"We're not fooling around here," Rep. Adam Schiff told The New York Times late on Wednesday, referring to Ukrainegate or Wild Mueller II: Two Shades of Blue or "The national conversation we're having about a telephone conversation" or whatever we've decided to call it. "We don't want this to drag on months and months and months."
Whom does he think he's kidding? Of course Schiff wants the latest absurd Trumpian meta-scandal to carry on for as long as possible — and preferably longer than that. The open-endedness is the only reason that his party, with the approval, at last, of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is even doing this.
If you are not one of the people who managed to read all 19 of the impeachment mini-scooplets that appeared in one section of a single daily edition of one of our national newspapers earlier this week, you might be forgiven for not realizing that what began before the poor Brewers had even clinched their briefly lived playoff spot as a rumor about a head of state asking another for assistance with an investigation quickly metamorphosed into a request for a document whose immediate release was announced before the aforementioned request could even be made publicly. Keep spitballing, guys.
What do Schiff and his colleague Elijah Cummings plan to try next if Trump refuses to give them whatever pieces of toilet paper they are now requesting? Send the House Sergeant at Arms to arrest him? A subpoena is not going to work.
Nor should it. There is no precedent anywhere in American history for these sorts of demands, least of all in United States v. Nixon, a case about which I have a hunch we are on the verge of suddenly becoming a nation of experts. That case was about a president who, for reasons that seemingly had nothing to do with national security or the other legitimate prerogatives of the executive branch, attempted to withhold evidence related to the already existing grand jury indictments of Gordon Libby, Howard Hunt, and the five Watergate burglars. It involved, in other words, an actual crime that was then being prosecuted. It was in part President Nixon's unwillingness to hand over this material that led to the threat of his impeachment, not the other way around.
Meanwhile, Schiff's latest tizzy is not about a crime for which possible evidence is being sought. It is not even about evidence for which a possible crime is being sought. It is about an impossible crime for which there cannot be any evidence by definition because, so far as I am aware, neither the text of the Constitution nor any federal statue says that it is a crime to do things like beat Democrats at elections by actually campaigning in the states they need to win and flipping some of their most reliable voters.
The Dems know this, which is why they think their plan is genius. What happens next — a subpoena is ignored and this refusal to cooperate is not taken up by the attorney general, in turn not bringing it to the Supreme Court, who would not rule in Democrats' favor here — doesn't matter in the slightest. If Trump gave the House Intelligence Committee all 879 million pages of handwritten notes they are requesting about the Ukrainian president's favorite kind of ice cream, they would respond the next day by demanding a million more. Not only that — they would pretend that the first 879 million pages, in which they failed to locate the evidence one would like to think some of them believe might actually be found there, were never of any consequence. It was "collusion" for years until that word was suddenly an empty right-wing talking point. It turned out that the point was not the "months of murky messaging around a confusing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign (!)" — it was about obstruction of justice the whole time. "This was never about ice cream, guys." I am not overly fond of most neologisms, but it's times like this when one is glad that "gaslighting" is a word.
For all the Democrats' best efforts, though, I suspect that Ukrainegate will eventually run its course, the same way that Mueller and Stormy Daniels (still the closest thing there ever was to a solid case, if not one for which Trump can be indicted while in office) and that thing about taxes that no one remembers anymore all did. But it will not be the last thing of its kind either.
The only question is whether the next round of briefly alleged treasonous actions by this administration will involve yet another former Soviet Republic — Turkmenistan anyone? — or an actual NATO ally. What a scandal it would be for our democracy if an American president were caught collaborating on the phone with one of those people. Remember: we fought an actual war against Italy once folks. Germany too. Never mind collusion with our British allies — I mean, the murderers we fought in '76 and '12.
Democrats better not be fooling around.
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