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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Impeachment

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell became the latest Republican to excuse Trump's slow response to the coronavirus pandemic by blaming impeachment, despite the fact that Trump's own words during the impeachment proceedings refute the argument.

Impeachment "diverted the attention of the government because everything, every day was all about impeachment," McConnell said in a radio interview. Other Republicans, including Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and John Cornyn of Texas, have recently used impeachment as an excuse for Trump's inaction as well. Other Republicans have also implied Trump's response was hurt by impeachment, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Scott DesJarlais, both from Tennessee, and Rep. Bill Flores of Texas.

But during the impeachment process — both in November and again in January — Trump himself claimed that he was too busy to pay attention to impeachment, often referring to it as a hoax.

In late January and early February, as the Senate trial was underway, he posted pictures of himself at a briefing with experts about coronavirus, reassured Americans that the administration was "on top of it 24/7," restricted travel from China, and told Americans that his administration had "pretty much shut it down coming in from China."

Trump even had time to travel to Iowa for a campaign rally on Jan. 30, during the Senate trial, where he bragged that he was continuing to work while Democrats were "consumed with partisan rage and obsessed with a deranged witch-hunt hoax."

Trump continued to downplay the severity of the crisis weeks after he was acquitted by Senate Republicans on Feb. 5.

A timeline of the impeachment, the coronavirus crisis, and Trump's own words and actions shows Trump was not distracted by impeachment as Republicans are now claiming:

Oct. 31, 2019

The House of Representatives officially passes a resolution outlining the impeachment process.

Nov. 13, 2019

Trump tells reporters that he is not watching the House impeachment hearings.

"It's a witch hunt, it's a hoax, I'm too busy to watch it," Trump says. In a video Trump circulated around that time, he says, "They're trying to stop me because I'm fighting for you. And I'll never let that happen."

Dec. 17, 2019

Trump tweets that he is not concerned about impeachment.

"They want to Impeach me (I'm not worried!)," Trump writes. "These people are Crazy!"

Dec. 18, 2019

Trump is the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. The House impeaches him for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.

Jan. 6, 2020

The Washington Times reports that Trump is "too busy to devote his attention to the 'political hoax' in Congress." The report comes days after Trump orders a military strike that kills a top Iranian general.

Jan. 8, 2020

Scientists identify a new coronavirus in China. At this time, there are no reported deaths linked to the new strain.

Jan. 9, 2020

Trump holds a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, where he indicates that he has enough free time to watch the Democratic primary debates.

"Those debates are boring and boring," Trump tells the crowd. "You got to sit through those things for two or three hours."

Jan. 21, 2020

Washington state reports the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus in the United States.

Jan. 22, 2020

The Senate agrees to impeachment trial rules, clearing the way for the trial to begin.

Jan. 24, 2020

Trump tweets about the new coronavirus for the first time, praising China.

"China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus," Trump tweets. "The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!"

Jan. 27, 2020

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney begins to convene regular meetings on the coronavirus outbreak, but Trump is dismissive "because he did not believe that the virus had spread widely throughout the United States," the Washington Post reports.

Jan. 28, 2020

Trump retweets a news story from the far-right outlet One America News claiming that Johnson & Johnson is working on a coronavirus vaccine.

Jan. 29, 2020

As the Senate trial is proceeding, Trump tweets photos of himself receiving a briefing on the coronavirus outbreak from various agencies.

"Just received a briefing on the Coronavirus in China from all of our GREAT agencies, who are also working closely with China," Trump writes. "We will continue to monitor the ongoing developments. We have the best experts anywhere in the world, and they are on top of it 24/7!"

Jan. 30, 2020

Trump tweets that he is "Working closely with China and others on Coronavirus outbreak. Only 5 people in U.S., all in good recovery."

That evening, Trump goes to Iowa to hold a campaign rally, bragging that he is not distracted by the impeachment trial.

"While we're proudly creating jobs and killing terrorists, congressional Democrats are consumed with partisan rage and obsessed with a deranged witch-hunt hoax," Trump tells the crowd.

That same day, the World Health Organization declares the coronavirus outbreak to be a global health emergency.

Jan. 31, 2020

As the Senate impeachment trial continues, Trump issues travel restrictions from China, where the new coronavirus was first discovered.

Feb. 2, 2020

Trump claims Americans have nothing to worry about from the coronavirus outbreak, saying, "We pretty much shut it down coming in from China," and adding, "So we're gonna see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes."

