Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), an influential conservative in the Senate, has spoken with several colleagues in recent days about possibly summoning just two witnesses to President Trump’s impeachment trial, with one called by Republicans and one by Democrats, according to three Republican officials.Toomey has confided to GOP senators that proposing a “one-for-one” deal with Senate Democrats may be necessary at some point, particularly with pressure mounting for witnesses to be called, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. He has argued that such an arrangement could force Democrats to accept a Republican witness against their wishes or else risk having Republicans move ahead to acquit Trump, the officials said.
Toomey, however, is in a weak position to demand a trade. Senate Republicans have no excuse to conceal Bolton’s testimony. They must rebut the perception that they are Trump’s corrupt partners. Saying Republicans want to trade an explosive witness for one without relevance so they can smear Trump’s opponent is going to reinforce the conclusion this entire scheme was all about smearing the Bidens, just as the articles of impeachment contend.
In any event, as former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller told me, “It would be both legal and political malpractice to make such a deal.” He added, “If Republicans want to vote against subpoenaing Bolton and then deal with the political consequences when his book is released and it’s clear they participated in a cover up, then they are free to do so.... Helping them use the process to further Trump’s smear of his political opponent in return for a concession the public is demanding they make anyway would be incredibly stupid.”
Republicans might also want to rethink who they are going to call as witnesses. Should they call former vice president Joe Biden, Republicans are likely to make him a superstar in the Democratic primary — exactly what Trump does not want. Moreover, Senate Republicans who worked with Biden on fighting corruption in Ukraine know Biden did the right thing in pushing for dismissal of Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general Viktor Shokin . How embarrassing would that be for Republicans if Biden were to recount his conversations with them sitting in the chamber, thereby making clear Biden is the enemy of corruption and Trump is, well, corrupt?
Well, what about Hunter Biden? Republicans would certainly have difficulty explaining his relevance as a witness, as Democrats would surely demand. Hunter Biden has no knowledge of the Ukraine aid deal, nor knowledge of the White House obstruction. (As with his father, Hunter would be an explosive witness if he was able to get into the record that Shokin was a foot-dragging, corrupt prosecutor, one who was no longer even investigating Burisma.)
There are two other overarching problems for Republicans in calling Hunter Biden. First, if the argument is that it is illegal to allow an adult child to trade on a family member’s elected office, that becomes a howler. Did Trump ask Saudi Arabia to investigate Jared Kushner? Did he ask China to investigate Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao? Trump obviously does not care about corruption and would never drag a foreign government into investigating a relative of a U.S. official — unless he was looking for help from a foreign government smear his opponent.
Second, Republicans risk proving that this was all a scheme to smear the Bidens if they call Hunter Biden and begin to smear the Bidens. (We got some of that in the defense case on Monday.) That would really make Republicans handmaidens to Trump’s abuse of power. (And do Democrats then call Kushner or Ivanka Trump for the proposition Trump does not give a darn about adult children exploiting their parent’s office?)
In short, Democrats should not fall for desperate Republicans’ demands for a trade. “Democrats should not agree to this one-for-one trade because Hunter Biden’s testimony isn’t relevant,” reiterates former prosecutor Mimi Rocah. “Even assuming there was something legitimate to be investigate with respect to his conduct, it is still an abuse of power to use the powers of the presidency to compel a foreign government to investigate one of our citizens.” She adds that nothing he has to say is relevant, so “the Democrats should demand that Justice [John G.] Roberts does his job and keep it out.”
Democrats should let the Republicans twist in the wind if they do not allow Bolton’s testimony. If Republicans get the right to call their own witness and demand Hunter Biden, it might not work out the way they hope.