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Bill Straub: Which side are you on? Who you going to believe? Sounds like the start of a sad song


There’s an old labor song emanating out of the Harlan County Wars of the 1930s, popularized by the great Pete Seeger, that posed a simple question: Which side are you on?

As the impeachment proceedings against President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, rumbles onward it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Republican majority in the Senate is not on the side of justice, the truth or the U.S. Constitution.

Rather, that conglomeration, led by Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch” McConnell, of Louisville, is on the side of maintaining power, regardless of the cost to its collective integrity, reputation, and soul. It generally has no desire to get to the bottom of the crisis, doing everything in its power to expedite the trial, looking for every way imaginable to ignore the evidence against an obviously corrupt and dangerous president and disdaining its oversight duties under the nation’s founding documents.

And they’re twisting themselves about like Jaspreet Singh Kalra, the India Rubber Man, to avoid so much as saying that, perhaps, the president acted injudiciously and should face some punishment other than ouster. Instead, the GOP majority is sticking with the rationale that his abuse of power is perfectly appropriate and there’s no need to haul witnesses to the Senate floor to testify about his wrongdoing.

Things came to a head over the past few days. The House Democrats began presenting the case against Trump to the Senate, with most Republicans – McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, among them – expressing obvious disdain and disinterest.

Now they’re scrambling like Fran Tarkenton avoiding the Steeler’s rush.

The House members produced piles and piles of circumstantial and direct evidence establishing that Trump, seeking to gain a political advantage in his quest for re-election, placed pressure on the newly-elected government of Ukraine to overtly declare it was initiating an investigation of some sort into former Vice President Joe Biden who – by coincidence, of course – just happens to be one of the key Democrats looking to challenge Trump come November.

In order to convince the Ukraine government to play ball, Trump withheld about $391 million in military aid to a nation facing constant threat from neighboring Russia. And a White House meeting was dangled before the hopeful eyes of new President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The requested probe involved a convoluted story about Biden pressing for the removal of a Ukraine state prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was seen as soft on eliminating corruption. U.S. authorities and European envoys both worked for Shokin’s dismissal. But Trump and his henchmen, including his personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, came up with a more provocative rationale – Biden sidled in because Shokin was looking into the activities of Burisma, a Ukraine energy giant whose board of directors included Hunter Biden, the former veep’s son, who was collecting a cool $50,000 a month for his services.

Various news outlets and government entities looked into the claim and found it wanting based on the time-line involved and because the U.S. and European allies sought Shokin’s ouster regardless.

Trump’s defense, embraced by Senate Republicans, is his actions stemmed from a desire to unearth corruption, although, curiously, his interest was only piqued when Biden’s name was mentioned. And it seemed odd he assigned his attorney, Giuliani, backed by The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, to look into the matter rather than go through State Department channels.

Regardless of the rather obvious corruption, Republicans assumed a ho-hum attitude and kept an eye on their watches during the hearings lest they miss another fundraiser. They dismissed the impeachment process, asserting that no one had established a direct connection establishing Trump using Ukraine as a political pawn.

But then one of Giuliani’s gang, Lev Parnas, told CNN that the administration’s interests were all about the election and had nothing to do with corruption.

“That was the most important thing,” Parnas said, “for him to stay on for four years and keep the fight going. I mean, there was no other reason for doing it.”

Senate Republicans did their best to ignore Parnas and doubled down on their efforts to exclude direct testimony in the trial lest the cat be let out of the bag. They continued to suggest there was no evidence of Trump’s direct involvement. And it seemed to be working.

Enter John Bolton.

Bolton was ousted as Trump’s national security advisor under less than amiable circumstances. He began working on a book after leaving the administration. The New York Times got a gander at a section of the still unpublished tome and all hell broke loose.

In the book, Bolton provides details of an incident last August when Trump directly linked the $391 million in military aid to Ukraine with that nation’s investigations into Biden, thus undercutting the administration’s already feeble defense and setting up a showdown over bringing witnesses to the floor, thus extending the affair.

Trump sycophants, particularly Rand Paul, appearing on Fox News, tried to act like it was nothing more than “a policy difference, and not something that rises to the level of an impeachment.”

Paul dismissed Bolton’s claims, maintaining that Trump’s former aide was reacting angrily about his ouster and was trying to cash a hefty paycheck through publication of his book.

The problem here, of course, is that Paul, who has proved to be a real putz during these proceedings, didn’t question what Stephen Colbert would refer to as Bolton’s truthiness. Just because he’s mad and wants to make a buck doesn’t mean he’s lying. And he volunteered to testify before the Senate – would he thus lie under oath?

Trump, of course, has denied it. And, as we all know, the president of the United States would much rather climb up a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth. One estimate has placed the number of (how shall we say this) untruths since assuming office at more than 16,000.

Who are you going to believe?

Paul has also assumed a ridiculous position that, even if Bolton speaks true, Trump’s actions don’t warrant his removal and don’t rise to an abuse of power.

The president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, connives with another foreign power, using blackmail tactics, to force it to publicly declare it is undertaking an investigation into the president’s main rival to help clear the way for his re-election, working in his best interests as opposed to the nation’s.

If that’s not abuse of power, what exactly is? Paul isn’t that dumb, is he?

Meanwhile, McConnell, who showed himself unworthy of sitting in judgment of the trial when he overtly declared that he was not an “impartial juror” despite taking an oath to act as one, is desperately trying to convince enough members of his Senate majority – which stands 53 to 45 Democrats and two independents – to reject any effort to produce witness testimony into the proceedings lest they uncover further evidence of Trump’s culpability, which already is overwhelming.

A handful of GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate, have expressed a desire to take testimony, leading to the possibility of upsetting the apple cart, even though Moscow Mitch has assumed the identity of Bartleby the Scrivener, saying “I would prefer not to.”

Regardless, the deck is stacked for Trump’s acquittal, opening the door for further acts of iniquity through this year and, perhaps four more, with Senate Republicans standing by to hold the old boy’s coat.

Make no mistake – McConnell, Paul, and others are aiding and abetting Trump in his crime wave. And thus ends a once noble experiment.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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