Day 6

What to expect as the Trump impeachment drama draws to a close

As the impeachment drama skids to a close, Republicans and Democrats alike turn their attention to the Iowa primary, the State of the Union speech and the 2020 Presidential campaign. But the echos of the trial seem likely to linger, says The Nation's Jeet Heer.

'The presidency is now like a kingship,' says The Nation's Jeet Heer

US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a "Keep America Great" campaign rally at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 30, 2020. ( (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

After a week that saw witnesses blocked from testifying in the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on whether or not he will be acquitted next week.

The path to acquittal was more complicated than the White House expected, thanks in part to the leak of a forthcoming book by Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton. 

Earlier in the week, it appeared that Bolton might testify at the impeachment trial. Instead, Republican Senators closed ranks and blocked him and other witnesses from appearing.

But the legacy of the impeachment trial seems likely to linger for both Democrats and Republicans, says Jeet Heer, national correspondent for The Nation.

He spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about what a post-acquittal landscape could look like.

Here is part of that conversation.

Lead manager House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) addresses a question from senators during the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump in this frame grab from video shot in the U.S. Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2020. U.S. Senate TV/Handout via Reuters (U.S. Senate TV/Reuters)

It seems like acquittal was always gonna be the outcome in the impeachment of Donald Trump, but what has surprised you the most about this entire process?

Obviously removal was a hard, almost impossible hill. It would've required twenty Republicans to jump ship.

But what's surprising is that in their defence of Donald Trump, Republicans have adopted some very extreme positions.

Alan Dershowitz, the president's lawyer, perhaps the most extreme, [he] basically said anything the president thinks is in the national interest — and that includes anything he does to win re-election — is not impeachable.

That's a very radical position, and I know Dershowitz walked it back a little bit on Twitter.

But the other lawyers also made fairly strong positions ... So the Republicans have really, in their defence of Donald Trump, adopted a very radical view of the imperial presidency.

The presidency is now like a kingship.

You no longer have a president. You have a monarch.- Jeet Heer

But is it really? I mean, those were words that were spoken inside the chamber in this process. But outside of this process, does the imperial presidency ... embolden Trump further?

I think it will embolden him further just because I think that after the Mueller investigation kind of fizzled out, Trump started this Russia activity. So now, he's obviously going to be even further emboldened.

And I think not just Trump, but future presidents.

I mean basically what we've shown is that a president can do anything — you know, proverbially shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue — and he can't be charged criminally and he can't be impeached because you need [a] two-thirds majority in the Senate and in this polarized time that's impossible.

So basically the president is above the law. That is the end game here.

When Pelosi and the Democrats started down this road, they knew that it was almost certain that it would end with Trump's acquittal in the Senate. Now they've done what they feel they had to do, what they thought that they were constitutionally obliged to do.

Does this free them up to focus on 2020, or has this kept them from doing the things that they should have been doing to try to focus on the election at hand?

I think that this gives them a weapon in the election, because they've tied the Republican Party to Trump. They've tied people who are very vulnerable — Susan Collins and Cory Gardner — who are in states where Trump is very unpopular, they've tied them to the defence of Trump.

And they've also opened the road for further investigations. There's nothing to stop Nancy Pelosi from conducting more investigations, even post-impeachment. 

And certainly more evidence is going to come out. We know this because John Bolton didn't testify, but we know that he has this book

Yeah, the testimony will come out as the New York Times bestseller.

FILE PHOTO: National Security Advisor John Bolton adjusts his glasses as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 2, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Right. And the narrative of the quid pro quo — the bribing of the Ukrainian president — that will continue to be expounded upon. How much of a threat is that to Donald Trump, now that he's kind of beaten the Senate and the allegations against him in the impeachment process?

I think that's one of the strongest cards that Democrats have. I think it's pretty clear that majorities — even people who didn't favour impeachment and don't favour removal — think that Trump acted in a corrupt fashion.

That's a very powerful thing coming into an election, where a strong majority of the population thinks that the president is corrupt.

Bolton is saying Trump is a gangster ... Trump is saying that Bolton is this madman. And they're both right.- Jeet Heer

Can we talk a little bit just about John Bolton and the way that he was re-characterized by the pro-Trump team.

One commentator called John Bolton "uber hawk" who wanted war with Iran, who championed Robert Bork. [Another] called him a "dirty left-wing traitor."

What does that say about someone who gets in the way of Donald Trump?

It really does say that the Republican Party is a personality cult — you're either with Trump or not, and that's all that matters.

I think, hilariously, Trump said that Bolton wanted to start World War Six. 

Bolton is saying Trump is a gangster who used foreign policy for his personal ends. Trump is saying that Bolton is this madman — Dr. Strangelove — who wanted to start a world war. And they're both right. 

It looks like Donald Trump is going to have a Super Bowl ad tomorrow. He will deliver a State of the Union address on Tuesday. What do you think we'll see ... will he be energized, or do you think he'll be chastened?

I think that Trump really does get something out of being challenged and being the kind of underdog, or being under siege.

I think it's a very primal part of his popular appeal among those who like him — that he's seen as the guy who's going to break down the establishment.

So I do fully expect someone who will not be chastened, who will be a fully energized, vindictive, in-your-face Donald Trump.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full conversation, download our podcast or click Listen above.