when already-appropriated funds are being withheld. And, in service of that goal, various attorneys developed a somewhat novel legal theory.

Basically, the argument was that the hold on the funds had to be kept secret because of ongoing negotiations about “corruption.” But Kalmacher goes on to explain that the law doesn’t give the administration any discretion on funds appropriated by Congress. If for some reason he doesn’t want the money to be spent as appropriated, he has to go back to Congress about it.

So busted.

The Boy Commander in Chief and His Soldier-Toys

The New York Times has a must-read account of the testimony against Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher from fellow Navy SEALS.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.  …

…Video from a SEAL’s helmet camera, included in the trove of materials, shows the barely conscious captive — a teenage Islamic State fighter so thin that his watch slid easily up and down his arm — being brought in to the platoon one day in May 2017. Then the helmet camera is shut off.

In the video interviews with investigators, three SEALs said they saw Chief Gallagher go on to stab the sedated captive for no reason, and then hold an impromptu re-enlistment ceremony over the body, as if it were a trophy.

“I was listening to it, and I was just thinking, like, this is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Special Operator Miller, who has since been promoted to chief, told investigators.

Gallagher was pardoned by Trump, as were two other soldiers convicted of war crimes. Trump considers these men to be his personal pets.

President Donald Trump’s took part in a Saturday night rally in South Florida, bringing two accused war criminals on to the stage as honored guests.

According to the Miami Herald, during his speech at Florida Republicans’ annual Statesman’s Dinner, Trump brought Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Matt Golsteyn in front of the crowd. Trump controversially pardoned the two—along with former Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher—last month against the recommendations of senior military leaders. Lorance was serving a 19-year prison sentence for murder after ordering soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men in 2012, killing two. Golsteyn had been charged with premeditated murder after admitting to shooting a detained, unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn killed the prisoner off-base and buried his body, only to dig it up later, bring it back to the base, and burn it in a pit used to dispose of trash, according to the Washington Post.

The men’s appearance at a party rally and fundraiser confirm that Trump sees political value in his interventions on behalf of soldiers who were charged by uniformed military prosecutors with the most serious crimes. After the pardons, the Daily Beast cited two sources who said they heard the president talk about how he would use the pardoned soldiers as political props in his 2020 reelection bid, with one saying they heard the president discuss “making it a big deal at the convention.”

However, a Military Times poll published this month says support for Trump among military personnel is going down and not up.

When asked specifically about Trump’s handling of military issues, nearly 48 percent of the troops surveyed said they had an unfavorable view of that part of his job, compared to 44 percent who believe he has handled that task well. That marks a significant drop from the 2018 Military Times poll, when 59 percent said they were happy with his handling of military issues, against 20 percent who had an unfavorable view.

See also the video.

The Military Times article didn’t go into much detail as to why Trump is falling out of favor among the troops. It did mention the firing of Gen. Jim Mattis as defense secretary as a big issue with the troops. Many were also disillusioned by the pullout from Syria.

It’s been said before that Trump has an adolescent boy’s view of warfare, and his view of soldiers borders on cartoonish.

Depicting soldiers as dehumanized “killing machines” is something one used to see on the anti-war Left. It’s an insult to professional soldiers. But Bonnie Kirstian believes Trump identifies with war criminals. Like him, they are people who break rules.

The president’s affection for violence beyond the laws and norms of modern warfare is well-established. He expresses total confidence in the efficacy of torture, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and insists it should be employed even if it doesn’t work (“They deserve it anyway for what they do to us”). In a 2016 op-ed, for example, Trump argued it is only political correctness that prevents the United States from drowning and beheading our enemies in the style of the Islamic State. He has waxed rhapsodic about the prospect of killing the families of terrorists — which is to say, murdering children because of the misfortune of their birth and slaughtering women who very possibly had no choice in their marriage. He has no interest in confining the U.S. military to the rule of law, whether domestic or international, instead envisioning himself as the war crime commander-in-chief: “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

Thus the twisted mercy Trump offers in pardoning war crimes is not a boon to the U.S. military. It is a degradation, a blood offering to Mars.

