Watching the long and histrionic tantrum being thrown by congressional Democrats over Republicans’ refusal to allow them to have everything their way may have been, at some point, amusing. Now, it has become annoying, not to mention spectacularly, jaw-droppingly irrational. So, why the tantrum? The impeachment trial, of course – the rules of which will ultimately be dictated by the Senate majority, just as the impeachment investigation was run by the House majority. The annoying and irrational part? Democrats’ delusional belief that they will get to call any witnesses they want but that Republicans will not.
This, the third impeachment of an American president and the first engineered specifically to prevent the White House incumbent from getting the opportunity to run for re-election, was already a circus. Now, it is even more so. The fight over trial witnesses – who, when, and how many if there are witnesses at all – makes very little sense. Is one side bluffing? Is the other side calling their bluff? Is there a double bluff? Is this 4D chess or, perhaps, 5D chess? Will it be Adam Schiff in the library with the lead pipe? Is there a doctor in the house?
More than anything, Democrats want White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify. This might be wishful thinking since these two gentlemen did not testify as part of the House investigation and the Senate has no constitutional authority to continue that investigation, which it would, effectively, be doing by hearing new witnesses. Moreover, the White House could set up a court battle over the appearance of both men. Then, of course, there is the question of whether Mulvaney or Bolton would say anything that incriminates the president and, possibly, themselves, by extension. That is, assuming there is anything to be said that would incriminate the president.
Presumably, Democrats believe Bolton will eagerly nail his former boss to the wall out of spite for having been removed. That is a gamble, though: Bolton is as thin-skinned as a rhino with psoriasis and he has no love for the Democrats. At worst, he might only say that he believed the Ukrainian situation, vis-à-vis the hold on assistance, had been handled badly. He is hardly going to say he had certain knowledge of some nefarious plot to strong-arm the Ukrainian government because an awful lot of people will then want to know why he said and did nothing about it at the time.
Several Republicans, including Sens. Rand Paul (D-KY) and Ted Cruz (D-TX), have pointed out the obvious: That the trial could only be fair if Republicans – or the White House – can call an equal number of witnesses.
Hunter Biden is the most talked-about potential Republican witness. His involvement in this whole charade is almost peripheral. On the other hand, exposing the potential influence-peddling behind Biden’s inexplicable attainment of a directorship on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings – while his father was U.S. vice president – could lay the foundation of a powerful defense of President Trump’s actions; namely, a desire to find out whether the Bidens took advantage of corruption in Ukraine.
The most relevant witness for the defense would be the so-called whistleblower whose complaint, filed with the intelligence community’s inspector general, set the impeachment effort in motion. Since American jurisprudence has always held that the accused has the right to face his or her accuser, this “whistleblower” should be the first witness the Senate hears, if any witness at all.
Rep. Adam Schiff would be next on the list since his staff coordinated with the whistleblower, making him, arguably, a fact witness. This would now not be possible, though, since Schiff has been named one of the House impeachment managers – a fact that completely undercuts Democrat claims of desiring a fair and proper trial.
The word outrageous is hardly strong enough to describe the Democrats’ conduct leading up to the start of the trial proper: Insisting on witnesses they believe will damage the president but knowing full well that they will make every attempt to block any of the witnesses Republicans might demand is almost beyond belief.
At this point, of course, the name of the game for the president’s opponents is sabotage. Knowing Trump will be acquitted, Democrats have only two strategies in mind: Make the trial as damaging and embarrassing for the president as they possibly can and set up a potential new impeachment inquiry that will lead to fresh charges against the president. The smart money is on this tantrum continuing until January 2025 – and perhaps beyond.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.