The Night the Capitol Did Not Sleep: Inside Trump's Impeachment Case
The end of a working day in the U. S. Capitol can come at any time. If it comes at the customary time, which is to say in the early evening, the place takes on a crepuscular feeling, as though you can hear the figures in the frescoes breathing sighs of relief and feel the marble in the floors and staircases soften beneath your feet. What was a particularly ornate office building at the height of the day passes through changes by which it becomes a not overly popular museum and then, as night truly falls, a kind of tomb in which the day’s events are interred, one after another after another, year after year.
September 24, 2019, was an odd kind of day, in that this softening night never fell. The frescoes remained silent. The marble never gave way. The very air in the place was charged even though there were few people left in the halls to charge it. After three years in which each nightmarish news cycle followed another, on September 24, it became obvious there were not successive news cycles but one continuous rush that began on Inauguration Day in 2017. The corruption in the United States government was revealed to be a single foul organism, like one of those giant, three-thousand-year-old fungi that spread over a square mile or two.
On the surface, you see only the mushrooms that pop from the ground. The immense scale of the organism is hidden underground. It feeds itself by tapping into the roots of trees, which it then drains of their nutrients until the trees are consumed by a dry rot. September 24, 2019, was the day that the deadliest poison mushroom emerged, but the sweeping subterranean organism had been hollowing out the government for three years. It was all one great creature made of greed and crime and psychological death juice, and now everybody could see how far and how deep it had spread. Over the next two days, we all got a sweeping look at the malignant growth that is the corrupt administration of Donald J. Trump. It was the day the whistleblower entered the ecosystem, and the earth opened up, and the sheer scale of it was revealed.
Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump on September 24, 2019.
The whistleblower revealed that, in essence, the president was trying to shake down poor Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine—who had been feeling the hot breath of Vladimir Putin on the back of his neck from the moment he took office—for the purpose of ratfucking the 2020 election. It was all there: the contempt for the rule of law and for constitutional barriers, the personalization of foreign policy for private gain, the narcissistic insistence that he alone can run the government and turn a buck on the deal, the tailoring of foreign policy to the benefit of his friends (at best) in many lands, and the pure authoritarian bullying tied up in all of the above. Those were all the surface blooms. But this event gave us a look at the vast organism beneath the ground that subsists on the rot of living things.
A new emotion ran through the halls of the Capitol. It lurked in the committee rooms. It ran as a dark countermelody under all the careful quotes given out in a suddenly electric media environment. It has been a shadow over all the days since. What you began to feel around the government in those days was horror. After the 2016 election, there was a closed briefing given to members of Congress about the extent of the Russian ratfucking, and emerging from that meeting, many of the participants appeared to have looked down into their own graves. That is the feeling that has crept in through the widening gaps in a rotting democracy ever since this past September. Nobody knows the whole thing, but everything they’ve learned has been worse than everything they thought they knew. Every day suddenly has become fraught with unexpected monsters, real and imagined. And that has become the permanent state of things in Washington.
The corruption in the United States government was revealed to be a single foul organism, like one of those giant, three-thousand-year-old fungi that spread over a square mile or two.
On September 24, somebody rustled up six American flags and a podium and lined them up in a long corridor of the Capitol, just outside the office of the Speaker of the House. The only light in the hallway was the sunlight slipping in through an arched window at the other end of the hall. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, who had been reluctant to move on impeachment until she was sure of her footing, stood behind the podium in a blue dress with a large American-flag pin. She summoned the power that, of all the powers inherent in the government, belongs to her and her alone, the power to open the proceedings to decide if a president should be removed:
Therefore, today, I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry. I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry. The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.
By the next day, they’d all read the complaint, all of them in the House of Representatives, the place from which impeachment of the president must come. Minds changed, heads turned. Around 7:00 on the night of September 25, Representative Sharice Davids, Democrat of Kansas, announced that she would support the impeachment inquiry. Davids was the 218th member of Congress to announce her support, a significant number because 218 votes is a majority in the House, and any article of impeachment that receives 218 votes will be sent to the Senate for trial. Twenty minutes later, Congressman Al Lawson, Democrat of Florida, became the 219th.
It was all there: the contempt for the rule of law and for constitutional barriers, the personalization of foreign policy for private gain, the narcissistic insistence that he alone can run the government and turn a buck on the deal.
The next morning, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee. Maguire was there to explain why the administration had not transmitted the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress as it ordinarily would be required to, and why instead he had taken the complaint to the White House lawyers. Maguire pleaded executive privilege. The White House had put him in a box, and now the Democrats in the House were bent on keeping him there. Two days before, in that hallway of the Capitol, in front of those six American flags, and framed in that thin arc of sunlight, Nancy Pelosi had made that much clear.
Everything that’s happened since—the increasing focus on Rudy Giuliani and his two henchmen, the president’s capitulation in Syria, the hysterical activities of the House Republican caucus, the president’s constant lying and fantastical rhetoric, even the untimely death of House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings—has been part of the same story, because all of the crimes and all of the sleaze are now part of the same massive, poisonous growth, an absolute unit of unprecedented corruption. It will be a long time before night falls around the Capitol in the usual way. Right now, with the winter’s dark closing in, at the end of the working day, it goes right into being an unquiet tomb, where a democratic republic is coming to realize how deep the rot has set.