This enthusiasm for cruelty might be sufficient to get Trump to issue pardons for war crimes. He has made clear he doesn’t care whether these soldiers are innocent of what they are accused of doing and in fact believes they were right to do it if indeed they are guilty. But I think there’s another factor at work: Trump in a sense identifies with the men he has pardoned. He is giving them the indemnity he hopes for himself.

Adam Serwer wrote at The Atlantic,

On the campaign trail, Trump frequently invoked a false story about General John Pershing crushing a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, declaring, “There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years!” He vowed to impose torture techniques “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Trump declared that he would “take out the families” of terrorist suspects, assuring skeptics that the military would not refuse his commands, even though service members have a duty to refuse orders that are manifestly illegal. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”  …

…Many former officials have warned that Trump’s war-crimes pardons undermine “good order and discipline,” a jargony way to say that they signal the rules don’t matter. A military force where the rules don’t matter is not one that can fight effectively or with the necessary moral or strategic restraint.

Defenders of Trump’s pardons dishonor service members by treating them as conscienceless automatons who need make no distinction between combatants and civilians. But murder, under color of authority, is still murder. …

… Every service member who has faced combat has experienced the anguish of losing comrades, the difficulty of facing an enemy that disguises itself and does not obey the laws of war, and the frustration of a conflict seemingly without end. The Uniform Code of Military Justice provides for juries made up of service members to ensure that those who render verdicts are themselves cognizant of the exigencies of warfare. But the fact that a relative handful of service members responded to those difficulties by desecrating corpses, deliberately killing civilians, or engaging in premeditated murder illustrates that calling them “killing machines” is a profound insult masquerading as praise.

“I will always stick up for our great fighters,” Trump told the crowd at a rally in Florida yesterday. “People can sit there in air-conditioned offices and complain, but you know what? It doesn’t matter to me whatsoever.”

The seven Navy SEALs who told investigators that Gallagher shot unarmed civilians from his sniper nest, including “a girl in a flower-print hijab who was walking with other girls on the riverbank,” after being warned that doing so could “cost them and others their careers” were not sitting in an office. The soldiers who testified that Lorance ordered his unit to fire on unarmed Afghans who were “definitely not any type of threat” were not luxuriating in an air-conditioned building. They were at just as much risk on the battlefield, and yet they chose to adhere to the rules they were charged to uphold.

In another Atlantic article, Mark Bowden writes what he’s hearing from senior officers:

In 20 years of writing about the military, I have never heard officers in high positions express such alarm about a president. Trump’s pronouncements and orders have already risked catastrophic and unnecessary wars in the Middle East and Asia, and have created severe problems for field commanders engaged in combat operations. Frequently caught unawares by Trump’s statements, senior military officers have scrambled, in their aftermath, to steer the country away from tragedy. How many times can they successfully do that before faltering?

It’s very much worth reading Bowden’s piece all the way through. The top brass complain that Trump disdains experise; he is reflexively contrary; he seems not to grasp the concept of “strategy.” And he has a simplistic and antiquated notion of soldiering.

“He doesn’t understand the warrior ethos,” one general said of the president. “The warrior ethos is important because it’s sort of a sacred covenant not just among members of the military profession, but between the profession and the society in whose name we fight and serve. The warrior ethos transcends the laws of war; it governs your behavior. The warrior ethos makes units effective because of the values of trust and self-sacrifice associated with it—but the warrior ethos also makes wars less inhumane and allows our profession to maintain our self-respect and to be respected by others. Man, if the warrior ethos gets misconstrued into ‘Kill them all …’?” he said, trailing off. Teaching soldiers about ethical conduct in war is not just about morality: “If you treat civilians disrespectfully, you’re working for the enemy! Trump doesn’t understand.”

