Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Primal scream

Nov 12, 2019

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to our chat. Well, tomorrow impeachment goes public. The first televised witness testimony will begin, as the House members leading the inquiry present their findings to the American people. President Trump's loyal enablers, of course, will do a lot of grandstanding and table-pounding. But I don't know how they hope to get around the central narrative: President Trump, in his dealings with Ukraine, committed at least two impeachable offenses -- bribery and abuse of power. By forbidding aides to testify he is committing a third -- obstruction of Congress. You'll hear a lot from Republicans about process. Focus instead on substance.

And if you missed it, here's my latest column. Let's get started.

You say Trump was guilty of bribery in his dealings with Ukraine. Why bribery? Why not extortion?

I'm not a lawyer, I should hasten to say, but I did read the federal bribery statute and as much commentary as I could about the distinction between bribery and extortion. The bribery statute specifically makes it a crime for a public official to demand something of value from someone else to influence the official's performance of an official act. Trump demanded investigations of the Bidens and the DNC in exchange for performing two official acts, releasing the $400 million in aid to Ukraine and agreeing to meet Ukrainian President Zelensky. From my layman's reading, extortion seems to require a pretty explicit threat. I think the bribery statute fits better.

If the House impeaches Donald Trump in December 2019, when must the Senate start trial proceedings? Immediately, or can they punt it till after the November elections?

Majority Leader McConnell has been interesting on this point. He has said that precedent requires him to promptly hold a trial, and has said it has to be a real trial. So I don't anticipate any attempt to run out the clock. But you never know about Moscow Mitch...

I view whistleblowers' function as alerting the appropriate officials that there may be illegal or inappropriate acts occurring that they have become aware of. The officials can then look into the issue brought forward and decide whether further investigation is necessary. Once this is decided, the whistleblowers function Is complete. The whistleblower is not necessarily a witness in a criminal court case. Why is this not being explained clearly in the press/media and why do Trump supporters think he has a right to confront the whistleblower? What is your view?

This has been explained clearly in the media -- and indeed, you have explained it clearly in your post -- but the Republican noise about the whistleblower is not about what's right. It's about making lots of noise to imply that President Trump is somehow being treated unfairly. I think I wrote that it was like catching an alleged arsonist with a gas can in one hand and matches in the other, and saying he can't get a fair trial without testimony from the passer-by who called 911 to report seeing a big fire.

Is Bloomberg's history with NYC's – "Stop-and-Frisk" a non-starter a potential presidential run.

It won't help him in the Democratic primaries, that's for sure. I read the federal court decision that ruled the way Bloomberg implemented stop and frisk unconstitutional. Basically, he would have been okay if he had bothered to implement the policy in more mostly-white neighborhoods and stop-frisked more white guys. I think he was stubborn and short-sighted not to do so.

Racial bias is seeing people on Morning Joe act like Pete Buttigeg is so "highly educated" compared to his competition when there's literally Black and brown candidates in the SAME race that ALSO went to Harvard (Castro), and also a Rhodes Scholar (Booker). Just say he's white.

I don't know of anyone who compared Mayor Pete's education favorably to that of the other candidates. It is true that he wears his erudition on his sleeve the way some others don't. That is potentially as much a minus as a plus.

In your Nov 7 column, you laid out precisely the process that every 1st year law student would use in determining the issue: Did Trump commit treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors? If so, Congress should submit articles of impeachment. Why can't we have you as a witness in favor of the public?

I am ready to testify!

do you think he would have used it in the same feckless manner that Trump does? Nixon did tape his WH conversations (and look where that got him!) but those were not intended to be made public in the moment.

This is a hard comparison to make, since any politician from that era would have considered Twitter to be so far beneath the dignity of the president of the U.S. that I believe none would have used it the way Trump does. Nixon did, in the end, have enough respect for the Constitution and the high office he held that he resigned. What evidence is there that Trump respects anything?

How about adding jury tampering to the impeachment charges facing President Trump? When the impeachment process moves from the House to the Senate, it becomes a trial with the Senators supposed to be acting as an impartial jury presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The President has announced that he intends to share some of his $300 million campaign war chest with those Republican Senators seeking reelection who will support him in the upcoming impeachment hearing. Accepting funds to influence their vote constitutes bribery and any Senators who do not recuse themselves can not be seen as impartial and must be seen as a criminals.

I agree that Trump is clearly trying to bribe the jury that will sit in judgment of him. That said, I don't see GOP senators voting to convict themselves of anything, so I don't know what the point would be of adding this charge.

Trump & Co. keep saying they were just trying to fight corruption. But he has a whole DOJ and intelligence agencies that could have been doing these investigations. He didn't need a strong-arm shadow State dept. running around the world to do it. Why do you think this point hasn't been made?

That point has been made, repeatedly. The response, I guess, is that the DOJ and the intel community are part of the "deep state" or something and therefore... Look, I know it doesn't make sense, but repeating "deep state" over and over is about all they've got on this score.

I keep hearing Republicans say there is an election next year, so we should not do impeachment. Does that mean that a President can break the laws, but only in the first term?

