A noteworthy leftover from yesterday. This morning I said that Collins, Murkowski, and Romney would command outsized influence over which witnesses do and don’t get called since McConnell wants a unified GOP vote for acquittal. There may be an understanding between them, even if it’s unspoken, that conducting the trial the way the moderates want it conducted will earn their votes against removing the president. (Collins is going to vote with Trump no matter what, but never mind that.) Toss in the likelihood of Joe Manchin crossing the aisle to vote for acquittal and suddenly Trump’s looking at bipartisan support in his favor with no bipartisan opposition, the best-case scenario he could have hoped for from this process.
For McConnell, in fact, bowing to the whims of the three moderates is a win/win. McConnell doubtless doesn’t want to get bogged down at trial in Trump shenanigans over CrowdStrike or having the whistleblower testify. He wants the process over with the moment the GOP can plausibly say, “We held a trial and gave the evidence a respectful hearing. We did our duty. Not guilty. Next.” Having the moderates around makes it easy for Cocaine Mitch to make that happen while also passing the blame when Trump and his fans get angry that he’s not hauling the Bidens in to testify. “It’s out of my hands,” McConnell can say. “We need 51 votes and you know how that Romney wing is.”
What makes this Graham interview significant is that it shows even a Trump apologist as loyal as him is thinking the same way, prepared to leverage his influence as Judiciary Committee chairman to wrap this thing as quickly as he possibly can. Which, maybe, makes his recent decision to start sniffing around Burisma less surprising. That may be Graham’s version of a compromise with TrumpWorld. They’d been after him to start using his gavel to vindicate Trump’s suspicions about the Bidens; Graham resisted for weeks, whether out of friendship to Joe Biden or the sneaking suspicion that he won’t find any corruption and then MAGA Nation will blame him for having failed the president. Graham knew, though, that soon the pressure from Team Trump would shift from having the Judiciary Committee investigate Burisma to having the Senate GOP use Trump’s impeachment trial, with its gigantic TV audience, to investigate it.
So Graham threw them a bone — fine, he’ll look into Joe Biden’s conversations with Ukraine on his committee. But he’s not going to indulge Trump’s demands that the GOP use the trial to punish his enemies by putting them on the stand and the president will just have to live with it.
“Here’s what I would tell Adam Schiff,” Graham said. “Do you really want to start calling other members, Republican members of Congress in oversight? Do you want me to call you to the Senate as part of Senate oversight?”
“I’m not going to participate in things that I think will destroy the country,” Graham added. “We’re not going to turn the Senate into a circus.”…
“When 51 of us say we’ve heard enough, the trial is going to end,” Graham said. “The president’s going to be acquitted. He may want to call Schiff, he may want to call Hunter Biden, he may want to call Joe Biden. But here’s my advice to the president: If the Senate is ready to vote and ready to acquit you, you should celebrate that.”
The really interesting part is that last part. It’s fine for him to warn Schiff not to call Devin Nunes to testify lest Schiff himself be called in the Senate. (Recall that Schiff didn’t call Ron Johnson even though Johnson has firsthand information about what Trump claimed to know about a quid pro quo with Ukraine.) But watch the clip and you’ll see that Graham’s preference on whom the defense should and shouldn’t call is much broader than that. Clearly he doesn’t want Trump to present any defense at all. No witnesses — not Schiff, not the Bidens, not the whistleblower, no one. It’s not uncommon for that to happen during criminal trials, in fact: If the defense’s potential witnesses risk doing more harm than good to the defense’s case with their testimony, the defendant won’t call anyone and will simply argue that the prosecution has failed to meet their burden of proof. That’s what Graham’s hoping for here and what he’s going to push Trump to accept, knowing that the outcome of the trial is assured. Why give Schiff or the whistleblower a platform to potentially win over some viewers? Why gamble on grilling Hunter Biden or, worse, an accomplished pol like Joe Biden who could leverage the situation to promote himself to Democratic primary voters?
Graham wants Trump to just keep quiet, sit on his hands, and take the W. As soon as House Dems finish presenting their case, Senate Republicans will call the vote, say “nope,” and that’s that. Can he convince the president to do that, having sweetened the pot by promising to look at Burisma during regular committee proceedings? Or is he too going to have to scapegoat Romney, Collins, and Murkowski for being intransigent RINO opponents of turning the trial into a big Biden/Schiff/whistleblower courtroom reality-show circus?
Exit question: Will Manchin be the only Senate Democrat who crosses the aisle? I think Sinema will stick with her team since the left has already started grumbling about her being too centrist, but she must be tempted to bank some cred with her reddish-purple home state’s Republican voters by voting against removal. She won’t have to worry about a primary for another four and a half years and the vote in Trump’s favor in the chamber is already likely to be bipartisan. Why not take advantage?