Having never served or been near a battlefield, several of the generals said, Trump exhibits a simplistic, badly outdated notion of soldiers as supremely “tough”—hard men asked to perform hard and sometimes ugly jobs. He also buys into a severely outdated concept of leadership. The generals, all of whom have led troops in combat, know better than most that war is hard and ugly, but their understanding of “toughness” goes well beyond the gruff stoicism of a John Wayne movie. Good judgment counts more than toughness.

At the same time, Trump’s recurring dissing of Gold Star families he believes are insufficiently loyal to him reveal that his claims to respect the troops are pretty damn hollow. He respects the troops only so far as they reflect his presumed power and glory. He’s fine with using them as props, such as in his ridiculous July 4 military parade that was really all about him.

So let him trot his toy boy soldiers out at his stupid rallies; let him show them off like prize steers. I suspect this will hurt his re-election chances more than help them.

Have a Happy

I hope everyone has a lovely holiday, whatever it is to you.

Christmas card depicting children and holly from The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection published by L. Prang & Co. Original from the New York Public Library. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

What’s Happening Now

Boeing announced today that CEO Dennis Muilenburg has been fired. Boeing probably decided somebody had to be sacrificed to appease the public relations god.

Speaking of sacrifices, you’ve probably heard that Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to be executed for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The trial was closed, so we do not know for certain how these five people were connected to the murder, or even if they were connected at all but were just expendable.

The Wapo editorial board writes, the “two men who are known to have directed the operation, former deputy chief of intelligence Ahmed al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were exonerated. Most likely they were excused at the direction of the crown prince, who, according to the CIA, is the real author of the crime.”

In the Some Things Are Certain category — Maggie Severns writes for Politico that grifters gonna gift:

As President Donald Trump raises money for his reelection campaign, he’s competing for cash with a growing mass of pro-Trump PACs, dark money groups and off-brand Facebook advertisers neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Trump’s campaign. And they have pulled in over $46 million so far.

The groups mimic Trump’s brand in the way they look and feel. They borrow the president’s Twitter avatar on Facebook pages, use clips of Trump’s voice in robocalls asking for “an emergency contribution to the campaign” and, in some cases, have been affiliated with former Trump aides, such as onetime deputy campaign manager David Bossie. But most are spending little money to help the president win in 2020, POLITICO found.

The article goes on to document lots of money being raised and paid to “consultants” and staff, but not so much for anything directly related to Trump’s re-election.

Paul Waldman writes that this is part of a pattern that has infested the Right since the 1960s.

In those days, the resource was lists of addresses, and the pitch came in direct mail, both with urgent appeals to save the country from godless liberals and in offers for a thousand different products. What those early right-wing go-getters learned was that miracle arthritis cures and requests for donations to fly-by-night political groups were merely different varieties of the same snake oil.

Each new political movement on the right, whether it was the rise of the religious right in the 1980s or the tea party in the 2000s, brought with it a new set of grifters looking to cash in. Sometimes they have something to sell, such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee hawking “biblical” cures for cancer. But there’s no easier grift to pull off than the one Severns documents, because the donors don’t expect anything for their money apart from the warm feeling of knowing they’re helping Trump get reelected.

So all you need to do is come up with a name that sounds legit (“Trump MAGA 2020 Committee” or some such); buy yourself a list with email addresses of marks (or, ahem, leads); start blasting out emails begging for donations to hold off the despicable Democrat secularist socialist elites who want to destroy America; and watch the money pour in.

See also House Floats Possibility Of More Impeachment Articles If It Gets McGahn’s Testimony.  Then see Trump administration says courts shouldn’t weigh in on McGahn testimony.

Plain As Day

The Center for Public Integrity went through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies of emails that, while heavily redacted, add more evidence that Trump directly ordered Ukraine military aid halted to pressure President Zelensky.

From Axios:

The Office of Management and Budget ordered the Pentagon to withhold military aid to Ukraine 91 minutes after President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, emails released to the Center for Public Integrity show.

Details: The 146 pages of heavily redacted emails between the OMB and the Pentagon obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and court order also show Trump asked about withholding aid to Ukraine the month before his July 25 call with Zelensky.

