If you think back to 2,137 hair-on-fire Donald Trump scandals ago, you’ll recall that Trump withheld vital military aid to Ukraine during a shooting war in order to blackmail its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, into announcing an investigation into Joe Biden—who, if you’ll recall from 1,311 hair-on-fire Trump scandals ago, forced Trump to either go on a feral crusade against our democracy or retreat inside his own neck wattle in abject shame. (As you may recall, Trump opted for the former.)
The question at the time was whether Trump had engaged in a quid pro quo to force favors from his Ukrainian counterpart. It was obvious he had, of course, but Republicans weren’t going to give up on their fantasies that easily. After all, they had a country to ruin, and very little time in which to ruin it.
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According to Bade and Demirjian, Republicans were so unimpressed with Trump’s lawyers—who included legendary law professor and Jeff Epstein pal Alan Dershowitz, who’d argued that Trump could do anything he wanted if he thought it would get him elected—they felt the need, as putative “jurors,” to help out Trump’s defense team.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told Trump’s team afterward to fire Dershowitz on the spot, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) warned them to switch tactics.
“Out of one hundred senators, you have zero who believe you that there was no quid pro quo. None. There’s not a single one,” Cruz reportedly said at one point, contradicting what Republicans were saying publicly about the charges at the time.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also fumed at Trump’s legal team after they fumbled responding to a senator’s question about calling new witnesses. Trump’s attorneys said that it was simply too late to do so, a line Graham worried would lose Republican votes.
In fact, after that fumble, Graham reportedly opined, “We are FUCKED. We are FUCKED!” as he walked into the GOP cloakroom.
According to the book, even as Republican senators balked at publicly discussing the hearings, telling the media that they needed to remain neutral as “jurors,” Trump’s incompetent legal team forced them to act in private. So then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell twisted arms, ultimately convincing Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander to vote against hearing further witnesses. Particularly at issue was likely testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who’d claimed in a book of his own that Trump had told him his scheme to withhold military aid from Ukraine was definitely part of a quid pro quo.
So why the reluctance to convict a guy whom they all knew was guilty? Because Republicans weren’t quite done handing out goodies to wealthy donors, stealing Supreme Court seats, or generally terrorizing anyone with a working womb.
“This is not about this president. It’s not about anything he’s been accused of doing,” McConnell reportedly told his charges. “It has always been about Nov. 3, 2020. It’s about flipping the Senate.”
GOP Senate leaders weren’t just involved in fixing the vote, of course. They were also forced to coach the Trump team in the fine art of not looking like overt criminals.
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The book recounts an episode in which McConnell’s top legal counsel, Andrew Ferguson, wrote out an answer to a question Republicans wanted to ask the Trump team during the trial. It was meant to establish a B.S. line of argument that Bolton’s testimony would be moot.
The group gathered around a laptop to weigh in as Ferguson typed. “Assuming for argument’s sake that John Bolton were to testify in the light most favorable to the allegations…isn’t it true that the allegations still would not rise to the level of an impeachable offense? They agreed to ask. “And that therefore…his testimony would add nothing to this case?”
But the senators were worried. Trump’s lawyers had already proven themselves unreliable, even when lobbed the easiest softball questions. “Is Trump’s team going to answer this the right way?” Graham asked.
“I will go down there and tell them to answer it the right way,” Ferguson vowed.
Way to go, “jury”! You saved this monster from himself! Good thing he didn’t go on to incite any insurrections or steal any top secret nuclear documents or anything. Crisis averted! The republic is saved!
When the history of this era is written, Cruz’s quote needs to be italicized, underlined and, ideally, tattooed on every congressional Republican’s forehead. Because it’s the only quote you need to understand the modern GOP.
In fact, their motto might as well be “Yes, we know better—but fuck you anyway, America!” It would be the first honest sentence we’ve heard out of them in years.
We’re so close to Nov. 8, and our chance to expand our razor-thin Senate majority. Can you help us keep McConnell, Cruz, Graham, and their ilk in the minority with a donation of just $3 or more to our Senate slate?