So much for the the Pat Toomey option — or even the Joe Manchin option. Cory Gardner, one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in Senate race this year, told Colorado Politics that he will vote down any attempt to subpoena John Bolton or anyone else. Seventeen is enough, Gardner declared for the record:
“I do not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness,” the Colorado Republican told Colorado Politics in a statement. “I have approached every aspect of this grave constitutional duty with the respect and attention required by law, and have reached this decision after carefully weighing the House managers and defense arguments and closely reviewing the evidence from the House, which included well over 100 hours of testimony from 17 witnesses.”
Gardner had previously been noncommittal about Democrats’ demands to call more witnesses, including Bolton, who writes in a forthcoming book that Trump told him he withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden.
It will take 51 votes to call witnesses or subpoena documents, meaning four Republicans will have to join the 47 Senate Democrats and independents who have said senators should consider more evidence before deciding whether to remove Trump from offices on charges he abused his power and obstructed an ensuing congressional investigation.
Gardner might not have been one of the front-line vulnerable incumbents this year to be on the fence, but he certainly was a target for House Democrats. They added Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) to the impeachment managers for a reason; they wanted to pressure Gardner into voting to expand the investigation. Gardner’s decision still leaves four Senate Republicans in the mix, just enough for Chuck Schumer to succeed, but it also puts pressure on safe-seat Republicans like Mitt Romney not to leave Gardner twisting in the wind.
It’s a sign that the Bolton leak may have either been nothing or perhaps even backfired. Earlier today, Toomey told reporters that Democrats who want witnesses called in the Senate trial had better start making deals to allow for relevant defense witnesses as well, including Hunter Biden. Otherwise, Toomey warned, the Senate GOP is ready to vote on the question:
Toomey adds that IF witnesses are called he thinks it’s only fair that both parties get to call them.
He went hard after Hunter Biden; he argued Hunter would be an important witness b/c his job at Bursima offers another explanation (besides corruption) for why Trump withheld aid
— Jonathan Tamari (@JonathanTamari) January 29, 2020
Asked if there is a public interest in hearing John Bolton under oath Toomey said the public will learn Bolton’s views from his book and presumably other media appearances
— Jonathan Tamari (@JonathanTamari) January 29, 2020
The stress on if is not a coincidence, but we’ll get to the “something dramatic” in a moment. His GOP colleague John Barrasso suggests that even that swap might not suffice to secure Republican interest in hearing from witnesses, mainly because everyone’s lost interest in this and want the Senate to get it over with. Look at the ratings, Barrasso hints:
Barrasso on what’s becoming a common refrain from Senate GOP regarding Bolton: “I think even if everything in the book is true, it doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment,” echoing Dershowitz
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 29, 2020
That point may well be why Senate Republicans are coming back to the “momentum” Barrasso cites. The hesitation before the John Bolton memoir leak was due in large part from uncertainty over what the former national security adviser had to say. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, Mitch McConnell’s caucus realize that it’s not as much of an issue for their all-but-telegraphed acquittal votes. For that reason, I argue in my column for The Week, the leakers might have done Donald Trump a yuuuuuge favor:
Bear in mind that the publication date for Bolton’s memoir was in less than two months. The certainty that Bolton would speak out by mid-March one way or the other put Senate Republicans in an extremely uncomfortable position. If they voted to acquit Trump without knowing what Bolton had to say, the outcome would be widely seen as illegitimate. It might have even pushed House Democrats to vote a new article of impeachment on the basis of Bolton’s memoir and force the Senate back into a trial, but at the very least it would have made for campaign fodder against vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents this fall.
Now, however, the leak lets Republicans off the hook, even if still leaves Trump on it. Trump may not have told the truth in his outright denials on the quid pro quo allegation, but at least Senate Republicans now know that for certain. The New York Times leak put the worst possible conclusion from Bolton where they can openly consider it and then still move to the alternate argument. After all, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy writes at National Review, there is no need to deny the quid pro quo because it’s a moot point — the aid went without strings attached in the end, and it didn’t rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” bar anyway.
Trump’s legal team subtly shifted its presentation to emphasize this point after the leak. Alan Dershowitz told the Senate on Monday that a “quid pro quo alone is not a basis for abuse of power … based on mixed or sole motives.” In fact, Dershowitz said, “nothing in the Bolton revelations — even if true — would rise to the level of an abuse of power.” Trump’s denials of that might cast him in a poor political light if one believes Bolton, but that, Dershowitz argued, is an issue for elections. “Let the public decide,” Dershowitz concluded.
Republicans appear to have made this calculation as well. Politico reported late Tuesday that calm had returned to the caucus after a brief period of panic. A late meeting after the early conclusion of the president’s case had produced a solid consensus that “we’ve heard enough,” third-ranking caucus leader Sen. John Barasso told reporters. “The articles don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses,” not even with the Bolton account apparently out in the open. The votes to acquit without witnesses aren’t confirmed, but at the end of the day, the big question isn’t whether a handful of Republicans would vote with Democrats for a Bolton subpoena. It’s how many Democrats might cross the aisle to join the acquittal that everyone knows is coming anyway. If Trump gets a bipartisan vote to acquit, he might just have Bolton to thank for it.
And sure enough, CNN reports that this is precisely the argument around which consensus is forming:
Republicans are arguing that the latest reports — that former national security adviser John Bolton’s book manuscript says that Trump told him in August that he was withholding $391 million in aid until Ukraine announced a probe into the Bidens — are likely true but simply confirm what is already known.
And they are saying that new allegation, first revealed by The New York Times, is consistent with the details laid out by House Democratic managers in their case that Trump used official acts to urge a foreign power to undercut a leading political rival in the 2020 presidential campaign.
But they say that nothing in there is impeachable — nor does it warrant the hearing from new witnesses since it confirms what is already known, they say. Yet it still remains to be seen if four Republicans break ranks to support witnesses, giving Democrats enough support that would dramatically change the course of Trump’s trial.
“I don’t think anything he says changes the facts,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the majority whip, told CNN. “I think people kind of know what the fact pattern is. … There’s already that evidence on the record.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, added: “I think he sounds like a lot of the other witnesses, frankly. I don’t know that he’s got a lot new to add to it.”
That makes Toomey’s suggestion less an offer and more of an ultimatum. Want to call Bolton even though we all know what he’ll say? Great — then let’s find out what the Bidens were really doing in Ukraine. If not, then Toomey’s ready to pack up the circus and get back to business, and he might well have at least 50 other Senators behind him.