As Schiff was speaking, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) shook her head and said, “Not true.” Afterward, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “That’s when he lost me,” while Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called the CBS report “completely, totally false.” How these senators know that the report was wrong is a mystery; simply because they didn’t overhear the “Trump confidant” doesn’t mean that he didn’t say it. As my Post colleague Aaron Blake pointed out, it’s not as if Trump hasn’t threatened retaliation against senators in the past.
The larger issue, of course, is what Senate Republicans are and aren’t outraged about. Schiff’s mild remarks had so many senators in a state of apoplexy, yet they had nothing to say when Trump previewed his attorneys’ defense on Saturday with a typically unhinged tirade against “lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, their leader, dumb as a rock AOC, & the entire Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrat Party.” This was followed on Sunday with a tweet containing unsubstantiated allegations and a threat against the lead House impeachment manager: “Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”
Is the standard here that the president gets to say anything he wants — no matter how dishonest or vile — while his opponents have to observe rules of decorum straight out of a Victorian parlor? There is admittedly a difference between Twitter and the Senate floor, but the abusive rants from the president should be unacceptable in any forum. Yet Republicans are too afraid to call him out — which only supports the concern that Schiff was raising.
Finally, on Monday, some stirrings of unease began to be heard from the Senate Republicans after the New York Times reported on Sunday that in his forthcoming book former national security adviser John Bolton writes that Trump told him in August “that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” This is smoking gun evidence that directly contradicts what Trump lawyer Michael Purpura told the Senate on Saturday, and bizarrely repeated on Monday: “Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else.”
Bolton submitted his manuscript for White House review on Dec. 30, so there is every reason to expect that his version of events was already known to Trump and his senior aides. That could, in fact, explain their desire to rush the Senate to exonerate the president without hearing any witnesses.
Trump took to Twitter to contradict Bolton (“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens”), but in a credibility contest, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking the word of a president who has made more than 16,000 false or misleading statements since taking office. In any case, the disparity between their stories simply strengthens the case for putting both Trump and Bolton under oath.
It is now more likely that at least Bolton will testify, with both Collins and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) saying on Monday that the new revelations strengthen the case for witnesses and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) saying five to 10 Republicans may vote for witnesses. The Times reported that some Republican senators “feel blindsided” and “had angrily called the White House trying to determine who at the administration knew about Mr. Bolton’s manuscript.” Even Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) seemed to be conceding that there would now be witnesses after all while implying that uber-hawk Bolton is a “Democratic” witness. (As writer Windsor Mann quipped, a “Democratic” witness is any Republican who used to work for Trump.)
This definitely counts as progress — but very limited progress. There is still no chance that a two-thirds majority would vote to convict Trump even if Bolton’s sworn testimony confirms what we all know: that the president is guilty as charged. Having even four Republicans vote to convict, producing a bare majority, still seems unlikely. No Republican senators are blasting Trump as they blasted Schiff on Friday.
Far from showing anger over the president’s betrayal of his office, most Republican senators are eager to be accomplices in his coverup. On Monday, as Trump’s lawyers simply ignored the news about Bolton, many Republican senators still argued there is no need for him to testify. John Barrasso (Wyo.) said this is “really nothing new.” Kelly Loeffler (Ga.) said that Romney only “wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame.” And Roy Blunt (Mo.) said Bolton’s testimony would take too long. Perhaps Blunt’s state should change its nickname to the “Don’t Show Me State”?
The Republicans’ lack of outrage over the president’s egregious misconduct is truly outrageous.