With an assist from former national security adviser John Bolton, Pelosi cornered Senate Republicans who had hoped to escape the spectacle of a full airing of President Trump’s unconscionable conduct. They can acquit, and in all likelihood will, but they cannot facilitate Trump’s cover-up without implicating themselves and entirely discrediting the process. They face humiliation when evidence eventually comes out. If they vote to acquit without hearing from Bolton, Trump will be denied the satisfaction of exoneration by a credible process.
Voters are far ahead of Republican senators. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, registered voters want witnesses by a margin of 75 to 20 percent. That includes “49 percent of Republicans, 95 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of independents.” In a party known for its cultish obedience to the White House line, Trump cannot even peddle his “no witnesses” snake oil.
Trump has also lost a majority of voters on the merits. “More than half of voters, 53-40 percent, say President Trump is not telling the truth about his actions involving Ukraine. ... More than half of voters, 54 percent, believe President Trump abused his power regarding his actions involving Ukraine, while 42 percent say he did not. A similar 52 percent think that President Trump obstructed Congress regarding its investigation of his actions involving Ukraine, while 42 percent think he did not.” They don’t buy that there was a legitimate reason to suspend aid (52 percent "think the Trump administration’s withholding of U.S. aid to Ukraine was not justified, while 34 percent say it was justified”).
Democrats are holding firm, giving the back of the hand to any proposal to “trade” witnesses. As Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, if the Republicans have 51 votes, they can subpoena anyone they want (although Democrats would undoubtedly object on relevance and appeal to the chief justice).
There are only two escape hatches, both distasteful for Trump. First, he could stipulate to every fact presented by Democrats, essentially admitting that he and his lawyers lied. He could then rely on his “not impeachable!” argument. Second, Republicans could start brokering a deal for censure. Trump is not one to admit error, however, so the chances are slim to none that he would agree to either. Moreover, he cannot prevent the truth from coming out. Bolton’s book will be published.
A senior Democratic aide working on impeachment expressed confidence to me that Trump has not been able to introduce facts to dispute that he solicited a foreign government to interfere in our election by announcing an investigation into a rival. The more Trump’s lawyers call Bolton a liar, the more evident it becomes that they have waived any executive privilege. (Besides, Bolton is testifying anyway.) “Senators face a choice — hear from witnesses like John Bolton, or help the president hide his misconduct from the American people,” the aide said. “Americans want to hear from witnesses the president has blocked — don’t senators want to hear the truth before they cast their vote?”
With even former chief of staff John Kelly rooting for Bolton to testify, it likely is now a matter of when, not if, Bolton will appear. (Democrats aren’t about to let Republicans simply read the manuscript in secret, as they’ve proposed.) No, Bolton and all his notes are almost certain to see the light of day. Republicans will have to come face to face with evidence of a dangerously unfit president.