Today Chuck Schumer used the emails to argue for witnesses at the impeachment trial.

On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) zeroed in on newly disclosed emails from Mike Duffey, an Office of Management and Budget official, which show he had requested the hold on the military aid to Ukraine about 90 minutes after President Donald Trump’s infamous July 25 call with the Ukrainian president.

In the emails, obtained via FOIA request by the Center for Public Integrity on Friday, Duffey told OMB and Pentagon officials to keep information on the request “closely held to those who need to know to execute direction.”

“If there was ever an argument that we need Mr. Duffey to come testify, this is that information,” Schumer told reporters during a press conference on Sunday. “This email is explosive.”

“A top administration official, one that we’ve requested, is saying ‘Stop the aid’ 91 minutes after Trump called Zelensky, and said ‘Keep it hush-hush,’” the Democratic leader added. “What more do you need to request a witness?”

Mitch McConnell is holding out for a unicorn, or maybe a note from God. There is nothing that would justify holding a real trial.

White House officials are predicting that Nancy Pelosi will cave on the impeachment articles, but I don’t think so. We may be in a holding pattern for a while.

A Grudging Concession to Reality

Regarding last night’s debate, I pretty much agree with what Ezra Klein says here.

Thanks to WaPo, we have corroboration that Trump got the idea that Ukraine meddled with elections from Vladimir Putin.

The buzz today has focused on Christianity Today, which published an editorial calling for Trump to be removed from office.

… the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

The editorial goes on to say that political expedience is no excuse for ignoring immoral words and behavior.

Christianity Today, which I understand to have the largest circulation of any Christian magazine in the U.S., is associated with evangelicalism and was founded by Billy Graham. But the editorial doesn’t surprise me. There are evangelicals and other evangelicals. Some of them are genuinely sincere about their faith. They aren’t all brainless goobers.

At the same time, I don’t think this represents any kind of shift. Because a lot of them are brainless goobers.

One clarification is necessary: Christianity Today is not far left. It’s not liberal, either. It’s not even loosely centrist. It is a conservative publication, it always has been, and Galli’s editorial doesn’t change its political orientation. The magazine will still oppose abortion rights and marriage equality, and the editorial itself is not exactly a comprehensive rejection of Trump and all that he represents. “Let’s grant this to the president: The Democrats have had it out for him from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion,” Galli wrote.

The piece is just as notable for what it doesn’t say. Missing from the editorial: the two dozen sexual-assault allegations against Trump, the migrant children who died in camps at the border, any mention of the racism and Islamophobia that have characterized this presidency from its first day. The editorial is not an act of courage but a grudging concession to reality. It also will not alter Evangelical support for Trump at all.

Trump’s reaction was predictable:

One assumes he meant “CT” instead of “ET,” unless he’s pissed at Engineering Today also. But one also doubts he ever read Christianity Today in his life. No centerfold.

Greg Sargent:

Indeed, the transactional cast to Trump’s rage over this is particularly instructive, once you understand that Trump and his top advisers have consciously enlisted the nation’s evangelicals as an army of Trump defenders in the war against impeachment, which is widely depicted in the evangelical movement as a kind of epic persecution of Trump carried out by the godless and the damned.

As Sarah Posner details in a terrific piece, this effort is concerted, multifaceted and highly organized. Numerous high-profile evangelicals regularly depict impeachment as a disruption of God’s plan for America to be governed by Christians in accord with “biblical” values.

Impeachment is merely the weapon that the secular, satanic left is wielding to carry out its broader pro-abortion, anti-religious-liberty agenda, which requires the removal of Trump, the savior of Christian America, all to keep the persecution of Christians going at full throttle.