I've looked at the impeachment provisions in the Constitution and they say nothing about how close the next election might be.

Does Deval Patrick have enough national stature to become a viable candidate? He was a good governor (says this MA resident) though a bit reserved, something that's not necessarily good in this day and age. Can he raise the money at this point in time? And does Mike Bloomberg have a chance of overcoming the stop and frisk policies that certainly would detract from his candidacy? Without being able to do that, I can't see how he'd get the votes he would need. Then there's his notoriously thin skin ... Trump might have a ball needling him. What do you think?

I have high regard for Deval Patrick but don't get why he thinks he has path to glory in this race. He says he wants to bridge the progressive and moderate wings of the party, but that's what Harris and Booker have been trying to do for months, to little avail. Is he that much better on the stump than they are? As for Bloomberg, he has obvious challenges in seeking the Democratic nomination. But he also has $52 billion, so he will get a chance to make his case coast to coast.

Why is Lindsay Graham still treated like a serious person? I get some journos like to do a clip of him saying one thing and then later saying the complete opposite, but still it's weird that he should be allowed to set the standard for anything, right?

Right now, Graham is more of a spectacle than anything else. Unbelievable the things he says these days.

I keep hearing about Pete Buttigiig's "surge" in the polls, but when I look, he's at 7% or 8% nationally and he was higher than that last spring. That's not nothing especially for thin CV except for being the mayor of Indiana's 4th largest city, but still a bit far from being "a frontrunner"? I mean when does he stop getting judged as doing better than he ought or best than the some of the others because he still seems far away from winning?

I agree that Buttigieg's "surge" has been less than overwhelming. It does appear that he has become competitive in Iowa, and a win there would be a big boost for him. But his national numbers are still nowhere near Biden's or Warren's, and he's nowhere in the polls in South Carolina.

What do you think about Michael Bloomberg entering the race for president? I am concerned that this may end up splitting the "moderate" primary vote between him and Biden, thus giving the edge to a progressive who may not be as viable in the general election.

Bloomberg seems to expect that the Biden candidacy will just collapse. A lot of my fellow pundits have been making that same assumption. Yet Biden continues to lead the polls. I'll believe in the Biden collapse when I see it.

If the Democrats do win the Presidency in 2020, do you believe that the damage done by Trump to America's reputation as a moral leader that supports its allies, stands up to its foes, and seeks, though imperfectly, to respect the humanity of immigrants to the U.S., and the humanity of all citizens and immigrants in countries near and far can be repaired in eight years of new leadership? I fear that the stain on America's reputation from Trump's bullish reign cannot be healed within a decade or two, though I hope that, domestically, the weakening tethers of democratic norms will be restored within months of competent, ethical leadership.

If Trump loses the election, as I expect and hope he will, I actually believe the reverse -- I think the damage to America's standing in the world will be much easier to repair than the domestic divisions that will remain when Trump is gone. I believe, however, that a second Trump term would be utterly disastrous in both the foreign and domestic spheres.

I wonder how is it that these little worms like Mulvaney even have the power to refuse to testify, and put his boot on the necks of other potential witnesses to ignore their requests for testimony. As Chief of Staff, does he have that power or is it obstruction? And what about Lindsey Graham who openly states he will be an uncooperative juror. Are there no penalties for this kind of behavior?

It looks to me as if Mick Mulvaney is just trying desperately to find some way not to be made the fall guy for the whole Ukraine scandal. As for Graham, remember that Chief Justice John Roberts will preside at the Senate trial and run the proceedings. I know what any trial judge would think of a juror who refused to consider the evidence. I wonder what Roberts will think.

With the facts against them, does the GOP really think the way to win over America is by character assassination of impeachment witnesses - career professionals who've advanced America's interests under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and some of whom have fought and bled for this country in wartime?

Apparently so. That's all they've got.

For all the hard pushing of "run for the Senate" stuff, John Hickenlooper did and feels like it's disappeared from the national radar?

He's on the Colorado radar, though. Ask Cory Gardner.

I'm all for fighting corruption. Have they tried to do it anywhere else, or just with the one company in the one country?

Just the one.

Are the votes in the senate trial secret? Does Moscow Mitch make that determination?

Apparently the Senate can make that decision. If McConnell allowed a secret ballot, there would be a lot more votes for removal. I don't know how many, but a lot.

Ari Melber of MSNBC has argued that Trump is guilty of bribery and that bribery is a more discrete, less amorphous element to prove. Why not go a step further and invoke treason? After all, Trump’s actions in Ukraine were beneficial to Russia, an adversary.

The crime of treason is tightly defined. I believe it might require giving aid and comfort to a declared enemy, not just an adversary.

I'm overwhelmed by the bad faith arguments and behavior of Republicans in their responses to the impeachment inquiry. How do you maintain your optimism about the future of the county, given what seem to be "scorched earth" strategies? Or do you?

There are days when I believe the resilience of our system will easily survive Trump, a small man, and his even smaller enablers in the Republican Party. There are other days, too, when I want to let out a primal scream.


That's all for today, folks. No screams, primal or otherwise. Thanks for participating, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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