No, Dianne Feinstein isn't leaning towards acquitting Trump. But it sort of sounded that way at first.

I’m trying to imagine what the analog to a DiFi “not guilty” vote would be on the Republican side, in a world where a Democratic president were on trial in the Senate instead. Maybe John Cornyn?

Even that doesn’t quite capture the magnitude, I think. Feinstein’s an elder statesman of her party, in office for nearly 30 years. She’s the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee. She represents California. You can imagine Democrats like Joe Manchin or Doug Jones, from deep red states, defecting on the final vote. You’d never imagine a Californian.

The left tried to take her out the last time she ran, in 2018. They came close-ish, with their preferred candidate losing by less than nine points in a deep blue state where Feinstein has been a household name for decades. She’s 86 and probably in her last term no matter what, but a vote to acquit Trump would finish her off in 2024 if she runs again.

“Feinstein leans toward acquitting Trump as his defense team ends impeachment arguments,” bellowed a shocking LA Times headline this afternoon, highlighting the comments below. A debate immediately broke out on Twitter: Do these really tell us anything or are they just Feinstein’s version of “let’s all keep an open mind” boilerplate?

“Nine months left to go, the people should judge. We are a republic, we are based on the will of the people — the people should judge,” Feinstein said Tuesday, after the president’s team finished a three-day presentation in his defense. “That was my view and it still is my view.”

Still, she indicated that arguments in the trial about Trump’s character and fitness for office had left her undecided. “What changed my opinion as this went on,” she said, is a realization that “impeachment isn’t about one offense. It’s really about the character and ability and physical and mental fitness of the individual to serve the people, not themselves.”

Asked whether she would ultimately vote to acquit, she demurred, saying, “We’re not finished.”

“The people should judge” sounds like a strong hint that she’s uncomfortable voting for removal, especially given that bit at the end when she was asked flatly if she’ll vote to acquit and didn’t deny it. She’s open to being persuaded to convict, but … hoo boy.

There’s no way she’d vote that way, though. It’s unimaginable. Even if she wanted to, Schumer and Pelosi (another California institution, mind you) would pull her aside and remind her that Feinstein voting to acquit would open the floodgates for Manchin, Jones, and Kyrsten Sinema to vote that way too. And it would take all kinds of political pressure off of Susan Collins and Cory Gardner, the two most vulnerable Republicans running for reelection this fall. At a minimum, what Democrats want from the impeachment saga is a higher probability of flipping Collins’s seat in Maine and Gardner’s seat in Colorado than they had when this process began. If Feinstein votes no, that’s out the window. Collins and Gardner will simply say to Democrats back home who are angry at Trump’s acquittal, “This wasn’t a partisan thing. We’re not in the tank for Trump. Even Dianne Feinstein, one of your own, couldn’t convict based on this paltry evidence.”

It’s unthinkable that DiFi would put her party in that position after all this. And in fact, a reporter who was there when she made these comments claims the LA Times has it all wrong. She’s not leaning towards acquittal and open to being convinced otherwise. Rather the opposite:

By “before this,” I think Feinstein means before hearing the arguments in the Senate. She’s out with a statement this afternoon, in fact, in lockstep with her party by insisting that we need to hear from John Bolton now.

Only Feinstein knows whether she earnestly believed at some point that we’re too close to an election to justify removal (“the people should judge”) or if that was political nonsense she was pushing to make it sound like the Democratic case at trial was so irresistibly persuasive that it had miraculously changed her mind. Either way, I’d bet cash money that she’ll vote to convict in the end. It would cost her party too much for her not to.

I’ll leave you with this, her official walkback: