the national interest

The Circular Reasoning of the Senate Republican Trump Cover-up

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Senate Republicans had the chance to get evidence that, for various reasons, was not available to the House when it impeached the president. Neither John Bolton nor Lev Parnas had yet offered to testify, and now they are. The Senate has more certain and rapid legal avenues to compel documents and witnesses that Trump withheld from the House. But nearly every Senate Republican decided they do not want to see that evidence. Why?

If you ask Republicans themselves, the reasons they offer are so riddled with internal contradictions as to insult our intelligence. Here is Senator Lisa Murkowski:

The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena.

According to Murkowski, the criteria for a good process is carefully considered, thorough, and bipartisan. If she supported witnesses, it would make the process more thorough and less partisan. Instead she is opposing such a measure, thereby compounding the very flaws she identifies.

Likewise, Senator Lamar Alexander insists the case Trump abused his power “has already been proven” to such a degree “there is no need for more evidence,” but also decries the evidence provided as “shallow, hurried and wholly partisan.” Which is to say, the House convicted Trump because — as Alexander concedes — it had enough evidence to prove its case. But since Republicans denied the obvious conclusion, this rendered the case “partisan.” And since they now complain it is “rushed,” Alexander votes to rush it even faster.

Former presidential candidate and Trump bullying survivor Marco Rubio promised in 2016 that his role would be to hold Trump “accounable” if he won the presidency. Rubio’s conception of this role has since evolved. He now argues against convicting Trump on the circular grounds that voting guilty “would not just be a condemnation of his action. If I vote guilty, I will be voting to remove a President from office for the first time in the 243-year history of our Republic.” The Founders, he explains, “decided to require the support of two thirds of the Senate to remove a President — we serve as a guardrail against partisan impeachment and against removal of a President without broad public support.”

In reality, Rubio voting guilty would not remove Trump, because Rubio’s vote would still leave the chamber far short of a two-thirds supermajority. If enough senators did join him to remove Trump, then it would not longer be a partisan impeachment. His argument against conviction is a pure logical paradox.

Rubio further argues that he doesn’t need any evidence because, while he opposes the actions in question, the crime itself does not merit removal. Rubio does not even go as far as Alexander in conceding the case has been proven. He frames his argument entirely in the hypothetical, characteristically protecting both his flanks so that he can one day argue either that he believed Trump to have been guilty or innocent, depending on which position ultimately proves more convenient to his advancement.

Viewed in this light, more evidence is not merely unnecessary to Rubio, but downright harmful. The more he knows, the harder it is to maintain his pose of studied neutrality.

In a new interview with the New York Times, Alexander, perhaps looking to salvage his reputation, ruminates more deeply on his very public-spirited reasons to block all new evidence from the trial. “ It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.” This is worth a moment’s reflection. No figure in American history since perhaps Joe McCarthy has done more to inflame political culture than Trump, who has obliterated all known political norms with his endless lies, invective, and refusal to cede any legitimacy to his critics. Alexander believes his duty is to protect the culture, by shielding Trump not only from removal, but even from the discovery of more evidence of his guilt. Even to expose Trump’s lies — before acquitting him — is too inflammatory for Alexander’s delicate sensibility.

One might wonder what Alexander is afraid will happen if he were to extend the trial a week or two, and discover more evidence of Trump’s guilt? Is it the culture he fears will be burned? Or himself?

The Circular Reasoning of the Senate Trump Cover-up