The Impeachment Testimony Deal Democrats Should Take

If Senate Democrats can get their Republican counterparts to agree to a Bolton-for-Biden-testimony deal, the Dems should jump at the chance. It no doubt would not be limited to former National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Vice President Joe Biden. A deal to break the impeachment impasse might also include testimony from Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, senior Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official Michael Duffey, Mulvaney advisor Robert Blair, and Joe’s son Hunter.

That would be a sweet deal for Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has insisted on testimony from Bolton, Mulvaney, Duffey, and Blair, and recent reporting in The New York Times and Washington Post show they have relevant, direct testimony to provide. There is no way they would provide anything other than testimony that is damaging for President Trump. If they had something positive to say, the White House long ago would have sent them to Congress in limousines in a police-escorted motorcade.

But the Bidens also would provide great testimony for the Democrats. They could show the GOP conspiracy theories about them are fantasies — and position Joe well for a general election against Trump.

What’s necessary to cut this deal is the ability to make Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) look like a statesman, that is, someone who is propped upright by pressure from all sides. McConnell said on Dec. 23 that he would not rule out witnesses at the Senate trial, though he hardly relishes the idea. If everyone testifies, though, McConnell could satisfy a lot of people he needs to appease.

Let’s look at the state of play:

· McConnell feels pressure from Trump, who wants a Senate impeachment trial that would be a bit of a circus, with witnesses such as the Bidens and the whistleblower whose complaint launched the impeachment inquiry. Trump no doubt envisions himself choreographing it like a reality TV show, ending with a spectacular, if utterly lacking in suspense acquittal, followed by a record number of tweets and a freewheeling, three-hour speech at a rally somewhere in West Virginia.

· Another source of pressure is Schumer and the Democrats, who want the four administration officials in the thick of the Ukraine scandal to testify. A steady drip of stories is emerging that make the Republican defense look worse and worse in the absence of an alternative narrative. Trump’s national security team unanimously opposed his decision to withhold aid from Ukraine. Mulvaney was the go-between between the President and OMB officials to do the deed. This all makes Schumer’s case for testimony stronger with each passing day. And previous impeachment trials all had witnesses, so precedent is on the Democrats’ side. The Republicans would have to look to Saudi Arabia or Russia for precedents to support their position.

· Then there are Senate Republicans who, like McConnell, want a North Korea-like trial, which would have short opening arguments followed immediately by a pre-cooked vote for acquittal. Maybe it would take a couple of hours so the Senate would have more time to bury the hundreds of bills the House has approved on issues such as a minimum wage increase. So many bills to kill, so little time.

· Finally you have some Republican senators from swing states who would like at least a Potemkin trial, with a roster of witnesses that produces a veneer of respectability and dignity before the vote for the pre-determined outcome.

This could mean a majority of the Senate — all the Democrats and some Republicans — would like witnesses. But who should they be? I would argue for everyone I mentioned except the whistleblower. One reason to exclude that person is the sacrosanct law protecting whistleblowers. The other is the fact that the whistleblower’s testimony would be hearsay, which Republicans long have railed against. They want hearsay now when we could have direct testimony from the people involved? Really? It will take months to get the egg off their faces.

Would this deal appeal to Trump? Sure. It would be a more extended show than he ever dreamed of. Great ratings in perpetuity! And he would love the chance to put the focus on the Bidens.

What about the Democrats? Would they buy having the Bidens on the stand? They should. Republicans say, for example, that when he was vice president, Joe threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine until the ouster of prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who said he was investigating Burisma Holdings Ltd., a Kiev-based energy exploration company whose board of directors included Hunter. Joe could show that in fact the case was closed more than a year before he applied pressure to get rid of Shokin. While we’re at it, let’s have a European diplomat or two and a Ukrainian anti-corruption activist testify about how they, too, wanted Shokin removed because he was corrupt.

As for Hunter, the argument is that he was on the Burisma board solely because his father was the Veep. His father’s position no doubt was why he got the position. If that were Hunter’s only value, though, why did he stay on the board long after his father was out of government — especially when the new president hated anyone or anything to do with the Obama Administration? Keeping Hunter on was hardly in Burisma’s interest.

The reason he stayed is that Hunter was a valuable board member. A former head of a hedge fund, he advised Burisma on business deals. Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former Polish president who was on the Burisma board with Hunter, told The Associated Press in November 2019 that Hunter was an active board member who helped the company and never used his relationship with his father to further the company’s interests. Kwasniewski said Hunter conducted research and brought a unique American perspective to the company in the areas of corporate governance, capital markets and gas drilling equipment. Hunter has admitted it was poor judgment to sit on the board, an act of contrition that contrasts mightily with Trump.

Testimony from the Bidens not only would demolish the GOP arguments on impeachment but also would help Biden if he wins the Democratic nomination. It would deprive Trump of a major talking point. To be sure, the focus on the Bidens for some period of time is purely a distraction from Trump’s conduct and an attempt to paint a false equivalence between the pressure Biden and Trump put on Ukraine. Biden put pressure on Ukraine to fight corruption. Trump put pressure on Ukraine for corrupt purposes: to bolster his personal political fortunes and to do Russia’s bidding. Withholding aid made Ukraine nervous about American support and could undermine Ukraine’s position in peace negotiations with Moscow. The distraction is a cost for Democrats, but the benefits — a chance to publicize the fallacy of GOP arguments and highlight Trump’s perfidy — far outweigh it.

The Republicans who want a quick trial will be the least satisfied. But they are pro-Trump hardliners and will fall into line and salute if Trump says he wants the show trial. Their Republican colleagues who are both worried about re-election and mindful that impeachment precedent dictates some witnesses, surely will go along with this. They can go home and tell their constituents that the process was fair.

The only people who might be dismayed are the Democratic senators running for the White House. They will be stuck in the Senate chamber longer than they might have hoped or wanted. The upside is that they can show they take their jobs as senators — and their obligation to defend the Constitution — seriously.

With this solution, nobody gives up anything and everyone gets what they want (whistleblower testimony excepted). That’s the kind of deal that usually gets lots of support in Congress. The major obstacle is that Republicans my balk if they realize that getting what they have been demanding — Biden testimony — may backfire. The question is whether they believe their conspiracies or are just cynically propagating what they know are lies. I have no idea what the answer to that is. I just know that if you have a show trial, you can’t always be certain what it will show.

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