John Kennedy previewed this strategy this past weekend when he told WaPo, “The issue to be litigated … is going to be: Did the president have a good-faith reason to believe that Hunter Biden may have been involved in corruption?” That’s not quite right. The key issue is whether Trump had a good reason to believe that Joe Biden abused the powers of his office as vice president to pressure Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who posed a threat to Burisma. That’s the legitimate public purpose that would justify a presidential quid pro quo — finding out if the former VP was leaning on foreign governments to protect his sleazy kid. At the end of the day, what Hunter was up to is secondary to what Joe was up to.
But certainly, Kennedy’s right that evidence that Hunter Biden was up to no good would help build the case against Joe. If Hunter’s hands are clean then Joe would have no corrupt reason to pressure Ukraine to fire the prosecutor. If Hunter’s hands were dirty then we at least have an interesting question about Joe’s motives that might be explored. And look: The one fact that everyone should be able to agree on in the Ukraine saga is that Hunter Biden sitting on the board of Burisma when he had no apparent reason to do so is deeply shady. To all appearances, it’s a case of a foreign company rewarding the child of a high-ranking U.S. official with an eye to cashing in favors from the U.S. government later. Did Burisma ever cash in any favors with Joe?
They may have cashed in a favor with other U.S. officials by leveraging the Biden name, as Ed noted in a post yesterday.
Long story short, if the GOP’s planning to argue that there was a quid pro quo but that it was perfectly proper given Trump’s legitimate interest in investigating U.S. government corruption then it would obviously help to establish the foundation of Trump’s belief that such corruption existed. Solution: Call the Bidens to the stand during his trial in the Senate, after he’s impeached.
Among a group of Trump’s allies inside and outside Congress, there is intense and growing interest in countering the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry by delving into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and China. Because his father was vice president at the time, these allies think it could be a way to explain why Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to “look into” the Bidens, who have denied any wrongdoing…
Yet many Senate Republicans have reservations about such a strategy, fearing that it would look overtly political and that it may not be appropriate, or even possible, to include such witnesses in an impeachment trial. A Senate GOP leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, played down the idea, arguing that it was not under serious discussion and that “it’s way too early to speculate on what witnesses will appear in a Senate trial.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said of calling in Hunter Biden: “I think that’s a sideshow.” He added that impeachment “is a very solemn and serious constitutional process, and I just think that whatever the House decides to vote on . . . that’s what we ought to consider and not make this any more of a reality show than it’s likely to become.”…
Meanwhile, House Republicans have been using their time in the impeachment investigation to try to unearth information that would cast the Bidens in an unfavorable light. Under GOP questioning during a recent closed-door deposition, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testified that he had worried that Hunter Biden’s position with the firm Burisma Holdings would complicate efforts by U.S. diplomats to convey to Ukrainian officials the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest, The Washington Post reported.
Is Cornyn joking? The whole argument for doing this is the fact that it’s a sideshow. Maybe the GOP will get lucky and unearth something proving Hunter’s corruption, or mega-lucky by finding a witness to testify that Joe Biden was protecting Burisma when he told Ukraine to fire their allegedly corrupt chief prosecutor. In all likelihood, though, they wouldn’t have the goods on Joe. And it’s conceivable that they wouldn’t get much more out of Hunter than a frank admission that yeah, Burisma probably wanted him on the board because of his last name. He’s already admitted that to reporters.
But even if the Bidens’ testimony didn’t end up proving that Trump had a good-faith reason to believe they were corrupt, it would muddy the waters of what the Ukraine saga is about. Impeachment, as has been said a million times, is a political process. No one expects a conviction in the Senate; the real jury is American voters who’ll mull all of this when going to vote next fall. If Trump’s lawyers can put the Bidens on the stand and have Hunter admit that joining Burisma was a bad idea and have Joe admit that he withheld funding from Ukraine until they ditched their corrupt prosecutor, that’ll complicate the Ukraine equation enough in voters’ minds that the process will end up as a wash. Did Trump improperly pressure Ukraine? Did Biden improperly pressure Ukraine? What was the Ukrainian prosecutor up to? Who the hell are Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman? Is Rudy Giuliani some sort of international criminal mastermind like the Joker? What the fark is going on?
