Accessibility links

Breaking News

The Senate impeachment trial was rigged!

The Senate impeachment trial was rigged!

Dana Milbank


Feb. 1, 2020 at 2:11 a.m. GMT+1

In the end, they didn’t even pretend to take their oaths seriously.

Senators were instructed “to be in attendance at all times” during President Trump’s impeachment trial. But as the Democratic House managers made their last, fruitless appeals Friday for the Senate to bring witnesses and documents, several of the body’s 53 Republican senators didn’t even bother to show up.

“A trial is supposed to be a quest for the truth,” lead manager Adam Schiff pleaded.

The latest Trump impeachment trial updates

Thirteen GOP senators were missing as he said this. Sens. Kevin Cramer (N.D.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) chewed gum.

Manager Val Demings (Fla.) reminded them that this would be the “only time in history” that an impeachment trial was held without witnesses or relevant documents.

Twelve Republican senators were missing. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) joined in the chewing.

“The American people deserve to hear the truth,” insisted manager Sylvia Garcia (Tex.). By now, 15 Republican senators were missing.

Manager Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) spoke from the well. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), wearing cotton chinos for the occasion, perused a magazine.

“Please don’t give up,” manager Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) urged. “This is too important.”

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) stuck a finger in his left nostril. Johnson waved a hand dismissively and shared a chuckle with Cramer. Fully 20 Republican senators were missing.

At the start of the impeachment trial, Trump’s Senate allies limited media coverage to hide from public scrutiny. Then they made sure the trial would end without a single witness called or a single document requested. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the clinching vote against witnesses, declared before Friday’s session began, “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything.”

It was all over but the shouting. And now several of those who had rushed Trump toward acquittal wouldn’t even grant the courtesy of listening to the House managers. (They returned, curiously, when Trump’s defenders had their turn in the well; Paul put away his magazine.)

Senate blocks new witnesses, evidence in impeachment trial

The Senate on Jan. 31 rejected a resolution to allow for new witnesses and evidence in President Trump's impeachment trial. (U.S. Senate)

This was an ugly end to an ugly trial. It began with bold promises by the president’s lawyers to prove there was no quid pro quo in his dealings with Ukraine. When former national security adviser John Bolton’s manuscript, with firsthand evidence of the quid pro quo, made that impossible, key Republicans fell back to a new position: Trump’s guilt doesn’t matter.

“There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) declared late Thursday. But the choice of “what to do about what he did,” Alexander said, should be “in the presidential election.”

What an elegant solution! He accepts that Trump is guilty of cheating in the election — and, therefore, his fate should be determined by the very election in which he has cheated.

It’s like a sprinter, caught doping before a competition, being told his fate would be determined by having him run the race.


Shortly before Alexander declared Trump guilty but unimpeachable, Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin made the same argument. “Even if John Bolton would say it is true, that is not an impeachable offense,” he told the senators.

Now that the Senate has accepted the White House argument that Trump’s cheating in the election is “perfectly permissible,” why wouldn’t Trump continue to cheat? Why would anybody have faith that the 2020 election will be on the level?

Opinion | Then and now: Republicans on impeachment witnesses

Fifteen of the GOP senators who will try President Trump's impeachment were in Congress during the Clinton impeachment. Only one voted to acquit Bill Clinton. (Video: Joy Sharon Yi, Kate Woodsome/Photo: AP, Washington Post, Reuters/The Washington Post)

Democrats now take their case to the voters, unsure of who might be helping Trump’s campaign. Putin? Erdogan? Xi? MBS?

Republicans, poised to benefit from foreign help, expressed no such alarm. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Friday that “just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president.” Rubio thought it “difficult to conceive of any scheme Putin could undertake that would undermine confidence in our democracy more than removal would.”

Now, Vladimir Putin gets to put that logic to the test.

“Senators, there is a storm blowing through this Capitol,” Schiff warned on Friday. “Its winds are strong and they move us into uncertain and dangerous directions.”

But on the Senate floor, those on the GOP side who bothered to attend (the Democratic side was largely full throughout the day) were tranquil. Cory Gardner (Colo.) edited some text. John Neely Kennedy (La.) looked at news clippings and a bar graph. Mike Lee (Utah) tapped his watch and studied its glowing screen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) struck up a chat. Others busied themselves with reading.

At the start of Friday’s session, Senate Chaplain Barry Black reminded the senators that “we reap what we sow.”

In their cowardly, 51-to-49 vote Friday evening to speed a guilty president on his way to a hasty acquittal while suppressing the evidence, Trump’s protectors planted the seeds of a poisonous harvest in November.