Those who have already sold their souls are not going to petition to get them back. Sarah Posner:

In the eyes of evangelical loyalists, Trump is a salvific figure who must be defended to save Christian America from a catastrophic downfall at the hands of overweening Democrats. After 25 evangelical advisers met with him at the White House in late October, participants, including the Christian public relations guru Johnnie Moore, whom Trump appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, pushed out photographs of them praying with the president on social media. (Moore did not respond to interview requests for this article.) In an interview the day after the meeting, evangelical adviser Robert Jeffress, the Dallas megachurch pastor and Fox News personality, said that most evangelicals “believe this impeachment is an attempt to overthrow the 2016 election and therefore negate the votes of millions of evangelical Christians.” These voters, he went on, “see it as a war for the soul of our nation.” Jeffress predicted that evangelicals would react “very poorly” to Republican senators voting to convict Trump in an impeachment trial.

Trump has given them the judges they want, so that abortion and LGBTQ rights can be destroyed. Trump supports their twisted vision of “religious freedom” that allows them to use the power of government to enforce their religious beliefs on others. Trump sanctifies their status as the dominant tribe, in other words. And that’s all they care about. Oh, and money and power. They like those, too.

Paula White, the over-the-top televangelist who serves in an official White House post as the adviser to his Faith and Opportunities Initiative, has the last word in Posner’s article:

White has a plan to protect Trump from those dark forces, vanquish his enemies, and to defend the “biblical” government that has elevated Christian right personnel and policy priorities. And she left no doubt that the multiple roles she plays — presidential personal pastor, White House employee and defender of Trump against his enemies — have merged into a single message of God’s wrath against anyone who dares criticize him. “Any persons, entities, that are aligned against the president,” she said on the One Voice Prayer Movement launch call, “will be exposed and dealt with and overturned by the superior blood of Jesus.”

These people are buggier than an ant farm, in other words. Reason and the fact that they are driving young folks away from Christianity doesn’t deter them.


I’m not at all well, but I hauled myself off the sofa to note that The Creature has been impeached and that Nancy Pelosi may not send the articles to the Senate until there is an agreement on a reasonable trial procedure. Stay tuned.

I also want to note that Tulsi Gabbard was absent for all the debates but showed up for the vote just to vote “present.” I assume that somewhere in her flakey little head she believed she was making a statement.


Next Steps for Dems

I apologize some more for not writing. I’ve been very ill since I wrote the last post. Doctors think I will be fine, but when is a question. The meds I’m taking are making me dizzy.

Anyway — the issue at hand is that Democrats want a real Senate trial, and Republicans, or the loud ones anyway, do not. Chuck Schumer’s proposal includes calling witnesses not yet heard from, including Mick Mulvaney and Johhn Bolton. Further,

Mr. Schumer also called for the Senate to subpoena documents that could shed light on the events at the heart of the charges against Mr. Trump: his campaign to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. And he set forth a specific timetable for each side to present its case, modeled on the one used when President Bill Clinton was tried in 1999. Mr. Clinton’s trial lasted about five weeks.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could, after the House vote on the articles, decline to send over the articles until such rules for a real trial can be agreed upon. Give McConnell, say, 30 days to get this right. While the House makes clear that impeachment is urgent, there is no remedy for a clear and present danger in a farcical non-trial. Pelosi’s time frame could raise pressure on McConnell, further unhinge Trump and give Democrats a chance to get out there, as they have failed so far to do, with a full-blown ad campaign to convince voters of what is at stake.

I don’t know why there should be a 30 day deadline. John Dean — yeah, that John Dean — had a similar idea with no time limit

Dean, you’ll recall, was Richard Nixon’s White House counsel. Caught up in the early days of the Watergate cover-up, Dean became a whistle-blower — initially to his boss, and eventually to the Senate and the nation, and in the 21st century he has burnished his reputation both as a truth-teller and sage commentator. A frequent analyst of Trump’s foibles, Dean is now promoting an outside-the-box solution to the impeachment quandary.

“Let’s impeach him now and NOT send it to the Senate rather keep investigating in the House, and add such supplemental articles as needed!” Dean wrote on Twitter this weekend. “Just let it hang over his head. If the worst happens and he is reelected, send it to the Senate. But keep investigating!!”

