Top Democrats urge Justice Department internal watchdog to investigate AG William Barr

Two top Democrats are urging the Justice Department's internal watchdogs to investigate slanderous remarks made by Attorney General William Barr about the intelligence community official who elevated the whistleblower complaint regarding Donald Trump.

Appearing on Fox News on April 9, Barr said Trump had done "the right thing" when he fired former intelligence investigator general Michael Atkinson, suggesting that Atkinson had exceeded his mandate as IG by exploring "anything" and then reporting it back to Congress. But in a letter to two Justice Department officials, the Democratic chairs of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees said Barr had "blatantly mischaracterized" Atkinson's conduct.

"Mr. Barr’s remarks followed the President’s admission on April 4 that he fired Mr. Atkinson in retaliation for Mr. Atkinson’s handling—in accordance with the law—of the whistleblower complaint," Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler wrote. "Mr. Barr’s misleading remarks appear to have been aimed at justifying the President’s retaliatory decision to fire Mr. Atkinson."

Barr claimed that Atkinson had "ignored" Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance that he was "obliged to follow" regarding how to handle the whistleblower complaint, a total distortion intended to gaslight Americans about what transpired. In actuality, Atkinson had no legal or professional obligation to defer to the Justice Department, which had conveniently and perplexingly declined to investigate whether Trump broke any laws in his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

"To the contrary, Mr. Atkinson faithfully discharged his legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General in accordance with federal law,” Schiff and Nadler wrote to Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz.

Schiff and Nadler further said that Barr had not only misrepresented the matter, he also sought to obscure the fact that DOJ and the White House had improperly coordinated their efforts in order to "keep Congress in the dark about the existence of the complaint." 

"The role of Attorney General Barr and other senior DOJ officials, in coordination with the White House, in attempting to prevent the whistleblower complaint from reaching Congress — as required by law — warrants your attention," they wrote, referring to the complaint that sparked Trump’s impeachment trial.

The two added that Barr's remarks represent a "disturbing pattern of misrepresenting facts" about the conduct of other government officials, including his purposeful misrepresentation of the conclusions of Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

"Indeed, a federal judge recently examined Mr. Barr’s 'lack of candor' and concluded that Mr. Barr 'distorted the findings in the Mueller Report,' which 'cause[d] the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump.'"

The message reinforced points made in a similar letter sent to the Justice Department last week by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Mark Warner of Virginia. It's hard to know whether DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz will take up an investigation into Barr, but Horowitz has previously touted Atkinson's "integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight."

Schiff drafting plans for 9/11-styled commission to investigate failed pandemic preparations

In an interview with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff says that his staff is now working on a "discussion draft" for creating an independent commission to investigate the failures of the United States in preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic. The commission would be modeled after the 9/11 Commission, created to investigate the events leading up to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

Schiff told Ignatius that that would be delayed "until the crisis has abated to ensure it does not interfere with" agencies' ongoing response efforts.

The most obvious concern, of course, is whether Trump and surrounding loyalists ignored warnings about the rapidly spreading virus due to Trump's obsession over his own self-interests. Ignatius reports that intelligence officials are already concerned that new acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a partisan Trump loyalist, is "trying to shape intelligence that might challenge or embarrass Trump."

If this is the case, and there is absolutely no reason to believe Grenell would not act in such a fashion, an investigation of administration actions cannot be delayed for long. The Trump administration has already been caught once engaging in criminal conduct intended solely to benefit Trump's own reelection, resulting in impeachment; there is no question that Trump's team, having been immunized from consequences for those acts by a similarly corrupt Republican-held Senate, may engage in more.

Plotting impeachment revenge, Trump ‘has an enemies list that is growing by the day’

Donald Trump is preparing his revenge against everyone who has crossed him. Just as he got on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and committed an impeachable offense the day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress, Trump will take the success of the Senate Republican impeachment cover-up as license to commit new abuses of power and acts of personal retribution.

This is completely clear to anyone who’s observed Trump even casually, but Republican sources are also lining up to (anonymously) dish to reporters. “It’s payback time,” one “prominent Republican” told Vanity Fair, while, according to another source, “He has an enemies list that is growing by the day.”

