More than a month into the impeachment inquiry as the public phase of the testimonies by key witnesses is in its second week, the basic outline of what happened between US President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky on the phone, as well as with regards to the Trump administration’s efforts to link US assistance to Ukraine to that country initiating an investigation into the Biden family, have been fleshed out. We now know the story in significantly more depth, including the role of bit characters like the crude and clownish former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his sidekicks. We also know that the Donald Trump, beyond simply one phone call, was explicit about linking assistance to help on a domestic political project.

Despite this, it is also apparent that in some key ways the inquiry has changed very little. Most specifically, the outcome still is not in doubt. The Democrats earnest efforts to shine as much light as possible onto the deep corruption of the Trump administration has made it clear that their party in the House of Representatives will be unified, if not necessarily unanimous, in voting to impeach Trump. The Republicans on the House Select Intelligence Committee have used the impeachment inquiry not so much as an opportunity to try to defend Donald Trump, an admittedly Sisyphean task. Rather, they have used their time so spout a surreal word salad of right-wing talking points, Breitbart based conspiracy theories, allusions to imaginary deep state conspiracies and using the word “hoax” at least once every 30 seconds.

By letting Trump remain in office despite his now three year old pattern of corruption, dishonesty and a deeply troubling relationship with Russia, the Republicans in Congress will be giving license to Trump to do whatever he wants

Most significantly, there is little indication that anything that has happened in the last weeks has done in any way moved any Republican Senator towards voting to convict and remove Trump from office following his inevitable impeachment by the House. Even the initial concerns raised by Republican Senators like Mitt Romney of Utah have faded away as the inquiry has continued. For this reason, it remains almost certain that Trump will be acquitted on essentially a party line vote by the Senate.

Given that because it is still reasonably clear where the impeachment inquiry will lead, it is worthwhile to consider what the impact of the acquittal by the Senate will be. First and importantly an acquittal by the Senate and a unified Republican vote against impeachment in the House will be a clear signal from the Republicans in Congress that their support for Trump will be absolutely unequivocal. By letting Trump remain in office despite his now three year old pattern of corruption, dishonesty and a deeply troubling relationship with Russia, the Republicans in Congress will be giving license to Trump to do whatever he wants. Similarly, by continuing to refer to the Mueller investigation as a hoax and completely dismissing the current chargers that Trump sought to link foreign assistance to Ukraine to that country helping Trump on a domestic political matter, the Republicans in Congress will have sent an unequivocal message to Donald Trump that whatever he does will be fine with them. Part of that message pertains to the 2020 election. A Republican acquittal now will make it clear to Donald Trump that if he loses in 2020 and then, for whatever bizarre reason he thinks up, refuses to leave office, he will be supported in that effort by congressional Republicans.

… once Trump is acquitted, he will also turn more of his attention to harassing, threatening and intimidating his political opponents. Republicans and President Trump have been obsessed with identifying the whistleblower whose patriotic actions led to the impeachment inquiry

Additionally, once Trump is acquitted, he will also turn more of his attention to harassing, threatening and intimidating his political opponents. Republicans and President Trump have been obsessed with identifying the whistleblower whose patriotic actions led to the impeachment inquiry. After the acquittal, the efforts to find that whistleblower will be increased and will ultimately be successful. A President Trump who knows he will always have Republican support would likely seek to prosecute that person, destroy their reputation and cause them financial harm. Trump and the Republicans will not stop at the whistleblower, but will accelerate their campaigns of intimidation against key witnesses and legal threats against those with whom they disagree. In a worst case, but certainly plausible, scenario, Trump’s use of phrases like “enemy of the people” or “traitor” will increase and lead some of his more unhinged, and heavily armed, supporters to take action themselves.

An acquittal by the Senate will also contribute to the hoax narrative that the GOP uses to so gleefully, and falsely, to describe the investigation into the relationship between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Kremlin. Although, the investigation into Ukraine has been anything but a hoax, the Republicans will use the acquittal to promote that view, and likely persuade around 40% of the American people, that it was a hoax. The result of that will be that within weeks of the acquittal, even the Democrats won’t mention it, thus allowing the scandal to recede into the general insanity of the Trump administration. Overall, acquittal will not only mean that the Senate has rejected the well-documented case made by the House of Representatives that Trump should be impeached, but will be an affirmative statement by Republicans in the Senate to Trump that they continue to have his back and will always support him rather than defend American democracy.

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