Feb. 5, 2020

In the morning, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) attends a Trump administration briefing on the new coronavirus.

"Just left the Administration briefing on Coronavirus," Murphy tweets. "Bottom line: they aren't taking this seriously enough. Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake. Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff etc. And they need it now."

Later that day, Senate Republicans acquit Trump of both impeachment counts.

Feb. 10, 2020

Trump continues to downplay the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, saying, "We're in great shape though. We have 12 cases, 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape."

Feb. 26, 2020

Trump predicts that the outbreak will be over within days.

"When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero," Trump says. "That's a pretty good job we've done."

Feb. 29, 2020

The first confirmed death from the coronavirus is reported in the United States.

March 29, 2020

Trump redefines what a "good job" by his administration in handling the coronavirus outbreak would look like, hoping that fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. will die.

"And so, if we can hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000 — that's a horrible number — maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100 and 200,000 [deaths from coronavirus], we all together have done a very good job," Trump says during a Rose Garden press conference.

March 31, 2020

There are at least 173,741 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S, according to the New York Times, and at least 3,433 people have died.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn can't be forced to testify by the judicial branch, a D.C. federal appeals court ruled Friday in a split 2-1 decision.

The majority, led by two Republican-appointed judges, sided with President Donald Trump's effort to block McGahn's testimony, subpoenaed by the House of Representatives as part of Democrats' oversight efforts. As a key witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, McGahn could provide illuminating testimony to describe some of the most damning episodes of what could constitute criminal obstruction of justice by the president.

But the administration has sought to block McGahn's testimony, claiming he has "absolute immunity" from testifying. In court, the Justice Department has argued that the judicial branch shouldn't be involved at all in an effort by Congress to compel testimony from an administration official. On Friday, the court agreed.

"The [House Judiciary] Committee's suit asks us to settle a dispute that we have no authority to resolve," the opinion said. "[We] lack authority to resolve disputes between the Legislative and Executive Branches until their actions harm an entity 'beyond the [Federal] Government.' … Without such a harm, any dispute remains an intramural disagreement about the 'operations of government' that we lack power to resolve."

This is a highly dubious position, and many legal experts have argued that it is wrong. The courts should be able to compel executive branch officials to comply with congressional subpoenas unless they have a credible legal argument in their favor. Democrats will likely continue to appeal the case up to the Supreme Court.

But putting aside the merits of the court's view, its argument — which was promoted by Trump's Justice Department — completely undermined one of the key defenses of the president during his impeachment trial.

Trump was charged by the House of Representatives with abusing his power in the Ukraine scandal as the first article of impeachment. But the second article of impeachment charged Trump with obstructing Congress's investigation into the scandal, by blocking witnesses from coming forward and withholding documentary evidence. Many of the president's defenders dismissed the obstruction of Congress charges, saying that the House should have tried harder to obtain witnesses and evidence by going through the courts. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida even called the article fo impeachment "frivolous."

At the time, though, the House impeachment managers pointed out that even as Trump's lawyers made this argument, Justice Department lawyers were making the opposite argument. The Justice Department said, as D.C. Court of Appeals has now agreed, that the courts were an inappropriate venue for the dispute and that Congress and the executive should work it out between themselves.

Trump's overall position, then, was either a contradiction or an assertion of near-absolute power. He was essentially saying there was no way for the Congress to obtain the evidence it needed to impeach him.

But in the new ruling on Friday, the court explicitly listed impeachment as one of the remedies Congress can turn to in order to resolve the dispute without turning to the judicial branch:

The absence of a judicial remedy doesn't render Congress powerless. Instead, the Constitution gives Congress a series of political tools to bring the Executive Branch to heel. … Congress (or one of its chambers) may hold officers in contempt, withhold appropriations, refuse to confirm the President's nominees, harness public opinion, delay or derail the President's legislative agenda, or impeach recalcitrant officers. … And Congress can wield these political weapons without dragging judges into the fray.

If this is right, then the GOP arguments for acquitting Trump on the obstruction of justice charge were entirely bogus.

This fatal flaw in the impeachment defense was evident at the time, but Republicans simply refused to acknowledge or address it. Now that the impeachment process is over, of course, they'll surely insist the matter is history or just continue to ignore it altogether. But the new ruling highlights the corruption of the GOP, and helps forever stain the impeachment trial of Trump as an outright fraud.