After the Democratic House Managers completed their presentation of the Senate impeachment trial case against President Donald Trump – and as the president’s lawyers neared the conclusion of their defense – the trial was upended by revelations from Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton. According to the New York Times, Bolton’s forthcoming book alleges Trump told Bolton directly that he was withholding $391 million of military aid to Ukraine until that nation announced investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
Bolton’s assertion derails the president’s Senate impeachment trial defense strategy, which maintains that Democrats presented no firsthand witnesses that could verify that Trump pressured Ukraine to unethically assist his 2020 re-election campaign. In defiance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pressure is now growing on several GOP senators – many facing tough re-election campaigns in November – to support the testimony of witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, most importantly John Bolton himself.
There are reports that Bolton’s book also claims that he privately told Attorney General William Barr last year that he had concerns that Trump was effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Gordon Adams, professor emeritus of international relations at American University and co-leader of Mainers For Accountable Leadership. Here, he assesses the conduct of the Senate impeachment trial, with a focus on the fight to overcome the Republicans’ obstruction of witnesses and documents.
GORDON ADAMS: Everybody has a sense that the outcome here is fairly inevitable. Mitch McConnell has whipped the Republican party into pretty much shape here. So the element of surprise is kind of missing and in a way interesting because I was following it a bit today. The presentations prepared by the Republican attorneys for the president have all sort of studiously ignored the events swirling around the outside of the Capitol.
What’s interesting about those events is not so much will they change the outcome here? Because I rather doubt they will. But what’s interesting about them is that they point the finger at the critical nature of the vote that will probably come Friday about additional witnesses and evidence. And there I have to say, Sen. Collins from Maine could play a very key role.
Witnesses you know — and in a way she’s entirely unpredictable on this – witnesses and additional evidence were ruled out in the initial vote, setting up the rules for the trial in the Senate. And Sen. Collins went entirely along with Mitch McConnell’s desire to have those rules created in the way that he wanted them.
So the initial rule said, “No, we wait for a vote on witnesses and evidence until we get to the end of next week” and finishing the two presentations and the questions and answers that will follow this week. The Bolton thing, particularly (Lev) Parnas as well – but the Bolton thing of course, has come here — as a bolt from the blue, because it says that the key issue in this trial – which is direct evidence that the president linked things like a White House visit and arms and military support for the Ukrainians directly to an investigation of the Bidens. What Bolton appears to have said bears directly on actual witness evidence of that. So the members of the Republican party, but particularly Susan Collins, are going to come up with a place on Friday where they’re going to have to decide whether they vote to expand this trial to witnesses and additional evidence.
I don’t think that’s gonna change the outcome, but it’s the one most interesting piece of drama in this exercise. If enough Republicans come across — and my guess here is that Republicans want witnesses and evidence. They’re going to do a lot of them, not just a few of them. It won’t be a one-vote margin. It’ll be 10 Republicans come across. Then her vote to come across is, if you will, carefully guarded from political blowback by being one of 10. So the fun drama of this particularly predictable event, I’m afraid, at least in my view, is going to come true sometime later this week when we see how much the Bolton surprise actually tells Republicans in order to protect their flanks. A number of them need to come across like Sen. (Lisa) Murkowski or Sen. (Lamar) Alexander or Sen. (Todd) Young or the senator from Colorado (Cory Gardner), because this right now it isn’t fair.
That’s not fair because the Republicans have basically said there was no evidence, insufficient evidence was brought to the Senate when they know that they were not interested, and the president refused to allow sufficient evidence to be presented in the House investigation. So right now this is not a fair trial and Sen. Collins had it her first vote way by voting with McConnell to set up the rules the way she did and that probably made McConnell happy, which she often does, but now she has a second bite at the apple and it may be a win-win for her because she gets to either vote with a bunch of people who come across or she has to, you know, cave to Sen. McConnell, which will make her right flank good and happy in Maine in the fall election.
SCOTT HARRIS: If the Senate proceeds here without introducing witnesses or documents that have been requested by the house managers in this impeachment trial, what’s the long-term damage to the Constitution and to the process of impeachment for the future of the country?
GORDON ADAMS: Well, I think it could be consequential. That’s to be determined obviously in November when we see whether Donald Trump is re-elected or chased from office. But really the problem, the worry here, I think the concern is that this president has set a precedent for how presidents may behave. And if future presidents feel like it’s okay to run your business on the side while you do the presidency, to tweet untruthfully to the American people, to arouse foreign governments — Russia, Ukraine, whoever — to do things that suit your own political interests. You’ve taken American democracy over a step into a corrupt enterprise that is leading to a real collapse in the global view of the United States as that what Ronald Reagan called, citing a preacher from the 18th century, “The beacon, the light, the city on the hill.” That is a beacon and a light to all of the other countries who want to practice democracy — that is in sad decline. That would only be reinforced by a decision to equip the president despite this overwhelming evidence.
For more information, visit Mainers for Accountable Leadership at mfal.me.