John Bolton’s going to have to tell America whatever he knows about the Ukraine business outside a congressional setting.
Or will he? Hold that thought.
Anyway, when he speaks, it won’t be before the Senate:
#BREAKING: A divided Senate rejected a motion for witnesses and documents in President Trump’s impeachment trial, voting 49-51 largely along party lines to kill the motion and taking a major step towards Trump’s acquittal on charges of high crimes and misdemeanors.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 31, 2020
As expected, the two Republican votes to call witnesses were Collins and Romney. All Democrats voted yes, including Manchin, Jones, and Sinema, the three fencesitters. Should we pause here for a minute and re-watch this clip of Manchin from January 8? Let’s do it:
CNN’s Alisyn Camerota: “If you don't hear from John Bolton, it will not be a fair [impeachment] trial?”
@Sen_JoeManchin: “I don't see how it can be.” https://t.co/kcvCXTJUE2 pic.twitter.com/Q7rXCjTumw
— New Day (@NewDay) January 8, 2020
If Manchin (and presumably Jones and Sinema) concludes that the trial was a sham, with the Bolton testimony that potentially would have justified a vote to remove unavailable because it was withheld by the GOP, how does he vote? The easy move would be to say, “We didn’t need Bolton in the end because Schiff proved his case without him,” but that that would be awkward since (a) it wouldn’t explain why Manchin voted to call witnesses, unless he was keen to hear from Hunter Biden, and (b) a lot of West Virginians are going to be annoyed if he pulls the trigger on removal, especially without any fig leaf via Bolton’s evidence to justify it.
He and the other two are caught in a nasty jam right now between their political incentive to appease the right by voting for acquittal and their political incentive to appease their party by going all-in on the “sham” talking point. Gotta choose. I don’t think voting present on the verdict is an option.
As for Bolton, lefties are already calling on Pelosi and Schiff to resume the investigation in the House by subpoenaing him. If the court fight takes eight months or whatever, so be it. That’ll be a nice October surprise for Dems if litigation delays Bolton’s testimony until then. Paul Waldman:
So now Democrats have a choice to make. They can slink off miserably and await Trump’s reelection, or they can keep fighting to create the accountability that impeachment was supposed to be about…
The first thing they can do is invite John Bolton to testify in an open hearing before either the Intelligence Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House (and if he declines the invitation, subpoena him). The fact that Senate Republicans stopped him from testifying in the impeachment trial doesn’t mean he’s barred from opening his mouth forevermore. So let’s hear what he has to say.
Did Trump tell him explicitly, as Bolton’s book reportedly says, that he was holding up military aid to Ukraine until they announced an investigation of the Bidens? Why did Bolton call the scheme to pressure Ukraine a “drug deal”? What was the full extent of Rudy Giuliani’s influence over the government’s foreign policy apparatus? Just imagine what a huge media event it will be when Bolton comes to answer those questions.
Pelosi will be wary. She didn’t want to impeach in the first place because she feared the party would get sidetracked from its agenda, but she did it and now she’s ready to move past it. If they go back to the well on Ukraine, Republicans will crow that Dems are obsessed and the Democratic nominee may get restless about it becoming a distraction on the trail. Public memories are short too; God only knows what impact Bolton’s testimony would have six months from now, when every casual observer of the impeachment saga has long forgotten the pertinent details about Ukraine.
If they’re going to do it, they’d need to do it soon. Call him in, have him testify, then move past it. Let it percolate in voters’ minds until November. Given his obvious eagerness to testify before the Senate and his inevitable annoyance that the GOP shut him down in the Senate, Bolton might have a change of heart and agree to testify voluntarily in the House. The White House will try to hush him up on executive privilege grounds but Dems will happily accept that battle temporarily. It plays right into their “cover-up” messaging about the trial. “They won and they’re still afraid to hear what John Bolton has to say!”
It’s not just the Dems’ message either:
A Senate vote to end President Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings without calling witnesses should be considered “half a trial,” the president’s former chief of staff John Kelly said Friday…
“If I was advising the United States Senate, I would say, ‘If you don’t respond to 75 percent of the American voters and have witnesses, it’s a job only half done,” he said. “You open yourself up forever as a Senate that shirks its responsibilities.”
Right, but as a counterargument, go read law prof Kim Wehle on how Pelosi and the House Dems bungled this process. They could have been much more aggressive procedurally in trying to call Bolton, Wehle notes, and they could have been more aggressive and specific in the articles of impeachment themselves about why what Trump did was actually illegal. They made this a relatively easy acquittal for the GOP, possibly because they knew acquittal was assured regardless and just wanted some cheap and easy “we impeached him” points from their base out of it. They didn’t need to present their strongest possible case in order to achieve that.
Exit question: Is the president … unhappy that he “won” the big vote on witnesses? Where’s Hunter?
Update: This is a surprise. Trump won’t have been acquitted yet when he delivers the State of the Union on Tuesday night? That was the whole point of sprinting through the trial, I thought.
From Senators Barrasso and Blunt
4 or 5 Democratic amendment votes voted on tonight.
No weekend session.
Monday closing arguments on both sides
Senator floor speeches: Monday-Wednesday.
Acquittal vote: Wednesday afternoon.
McConnell and Schumer have a deal on this, per senators
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 31, 2020
How does that schedule work out for Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar in Iowa campaigning? Two full days in Iowa — then dragged back to D.C. on caucus day. Bernie might have to give his victory speech at the Capitol. Weird, but I suppose it works out better for them to have two weekend days with Iowa voters than if the trial finished Saturday and they had to campaign on Sunday and Monday, a workday.