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Where Are the Witnesses? Ralph Nader Says Democrats’ Impeachment Case Is “Prescription for Defeat”

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As the historic Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump continues, we speak with longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who says Democrats have set themselves up for defeat by rushing proceedings and failing to call witnesses — including Trump himself. “The narrow approach of the articles of impeachment keep the Democrats from having a full hand,” says Nader. “They have like 10 arrows in their quiver, and they’re using one or two.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our look at the historic second impeachment trial of Donald Trump for inciting the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.

We’re joined by Ralph Nader, the longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate. He ran for president four times. He’s the author of many books, including his latest, written with Mark Green, Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All. He is joining us from Winsted, Connecticut.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Ralph. Thanks so much for being with us. So, the Democrats have finished their case against Donald Trump in the Senate impeachment trial, this historic number two for one president. Your assessment of their arguments?

RALPH NADER: Well, Amy, it’s important to know that they were operating as civil proceeding attorneys. This is not a criminal proceeding; it’s a civil proceeding controlled completely by the U.S. Senate. The Supreme Court ruled in Nixon v. the U.S. years ago that the judiciary has no role whatsoever. There’s no appeal. There’s no protracted delays. It’s all up to the Senate, and the Senate rules, number one.

Number two, the purpose of this impeachment effort is prophylactic. It’s designed not just to hold Trump accountable under the Constitution, but to prevent future wannabe Trumps from behaving in the same way. And therefore, the only, really, result of a guilty verdict would be disqualifying Trump from running for federal office anymore.

So, with that background, I think people need to know that the House managers were being managed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She was running the show. And she has two approaches, which she used in the first impeachment. One is she likes to rush the trial. The second is, the reason why she likes to rush the trial, without witnesses and subpoenas, is that she has prejudged the result. She basically says, “These Republicans are intransigent. They’ll never change their mind. Our duty is to impeach in the House and send it over to the Senate.” Now, that is a prescription for defeat, period. And as a result, the narrow approach of the articles of impeachment keep the Democrats from having a full hand. They have like 10 arrows in their quiver, and they’re using one or two.

Now, what they should do is call witnesses. The witnesses they should call are not surprising: Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, some of the families of the victims, Garrett Miller or others who said they went down to the Congress on orders of their commander-in-chief who spoke to them, and John Bolton, who said that obstruction of justice was a way of life in the White House. He was the national security adviser, before he resigned.

Otherwise, what the Republicans will do is simply say, “This is a video show trial. A lot of the material was taken out of context. And the protagonists were entirely Democratic partisans, members of the House Democratic Party.” If you have witnesses, you have the potential of breakthrough testimony. Mike Pence, for example, Jay Rosen, for example, Brad Raffensperger, they might be required to testify about far deeper crimes than simply a telephone call to the Justice Department by Trump or to the Georgia secretary of state, twisting their elbows to try to change the course or the count of the election.

That’s the unfortunate aspect of it, Amy, that they had an opportunity. Because here you have a president who has seized congressional power, day after day, in four years. He spent money without authorization. He has violated congressional mandates in health, safety and economic regulations. He has defied over 130 subpoenas and dozens of formal demands by congressional committees to testify in terms of his subordinates, Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels.

So, there are two layers here. His street crime attack on the Congress, that was well argued by the House Democrats. But then there’s the institutional separation of powers attack that was far more fundamental in terms of its long-range impact, in terms of its current impact on hundreds of millions of American people. That was not part of the articles of impeachment. They didn’t go with a full hand. And had they gone with a full hand, they could have shown the intransigent Republicans exactly what price they’re going to pay if they vote to acquit Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about, for example, what Pence would have had to say, Pence a longtime, obviously, ally of President Trump, defender almost to the end, until he decided to be there to ensure the count of — the final count of the Electoral College. One of the things that the House managers showed was the timeline. I mean, maybe you can argue Trump, in his speech that day, when he said “fight,” that doesn’t mean actually physically kill a police officer. But they show the timeline, for example, having to do with Pence, that President Trump called Senator Tuberville at the moment when Pence was just taken out, evacuated, and Tuberville said, “I can’t talk to you,” to the president. “Pence has just been evacuated.” And it was after that that Trump issued yet another tweet against Pence, and the rioters — I don’t know if you would call them domestic terrorists; would you, Ralph? — were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”