Enemy No. 1 is former national security adviser John Bolton, who it seems is “going to go through some things.” In addition to the White House threatening Bolton’s publisher over the contents of his forthcoming book, Trump wants Bolton himself criminally investigated, a source told Gabriel Sherman. But even if a criminal investigation doesn’t materialize, “Trump has been calling people and telling them to go after Bolton.”

It’s not just Bolton, though. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney dared to vote for witnesses in the impeachment trial, so he’s in trouble. Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler led the impeachment inquiry and the team of House managers at the trial, so they’re on the enemies list.

It’s exactly what you’d expect from Trump. He expects to be free from any consequences for his actions, and anyone who threatens what he sees as his royal prerogative is going to be the target of his unhinged narcissistic rage. Expect the next several months to be even uglier than what we’ve already seen—but nothing compared to what will happen if he manages to cheat his way to a win in November.

Threat on Adam Schiff’s life, weeks after Trump incited violence in tweet

It’s been less than two weeks since Donald Trump issued a thinly veiled threat against Rep. Adam Schiff, saying that the lead impeachment manager “has not paid the price, yet” for daring to hold Trump to account, and already Schiff has faced a threat on his life.

An Arizona man has been charged with making interstate threats and being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition after leaving Schiff a voicemail saying, “I'm gonna fucking blow your brains out you fucking piece of shit,” the website The Informant reports.

According to a court filing cited by The Informant, Jan Peter Meister told authorities “that he watches Fox News and likely was upset at something that he saw on the news. He stated that he strongly dislikes the Democrats, and feels they are to blame for the country's political issues.”

Federal authorities found an AR-15-style rifle, two pistols, and more than 700 rounds of ammunition at Meister’s home. 

Meister has pleaded not guilty.

Schiff delivers closing impeachment argument: ‘Is there one among you who will say ‘enough?”

House manager Rep. Adam Schiff delivered the final arguments in the quickly sabotaged Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. He appealed to whatever shred of dignity the Senate Republicans still imagined themselves to have, but mostly he delivered a warning: Trump will continue to break laws.

The Senate Republicans know it. The Republican senators who voted to block testimony in an attempt to bury evidence of Trump’s blatant act of corruption each know that. They will now own everything that happens next.

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Why Jonathan Turley isn’t just wrong about the House impeachment strategy, but dangerously wrong

As expected, both Twitter feeds and news analysis on Friday were littered with smug claims from those who wanted to nitpick every action taken by the House impeachment managers, both hearings and in the Senate trial, for what they had done “wrong.” And perhaps none of them were smugger than instant expert Jonathan Turley, the man elevated to “perhaps the greatest constitutional scholar” by House Republicans for the simple reason that he was the only person who they could find who would agree with them.

“Had they waited for a couple months as I advised,” said Turley following the vote on witnesses. “They could have gotten Bolton's testimony and other witnesses as well as key court orders. It was a rush to a failed impeachment.” But the guy who was that guy, before Alan Dershowitz was that guy, is not simply wrong; he’s making an argument that both ignores what really happened and papers over a gaping hole in American justice.

My original reply to Turley included calling him a “great thundering yutz.” There’s no need for that here. So I did it anyway.

But the important thing isn’t this weak-tea attempt to extend Turley’s fifteen minutes of fame long enough to land a few prime analysis spots on Fox. It’s that by perpetuating this view, he gives Monday morning quarterbacks a satisfying explanation to nod over: If only Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, and Jerry Nadler had done it this way, if only they had dotted this ‘i’ before crossing that ‘t’ and inserted tab A into slot B … If only they had done it the right way, all would have been fine.

That’s not just wrong. It’s ridiculously wrong. It’s dangerously wrong. It’s such a bassackwards* view of events and motives that it sets up infinite future failure. And it leaves the ship of state with a yawning wound, sinking not at all slowly during a deckchair positioning debate. 

What really happened was this:

Lamar! Alexander:  “There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven.”

Marco Rubio: “New witnesses that would testify to the truth of the allegations are not needed.”

