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Senate Republicans need to end this trial before Donald Trump confesses to anything else

Posted January 22, 2020 8:34 p.m. EST
Updated January 22, 2020 11:12 p.m. EST

— Senate Republicans need to end this impeachment trial before President Donald Trump confesses to anything else.

"We're doing very well," Trump said, summing up the performance of his legal team after watching the trial from Davos, Switzerland. "But honestly, we have all the material. They don't have the material."

His timing was problematic, to say the least. Democrats had just spent a marathon Senate session trying to get Republicans to agree to force Trump to hand over potentially incriminating "material," including new witnesses and evidence.

The President's lawyers say he's got every right to withhold evidence pertinent to the case, because executive privilege covers sensitive presidential decisions. And who knows what "material" Trump really meant? But his tendency to blow the whistle on himself is one reason why the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, wants Trump acquitted as soon as possible.

The President's bursts of honesty have torpedoed his own interests before. After he fired FBI Chief James Comey, he told NBC that he did it because of the Russia investigation, opening himself to accusations of obstructing justice. Accused of asking Ukraine to probe Joe Biden, he went onto the White House lawn and asked China to do the same thing.

Last June, Trump foreshadowed his impeachment drama when he told ABC News that if a foreign government offered him dirt on a political opponent: "I think I'd like to hear it." And way back in the 2016 campaign, he chose a televised news conference as his platform to ask Russia, "if you're listening," to find Hillary Clinton's 30,000 missing emails. The same day, Russian hackers set out to do that.

Blurting out inconvenient truths is more than a verbal tic. It's a sign of obliviousness or disdain for codes of presidential restraint — which may be what got Trump into impeachment trouble in the first place.

The real test

Since US presidents get impeached on average every 77 years, you might think Americans would be buzzing over Trump's fate.

But what's on everyone's mind is a deadly viral outbreak that has spread from China to several countries, including one case in the US. The Wuhan coronavirus has so far killed 17 people and infected more than 500.

As the World Health Organization deliberates whether to call it an emergency of international concern, the world is already reacting. The US National Institutes of Health and other US scientists are working on a vaccine, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is watching closely.

A senior State Department official said Wednesday that there were encouraging signs that China was getting a handle on the situation, the same day that it shut down public transport in the eastern city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged. But memories of Beijing's slow response to the 2003 SARS epidemic have outsiders concerned.

Disease doesn't obey borders, which means any truly major health crisis will eventually land on a US President's desk. Barack Obama, for instance, took over crisis management when an Ebola outbreak in West Africa threatened to spread to the US in 2014.

Amid the panic of an epidemic, Donald Trump would need a steady hand, calming rhetoric, slick coordination among government departments and sensitive diplomacy with foreign capitals — qualities this White House is hardly known for, and at a time when Trump is already being driven to distraction.

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