RALPH NADER: Well, if you had Pence on the stand, you would start with an impeachable statement by Trump in 2019. No other president has dared say what Trump said then. He said, “With Article II, I can do whatever I want as president.” “With Article II, I can do whatever I want as president.” And he spent four years proving that that was the case, with Vice President Pence.

So, you basically have Pence, who doesn’t like to be seen as a lawless executive branch vice president, comment on all that you have just described in terms of a law-and-order framework. And he submitted to Trump every day until that last day, when he said, “I’m sorry, Mr. President, I have to obey the Constitution and go down to the Senate and formally supervise the counting of the Electoral College votes as accurate for President-elect Biden.” And so he broke with him. And Trump attacked him.

And that’s powerful testimony. You can’t reproduce that testimony with videotapes. You can’t reproduce the testimony of Raffensperger and others. The situation in Georgia was really thuggishly detailed. It wasn’t just a phone call. NPR had a good exposé on that. He actually had his people threaten various electoral officials in Fulton County, not just a phone call and threatening Raffensperger with criminal prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: And you had a U.S. attorney forced out.

RALPH NADER: Pardon?

AMY GOODMAN: You had a U.S. attorney forced out in Georgia.

RALPH NADER: Yes, yes. So there’s a lot there to uncover. You can’t do that by videotape. You have to do it by live testimony. I mean, trial lawyers say, “A trial without witnesses, are you kidding?” And why didn’t they call the witnesses? Because Nancy Pelosi wants to get this over with, and she doesn’t believe anything will change the minds of enough Republican senators.

I disagree. First of all, it’s not just for the Republican senators you have a full trial with a full hand of impeachable offenses. It’s for the American people. It’s for public education. It’s for the historic record. And it’s for whatever use subsequent criminal prosecutions of Trump that are pending in New York, Georgia and the District of Columbia may be able to apply. So, it’s a very narrow approach, and, unfortunately, the capability of lead manager Jamie Raskin was not fully displayed, because he didn’t have a full hand.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the prosecution, possibly, of Trump by the Fulton County DA. She is now speaking out, empaneling a grand jury. But I also wanted to ask you about Elie Mystal’s argument in The Nation. He said, “Trump should be charged with incitement of criminal acts, at the very least. If it can be proven he stood down the National Guard, he should be charged with sedition as well. [Trump] is not a defeated politician; he is a criminal on the loose. He must be treated as such.”

RALPH NADER: Well, of course. And he will be. He’s an ordinary citizen now, as they say. He’s going to be subject to criminal prosecution. All the things that were portrayed by the House Democrats in the last few days, in an ordinary court of law, would be crimes against the state by Trump. And he’s going to have to face, as I say, at least three jurisdictions: Georgia, District of Columbia, and New York state for financial misconduct with his businesses under prosecutor Cyrus Vance.

But it’s important, Amy, to realize how decayed the Republican Party has become, because when Nixon was accused of obstructing justice in the burglary of the Watergate complex that housed the Democratic National Committee, and he was subject to impeachment proceedings by the House — they hadn’t yet gone to the floor to formally impeach him — Senator Barry Goldwater and Senator Hugh Scott and other leading Senate Republicans went over to the White House and had a private meeting with Richard Nixon. And they basically said, “Your time is up. You’ve lost your base. You’re going to be impeached and convicted.”

