Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell have done their worst. Only the voters can stop the Mad King from full power
Donald Trump's Ukraine plot, for which he's on the verge of being acquitted by the U.S. Senate, never would have happened at all were it not for Attorney General Bill Barr's manipulation of the Robert Mueller investigation.
Given the daily avalanche of news, it seems like decades ago when Barr deliberately flummoxed the end of Mueller's work, but, shockingly, it's only been less than a year since that all went down. Before most Americans had a chance to objectively absorb Mueller's dual volumes, Trump's recently appointed attorney general chose to body-check the entire process by cherrypicking the investigation for details he thought would exculpate his new boss, compiling those misleading movie-review blurbs into an open letter that completely defanged Mueller's findings in one March afternoon.
Consequently, Barr's gratuitous misdirection circulated the globe thousands of times before Mueller's investigatory truth got its pants on. Barr provided enough time and misinformation to convince the public that the Trump-Russia story was a big nothing, even though Mueller absolutely determined that Trump obstructed justice a dozen times and, yes, members of Trump's campaign team were suspiciously coordinating with Russians throughout the 2016 campaign and beyond. (If Trump were innocent of cooperating with Russia, why all the instances of obstruction?)
Adding horseshit to injury, Mueller went along with the Office of Legal Counsel memo stating that a sitting president can't be prosecuted. Later, when the Mueller Report finally appeared in full (or nearly so), it dropped with a wet thud rather than the geyser of truth so many of us had hoped for, a righteous torrent that would change minds and begin a chain reaction leading to Trump's removal. None of that happened, thanks to Barr's obvious and unforgivable pass interference.
It's no coincidence that Trump's conspiracy to exploit military aid to Ukraine in order to cheat in the 2020 election began shortly after all that. Again, the Barr letter dropped on March 24, 2019, and the Ukraine plot was underway just over a month later in May.
Trump must have felt invincible after Barr's convenient fluffing, because it didn't take long before he once again let fly with his darkest instincts, this time against Ukraine, Joe Biden and American democracy itself. After all, indictments were completely off the table as long as he remained president, shielded from real accountability when Barr delivered exactly what he had promised. Trump, always thirsty for a big scam, got both his undeserved "no collusion" result as well as a subservient Justice Department bodyguard, while Barr got another stab at power and glory, another once-around as AG, while also becoming a rock star among Trump's Red Hat cult.
Indeed, Trump's mysterious loyalty to Russia was one of the animating factors in the Ukraine plot, since the effort was not only aimed to help Trump win re-election but also to help Russia exonerate itself, redirecting the blame onto Ukraine for the 2016 hacking of the Democratic Party. It's almost too clever for Trump — something more in keeping with a Putin idea.
The Republican Senate caucus is not only committing political suicide, it's also offering to seat the Mad King upon the Iron Throne as a full-fledged unitary executive — an imperial president or totalitarian dictator, no longer accountable to Congress just as he's no longer accountable to the Justice Department. According to Senate Republicans, Trump is neither indictable nor impeachable, and it's all been handed down in the face of Trump's cheating in the only remaining form of accountability against him: the election. Put another way, indictments are off the table, impeachment is off the table (for now), and the election has been relegated to "sketchy" status.
From here, the odds of another impeachment proceeding will be next to zero. Even if Trump were to step out onto Fifth Avenue and shoot a guy in the face, Nancy Pelosi would have few political options remaining, at least for the balance of the year. There's no precedent for a second impeachment, making an already impeachment-averse House speaker even less inclined to engage in a second proceeding.
Nevertheless, imagine for a moment what Trump will do once the Senate Republicans acquit him. Imagine the vomitous sequel that's likely to drop after Ukraine, what John Oliver called "Stupid Watergate 2: Stupider Watergate."
It's safe to say the next Trump crime, post-acquittal, will have something to do with making sure that Election Day 2020 will deliver another Trump victory. Duh. It's also a given that the Ukraine plot will continue without interruption. In fact, a few weeks ago we learned the Russian GRU, the same military intelligence agency that hacked the Democratic National Committee's computers to help Trump win in 2016, successfully hacked Burisma, the energy company at the center of Trump's current plot to cheat in the election. So we should probably gird our collective loins in preparation for hacked Hunter Biden documents to flood the zone any day now, thanks to Trump's Russian allies. And what'll happen when (not if) we learn Trump is handing out Burisma documents to Fox News, Breitbart and the other members of the Red Hat entertainment complex, in violation of myriad laws? For now — for the remainder of this year — nothing will happen. No impeachment, no prosecution. Nothing.
Simply stated, a fearlessly unleashed Donald Trump in the wake of a Senate acquittal will try to cheat in the election yet again, on multiple fronts. And if he cheats in the election again, how the hell will he be legitimately held accountable? The election? Two weeks ago, Rep. Adam Schiff said during arguments in Trump's Senate trial, "The president's misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won."
Already, even without pro-Trump foreign attacks against our national sovereignty, Republicans have made it increasingly difficult for Democrats, specifically voters of color, to cast ballots, thanks to voter suppression efforts including purges, unnecessary voter ID laws, limited voting booths in heavily Democratic turnout districts and so on. Couple all that with Russia's ongoing cyber-attacks, now joined by who-knows who else, given that most of the world now realizes that American voters are nauseatingly susceptible to social media manipulation. From there, add into the mix whatever shenanigans Trump will unleash.
Don't forget: The only way Trump can be sure he'll escape prosecution is to remain president. The minute he leaves office, he's fair game. Oh, and it's germane to note that the same Justice Department office that shielded Trump from prosecution as president also stated quite clearly that Trump can be prosecuted once he leaves office. It turns out that the Constitution "permits a former President to be indicted and tried for the same offenses for which he was impeached by the House of Representatives and acquitted by the Senate."
That's not to say all of this is set in stone. I'm not pessimistic enough to declare that Trump's re-election is a fait accompli. But the cover-up by Moscow Mitch and his rat bastard caucus is handing Trump a free pass to continue cheating however he chooses. The best-case scenario is that enough American voters will turn out to vote — overwhelming the impact of Trump's cheating and directly punishing Trump and McConnell's Senate with indisputable defeats. In fact, Trump's acquittal will make it even more imperative that sane Americans in every state should take matters into their own hands and make Trump pay electorally for what he's done. Trump can't just lose: The loss has to hurt. It has to humiliate him so badly that he refuses to show his face in public again. The tourniquet needs to be airtight around Trumpism in all its forms. There are no other options, no more saviors on the Hill. It's down to us to preserve republican democracy and the values that uphold it.
Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.