“He will not be acquitted”: Trump can't be vindicated unless witnesses are called, say Pelosi and Schiff

An odd argument for Democrats to make in a way, since Trump is sure to be acquitted even if witnesses are called.

Anyway, these are the first official shots in the Democrats’ “cover-up!” messaging war on the GOP that they’ve been planning since Trump was impeached. They were going to fight that war no matter how many witnesses were called so long as Trump was found not guilty, but having Republicans decline to call Bolton despite reports that he might have something important to reveal means Dems will be using heavier ordnance than they might have anticipated.

In fact, says Charles Lipson today in an op-ed today at the Spectator, the Democrats’ dirty little secret is that they don’t really want witnesses to be called. They don’t need Bolton to testify in order to get his story out there, after all. He’s going to handle that for them eventually, whether via his book or TV interviews. If he has something damning to say about Trump when he finally speaks then their “cover-up” talking point will get stronger. If he has nothing damning to say then Dems can at least take comfort in the fact that they didn’t go to the mat to have him testify only for him to blow up their case under oath.

First, the president would assert executive privilege over Bolton’s testimony and documents, which would drag out the proceedings until the Supreme Court decided the issue. While these appeals dragged on, Senators running for president would be stuck in Washington, off the campaign trail. Then, too, there is no way a Republican-majority Senate is going to permit Democrats to call Bolton unless they can call witnesses of their own. Remember, the House Democrats called 17 witnesses in their investigation and refused to allow the Republicans to call even one. The Senate will demand basic fairness, and they will get it.

As the fight over testimony from Bolton and other White House aides drags on in the courts, Democrats will find it nearly impossible to press their advantage with voters on issues such as health care, which helped them win in 2018. Instead, the Democrats would be held responsible for prolonging the impeachment trial, which would serve as a giant campaign poster for the president’s attack on the ‘Do Nothing Democrats’.

Dems will get something out of this no matter what happens with Bolton tomorrow, although the outcome of the witness vote looks increasingly clear. There’s only one way at this point that the trial could turn into a disaster for them: That’s if Joe Manchin, Doug Jones, or Kyrsten Sinema — or some combination thereof — decide to give the GOP political cover by siding with them on acquittal. I think Dems would grudgingly tolerate Manchin defecting since everyone understands the reality of politics in West Virginia. I suspect they’d be disappointed if Jones defected even though he has an obvious electoral reason to do so in Alabama since he’s unlikely to win reelection this fall no matter how he votes. But to have Sinema, from purplish Arizona, cross the aisle too would be a catastrophe. How do you run around screaming “Republican cover-up!” when not one, not two, but three Democrats concluded otherwise?

And ironically, the GOP’s refusal to call Bolton has made that result more likely. No doubt Schumer is telling Manchin, Jones, and Sinema this afternoon that they need to punish Republican obstructionism by sticking with the team, but without Bolton’s testimony about a quid pro quo it’s harder for them to justify a vote to remove Trump to their Republican constituents back home. Blocking Bolton will pay off big for McConnell if it forces Manchin et al. to say “we wanted to hear his testimony but since we can’t we have no choice but to acquit based on what’s in front of us.” If they’re feeling really cheeky, they might even echo the GOP’s recurring point that the House should have fought harder to compel Bolton’s testimony when it had the chance, even if that meant delaying impeachment. Pushing impeachment deep into an election year would have created different political problems for Pelosi and the Democratic 2020 field but having him on the record incriminating Trump might have paid off by influencing public opinion. And remember, according to Eliot Engel, they did have reason to believe that Bolton had incriminating information as early as September 23. They could have subpoenaed him the next day and maybe forced a ruling by New Year’s.

Here are Pelosi and Schiff jumpstarting the “no vindication” chatter ahead of tomorrow evening’s likely acquittal vote. Exit question: Is Bolton ultimately to blame for his own failure to testify? Not just because he resisted being called by the House but because, per Fiona Hill, he was urging subordinates to warn White House lawyers about some sort of illicit deal with Ukraine being orchestrated by Mulvaney and others as early as July. If he had told House Democrats about that at the time, the impeachment inquiry may have started much sooner. Maybe soon enough to have a court battle over compelling Bolton’s testimony before it got too late on the political calendar for Pelosi to attempt that.