The Atlantic Politics Daily: Trump’s Favorite Impeachment Defenses

All the president’s talking points. Plus: Is a Senate impeachment trial that’s called no witnesses unconstitutional?

It’s Thursday, January 23. In today’s newsletter: All the president’s talking points. Plus: Is a Senate impeachment trial that’s called no witnesses unconstitutional?



Trump’s Favorite Impeachment Defenses

President Donald Trump has a whole lot of talking points he turns to fire back against impeachment—from “a perfect phone call” to simply blasting any quid-pro-quo allegations as a “hoax.” But maybe his favorite defense of all, and one that his fellow Republicans have co-opted, is that Democrats are trying to overturn the 2016 election.

David Graham tears down this line of thinking:

The sound bite is shorthand that is easily understood—or perhaps easily misleads. Most crucially, it provides a way for Trump and his allies to evade talking about the substance of the accusations against him. As the shifting stories the White House has told make clear, that is a very difficult task, and there were few substantive defenses of the president yesterday. If, however, the whole point is to subvert the will of the people, then it short-circuits all that debate.

Read the rest.

The president, more broadly, seems to have two big problems with the impeachment trial bearing down on him: dysfunction in the West Wing, and shattered credibility with the public.

Call it a credibility crisis; call it chaos. My colleague Peter Nicholas reports on how these twin problems are inextricably linked.

Misinformation feeds the chaos; chaos gives rise to more misinformation. One former aide told me that Trump had a habit of coming downstairs from the White House residential quarters calling for some action that would have upended his staff’s planning. Trying to figure out where the president got the idea, the aide would scan the previous night’s Fox News shows for hints. Members of Congress often insist to White House staff that Trump state his position in a tweet, knowing they can’t rely on assurances from anyone in the West Wing, a second former aide told me. “He changes his mind. That’s the fundamental point,” this person said.

Read the rest.

—Saahil Desai


(Andres Martinez Casares / Reuters)

Migrants traveling mainly from Central America in a caravan against a backdrop of security forces are seen near Frontera Hidalgo in Chiapas, Mexico today.


Chief Justice John Roberts arrives at the U.S. Capitol to preside over the impeachment trial. (SARAH SILBIGER / REUTERS)

1. “[Mitch] McConnell has created the mistaken impression that the Constitution does not provide any guidance about the impeachment process, and that the procedures for the trial—including motions to call witnesses—can be determined by a majority vote.”

The Senate had voted along party lines, blocking Democratic efforts to compel testimony from additional witnesses such as John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney. Democrats can try again next week after Trump’s defense team completes their arguments, but if no witnesses end up being called, the trial should be considered unconstitutional, one former Manhattan DA’s office prosecutor argues.

2. “They are the latest faded luminaries seeking to revive their fame—and blemish their reputation—by shilling for Donald Trump.”

With the return of the like of Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr in Trump’s impeachment trial, it can feel like the 1990s never ended. That’s because Trump’s whole presidency continues to function as a “revenge of the has-beens,” Peter Beinart argues.

3. “It felt like the setup to a joke: So the richest tech CEO in the world and a crown prince were texting one day ...”

While reports that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was hacked via a DM from Saudi Arabia’s crown prince may be shocking to read, the news of their close relationship shouldn’t be surprising, Alexis Madrigal writes. The rich have always been tight-knit, but the world’s ultra-rich are even closer.


Kelsey Juliana, a lead plaintiff in the case arguing that the federal government must act on climate change, outside the Supreme Court. (KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS)

A Climate-Lawsuit Dissent That Changed Minds

Twenty-one children sued the government alleging inaction on climate change, arguing that the federal government was stripping future generations of Americans of their constitutional rights.

A federal court dismissed the case, but one judge filed a fiery dissent (and a very readable legal argument, at that), that moved our climate and technology reporter Robinson Meyer:

It frames a growing rift on the left, about whether it’s best to address climate change through slow progress achieved institutionally or through a decisive rupture. (Every judge on the panel, including those who ruled against the kids, was appointed by a Democratic president.) And frankly, it’s like reading a document from an alternate universe—a much kinder one—in which America’s elected and appointed rulers take climate change seriously and debate the intensity of its response, rather than concern-trolling about whether the planet is warming at all.

Read the full dissent, and Rob’s analysis here.


Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai and Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

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