From the moment that Senators Lisa Murkowski and Lamar! Alexander teamed with Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz to direct a question to the Trump defense team, it was clear not only that the cause was lost, but why it was lost. It was not because there was a lack of Bolton's testimony, other witnesses, or documents. They accepted the case as proven. Proven.

Their question, handed over to Trump’s team for blessing, had nothing to do with evidence, witnesses, or even process claims. It was simply this—even if Trump did everything the House managers said he did, would it be impeachable? The Trump team immediately declared that it was not an issue, as Murkowski and Alexander knew they would when sending the question their way.

Had that same question been directed to the House managers, it would have been signal that the rule of law was still in play. But because it went to the Trump team, it was a flashing neon sign signaling “GAME OVER.” Nothing said after that point mattered in the least.

The entire reasoning behind these Republican statements doesn't just assume the case is true as a hypothetical, it labels it "proven" and in no need of further proof. Adam Schiff understood that the moment Murkowski and Alexander staked their position in deep Dershowitz territory. It was immediately obvious when he stood and began his next response by ignoring the question given him and saying “Let me be blunt,” before speaking to what he knew: the field was lost.

This is not something that could have been solved by further months in court trying to knock down "immunity," to be followed by months of fighting to prove "validity," to be followed by months of claims concerning "privilege," to be followed by months of some new invention. It’s not an issue that could have been resolved at all. Trump was quite content to ascend and descend the ladder of courts repeatedly, knowing that he has bottomless legal resources, a fixed window beyond which it will not matter, and that he has appointed a quarter of all appellate judges— a number that will only increase. 

Had the House pursued witnesses until Barron Trump's second term, they would never have secured clear testimony of a single current White House official, on the points critical to the trial, so long as the White House resisted that effort. Never. This is not, and probably never was, a scalable mountain.

What made past impeachments possible was that Nixon and Clinton cooperated. Not just failed to block subpoenas, but actively demonstrated faith in the system by instructing their officials to testify. Trump had no intention in cooperating at all, ever. Nor any reason to do so.

The experience of the House is easily sufficient to show that, given the resources of the White House counsel and DOJ, an uncooperative president need never be brought to heel. Never. Not, to steal from Lincoln, in the "trial of a thousand years." Not under the system as it exists.  There is no existent mechanism, outside impeachment, to being an uncooperative executive to heel. And an executive determined to be uncooperative on the subject of impeachment can be uncooperative forever, unless Congress is prepared to hold that lack of cooperation itself as a cause for impeachment.

The Senate made it clear that it would not do this. House managers made it clear themselves … the second article was key to their case. Key to the oversight role of Congress. Key to the legitimate power of both the Senate and the House. Schiff and others did all they could to underline that point, bringing the attention again and again to the point that the Senate should not accept broad claims of either privilege or immunity on the part of the Executive, because it has never accepted even the existence of such power in the past. Historically, the Senate has never recognized even narrow claims of privilege on the part of the White House. This time, the House could not enlist a Senate determined to protect Trump at all costs, even if that cost was to their own authority.

Without that, it was not possible to proceed. Schiff recognized that clearly. That’s why the efforts on Friday were not framed as an effort to simply bringing in John Bolton or any other witness, but to structure the depositions in a way that allowed decisions about privilege to stay within the Senate. Historically, neither the House nor the Senate has ever endorsed the idea that executive privilege exists. They have claimed, and still do, the right to access any document, any witness, on any subject. But they know privilege is out there; that it has been recognized by the courts. So they often carefully avoid fights over privilege out of fear that a court ruling will redefine this amorphous blob (which, no matter how many times Pat Philbin said it, is not in the Constitution) in a way that makes it larger.

Schiff dangled his bait in the Senate’s sweet spot. Offering them a chance to test the bounds of privilege in a way that did not risk leaving behind a nasty court precedent. They did not bite.

