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Adam Schiff Stands Up and Speaks the Truth at Mitch McConnell’s Upside-Down Stalinist Show Trial

Yes, say Senate Republicans, we know there's evidence that makes Trump’s guilt even clearer. But we will sit as judges to disallow it before we sit as jurors to “exonerate” him.

Michael TomaskyJan. 24, 2020 9:42 AM ET

Adam Schiff’s closing remarks Thursday night will go down in history. He laid out, with a plain-spoken eloquence, everything that’s at stake here. He’s been impressive the whole way through—I was especially struck on day two by the way he batted down one particular defense of Donald Trump that’s been driving me nuts, the fact that Volodymyr Zelensky said he never felt any pressure from Trump. Well, duh, Schiff said—like the president of a small country wants to antagonize the president of the United States? 

But day three, in closing, he was even better. Watch it if you haven’t. He looked to his left—right at Senate Republicans—as he said: “Do we really have any doubt about the facts here? Does anybody really question whether the president is capable of what he’s charged with? No one is really making the argument—Donald Trump would never do such a thing—because of course we know that he would, and of course we know that he did.”

And he looked their way again when he explained why Trump had to be not merely censured or something but removed: “So, what if China does overtly or covertly start to help the Trump campaign? You think he’s going to call them out on it or you think he’s going to give them a better trade deal on it? Can any of us really have the confidence that Donald Trump will put his personal interests ahead of the national interests? Is there really any evidence in this presidency that should give us the iron-clad confidence that he would do so?”

And he looked their way again as he wound up: “If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. The Framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter… Because right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.”

I watch Schiff, and all I can think about is those Senate Republicans sitting there listening to him. Schiff and the other House managers have dismantled every joke of an excuse Trump’s defenders have come up with.

There is no way on earth these people can think Trump is innocent. No way. The MAGA-hat masses, maybe. But these people are senators. They’re not all legislative titans, God knows. But they’re smart enough. They know how corrupt Trump is. You used to say so yourself, didn’t you, Lindsey? Graham in March 2016: “We should have basically kicked him out of the party.”

So they know. And yet, they sit there waving all the evidence away. That is, when they’re even sitting there. Groups of them are reportedly sneaking off to huddle in the cloakroom. They don’t want to hear the evidence. They didn’t read the Mueller Report. They didn’t watch the House testimony. They know nothing. I heard Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tell Chuck Todd exactly that—this is maybe the first time they’re hearing all this, and they don’t even want to hear it, because they know.

Surreal. I heard New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand make a damning point on MSNBC Thursday afternoon: that Republican senators are barking “nothing new here!”—at the same time they’re voting down nearly a dozen amendments designed to allow the introduction of new evidence!

This is exactly like something you’d read in a Milan Kundera novel about the early days of communist Czechoslovakia. 

Some hapless citizen would fall afoul of the party in some way, and then the party would gin up some bullshit charge against him, and he’d have the evidence to exonerate himself but he’d appear before some tribunal that disallowed the evidence.

“So, comrade. You pronounce yourself innocent. But where is your evidence?”

“You disallowed the evidence!”

“Ah, so you admit you have no evidence. Guilty!”

The Senate Republicans are doing the above in reverse. But now it’s nonfiction, and it’s even more surreal than fiction. Yes, they are saying, we know that there might be evidence that will make Trump’s guilt even more obvious than it is now. And yes, we are sitting as jurors, and we swore an oath to be impartial. But before we sit as a jury, we get to play judge, and as judge, we disallow your evidence. 

I know Trump and company are more frequently compared to fascists. And a lot of the time that’s perfectly apt. But Capitol Hill Republicans are communists. They are the Czechs and East Germans and Poles of the 1950s, happily announcing that their nations are the truly free ones, that it is in fact the Western bourgeoisie who live in chains, that next year’s coal production numbers will crush the West’s, that Dear Leader speaks truths so profound as to be barely accessible to mere mortals, that the sky is green and the grass is blue and everything you are seeing with your own eyes and hearing with your own ears is a lie.

Who are these people? We all hyperventilate about Graham and Mitch McConnell, and we look (with ever more futility) for signs of courage in Mitt Romney and Susan Collins. But I’m far more fascinated by the people whose names we never think of; those 40 or so Republican senators who toil away in total obscurity—who are never on TV, whose opinion about anything is never solicited beyond the borders of their remote states, and who will someday retire from the Senate without leaving so much as a stain in the men’s room urinals. Despots need their McConnells and Grahams, but their silent servants, who carry out their orders without drawing a round of enemy fire, are in some ways more useful.

I saw Mike Braun on TV Thursday. Who’s Mike Braun, you ask? Republican from Indiana. Joined his father’s truck business, grew it impressively (and good for him). Won in 2018. Seems to be there mostly to oppose giveaways, except of course to rich people.

Then there’s Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Ever heard of him? He’s been around a while, so you may have. But quick: Name me one thing he’s done. Right.

Jim Risch of Idaho. He’s the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. As this whole business involves foreign relations (Ukraine), one might have thought he’d try to make his views matter. On the other hand, why should he? He’s a multimillionaire from Idaho whose only risk in public life is that he casts a wrong vote and ends up with Trump tweeting about his tiny hands and the Club for Growth finding some neo-fascist Coeur d’Alene lumber magnate to primary him. 

These senators and the 35 or so others like them sit there, or not, in total freedom in that no one (save the Club for Growth) is watching them. But it’s a freedom of shame, cowardice, soullessness. It’s the same “freedom” enjoyed by Communist Party members in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania in 1967; the freedom to ask “how high?” when Dear Leader says “jump.”  

Between jumps, they sit, laughing and forgetting (speaking of Kundera), hiding from evidence, spitting on the Constitution, preparing to tell America that a president asking a foreign government to influence the next election is perfectly fine. 

And by the way, these 53 Senate Republicans, this judge and “jury,” these self-brainwashed nomenklatura, this “majority,” represent 15 million fewer Americans than the 47 Democrats who voted for evidence and witnesses, according Ian Millhiser of Vox, who did the math. And they’ll be exonerating a president who received 2.8 million fewer votes than his opponent. 

Do we really have any doubt about the facts here?

Those Senate Republicans are lying when they say that the Democrats are trying to invalidate an election. But if Democrats were trying to do that, it would be defensible. 

Better now than after he steals the next election and these authoritarians call it “democracy.”