Let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind. Those words were famously uttered in the early days of the Watergate scandal, which led to Richard Nixon’s resignation in the face of imminent impeachment. They were uttered in 1973 by John Erlichman, a top Nixon aide, about L. Patrick Gray, Nixon’s nominee to become Director of the FBI.
As Acting Director of the FBI, Gray had been complicit in the White House’s efforts to conceal Nixon’s connection to the Watergate break-in. Congress was only just beginning to sniff out evidence of such a connection and the Senate’s confirmation hearings for Gray afforded Congress its first opportunity to start digging deeper. Gray tried to stonewall but ultimately made several damaging revelations. The White House soured on on his nomination, but instead of withdrawing the nomination, Erlichman thought Gray should undergo a period of public embarrassment. “I think we ought to let him hang there. Let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind.”
That’s what Congress should do with Trump: Let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind.
Those words resonate again today with the actual impeachment of Donald Trump. Faced with a Senate Majority Leader who is determined to avoid anything like an actual trial in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi has hinted that she might not formally transmit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate until she sees guarantees of a full and fair trial. There is nothing in the Constitution that says she has to send the Articles posthaste. And the Senate cannot start a trial until the Articles are received.
Trump is acutely anxious for the Senate to hold their “trial” and rubber-stamp his exoneration. That is exactly what McConnell is planning and everybody knows it. Congress shouldn’t be in any rush to gratify Trump.
Beyond leaving Trump in the humiliating and frustrating position of having an unresolved impeachment hanging over him, there are numerous practical reasons to withhold the Articles.
First, withholding the Articles may provide the Democrats some actual leverage in negotiating the rules for the Senate trial. The Republicans want a quick trial with no witnesses. The Democrats have already floated a list of witnesses they want to hear from and documents they want to see. These witnesses and documents were ones ordered withheld from the House by order of the president.
Even if McConnell and the Senate Republicans refuse to budge — McConnell has already expressed his scorn over this idea of Pelosi’s “leverage” — withholding the Articles would insure that the Republican efforts to whitewash the trial would be played out in the full glare of the public eye. That alone could be worth the effort.
There’s also the fact that a number of court cases involving Congressional subpoenas related to impeachment are still pending. Congress made the right decision not to delay impeachment until those cases worked their way through the courts. But now that Trump has been impeached, time is on the side of the House Democrats. Former White House counsel Don McGahn and former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman are both fighting subpoenas to testify about the Ukraine affair. Former national security adviser John Bolton is also defying a subpoena, but has said he will follow whatever ruling is made in the Kupperman case. If the courts ultimately rule in favor of the House, which so far they have been doing, then Congress can take their testimony and add it to the evidence for the charges already made against Trump. Or, they could always bring additional articles of impeachment. There’s no such thing as double jeopardy when it comes to impeachment. In any event, their testimony would be added to the public record and that’s important.
And then there’s the matter of Rudy Giuliani, the human hand grenade. Unable to stay off television (or Fox News, at any rate), Rudy has a well-documented habit of blurting out potentially damaging things. Withhold the Articles, get Rudy on TV and … Boom.
Speaking of Rudy, his infamous “business associates” Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are currently under criminal indictment. As those investigations move ahead, in a situation where Trump cannot order documents withheld, there is tremendous potential for deeply revealing evidence to come out. More articles of impeachment!
Trump is frantic to get his Official Exoneration Badge from the Senate as soon as possible. He thinks he will be able to put all this behind him as soon as the Senate gives him a Get Out of Jail Free card. He has already tweeted several times about a possible delay in the Senate trial. He’ll only get more frantic and manic over time. Why give in to him?
Let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind.