GOP seeks to limit evidence in fast Senate trial
Democrats and Republicans deadlocked over President Trump’s impeachment this week, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing he has the votes he needs to begin a trial without witnesses, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood firm in refusing to forward the articles of impeachment until she sees the Senate’s proposed rules. “Sadly, Leader McConnell has made clear that his loyalty is to the President and not the Constitution,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to fellow Democrats after McConnell’s press conference. Democrats had held out hope that a handful of Republican senators—Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—would resist McConnell’s efforts to speed on to a trial without an agreement to call witnesses. Those hopes were lifted Monday when former national security adviser John Bolton expressed willingness to testify if called. But the announcement from McConnell, who accused Pelosi of “shameless game playing,” confirmed that those GOP senators weren’t ready to buck their leadership.
While it did not change McConnell’s position, Bolton’s announcement, made on his website this week, amplified pressure on Senate Republicans to allow new testimony. While he hasn’t revealed what he might say under oath, others have testified that Bolton was appalled at Trump’s withholding of military aid from Ukraine, and The New York Times reported last month that Bolton, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo staged an intervention to try to convince the president to release the funding. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said that blocking testimony from such a key witness makes clear that Republicans “are participating in a cover-up.”
What the editorials said
John Bolton “has made the Senate an offer it cannot refuse,” said the Los Angeles Times. The GOP’s plan to ram through a trial without his testimony is “an outrageous dereliction of their constitutional duty.” To argue that it’s only fair to stick with the same rules that governed Bill Clinton’s trial is to ignore Trump’s “blanket obstructionism.” Recent revelations, including emails showing that Trump personally demanded that Ukraine’s aid be withheld in spite of Pentagon objections, have made clear that more of this story should come to light. Bolton has a tale to tell, and the nation needs to hear it.
This isn’t a standoff, it’s a defeat for the Democrats, said the Washington Examiner. Having rushed through an impeachment without sufficient evidence, they’re not credible arguing for new witnesses. If they forward the articles and get voted down, they’ll look weak and Trump will claim vindication. If they don’t, “McConnell will shrug and smirk while Trump spends the next 10 months crowing” that they “lacked the guts to make their case.”
What the columnists said
Trump’s acquittal may be a certainty, but the Republicans shouldn’t be allowed to make a mockery of the proceedings, said Chris Truax in USA Today. Unless at least four Republicans observe their oath to “do impartial justice,” this trial will be an exercise in rank partisanship. We know the moment we’re facing is historic. “But we don’t know whether it will be remembered as the day a handful of senators stepped up to impose integrity and the rule of law or the day American exceptionalism jumped the shark once and for all.”
There’s one problem with this idea, said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com: “Bolton is bluffing.” He’s gambling that with McConnell in charge, he’ll never be called and can make a show of appearing cooperative. Even if Bolton does make it to the witness chair, don’t be so sure he’ll offer anything damning, said Charles Sykes in TheBulwark.com. “Bolton has strong incentives not to become Trump’s John Dean.” If he does, he loses his future in conservative politics, along with any hope of lucrative speaking engagements or a comfortable sinecure at a think tank.
Still, Republicans are playing a risky game, said Noah Rothman in CommentaryMagazine.com. Damaging details have emerged since the House impeachment, and more will follow. Better to have those details emerge now, during a Senate-controlled trial, than to face embarrassment in the heat of a presidential election, and let Democrats paint the president’s acquittal “as perfunctory and flawed.” ■