Dispatch February 11, 2020


Senate Republicans let a criminal president loose. Despite bipartisan condemnation of the president’s actions and bipartisan votes to convict and remove him, the Republican caucus, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), let him off, effectively neutering Congress’ oversight authority and declaring the president above the law.

President Donald Trump has already shown that he heard their message loud and clear, embarking on a potentially illegal campaign of retaliation against those who dared try to hold him accountable. At the same time, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, his Senate allies, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr continue to push the same scheme to undermine democracy that got Trump impeached in the first place.

“Friday Night Massacre”: After the Senate vote, Trump embarked on his own version of the “Saturday Night Massacre” that helped lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

  • On Friday morning, the White House dismissed Col. Alex Vindman, a decorated veteran and National Security Council staffer who memorably reassured his father from the witness stand that he would not face retaliation for testifying against Trump because, unlike in the Soviet Union, in America, “right matters.”
    • The White House also dismissed Vindman’s twin brother Yevgeny, who reportedly still has not received an official explanation for why he was asked to leave.
    • Trump has since tweeted out unverified attacks on Vindman, saying he “was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly, & was given a horrendous report by his superior” for, among other things, “leaking information,” an allegation Trump has routinely hurled at his critics.
  • Over the reported objections of Senate Republicans, Trump also fired Ambassador to the European Union—and million-dollar Trump donor—Gordon Sondland, who tried to cover for Trump before admitting in public testimony that Trump’s Ukraine extortion amounted to a quid pro quo.
  • In a tweet, Donald Trump Jr. eliminated any pretext that the firings were about anything other than retaliation, thanking House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for “unearthing who all needed to be fired.”
  • As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) noted, the firings are “as clear a case of retribution as I’ve seen during my 27 years in the Senate”—the kind of witness intimidation tactics that would likely get someone indicted.

Trump’s retaliation is another escalation in a yearslong campaign against anybody who tries to hold him accountable.

  • As Trump reminded the nation in his post-impeachment speech on Thursday, he fired FBI Director James Comey, admitted on national television that he did so to impede the Russia investigation, and then spent two years trying to obstruct special counsel Robert Mueller.
  • Mueller’s report outlines 10 clear instances of Trump obstructing justice, ranging from trying to fire Mueller to creating false records and dangling pardons in an effort to coerce potential witnesses not to cooperate with investigators.
    • Though Department of Justice policy barred Mueller from indicting a sitting president, more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors signed on to a letter asserting that, were Trump not president, he would have been charged with crimes for his obstruction campaign.
  • During the impeachment proceedings, Trump not only obstructed Congress by refusing to release documents or allow witnesses to testify but also attempted to intimidate and otherwise attack witnesses who did come forward and tried to out the whistleblower whose complaint kicked off the proceedings.

Meanwhile, since the Ukrainian government wouldn’t help Trump cheat in 2020, Barr’s Justice Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee are stepping in.

  • Almost immediately after voting to acquit Trump, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) announced that they would be pursuing the Ukraine-related conspiracy theories Trump devised to undermine his political opponents.
    • In an obvious double standard, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which fought House Democrats’ subpoenas for Trump’s financial records all the way up to the Supreme Court, immediately turned over documents Senate Republicans requested for their efforts. They didn’t even need a subpoena.
  • Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CBS’ Margaret Brennan that Rudy Giuliani was continuing to solicit dirt on Trump’s opponents in Ukraine and that the Department of Justice has “created a process” to obtain information directly from Giuliani.
  • Barr subsequently confirmed Graham’s claim, telling the press that he had “established an intake process in the field” to obtain and “carefully scrutinize” Giuliani’s productions.

While voting to acquit Trump, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told reporters that she believed Trump had learned his lesson from impeachment. Trump’s behavior since has confirmed what lesson he learned: He is above the law and free to commit more crimes. Without additional oversight from Congress, that may become reality.