At some point the whole thing becomes too complicated. Just acquit the president and let’s move on. I think that’s also Trump’s strategy in trying to drum up interest in the whistleblower even as one witness after another is testifying to the facts on the record under oath. Is the whistleblower a deep-state operative? Did he have something to do with the Steele dossier? What’s his connection to Schiff? If voters come away not knowing who or what to believe on either side then the solution is to disregard the evidence, vote not guilty, and settle this at the ballot box. In which case, creating a “sideshow” by calling the Bidens to the stand is actually a fine strategic idea. It might not please an institutionalist like Cornyn who recognizes that the Senate can and will acquit Trump whether or not America hears from the Bidens. But I think it would build more public support for Trump’s innocence than letting House Democrats present their own witnesses and then simply having the Senate vote “not guilty” would. In the second scenario, Trump fans get to say that the Democrats didn’t prove anything. In the first scenario, where the Bidens testify, they get to say that Trump was justified in doing what he did, correctly or not.
Plus, it’d be great reality TV. And you know how much Trump enjoys reality TV.
One wrinkle. Can the Bidens be called? It may be up to John Roberts — or a majority of the Senate:
If Republicans moved to call the Bidens during impeachment, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. probably would have the final word. Roberts would oversee a Senate trial and has the power to accept evidence, dismiss the case and direct the proceedings — although he could defer those decisions to senators for a vote or be overruled by them.
Roberts will certainly defer every decision he’s entitled to defer, knowing that he’ll be accused of partisan hackery by the base of whichever side he rules against. That means the Senate would need 50 votes to call the Bidens. Do they have that many? Between Collins, Romney, Murkowski, and maybe the likes of Cornyn and other institutionalists, I’m thinking … no. Particularly since letting Joe Biden testify would itself carry some political risks for Trump. It’s possible that his testimony would convince people that there’s no basis to believe he behaved corruptly. It’s also possible that he’d use the spotlight to make a case against Trump’s corruption. Any sympathy Biden derives from his appearance on the stand could boost him in the primaries, which would backfire substantially on Trump. After all, Biden’s the candidate who poses the biggest threat to him next fall. Giving him a stage during impeachment could give Grandpa Joe the boost he needs to win the nomination.
Then again, if Biden’s testimony goes badly, it could also convince undecided Democrats that he really was corrupt as VP vis-a-vis Ukraine, just as Trump claims.
I think McConnell et al. will decide against calling the Bidens — certainly against calling Joe — in the interest of speeding this along. They just don’t need to get into the weeds about Burisma in order to accomplish their goal of acquitting the president and ending this nightmare ASAP. The outcome is so assured that Senate Republicans are barely trying to muster convincing arguments anymore. Kevin Cramer emphasized the fact yesterday that Ukraine’s president claims he wasn’t pressured, as if Zelensky would dare cross Trump by saying otherwise. Mike Braun told Politico that he doesn’t need to worry about the witness testimony since we have the transcript of Trump’s call. As you’re about to see, Lindsey Graham’s taken to arguing that there couldn’t have been a quid pro quo because, well, Trump’s sort of incompetent and his Ukraine policy is a big mess. (Graham used the “Trump’s too stupid to be corrupt” excuse during Russiagate too when he quipped that POTUS couldn’t collude with his own campaign.) For cripes sake, for all the bellowing House Republicans have done about supposedly being shut out of witness testimony, we’re finding out today that many who are members of the key committees haven’t even bothered to attend the hearings. Trump’s off the hook whether the Bidens are on the stand or not.
"It was incoherent," Sen @LindseyGrahamSC
says of Trump's Ukraine policy.
"They seem to be *incapable* of forming a quid pro quo." pic.twitter.com/rdZxyIazNj
— Steven Portnoy (@stevenportnoy) November 6, 2019