This situation did not come out of some great genius on Trump’s side. Trump is not a genius. But his natural inclination is simply to refuse cooperation. And with the system as it is, that is all it takes. He can lose all day, every day, in every court, and still never face a day of testimony so long as a witness adheres to his instructions to stay quiet. Impeachment isn’t the option of last resort, it’s the only option available if the executive digs in its heels. If Turley wants to address something, he needs to look squarely at this open wound and determine what steps can be put in place to make it possible to rein in not just this executive, but future executives. How might we prevent “will not cooperate” from becoming both standard practice and an automatic out?

And still ... That was never the issue in any case. No matter what Turley says. No matter what a thousand other armchair generals deliver with a waggle of their oh-so-wise fingers. 

Republicans told you their reasoning... they don't care. They considered it proven. It wasn’t an issue of privilege. It wasn’t an issue of witnesses. It wasn’t an issue of anything that might have introduced new facts. They surrendered on the facts.

The Senate decision was made on the profound and eternal principle of They simply do not give a damn. That cannot be remedied through evidence, or reason, or anything that is within the powers of anyone on the House team to deliver.

Dammit.

*I can’t tell you how happy I am that this word got the sanction of use on the Senate floor during the trial. It’s always been one of my favorites.

Republicans agree Trump is guilty as charged, but they don’t care and will vote to cover it up

The final night of questions and answers in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump has ended. And except for going through the final motions, it appears the same is true of the whole impeachment trial. In the final hour of the evening, as questions were pushed to both the House managers and Trump’s legal team, it became clear that the so-called moderate Republicans were not going to vote to actually hold a trial by calling witnesses. That was driven home when retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander and Alaska’s own Susan Collins Lite, Lisa Murkowski , joined with Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham to deliver a nail-in-the-coffin joint question to Trump’s team.

That question: Even if Trump did everything that was alleged, even if he set out to gain advantage in the 2020 election by extorting slander from a foreign government and squeezed that government by withholding military assistance in the middle of a hot war, would that be okay? Trump’s team, unsurprisingly, said that was fine. And then Alexander issued a statement agreeing with them. The night didn’t just end with the certainty that Trump will be acquitted, but with an agreement from Republicans in the U.S. Senate that he is free to do anything—anything—that he wants. It’s not just an acquittal; it’s a coronation. 

Throughout the evening, the House managers continued to make a plea for some form, any form, of sanity. As the night went on, Rep. Adam Schiff outlined a plan in which the House would agree to limit witness depositions to a single week. It would let Chief Justice John Roberts have first say over the appropriateness of every witness and every document. It would let the Republican-dominated Senate have veto power over Roberts’ decisions. It would hold depositions off the Senate floor so they didn’t take up the chamber’s time. It would agree to not try to fight any decision in court.

But on the other side, Trump’s team agreed to nothing. “With all due respect,” it wouldn’t let Roberts make any decisions. Or the Senate. It would fight every witness called by the House in court. It would call “dozens” of witnesses. It would demand that every decision be appealed, appealed again, and would not stop until every decision hit Roberts again, in his role at the Supreme Court. After repeatedly blaming the House for failing to reach “accommodations” with the White House team during the House hearings, Pat Philbin, Pat Cipollone, and Jay Sekulow made it brutally clear that they had no interest in reaching accommodation on anything. 

Just as they had done in the House, the members of Trump’s team didn’t just hint that they would turn any attempt to get witnesses into an agonizing slog through the courts that could not possibly be settled before the election; they said it. Repeatedly. That they would not cooperate on any point, and would consume the Senate’s schedule indefinitely, was their theme song.

Throughout the evening, the handful of Republican senators supposedly still having doubts was watched closely. It became obvious that Susan Collins had been given a hall pass allowing her to try to salvage her worst-in-the-nation popularity through the demonstration of yet another pointless vote. But that moment came during a break in which Murkowski and Alexander huddled together, and a final five-minute halt in the proceedings so McConnell could make sure that he had the guarantee of no witnesses nailed down. It was at that point that the two critical votes joined with the most blatant Trump sycophants in the Senate to demonstrate exactly where they were coming down.

