Gotta say, I’m inclined to agree — with the caveat that Democrats *pretending* that they want new witnesses to be called is obviously the right move politically. The optimal outcome for them is to make a stink about how the secret evidence that will prove Trump’s guilt is supposedly just one or two subpoenas away, and then to complain that the trial is a sham and a cover-up when those witnesses end up not being called.
Because acquittal in this case is assured, all Democratic efforts should logically be aimed at delegitimizing it rather than trying to prevent it. Their best hope for that is the GOP rushing through the trial without calling anyone, convincing voters that they didn’t want to hear from people like John Bolton because they’re afraid the president really did commit high crimes and Bolton has the goods to show it.
There’s a counterargument, of course. Even though acquittal is assured, it’s possible that Bolton’s testimony would be so damaging to Trump that he’d do more to delegitimize the eventual “not guilty” verdict than a rushed trial with no witnesses would. How you feel about that is a matter of instinct. It seems likely that Bolton would have some unflattering things to say about POTUS and/or his inner circle; remember, he’s the guy who allegedly described Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney as working on a “drug deal” with Ukraine. But the question isn’t whether Bolton would have anything unflattering to say. The question is whether the substance of his testimony would hurt Trump and the GOP more than the mere fact of his testimony would help them. Afterward Susan Collins and Cory Gardner would point to their willingness to call Bolton to the stand as the ultimate proof that the trial was fair and the verdict just. “See, it wasn’t a sham! We called the guy whom Democrats must wanted to hear from.” Arguably that would do more to assure voters that Trump behaved legally, if not quite appropriately, with Ukraine than the substance of what Bolton had to say would persuade them that the president should be removed.
“Given where things stand right now, there’s only one smart solution: Get out of this as quickly as possible,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, former chief of staff for Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia…
[T]he perils [of calling witnesses] include testimony adverse to Democrats’ case, losing the opportunity to cast Senate Republicans in tough re-election campaigns as a cover-up squad for the president, and giving Trump a bigger platform to continue the guilt-by-aspersion campaign against former Vice President Joe Biden that triggered his impeachment in the first place.
Even if Trump advisers testify and Biden doesn’t, a fight would give Trump a measure of what he wants — more attention on Biden and his son, Hunter Biden — and it’s possible that witnesses called by Democrats would find ways, among them asserting executive privilege, to ensure that any testimony helps rather than harms the president.
“Anyone who thinks Bolton’s going to turn on Trump is on drugs,” Kofinis said.
Half the equation here is whether Bolton’s testimony will meaningfully change public opinion about Trump’s guilt. Considering that nothing seems to meaningfully change public opinion about Trump in any context, it’s a longshot. The other half of the equation is whether opening the door for Bolton will force the Senate to also open the door to testimony from Hunter Biden. Jim Manley, who was Harry Reid’s right-hand man in the Senate, thinks that’s much ado about nothing, telling NBC that “There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that there will be the votes necessary to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden or anyone else, for that matter, who is not connected to Trump’s abuse of power.” I don’t know why he thinks that. No doubt Collins and Gardner and Mitch McConnell don’t *want* to call Hunter Biden, knowing how unpredictable his testimony might be and how his testimony will prolong the trial. But Collins and Gardner are walking a line between appeasing left-leaning swing voters who want to see a serious trial and right-leaning swing voters who want to see Trump given an opportunity to own the libs via his own witnesses. If they agree to call Bolton, Trump will howl that it’s unfair unless he gets to call Biden too. MAGA Nation will back him up. How do Collins and Gardner say no, knowing how they need righty turnout next fall?
Even if Biden has nothing incriminating to say about his own actions in Ukraine or his father’s effort as VP to get Ukraine to replace its chief prosecutor, the mere fact of putting him on the stand will convince plenty of Americans that there’s corruption afoot here with the two of them. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, people will reason. Surely the Senate wouldn’t have subjected Biden’s son to cross-examination by Trump’s lawyers unless it smelled smoke.
All of which is another reason why Democrats might be better off without witnesses. If Hunter Biden’s testimony is the price of Bolton’s testimony, and if Biden’s appearance will encourage suspicion of Joe Biden’s ethics irrespective of what Hunter actually has to say, then Dems might be sabotaging their presidential frontrunner by insisting on witnesses. Imagine going nuclear with impeachment on the theory that it’ll wound Trump on Election Day even though he’s destined to be acquitted — and then it’s your own nominee who ends up damaged by the process. Can’t wait to see what Trump’s and Biden’s respective favorable ratings look like before and after the trial if this ends up somehow with Hunter Biden called to the stand.
I’ll leave you with this new data from Quinnipiac to chew on. The public wants to hear from Bolton. If Republicans end up not calling him, the “cover up” talking point is very easy for Democrats.