The Importance of Hearings

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The Mueller Report is not an invitation for the House to impeach and the Senate to convict Donald Trump.  It is an instruction. “No man is above the law,” Mueller wrote, for a reason.

But Democrats find themselves in an agonizing dilemma. A majority of Americans are against impeaching Trump. We have an election coming up in a year-and-a-half, and even starting impeachment hearings carries potentially disastrous political risks.  

On the other hand, maybe not starting impeachment hearings carries even more disastrous risks. Suppose Democrats look weak—who, us?—and Trump is re-elected. What would a second Trump term look like if Democrats let him know that we won’t hold him accountable for clear violations of the Constitution?  

And, impeachment hearings might create tremendous political dividends. Did you know that a majority of Americans were against impeaching Nixon when the Watergate hearings began?     

But then again, in Watergate, the process was very much the reverse of what it’s been with the Mueller investigation. The special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, wasn’t appointed until after the Senate Watergate hearings had begun. In a very condensed time-frame, Americans learned about the plumbers and the slush-funds used to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and bomb the Brookings Institution. In the hearings we heard about the enemies list, and John Dean told us that he had discussed the cover-up with Nixon 35 times, telling him that “there is a cancer growing on the Presidency and that if the cancer was not removed the President himself would be killed by it.” And then Alexander Butterfield testified that it was all on tape!!!

Hearings are important in politics because they are gripping television. They reveal facts and character and build a narrative through dramatic, unforgettable moments. That’s what the Watergate hearings did—and what BEHIND CLOSED DOORS investigations by Mueller and the Senate and House Intelligence committees did not. Whether they’re Impeachment hearings or your regular garden-variety hearings, Democrats can still use them to make Americans understand just what is at stake here.

Yes, there have been dramatic revelations over the last two-and-a-half years. But that’s a big part of the problem. The Comey Investigation, which became the Mueller Investigation, began before Trump was sworn in. With smart, hard-working WaPo and NYT reporters breaking crazy revelation after crazy revelation—about NSA chief Mike Flynn lying to Vice President Pence about discussing sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, about Jeff Sessions lying about meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, about Trump firing Comey and then meeting in the Oval Office with only Russians, including Russian ambassador Sergy Kislyak, and about the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner trying to set up a secret backchannel with ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And that was just the stuff about Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak!

There’s Trump paying off an adult-movie actress and a Playboyplaymate not to reveal that each had made love with him.  You can imagine how evangelicals abandoned him over that! Michael Flynn was indicted, then Papadopoulos, and Manafort, and Gates, and Cohen, and Roger Stone, and others, including lots and lots of Russians. And then there’s Trump being caught lying an average of twenty-to-thirty times a day and emerging from a meeting with Vladmir Putin that commentators called the lowest moment of his Presidency until the next lowest moment soon after.  

And, of course, every bit of this was the subject of intense 24-hour-a-day cud-chewing by the hosts of cable-news shows and their guests—those very same smart, hardworking, now-Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and equally smart, hardworking former federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and from Alabama, and also from the Southern District of New York. 

By the time the Mueller Report came out, Americans were bored with it all.  Compared to, you know, the obscene cost of insulin. Or paying off Susie’s student loan. Or Rosalina’s. Or Adnan’s.

But then again, if you read the Mueller Report, is there any doubt that Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice? On the other hand, how many Americans have read the Mueller Report? My point exactly.  

Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will once again have an opportunity to ask questions of Attorney General Barr. Republican members, presumably unbothered by anything they read about the Mueller Report, will be parroting Barr’s last press conference. The one where Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein looked spooked – I’ve seen guys look more confident in hostage videos. 

That’s why tomorrow’s hearings are so important.  

It’s time for Democrats on Judiciary to create some memorable moments—to make clear the stakes of this moment in our history. How do they do that? Well, there’s coordination.  

Every senator may have a favorite angle to pursue. But instead of members just focusing on their own questions, Democrats need to coordinate with the ranking member’s staff to build a simple, straightforward narrative: that Barr lied in the four-page summary of the Report and that he lied in his press conference.   

Barr lied when he told us that the Mueller Report had concluded that the president had fully cooperated with the investigation. Really, Mr. Barr? For starters, how about firing Comey? That’s cooperation with the investigation? Ordering Don McGahn to order Rosenstein to fire Mueller? Ordering McGahn to lie to Mueller about Trump ordering McGahn to order Rosenstein to fire Mueller? Or telling Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself and fire Mueller?  

Firing the head of an investigation and then ordering subordinates to fire his successor is not what Minnesotans call “cooperation.” Do South Carolinians? What’s that you say, Mr. Chairman? You do!? Well, aren’t you an interesting piece of work?!

Barr was also lying when he told us, “the Special Counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes.” 

The Report concluded no such thing. In fact, Mueller makes it clear on The Report’s second page that in making its conclusions, “We applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of collusion.”

No collusion? Really, Mr. Attorney General? The Report says that in 2016, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort directed the campaign’s internal polling data on Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian Russian with close ties to Russian intelligence.  Manafort instructed Kilimnik to turn the data over to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. That’s collusion, isn’t it? But it’s not technically conspiracy because neither Kilimnik nor Deripaska is a Russian government official. They’re just guys with close connections to the GRU and Putin. Barr does know that Russia’s political system is different from ours, doesn’t he? That Putin, like, kills political enemies?  

Or, let’s surmise that some of the redacted material is about Roger Stone who, during the campaign, often bragged about being in contact with Julian Assange. Let’s say that Stone acted as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Wikileaks, as the Mueller indictment pretty clearly indicates:

During the summer of 2016, STONE spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign. STONE was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1.

And let’s say that Stone suggested to his friend, Assange, that Wikileaks release John Podesta’s emails just hours after Trump’s Access Hollywood video became public? That would be collusion, right?  But is it illegal under the framework of conspiracy law? No. As Barr told us in the press conference: 

The Special Counsel also investigated whether any member or affiliate of the Trump campaign encouraged or otherwise played a role in these dissemination efforts. Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy. Here too, the Special Counsel’s report did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials.

Applicable law? You mean conspiracy law?  Under conspiracy law, Stone is not guilty because he did not himself participate in the underlying hacking conspiracy. There is certainly no applicable collusion law.  We know that because Mueller himself told us that on page 2. 

There is nothing wrong with a little repetition: “We applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of collusion.”

Don’t let this guy wriggle out of anything. Know the damn Report. Stay on him. And most of all—listen!

Listen to your colleagues’ questions — from both sides. And most importantly, listen to Barr. Listen to every word carefully.

Listen to what he says and how he says it. You have to treat him as if you are talking to someone who has no compunction about lying to you and to the American people. Almost like you’re talking to Donald Trump, a president who refused to be interviewed by the Special Counsel. Ask Barr how refusing to testify in person constitutes “complete cooperation.” Ask Barr why the president responded the way he did when he heard that Mueller had been appointed Special Counsel.  Is that the reaction of a man with nothing to hide?  We know Trump committed the actual crime of obstruction. It was only Justice Department policy which prevented Mueller from indicting him. He can either be prosecuted for it later or impeached now. And Democrats should use tomorrow’s hearing to show America why Donald Trump is indeed “fuck*d.”