(Update Jan. 29, 12:40 p.m. Cory Gardner has announced he will vote against further witnesses in Trump impeachment trial, he tells Colorado Politics in a statement. “I do not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness,” Gardner said. Of course, that witness would be John Bolton, who wishes to testify and who has critical first-hand information to relay. Like other vulnerable Republicans, Gardner was in a box — defy voters who wish to hear more witnesses or defy Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Trump’s base.)
Imagine that you’re Cory Gardner — which, I know, may be a stretch for some of you — and you’ve got to make this dramatic vote Friday on witnesses and documents in the Trump impeachment trial. The question he’ll have to answer has nothing to do, of course, with right or wrong or guilt or innocence or anything except pure politics. Let’s be honest, there is no rational explanation for why the U.S. Senate would refuse to hear John Bolton’s sure-to-be-bombshell testimony other than politics.
But after the least consequential day of the Trump impeachment trial — not even two hours long — Mitch McConnell gathered GOP senators into a crowded room to say he doesn’t yet have the votes to block witnesses. It might have been a scare tactic. It might be true. Here’s what we do know: If Bolton and others testify, it would be semi-disastrous for the president. If, however, the Senate votes to block witnesses, it could be far worse for any vulnerable Republican senator.
This is the kind of situation that Gardner has spent his entire career trying to avoid. This time it’s hard to see a way out. And there’s more.
In the latest Quinnipiac poll, 75 percent of registered voters said they wanted to hear from witnesses, including 49 percent of Republicans. That’s not just a huge number. It’s an overwhelming number. And here’s a guess, if it’s actually 75 percent nationwide, it’s somewhere in the mid-80s in Colorado. You think a majority of Coloradans believe Trump should be removed from office?
You’d think — or hope, anyway, if you’re a Republican on the fence — that the 49 percent Republican number might offer some cover to vote for witnesses. But that’s so much wishful thinking. One word from Trump and that cover is blown to tatters.
Did I mention it gets even worse? Critics will say that voting against witnesses is the ultimate Trump-over-country vote. But more important to Gardner, it would also be a monumental gift to John Hickenlooper or Andrew Romanoff or whichever Democrat is pitted against him in the November election.
I mean, how exactly do you explain a vote against witnesses, particularly if the witness in question is Bolton? Bolton was the guy in the room. He knows what Donald Trump was thinking because Trump told him what he was thinking. And Bolton, with a book to sell, wants to testify.
Democrats need four Republican votes to require witnesses. At this stage, they may have three. Or two. Or, at this point, does anyone really know?
And is Gardner even among the uncommitted? I’m skeptical. I’m sure if he ever answered the question, he’d say he’s studying the matter. I’ve said from the beginning that Gardner would never be the fourth vote. He could conceivably be the sixth or the eighth, but never the fourth. It’s just not in him. And which would be worse — the heat any deserter would get from McConnell or the blowback from the Trumpians?
This is what Republicans know: Should Bolton not be allowed to testify and should the book — “The Room Where It Happened” — come out next month, as scheduled, and should it reveal a Donald Trump, as expected, who was clearly and corruptly threatening Ukraine, with Rudy and Rudy’s thugs running the quid pro quo show, who loses then? I mean, besides the country?
The stakes are clear. This is not just a risk for Gardner. It’s also a risk for McConnell, who is gambling that he can keep the Senate majority even by suppressing essential testimony that an overwhelming majority of Americans have said they want to hear. Just as Democrats need four votes to get witnesses, they also need to flip four seats to win back the Senate.
Day 7 of the impeachment trail — the last day for Trump’s defense team to make its case — was designed to be inconsequential. Republicans know they have the votes to easily turn back any chance of Trump being removed from office. But that really isn’t the point.
The highlight of the brief day, certainly for Trump, came when his personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, channelled the president in taking us through the mondo-bizarro world of the deep state, arguing that everyone has been out to get Trump from the beginning, and even before the beginning, and now especially with John Bolton seeking vengeance. Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, James Comey, the Mueller report, FISA courts, the FBI, the Steele dossier all made appearances.
And then there was White House counsel Pat Cipollone showing video of four prominent Democrats arguing back in the day, during the Clinton impeachment hearings, of the dangers of a partisan impeachment vote. Of course, in this impeachment, not a single House Republican voted in favor.
Where Sekulow went very wrong was in dismissing The New York Times reporting on the Bolton manuscript, saying impeachment “is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts,” suggesting maybe The Times didn’t really have the goods. It should go without saying — but I guess we have to say it anyway — the way to get past “unsourced manuscripts” is to allow Bolton to testify. It was the best argument the Democrats could have made.
Trump apparently must believe that the reporting is accurate because he has already called Bolton a liar. Meanwhile, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said, according to a report by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton.”
There are two more sessions until we get to Friday — two eight-hour days in which senators will submit questions, which Chief Justice John Roberts will read aloud, and then which the House managers and Trump’s lawyers will answer. Depending on the questions, there could be a few moments of actual spontaneity, but I doubt they will move the needle much, if any, in either direction.
Which still leaves us where we began, with you trying to imagine that you’re Cory Gardner and Gardner trying to imagine how to salvage a win in what can only be a no-win situation.