Adam Schiff hurled himself into his next response, clear on what was happening and beginning with, “Let me blunt.” He was. He explained exactly what it meant for Republicans to vote against witnesses, and to do so in the way they were indicating they would. It meant an absolute abdication of the Senate’s oversight role, and the over to Trump of power so great that “imperial presidency” is not a powerful enough term to describe it. Then Trump’s team handled a final response from a large group, making it clear they understood fully. When the final question reached the House team, it was Jerry Nadler who took it rather than a clearly exhausted, disgusted, and heart-sore Schiff.

Shortly after the session ended, Lamar Alexander issued a statement making it clear that he was indeed siding with Trump, on the worst possible grounds. He didn’t dispute the case that the House had brought. Far from it. Alexander said there was no need to bring in witnesses to prove that Trump had extorted slander, had threatened an ally in the midst of battle, and had schemed to put his own interests above the national interest. Alexander found all that worthy of the patented “moderate Republican” tsk-tsk. Then he left the national stage saying that, even though he believed all that was true, it still wasn’t something to do anything about.

Some time this morning, Lisa Murkowski is expected to deliver her own statement of tribute.

After all the talk, the dispute came down to one small point: Adam Schiff kept telling the Senate that Donald Trump is not a king. Republicans disagreed.

Schiff: Trump team’s claim Giuliani wasn’t conducting policy a ‘breathtaking’ admission

In response to a question from Democrat Joe Manchin and Kristin Sinema, and Republicans Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins about whether the White House would assure the Senate that it would not allow private citizens to conduct foreign policy, White House lawyer Patrick Philbin stepped in it, and Rep. Adam Schiff pounced. Philbin answered "I just want to make clear that there was no conduct of foreign policy being carried on here by a private person."

That was all the opening Schiff needed. "We have just heard a breathtaking admission by the President's lawyer," he said. "What the President's counsel said was that no foreign policy was being conducted by a private person here. That is Rudy Giuliani was not conducting U.S. foreign policy. Rudy Giuliani was not conducting policy. That is a remarkable admission," Schiff continued. They have suggested, he said, that "this is a policy issue," about burden-sharing or corruption, but "they have no acknowledged that this was not about policy. […] This was not policy conducted by Mr. Giuliani."

"They have just undermined their entire argument," he added. "If Giuliani wasn't there conducting foreign policy, it must have been a "personal political errand."

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We can all stop pretending Republicans want to preserve the republic. They don’t

L'état, c'est moi. I am the state. That is where we are—a declaration of self as sovereign once made famous by France's Louis XIV, whose pre-revolutionary reign as king lasted 72 years until his death in 1715. This appears to be exactly what Senate Republicans are preparing to embrace on Friday when they will likely vote against hearing witness testimony so they can summarily move to acquit Donald Trump without engaging even the most basic due diligence of any fair fact-seeking trial.

At least we won't have to endure any more insulting bothsidesisms from the media like this New York Times classic from December asserting that "the lawmakers from the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them." Actually, House Republicans hadn't even pretended to deal in facts, they were too busy deploying the distraction of emotional hyperbole. 

The failure of House Republicans to lay a factual foundation for Trump’s defense is exactly why, over the course of the past week, the arguments of Trump's legal team have effectively devolved from "he didn't commit a crime" to "it doesn't matter if he did" to "it's perfectly legal and acceptable for a president to break the law in pursuit of his self interests because his interests are the state's interests." 

“If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Alan Dershowitz told U.S. senators Wednesday, only to refute himself on Thursday.

“The idea that any information that happens to come from overseas is necessarily campaign interference is a mistake,” White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin offered. “Information that is credible that potentially shows wrongdoing by someone who happens to be running for office, if it’s credible information, is relevant information for the voters to know about.”

Trump's so-called "information" seeking about Biden was never credible. But that's clearly immaterial to Philbin. He doesn't even think Trump seeking something of value from a foreign government to win reelection is criminal, when it actually is under 52 U.S.C. 30121. But who cares? C'est la vie. He's president. Get over it. 

That's basically the exact same argument Trump made to ABC journalist George Stephanopoulos last June. "It's not an interference, they have information—I think I'd take it," Trump said of dirt offered to him by a foreign government. Trump also told Stephanopoulos that FBI Director Christopher Wray was "wrong" when he advised Congress that politicians should report any approaches made by foreign entities to the FBI.

