On Monday morning, Donald Trump tweeted out that he’d “strongly consider” submitting written testimony to Adam Schiff’s impeachment inquiry. Coincidentally, former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi joined the White House impeachment legal team on Monday. And not so coincidentally two days later, Bondi appeared on CBS This Morning to throw an ocean of cold water over that idea.
Oh, sure, Trump would like to testify, Bondi says, and even “would love” to testify. But he’s not gonna testify, because that would be idiotic beyond belief. Bondi offers other reasons, but those are at best tertiary concerns. The conversation about testimony picks up after the four-minute mark, but Bondi manages to argue effectively on every other issue as well.
The only misstep Bondi makes is that Gordon Sondland was not the ambassador to Ukraine, but that’s a minor issue in the discussion:
“Do I think it’s likely he’s going to testify? Probably not,” Bondi said in an interview with “CBS This Morning.” “This is a sham court.” …
“What have we seen so far? Absolutely nothing. The witnesses we saw yesterday said nothing to hurt the president,” Bondi said about previous hearings. Bondi also spoke about U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who is testifying before the committee on Wednesday morning.
Bondi was smart enough to take a wait-and-see approach to Sondland’s testimony, which turned out to be a lot more interesting than we thought. She also attacked the process in the House, including the allegation that Republicans got shut out of it, which is partly true but not entirely so. The due-process concerns are valid too, at least in general terms for its overall credibility.
None of those reasons are why Trump will not testify in any form to this committee, however. It could be led by Judge Learned Hand and offer complete power to both sides, and Trump still wouldn’t testify. Why? Because he doesn’t have to, for one thing. As Bondi says, it’s not incumbent on Trump to “prove himself innocent,” it’s incumbent on the House to produce evidence of a crime. So far they have done no such thing. They may have produced plenty of arguments that Trump doesn’t conduct foreign policy well, or at least in a normal and predictable fashion, but those are political arguments and not crimes. Even Sondland’s testimony about a quid pro quo doesn’t establish any sort of statutory violation, especially limited as it is to White House access being the quo rather than the military aid.
There are other reasons as well. In the first place, this isn’t a trial — it’s more of a grand jury process, and not a well-designed one at that. Targets of probes don’t usually offer testimony in such proceedings, preferring to wait and see if a trial becomes necessary. Next, the doctrines of co-equal branches have traditionally meant that presidents don’t testify in any form during congressional investigations, even in impeachment inquiries. Even if Trump was willing to forego that precedent, he’s not likely to do so while Adam Schiff is running matters. And finally, the charges swirling around the inquiry keep changing and getting redefined. No one would be foolish enough to answer charges that haven’t even been laid out, at least no one with a competent attorney.
The appropriate time for Trump’s testimony would be in a Senate trial, not a House impeachment hearing. If it comes to the Senate, Trump will be a formal defendant in a trial and he would have specific charges laid out to which Trump and his team could respond. Even then, Trump would be unlikely to testify for the same precedential reasons regarding executive-legislative constitutional tension, relying instead on his Senate Republican allies to deal with the impeachment. Needless to say, if Schiff can’t make a prima facie case for a real statutory violation, a removal trial won’t go anywhere anyway — so why bother testifying and perhaps making the situation worse?
After all, it’s not as if Capitol Hill is the only venue for Trump’s rebuttals. He’d be much better off politically and legally by responding as he usually does — at rallies, surrounded by supporters. The last thing Trump should do is offer any kind of testimony to a “sham court,” as Bondi describes the Schiff inquiry. There’s no upside at all, and so much downside that one has to wonder why Trump even publicly entertained the notion.