On Monday morning, after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and his staff made their final cases for impeaching President Donald Trump over his dealings with Ukraine, Republicans offered as final defense of the president a counterprosecution of their own: that it was the Democrats who were guilty of committing a three-year conspiracy to impeach the president and overturn the will of the people.
Their first piece of evidence was the hearing itself. No sooner had Nadler opened the proceedings than a bearded man in a decent-looking suit—who turned out to be Infowars host Owen Shroyer—began shouting that Trump was innocent and that the Democrats, by holding impeachment hearings, were committing treason.
After Shroyer had been hustled out of the room, committee Republicans picked up the theme, peppering Nadler and other Democratic members and counsel with theatrical displays of outrage about procedure. They consistently interrupted Democratic members and counsel by raising parliamentary inquiries and points of order, or they simply spoke over Democrats during their time.
When it was their own turn to speak, they defended the regime by attacking the House majority’s inquiry. “Let’s look at the three things that typically are associated with making your case for a crime, let’s do it against what the majority has said,” said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, Judiciary’s ranking member. “I think they have motive, they have means, and they have opportunity.”
Collins, never the most linear speaker, scrambled the categories. His basic argument, though, was that Democrats lost in 2016, never gave Trump a chance, were worried that they couldn’t beat him in 2020, and so were using the impeachment process to either damage Trump or take him out before November.
“They’re desperate to have an impeachment vote on this president,” he said. “At the end of the day, all this is about is a clock and a calendar, because they can’t get over the fact Donald Trump is president of the United States, and they don’t have a candidate that they think can beat him.”
Steve Castor, the minority counsel serving as a witness at both the Judiciary and Intelligence panels on Monday, echoed Collins’ theory of the three-year impeachment conspiracy in his opening statement.
“Democrats have been searching for a set for facts on which to impeach President Trump since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017,” Castor said. He referenced the articles of impeachment introduced by a couple of different Democrats in the previous Congress and read the bleeped version of Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker!” line. He ran through investigations Democrats have run into the president’s tax returns, his bank records, emoluments, the Russian collusion, and obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation.
“Democrats are obsessed with impeaching the president,” the Republican investigator said. “The impeachment inquiry is clearly a coordinated effort to upend our political system.”
And so, in an inward-spiraling process of recrimination, they attacked the hearing itself. Each perceived Democratic infraction of procedure, no matter the size, was met with a response dialed to 11. Nadler, rattled perhaps by the protest and interruptions, failed to swear in the first witness panel? It was an act of parliamentary malpractice heretofore unseen in Western history. One staffer, Democratic Judiciary counsel Barry Berke, was a witness in one panel—and then got to ask questions in the second panel? Well, the United States had a good run. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, at one point, even loudly objected that he was unable to see a television screen displaying evidence. It was turned closer to him. Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a former Judiciary Committee chairman and 40-year veteran of Congress, barked during Democrats’ cross-examination of Castor that they were “badgering the witness,” to chuckles throughout the committee room. Badgering a witness? In a congressional hearing?
The one quote that both Collins and Castor came around to as evidence in making their conspiracy case against the Democrats—one that they had also, and not for the first time, blown up on a poster to display at the hearing—came from Texas Rep. Al Green, one of the earliest impeachment advocates in the House. In a May MSNBC interview, Green said, “I’m concerned that if we don’t impeach this president, he will get reelected.”
Republicans typically stop here in reading the quote, but it’s worth quoting what he said immediately afterward: “If we don’t impeach him, he will say he has been vindicated. He will say the Democrats had an overwhelming majority in the House and they didn’t take up impeachment. He will say that we have a constitutional duty to do it if it was there and we didn’t. He will say that he has been vindicated.”
It says something about the Republicans’ conspiracy-to-impeach argument that they would be using a quote from Green to describe the Democratic caucus’ position over the last three years. When I reported on Green’s early impeachment crusade in 2017, it was difficult to get Democratic members who were not Al Green to even say “the I-word” aloud. When he first forced a vote on articles of impeachment in December 2017, it did not make him a beloved member of the caucus—even among some of the members who voted with him. Democratic leaders felt then that they were best to focus on “kitchen-table” issues, like protecting medical coverage for those with preexisting conditions and lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
They still do. Democratic leaders would still much rather speak about their prescription drugs bill than impeachment. In Monday’s hearings, after Gaetz went on a spiel about how Democrats were focused on impeachment at the expense of policymaking, Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline—head of the Democratic leadership’s messaging committee—quickly rattled through all the legislation Democrats had passed that has stalled in the Senate. They’re sensitive to the impression. Democrats don’t even want impeachment to be the last vote in their busy week ahead of holiday break, preferring instead to leave town following a vote on their prescription drugs bill or the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, items they believe put moderates on more solid footing back home.
The reason that a majority of the House is prepared to impeach Trump next week is because a majority of the House considers his actions with regard to Ukraine to be impeachable, as they don’t anything else. A majority of the House felt that the Mueller report looked backward at an election that had already happened and preferred to let voters adjudicate its finding for themselves before voting in the next election. A majority of the House felt, and feels, that even some of Trump’s worst policy decisions—the travel ban, family separation—are still policy decisions that the president has a right to, and that can be pushed back against through public opinion and ended through the next election. A majority of the House now feels, though, that Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine shows an abuse of power to secure the next election for himself, throwing the viability of that election in doubt, and thus necessitating his removal now.
This impeachment isn’t the result of the Ukraine scandal passing House Democrats’ three-year auditions for the just-right impeachable offense that they could really “run” with. It’s the collapse of the Democratic Party’s three-year conspiracy to avoid impeachment.