The next day, Trump was momentarily shamed into walking back his comments, saying "of course" he would report such an instance to the FBI. That whiplash 180 came after Republican lawmakers like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham flatly rejected the idea of accepting foreign help in campaigns. “If a foreign government comes to you as a public official, and offers to help your campaign giving you anything of value, whether it be money or information on your opponent, the right answer is no,” Sen. Graham said on June 14, 2019.

Oh, those were the days, when Trump lackeys like Graham still gave at least some deference to the law.

Now the Wall Street Journal editorial board is endorsing the presidential exceptionalism that Trump’s lawyers advanced. "Every President equates his re-election self-interest with the public interest. It isn’t grounds for impeachment," read the subhead of the board's jaw-dropping editorial. The board cited Philbin asserting, “All elected officials, to some extent, have in mind how their conduct, how their decisions, their policy decisions, will affect the next election. ... It can’t be a basis for removing a President from office.”

In a rebuttal, House Intelligence Committee chair and floor manager Adam Schiff pointed out the disingenuousness of that argument. "We're calling that policy now. It's the policy of the president to demand foreign interference and withhold money from an ally at war unless they get it," Schiff said. "That's what they call policy. I'm sorry, that's what I call corruption."

But by Thursday morning, none other than the GOP chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee was echoing Philbin's folly. “I have no problem with what Philbin said,” Burr told reporters. “I think that the idea that any information that happens to come from overseas is necessarily campaign interference is a mistake. ... If it’s credible information, [it's] relevant information for the voters to know about.” 

In other words, Republicans are removing the origin of the information as the standard of criminality and replacing it with a subjective determination about whether the information is "credible." And according to Trump, the president, his corruption concerns were credible enough to bypass the U.S. Department of Justice on the way to demanding an investigation led by a government so corrupt, he wouldn’t release foreign aid to it. 

It doesn't pass the smell test, folks, but Schiff got it right on both counts. That's corruption, plain and simple. And that's also what Republicans call policy now.

Watch Schiff’s rebuttal.

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Senate Republicans make clear: It’s not about Ukraine. It’s about ending American democracy for good

On Wednesday, the Senate conducted the first of two days of question-and-answer in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, with the House managers and Trump’s legal team. Throughout the sessions, Trump’s team made it clear that any attempt to get at the truth of what happened would result in retaliation in the form of asking for an endless stream of witnesses, fighting every request in court, and holding up activity in the Senate “for a very long time.” Meanwhile, the House managers continued to swing for the fences with a number of stirring moments, sharp responses, and ringing calls for the Senate to do its job for the country.

From the start of this session, it was clear that Republicans were not taking the day seriously. Confident that enough of their members had fallen in line to suppress any possibility of subpoenaing a witness, the Republican side indulged in question after question written for no other reason than to promote conspiracy theories and smears by having Chief Justice John Roberts read them aloud. But even that wasn’t the worst damage done during the course of the evening.

As the night wore on, Trump legal team member Alan Dershowitz rose repeatedly to make it very clear what Republicans were authorizing: They were not just embracing foreign interference, but literally allowing Donald Trump to do anything in pursuit of reelection.

Much of the evening seemed to be the Ted Cruz Show. Having abandoned any pretense that they were seeking information, Republicans allowed the Texas assassin to have a hand in at least eight questions, all of them designed to spread ridiculous, corrosive smears against the whistleblower, Rep. Adam Schiff, and former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump’s defense team joined in eagerly, citing information from the worst of right-wing sites as “public information” to justify repeating claims. By the end of the night, Senate Republicans had endorsed every aspect of the conspiracy theory that Trump had tried to extort from Ukraine, and they had gone on to indict the whistleblower as having a hand in the “double bribery.”

Again and again, Republicans such as Cruz and Josh Hawley demonstrated that they were laughing up their sleeves, playing the “Roberts will repeat anything” game. That included using questions to make statements that Adam Schiff had collaborated with the whistleblower, long after Schiff had explained—again—that he had not met the whistleblower, that he did not know the whistleblower, and that no member of his staff was involved in preparing the whistleblower’s complaint. It didn’t matter, because for Cruz, getting out the facts was never the point of the exercise.

