Littwin: The Trump Senate impeachment trial, Day Eight

WASHINGTON, DC US Capitol on December 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. (By Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC US Capitol on December 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. (By Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Facing perhaps the most difficult decision of his political life, Cory Gardner did exactly what Mitch McConnell asked/told him to do — reveal how he was going to vote on witnesses in the Trump impeachment trial.

On the day after McConnell told the Republican caucus he didn’t know if he had the votes to block witnesses — because, seriously, even Republicans know there’s no good rationale for not calling any witnesses, and particularly for not calling John Bolton — Gardner weighed in, saying, “I do not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness.”

Bolton would be that 18th witness — the guy in the room. And, according to The New York Times reporting on draft transcript of Bolton’s possibly forthcoming book (more on that later), Bolton is the one Trump told that he was not giving Ukraine $390 million in military aid unless President Zelensky played ball and announced an investigation into the Bidens.

Colorado Politics got the scoop. Apparently hoping not to have to answer any questions about his decision, Gardner released a statement. And so, McConnell got his expected answer almost immediately — and very publicly — and I know that every reporter who covers Colorado politics was envious of McConnell’s power to get Gardner to answer a question, any question.

Gardner’s public pronouncement was big news on Day Eight of the Trump impeachment trial — on the first of two days in which senators submit questions for the House managers and the president’s counsel via  Chief Justice John Roberts, who reads them aloud. It may sound strange, but it’s far better than having senators grandstanding every time they get near a microphone.

Bigger news was Trump’s all-out assault on Bolton and what may be a White House attempt to get his book quashed, lots of innuendo from Republican senators about Joe Biden and, sure, Alan Dershowitz’s loony theory (held by absolutely no other constitutional scholars, but endorsed, of course, by Trump himself) that a president could do virtually anything to get re-elected if he believed, as Trump surely does, his re-election was in the national interest. I won’t get into the Lev Parnas ankle-braceleted storming of the Senate, because it’s, well, Lev Parnas, but if you must, you can read more here.

Democrats need four Republicans in order to call any witnesses. They may have as many as three possibilities — Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, although I’d rate Murkowski as iffy —and have been vainly casting about for a fourth. Murkowski, Collins and Romney jointly asked the first question of the session. And Murkowski joined Collins in asking a question for which Trump’s lawyers had no good answer: Had Trump ever mentioned Burisma or Ukrainian corruption to anyone before Joe Biden entered the race? 

Since Gardner is seen as perhaps the most vulnerable Republican senator this November and since Americans overwhelmingly want to hear witnesses, Gardner was seen as an outside possibility. Now even Democrats are saying that getting four votes for witnesses is a long shot. And if there’s a vote Friday against witnesses, the trial is basically over, and we can get back to the Iowa caucuses.

And maybe nobody will care about the latest news on Bolton, but they surely cared on Wednesday. On Jan. 23, according to a CNN report, a top official at the NSC wrote to Bolton’s lawyer that the book couldn’t be published as written.

It makes sense that Trump doesn’t want Bolton to testify and that Senate Republicans — fearing a drawn-out trial would produce ever more evidence against Trump — don’t want him to testify because Bolton, who wants to testify, knows everything. But this isn’t as simple as the Senate position, which has moved from Trump-didn’t-do-anything to Trump-might-have-done-something-but-hey-it’s-OK-with-us.

Because it’s Trump, he went all in on Twitter bashing Bolton, saying he “begged” Trump for a job despite all those who advised him not to hire Bolton and then “gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?”

I happen to agree with those who advised against hiring Bolton, a neocon’s neocon, and think that World War Six is a worthy piece of hyperbole. But then we have to ask ourselves, if Bolton’s draft manuscript is being reviewed by the National Security Council, how does Trump know about the classified information? Supposedly, the draft hasn’t been seen by anyone other than the reviewers. Could Trump’s political people at the NSC have been putting pressure on the reviewers? Does Trump, this once, know more than he’s saying? 

The book — “The Room Where It Happened”— is scheduled to be released on March 17 and its contents would almost certainly embarrass those Republicans like Gardner who vote against calling him. The move to quash the book, or to greatly delay the publishing date, seems to me like something worth investigating.

But as Dershowitz says, if Trump thinks it’s in the public interest to pretend that national security is the real issue in Bolton’s book, much like he pretends corruption in Ukraine is the real issue in delaying military aid, then it’s nothing anyone should be worried about.

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