Now, compare that with the spineless, intimidated Senate Republicans, where Trump’s crimes are not just institutional against the separation of powers and seizing congressional power by his White House; his crimes were street crimes, violent street crimes endangering the lives of the very Republican senators talking, shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” and pushing all the members of Congress fleeing for their lives through the hallways underground the Capitol complex, with all kinds of mayhem, fatalities and injuries. And still none of the Republican leaders will go to the White House, figuratively, or go and and basically say, “It’s over.”

AMY GOODMAN: And what kind of effect do you think it would have had if, for example, Eugene Goodman was brought in, the Capitol Police officer who clearly saved Mitt Romney, who led the rioters in the other direction to give Pence, to give congressmembers a chance to escape, also talking about repeatedly hearing — and this is true of a number of African American Capitol Police — the N-word?

RALPH NADER: Well, that’s why the testimony would be so powerful. That’s why the witnesses are so important. Otherwise — well, the House managers have one last chance. They’ve got to make a direct appeal to the Republican senators. Now, about seven, eight, nine of them are going to vote to convict. They need 17. And the appeal has to be, “Do you know what’s going to happen if you let this guy run again, if you let Trump offer the prospect of running in 2024? Do you know — he controls your party. He controls the state Republican committees. He’s going to basically demand 100% submission, as he did of William Barr, attorney general, and Vice President Pence, or he’s going to turn on you. Is that the kind of future political career you want to enter?”

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, you’d need these two votes. One is to convict, and you need 67 senators. The other is to stop him from running for federal office, and you just need the majority, which they already have with the Democrats.

RALPH NADER: That’s right. That’s right. They would have it. So, what’s the rush? The rush partly is due to a routine most Americans don’t know about. The Congress works, at the most, three days a week, when they’re not in long recesses. Three days a week. A lot of them fly in Tuesday morning, and they fly back Thursday afternoon or evening. That’s one reason they don’t have congressional hearings and oversight of executive branch. They don’t work Monday or Friday. They treasure their short workweek. And it’s become a habit. There’s no reason why they can’t work five days, even six days. This is one of the most important trials in American history. This is a trial for the future of our Constitution, for whether we’re going have a monarch, for whether we’re going to have more of the sordid, cruel, violent type of electoral politics that is going on with voter suppression and voter intimidation. And they’re worried about saving a few days? They can work half time on the trial, say, in the afternoon, and then do the legislative business in the morning.

But Nancy Pelosi needs to be held accountable for the strategy that she put forward, a defeatist strategy in the first impeachment, when there were at least 11 other proven impeachable offenses by Trump and she just went with the Ukraine issue. And we put all these in the Congressional Record of December 18, if anybody wants to look at them. Congressman John Larson put them in. And she’s going with the same limited strategy here. And nobody’s talking about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Mitch McConnell, his role? Do you think it’s possible he, Thune and others could vote against President Trump? And do you think it’s an absolute done deal that there’s no way they’ll get 67 votes? One Republican commentator said if it was a secret ballot, 90% would go against Trump, but not if it’s not.

RALPH NADER: Mitch McConnell made a speech on the Senate floor directly asserting that Trump was responsible for the riot, for the mayhem, for the storming of the Capitol. He is the leader. He’s got a lot of leverage. He is the key to getting those 17 votes. And for the first time in his life, he’s going to face a struggle inside his brain where he can’t just say, “No, no, no,” to key legislation protecting the American people. He’s called himself “the guardian of gridlock,” “the grim weeper.” Those are his words. And he’s got to face up to history.

And he is the key to getting the rest of the Republican senators. All they have to do is just look at the prospect. If Trump is acquitted, he is unleashed on them. He will demand total submission. He controls the party structure. There’s nobody like him that can attract more money and more crowds. And it will be miserable for them. And if they think they can avoid some primary challenges, but they’re going to equip their Democratic challengers in the election with enormous arguments to defeat them. Never mind their role in history. Never mind the example of Senator Goldwater and Senator Hugh Scott telling Nixon he better resign, his time is up.

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