Get ready for the first big fireworks from House Democrats’ shift to public hearings for their Ukraine-Gate impeachment inquiry. Under the more formalized rules of the open sessions, House Republicans have the ability to request subpoenas for witnesses — although not necessarily the ability to actually issue them. First on their list is the sorta-mysterious whistleblower whose secondhand complaint launched this latest iteration of the Democrats’ years-long impeachment project, according to Rep. Jim Jordan:
Republicans say they’ve been told to submit a list of witnesses they’d like to call in the impeachment inquiry by Saturday — and one of President Donald Trump’s top defenders says at the top of the list will be the whistleblower who first sounded the alarm about the president’s posture toward Ukraine.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he doesn’t know the identity of the whistleblower but said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the leader of the impeachment inquiry, should call the person to testify.
“We’ll see if he gives us any of our witnesses,” Jordan told reporters on Thursday, declining to identify others that GOP lawmakers intend to request.
That’s the big question, and this is the big test. The chances of this actually happening, of course, are nil:
The effort is not likely to bear fruit, as Democrats have rejected the idea of outing the anonymous figure, citing safety concerns, and they have veto power over any GOP subpoena requests for witness testimony.
But Trump and his Republican allies in the Capitol have made the whistleblower a central part of their defense, casting doubts about the figure’s political motivations, even as they readily acknowledge they don’t know the person’s identity.
Under the rules passed by the House last week, Republicans have to request any subpoenas from Adam Schiff. If they want the whistleblower subpoenaed, then Schiff has to approve it. If he rejects it, then Republicans can request an override vote by the full committee, but Democrats have a significant majority on the panel, so that’s likely not to fly either. Alternately, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee can make the same request, but then they have to play mother may I with Jerrold Nadler under the same conditions.
Democrats will block this by explaining that the protection of whistleblowers is a higher priority than establishing a fact pattern for secondhand testimony that ultimately hasn’t been offered in evidence. Jordan and ranking member Devin Nunes could work around that by demanding subpoenas for Schiff and his staff as fact witnesses to the contacts made with the whistleblower. Schiff has already lied about that specific chain of events in public, and Republicans believe that Schiff lied to cover up an instance of collusion in order to falsely advance an impeachment narrative. They can interrogate Schiff and his staff under oath without exposing the identity of the whistleblower and still make that same argument, at least theoretically.
Needless to say, Jordan and Nunes won’t get that opportunity, either. However, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham most certainly will when the House votes to approve articles of impeachment. Just as the House majority has written the rules for the inquiry, Senate Republicans will write the rules for the trial — and subpoenas for House staffers will almost certainly get issued to cover this point.
In fact, The Hill reports that pressure from both Senate caucuses has begun for Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer to start negotiating those rules. They’re hoping to avoid the kind of brawl that’s already taking place under Schiff’s heavy-handed tactics, but good luck with that:
Any Senate trial is likely to be high-drama and politically charged, but lawmakers want Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to strike an agreement on a resolution that would establish guardrails for the trial. …
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat who was in office during President Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999, said he was an “optimist” about the chances for a deal setting up a set of procedures.
“I’m an optimist. You need to be to serve in this place. And I think once the senators of both parties realize the gravity of the situation, if it comes to us, that we can rise to the occasion,” Durbin said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was one of the House managers during the Clinton impeachment, voiced confidence that Schumer and McConnell will be able to hash out an agreement despite the high-stakes environment around a potential trial.
“We’d do a resolution setting the terms and conditions of the trial and I’m sure somehow the Clinton model would be used,” Graham added.
As Jordain Carney points out, however, even the Clinton model produced party-line votes on subpoenas. Senate Republicans have been touchy about the idea of exposing the whistleblower in a trial, but Schiff’s lies about that process and questions about their involvement in pushing this complaint will go to the heart of Trump’s defense — that this is a partisan “witch hunt” concocted by Schiff and other Democrats after the collapse of the Russia-collusion hypothesis.
It’s not a fight they can avoid, and Jim Jordan is making sure of that by raising the stakes now — even though he knows that he can’t win the first round of that fight.