A special award goes to Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. At one point in the late afternoon, he managed to concoct a question so vile that Roberts refused to read it—the only time that happened, even though some of the questions from Cruz included recitations of multiple false charges.

Trump’s team leaned into the chance to spread unfounded information. Despite hours and days of chest-beating over “hearsay” or “second-hand information,” Trump’s attorneys relished every word of the beyond-Q conspiracies that came their way (including a rare appearance from benchwarmer Pam Bondi so bad that it’s already gathered more than two million views). And when not rolling in vile claims with absolutely no foundation, they used much of their time to directly threaten the Senate, stating again and again that any attempt to call a witness would be met with an unending string of requests, privilege claims, and court fights. 

In the middle of the evening, Schiff made a major play and said that, to expedite the process, the House managers would agree to be bound by decisions from Roberts when it came to validating subpoenas, authorizing witnesses, and requesting documents. Citing the way that the House had taken as many as five depositions in a week, Schiff made it clear that there was no reason that a process involving witnesses had to be lengthy. But Trump’s legal team said that it would not agree. Instead, it continued its threat to respond to any call for witnesses by wrecking the Senate, drowning the trial in frivolous requests, and demanding a string of witnesses (including every member of the Biden family, every House manager, the whistleblower, people cited in right-wing media … an unending parade). And Republicans on both sides of the table pretended that this threat wasn’t simply an argument that any legal process can be crushed by the power of the White House.

But it wasn’t the cudgel of delay, or the giggling efforts of Cruz, Hawley, Paul, and others to place their hands under Robert’s robe and make him talk that did the most damage. The worst damage to the evening, the trial, and America’s future came from doddering Alan Dershowitz, who used the evening to expand his previous defense to a degree that didn’t just exonerate Trump in this case, but also exonerated him in any possible case. 

In a pair of appearances, Dershowitz expanded on his theory that abuse of power isn’t a permissible cause for impeachment. Deliberately and directly contradicting the historical sources he cited, Dershowitz called every constitutional expert in America a “never Trumper” for daring to disagree with him. And while claiming to be the only reasonable man in the country, he said he didn’t stand alone … because he had found a single attorney in 1867 whose views were similar. And 1867 is closer to when the Constitution was written, so that view wins. If you ignore all the people involved in the writing of it.

Then, having literally made up dictionary entries to support his redefinition of legal terms, Dershowitz went not just all-in, but completely overboard. According to Trump’s finest legal mind, there is nothing that Trump can’t do in pursuit of reelection. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. So long as Trump believes that his reelection would be good for the nation, he can extort foreign governments for made-up dirt. He can directly threaten an ally. There is no limit.

Along the way, Dershowitz also argued that there is absolutely nothing wrong with launching an investigation into a political opponent. In fact, he asserted that a run for office itself can be justification for investigating an opponent. He directly embraced the idea that a president launching investigations of his political opponents using domestic or foreign sources wasn’t just fine; it was desirable. He argued that daring to run against Trump painted a target on anyone’s back, and that Trump had all the power he needed to shoot at it.

If there was any doubt going into the evening, Dershowitz removed it: voting to acquit Trump means voting not just to dismiss this charge, but to embrace the idea that Trump trumps the law. He didn’t hint that Trump could do anything he wanted in pursuit of reelection; that was the core theme of his whole presentation. That was the point. That was what he said.

The Senate listened to a presentation from Trump’s legal team according to which there is nothing Trump can do in pursuit of reelection that isn’t justified. There is no limit to how Trump can use his power to persecute political opponents. According to the theory that was put forward on the floor of the Senate, Trump could simply lock up every Democratic opponent, or suspend elections indefinitely, and that would be just fine—not only an impeachable offense, but a good thing.

Republicans are going to vote for that. Republicans are going to press the button on not just a step toward autocracy, but a full-on embrace of it. They’re going to do it with a smile.