Joe Manchin: I don't understand why House Democrats didn't call the most important witnesses

I missed this yesterday but it’s very much relevant tonight, now that we’ve officially moved on from impeachment and into the Senate phase. (Haven’t we?) As Varad Mehta says, this doesn’t sound like a man who’s looking for reasons to vote for removing the president.

It sounds like a man who’s looking for reasons not to.

Odds are very good that there’s going to be a bipartisan vote on Trump’s behalf in both chambers.

“How do you have trial without witnesses? Tell me. How do you have a trial if you can’t get the facts out?” Manchin said. “So, some how, way, shape or form, even if it’s in a deposition, they should be sworn in under oath and make sure they tell the truth.”

“I don’t know why the House … didn’t go to court. You know, why they didn’t go after these witnesses that are so pertinent to the whole accusation. That makes it very difficult,” Manchin told CQ Roll Call. Manchin specifically referenced acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton as witnesses who should’ve been pursued.

“Hindsight’s 20/20. I can’t tell you what was in their mind, why they did what they did, but they had the ability to go to court, subpoena these witnesses and make sure they testify, either in closed — in a closed deposition or whatever,” Manchin said. “Bolton had firsthand information. Mulvaney has firsthand information, and there’s a lot of people on the front lines.”

I can tell you why they did what they did. They cared more about wrapping up impeachment before it become a major political liability than they did about actually proving their case against Trump, knowing that the outcome is assured in both chambers regardless. It’s preposterous to build a case for ousting the president without hearing from someone like Mulvaney, a person who might be able to confirm or disprove from eyewitness observation that Trump’s guilty of what he’s accused of. There’s no logical reason on the merits not to go to court and try to compel his testimony. The reason not to do it is purely political: Democrats are out of time on impeachment, both in terms of the deteriorating polling and the reality that letting impeachment bleed deep into next year would disrupt the Democratic primaries and interfere with the party’s policy pitch to voters. And a court fight would take time.

Forced to choose between going all-in on a lengthy, futile effort to remove the president via impeachment and rushing it through in order to preserve their ability to remove the president at the ballot box next fall, they played it safe. But by doing so, they made it very easy for Manchin — and maybe Doug Jones and Kyrsten Sinema — to say, “I can’t vote to remove unless I’ve heard from Bolton and Mulvaney.” It’s a perfectly reasonable position. And even if Manchin and the rest stick with their team and vote for removal anyway, the failure to pursue testimony from Bolton etc. makes it easy for Romney, Murkowski, Collins, and Gardner to stick with their own team. We’re headed for a party-line acquittal *at worst* at this point. And given how Manchin sounds here, I’d expect Trump will do better than that.

That’s not the only impeachment-related news from the Senate today. Well, tangentially related to impeachment:

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham announced that he wants all the signers of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications and renewals targeting Carter Page to testify in January

“The first thing I want to do is discover the scope of the problem. So next January, I want to call everybody who signed a warrant application and ask them — why did we not know this? And try to explain to the public — how does this work? Do the people at the top of the chain just sign it and not look at any of the details? How did it get so off script?” Graham said to reporters, later adding, “I want to start with the people who signed the warrant and have them explain to me why they signed it.”…

“So when they do an audit of other FISA applications — is this a systematic problem, or is it pretty much limited to Carter Page?” Graham asked. “If it’s not a system problem, that tells me that the people in the Carter Page case got drunk with power, had a political agenda, and they acted upon it. If it’s a systematic abuse, it tells me the FISA process needs to be reformed dramatically. Either way, it’s bad.”

I think this is part of Graham’s effort to get Trump to back off from making demands of Senate Republicans in the impeachment trial and just go along with what they want to do, even if it means the defense calls no witnesses. Remember that Trump and his allies were leaning on Graham for months to use his Judiciary Committee power to investigate the Bidens and Burisma. Graham refused, but ultimately they wore him down and he agreed to look at some evidence on the matter, outraging Joe Biden. My suspicion is that Graham did that partially with an eye to the impeachment trial, figuring that if he could show Trump that his grievances were being addressed outside the impeachment process, the president would be more agreeable about what goes on within that process. Graham doesn’t want the party to have to take any risks at the trial, knowing how many people will be watching. Better to funnel stuff like Burisma into a more standard process, where only partisans pay close attention. That way, if he comes up empty on Burisma, there’s no real damage. Partisans are going to vote their partisan preferences anyway.

Vowing to call onto the carpet the people responsible for the Carter Page investigation is another way to earn goodwill with the president ahead of the trial. It’s good policy too, of course: There needs to be an accounting, and Graham’s point that this is bad for the FBI whether there is or isn’t systemic bias in FISA applications is well taken. He’s right to want to hold hearings regardless of the political implications, particularly since House Democrats sure aren’t going to do it. But by pleasing the president and promising him that “deep state” villains are going to be held to account — in January, counterprogramming the impeachment trial — maybe that’ll make Trump more conciliatory about not trying to call the whistleblower to the stand at the latter.

I’ll leave you with this, from Graham’s press conference earlier today. He’s asked at one point whether he’ll invite Rudy Giuliani to share with the Judiciary Committee what he’s found during his “fact-finding” mission in Ukraine. An apprehensive but tactful Graham says he’ll send Rudy a letter about it but that “If you’re going to go on national television and tell the country that you’ve found evidence of a cover-up, then I hope you know what you’re talking about… It’s just not good for the country to make these accusations on cable television without them being tested.” That’s what Graham’s worried about at the impeachment trial — that if Trump gets to grill Hunter Biden or whoever, his lawyers will go down a rabbit hole of lots of accusations but with little hard evidence. Graham’s willing to do his partisan duty in raising suspicion about the Bidens but only up to a point. At least for the moment.

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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024