Or, let McConnell know that the articles of impeachment will stay in Nancy Pelosi’s purse until he allows a real trial with witnesses and documents the White House has been withholding.

Some columnists have proposed that there may be enough Republican votes in the Senate to override McConnell and force a real trial, but I am not holding my breath.

Will There Be a Trial at All?

There is still an open question whether Senate Republicans will hold a real trial after they receive the inevitable articles of impeachment.  Greg Sargent writes, ‘The Post has the latest on McConnell’s scheming: Republican senators are ‘coalescing’ behind a quick impeachment trial that would call no witnesses and result in a quick acquittal vote.”

Basically, the plan is that the Senate would set aside just a few days for the House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers to present their arguments, and then the Senate would vote to acquit. No testimony from witnesses would be allowed. Over and done. This is not how impeachment trials have been conducted in the past.

There may be some wrinkles in this plan. One is that Trump himself wants a big spectable with lots of witnesses.

Trump’s desired witness list includes House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about the president’s conversations with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky led to the House impeachment inquiry.

Mitch McConnell doesn’t want to do this, because if Trump is allowed to call witnesses they might have to let Democrats call witnesses also.

At a Senate GOP luncheon this week, McConnell warned his colleagues against calling witnesses. “Mutually assured destruction,” he said, according to a Republican in the room.

McConnell is not sure Republicans have enough votes to only call Trump’s preferred list, the person said. Any agreement to call a witness would require 51 votes, and if Democratic votes were needed to end an impasse among Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would demand his own list of witnesses as part of any compromise.

Under McConnell’s thinking, this could possibly mean calling Vice President Pence and top White House aides, such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify.

The Constitution says that Chief Justice John Roberts is to preside over the trial, and precedent set in the Andrew Johnson trial, and followed in the Bill Clinton trial, says that Roberts would preside in the fullest sense of the word, as any judge would preside over a criminal trial. It seems to me that Roberts could upend everybody’s plans if he wants to. And he could compel the testimony of people like Mulvaney and Bolton. He may not want to, of course.

But precedent says Roberts is to be sworn in as the judge as soon as articles of impeachment are passed by the full House. Watch to see if that happens.

Back to Greg Sargent:

Obviously, if those witnesses confirmed in some way that Trump personally and explicitly discussed the military aid extortion plot with them, it would be even more devastating than what has already been established.

It’s true that we don’t know what those witnesses would say. But the rub is that Republicans don’t want to find out. And their reasoning has been laid bare for all to see: They are determined to acquit Trump no matter how incredibly damning such testimony might be, so they may as well spare themselves the political hardship that such testimony might inflict on them.

Of course, there’s also the outside risk that such testimony might make it impossible for a handful of GOP senators to vote to acquit Trump. Such a break must also be averted at all costs.

Greg Sargent also says it’s not certain that McConnell has 51 votes for his sham trial plan.

As this analysis by Perry Bacon Jr. shows, senators such as Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski want to maintain the appearance of principled independence from Trump. Meanwhile, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Martha McSally and Joni Ernst will feel pressure to appear to take evidence seriously to survive reelection.

And a Democratic aide points out to me that, if McConnell doesn’t have 51 votes for procedural gimmickry allowing Trump to skate, that will allow Democrats to try to assemble a majority in the Senate for sounder procedures.

Of course, if there are witnesses who testify that Trump did everything he is accused of doing, the Republicans will just pretend the witnesses said something else, as they’ve been doing with the IG report on the FBI’s probe into Trump’s 2016 campaign. Still, a real trial would be reassuring. If we don’t even get that, the Constitution is broken.

Too Much Restraint

I apologize for not posting more. I have been plagued by a bad tooth, and today I have to face up to root canal. I will be more communicative once that’s over with, I’m sure.

But only two articles of impeachment? What the bleep? Get this

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) emphasized what he characterized as “extreme restraint” in pursuing Trump’s impeachment in a statement issued after the two articles were unveiled.

Is “extreme restraint” supposed to be a good thing?