GOP could wrap up Trump trial amid Dershowitz furor

If the Republicans stay on track, President Trump could be spiking the football about his acquittal with Sean Hannity during a Super Bowl interview.

The media’s tone drastically shifted yesterday morning as it looked increasingly likely that Senate Republicans would hold the line and block any witnesses from testifying. The mood on MSNBC was practically funereal.

For about 36 hours, it looked like dissident Republicans, led by Mitt Romney, would cobble together the four votes needed to call John Bolton, most likely in a trade for another witness whose last name is Biden. Given the uproar over the leaked Bolton manuscript, it seemed they might get six or seven votes—a safety-in-numbers approach that would prevent any one senator from having to be the 51st vote.

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But that didn’t happen. When Mitch McConnell let it leak that he didn’t have the votes, he sent a message to his caucus that they were in danger of losing control of the trial. Some conservatives slammed Romney and other wavering lawmakers, giving them a taste of the backlash. The majority leader also huddled privately with one possible defector, Lisa Murkowski. Last night Susan Collins came out for witnesses, but Lamar Alexander, while calling Trump's behavior "inappropriate," said he'd vote against witnesses.

And lo and behold, no fourth vote materialized.

“One after the other on Wednesday, in statements and interviews in the Capitol, they made clear they would side with their leader,” the New York Times reported.

Remember Pat Toomey floating a one-for-one trade on witnesses? The Pennsylvania senator said yesterday he was “very, very skeptical” of new witnesses. And so it went.

With McConnell holding his troops in line, he could, after today’s showdown on witnesses, call a vote on acquitting or convicting the president. And this thing would be wrapped up before the weekend.

The coverage has also been dominated by the furor over Alan Dershowitz and his latest line of argument on the Senate floor.

The liberal Harvard law professor, now part of the Trump legal team, stunned Democrats and the media by arguing that a president can have three possible motives: in the public interest, in his own political interest, and in his own financial interest.

Focusing on the second one, Dershowitz said: “Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And, mostly, you're right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

Many heads exploded. Commentators reacted in disbelief. Rachel Maddow said this was a "nutball” argument. And indeed, Dershowitz seemed to suggest that a president could justify almost anything simply by believing it would help his reelection and therefore be in the public interest.

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The professor moved into damage control mode on Twitter:

“Taking advantage of the fact most of their viewers didn’t actually hear the senate Q and A, CNN, MSNBC and some other media willfully distorted my answers.”

He said that a mixed motive “was often the reality of politics and that helping one's own re-election efforts cannot — by itself— necessarily be deemed corrupt.”

Dershowitz offered as an example President Lincoln sending troops home from the battlefield to Indiana so they would vote for his party—believing that this would help the war effort, by also aid him politically.

But the professor handed his detractors on the left a very large club, especially since many already believe that Trump views himself as above the law.

Whether there should have been witnesses, whether Ukraine was impeachable, whether Republicans caved to Trump out of fear, will be debated roughly forever.

But what is also true is that the Democrats, through the House hearings and the Senate trial, largely failed to galvanize public opinion in favor of ousting the president. The polls remained stuck around 50 percent on that point.

And I think many people instinctively believe they’ll have a chance to replace Trump in November, without overturning an election—removing the argument that this is the only chance to stop him.

It turns out Nancy Pelosi was right before Ukraine prompted her to shift her position. As was true with Bill Clinton two decades ago, an impeachment can only be successful if it has bipartisan support.