John Colson: Trump’s trial rolls along while we watch

John Colson
Hit & Run

As I watched, read and listened my way through the past several weeks of impeachment hearings, one of the more interesting things that came out of it was a news report citing an unnamed Democratic senator’s staffer complaining, “Our phones are not ringing off the hook! Nobody cares!”

The implication was that no one is watching the ongoing impeachment proceedings against President Donald J. Trump, despite being one of the most historic political clashes of our era and one that I believe millions of voters are watching closely.

I checked, and learned that several national news sources reported that more than 11 million “viewers” tuned in to the first day of hearings before the U.S. Senate, a number that does not include anyone watching via online streaming or following things on social media (which probably is a lot of people, since we have been pummeled for several years with stories about how “traditional” media are losing market share to streaming outlets and social media).

One of those sources, the Reuters news agency, followed up a day later (Jan. 22) with a report that viewership had slumped by 19% — possibly due to a combination of weariness (the Jan. 21 opening day of impeachment proceedings went late into the night) and the nationwide understanding that the Republican-controlled Senate is not about to toss Trump out of office, no matter what Trump has done and regardless of what the House impeachment managers might say.

The viewership numbers for the Senate’s opening-day hearing fell short of the numbers for the opening day of the House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings toward the end of last year, which reportedly amounted to more than 13.8 million “viewers.”

I should note that, overruling vociferous objections from my usually very accommodating wife, I have been watching as much as I could of the hearings since they began. And I plan to continue doing so, believing as I do that the actual Articles of Impeachment only get at a small portion of Trump’s illegal, immoral and anti-democratic acts and pronouncements since he was elected three-and-a-quarter years ago, any and all of which warrant impeachment in my book.

I also should note that, according to two news organizations, The New York Times and, in an online subsequent article about the Times report, an outlet called The Intelligencer, Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton has penned a forthcoming book (which apparently already is circulating around Washington, D.C., in draft form) that “blows up” much of Trump’s first line of defense in the impeachment trial.

According to the reports, Bolton maintains that the president, at least as early as August of last year, was loudly calling for the Ukrainians to mount a smearing probe into Joe and Hunter Biden, and had long made it clear he would withhold needed military aid from the country until its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, at least announced plans for an investigation in order to cast a shadow over Joe Biden’s bid to unseat Trump from the Oval Office.

Bolton’s book reportedly also claims Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “acknowledged privately that there was no basis to claims by the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that the ambassador to Ukraine (Marie Yovanovitch) was corrupt,” which puts the lie to the president’s stated reason for firing Yovanovitch and strengthens the case that she was fired because she stood in the way of Trump’s and Giuliani’s own corrupt schemes for coercing Ukraine into smearing the Bidens. In a recording that recently came to light, Trump at one point tells one of his shady henchmen to “get rid of her … take her out,” sounding just like a mafia don calling for a hit.

No wonder the Republicans are falling all over themselves to keep Bolton and Trump’s cast of thugs from testifying. I’ve covered enough criminal trials in my time as a reporter to know that once a defendant’s case begins to come apart, as Trump’s might very well do, it can very quickly be reduced to dust.

Of course, Trump’s loyal cadre of Senate Republicans would simply dismiss all this even if it did somehow get worked into the evidence for the impeachment trial, repeating ad nauseum that Trump “did not do anything wrong,” as if a president trying to get foreign actors to interfere with our presidential elections is not something to worry about.

I was amused to see that the New York Times’ Sunday Review section contained a piece by Nicholas Kristoff headlined, “What if it were Obama?” who had tried this stunt with the Ukrainians and been impeached over it.

My own thinking along these lines led me to conclude that, at the very least, Republicans in Congress would be calling for Obama’s head on a platter, and would be demanding the very same kind of witnesses at a Senate-held impeachment trial that they are now refusing to consider for the Trump trial.

Of course, the whole idea is silly, because Obama was far too cautious and ethical a president to get involved in any such stunt, and probably would have quietly fired any aides who dared to suggest it.

I mean, one of Obama’s biggest failings, in my eyes, is that he did not blow the whistle on the Russian election meddling in 2016, even though he knew about it by the summer of that year. And his refusal to do so rested on his fears of being accused of “meddling” himself, which shows clearly that he was cautious to a fault.

But we’ve got Trump on the hot seat, at least for a little while longer.

And if he is acquitted by his Republican sycophants (I still harbor some hope he’ll be kicked out), then we’ll see the real Donald, unshackled, vengefully pissed off at his accusers and loaded for bear in his zealous quest to kill off as much as he can of our government, our social-welfare net, our environmental protections and our ongoing metamorphosis from a nation controlled by aging white men to a much more diverse culture.

Yep, if it happens the way almost everyone thinks it will, we’re in for a nasty ride, but on election day in November we can do something about it.

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