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This is who should testify in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial

In an ideal world

Former national security adviser John Bolton delivers remarks on North Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in September. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

This post has been updated.

One of the sad things about the state of affairs in President Trump’s impeachment is that there is plenty more to learn, but we may never learn it. Whether you blame that on the Trump administration for ignoring subpoenas or on Democrats for pressing forward without waiting for courts to enforce them — or some combination of the two — the practical effect is that these big decisions are being made with an incomplete set of facts.

Democrats have decided they know enough to impeach Trump, of course, but they’ve also decided to move along apparently without convincing any Republicans. They have rightly concluded they would probably never get enough Senate GOP votes (20) to remove Trump, but it’s not inconceivable that they could get a few with more damaging evidence — perhaps evidence that Trump directly ordered the Ukraine quid pro quos, for example.

Signs are that we might not learn a whole lot more in the trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said there will be no new witnesses in the coming Senate trial, after previously suggesting he’d coordinate the proceedings with the White House counsel. He’s regarding the process as basically illegitimate.

Democrats, meanwhile, are threatening to withhold the articles of impeachment from the Senate, citing McConnell’s comments and arguing the trial wouldn’t be fair. The upshot: Trump wouldn’t be able to claim the Senate had “exonerated” him.

It’s possible all of this is posturing. Perhaps the two sides are holding out in hopes that it will force the other side to make concessions. There will be plenty of negotiating in the days ahead, most notably over who would be allowed to testify.

So what if we got to hear from new witnesses? In an ideal world, who would they be?

Here are the people who could shed plenty of light — even if a couple of them almost definitely would never testify.

Rudolph W. Giuliani

He’s the guy who really spearheaded the effort to get Ukraine to launch investigations that would help Trump — and he even admitted that was his goal (rather than to root out corruption more broadly). He told the New York Times in May he was nudging Ukraine “because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.” He has also said Trump was supportive of what he was doing and was broadly aware of it.

He might be one of two people with the most intimate knowledge of whether Trump actually pushed for the quid pro quos with Ukraine. But regardless of whether he testifies in a Senate trial, it sounds as though Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) might have him testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The subject would be corruption in Ukraine, rather than Trump’s actions, but it would at least get him under oath for Senate Democrats to probe him.

John Bolton

The former national security adviser was, according to several witnesses, the highest-ranking voice of dissent within the administration when it came to the Trump team’s dealings with Ukraine. He compared it to a “drug deal.” He encouraged people to register their dismay with lawyers and memorialize it. And his lawyers have signaled he has a story to tell, sending a letter in early November stating he knows about “many relevant meetings and conversations” — including, conspicuously, events that witnesses at that point hadn’t testified to.

If there were one witness who had both the access to Trump to perhaps know what the president said about Ukraine, and the motivation to tell a story that Trump may not like, it would be Bolton. But Bolton has said he needs a court to tell him he can talk. And if someone like Bolton wants to testify (albeit under the right circumstances), why not give him that chance?

Mick Mulvaney

The acting White House chief of staff is the highest-ranking official to be directly implicated in the quid pro quos. White House aides Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Fiona Hill testified that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said Mulvaney had authorized him to communicate a quid pro quo to the Ukrainians involving a White House meeting. Mulvaney has also effectively implicated himself, copping to the idea that military aid was withheld in another quid pro quo — before thinking better of it and changing his tune.

Bolton may be the more motivated witness, but Mulvaney may be the most knowledgeable one — outside of Trump himself, that is. Given that he essentially admitted to the quid pro quo before changing his story, it’s probably worth getting him under oath. Of course, given that experience, you can bet Republicans want no part of relying on him as a witness. But that’s too bad, in that he could most definitively confirm or deny Trump’s involvement in the quid pro quos.

Joe Biden

The idea that the former vice president did anything wrong with regard to Ukraine has always been a big stretch. The Ukrainian prosecutor general he pushed to have removed, Viktor Shokin, wasn’t actively investigating the company that employed Biden’s son Hunter Biden at the time, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials, and Joe Biden was hardly the only Western leader pushing for his removal. Democrats would surely balk at the idea that Biden has to defend himself. His mere appearance at this trial would be viewed as a PR win for Trump, whose goal in all of this, after all, has rather transparently been to knock Biden down a peg or two ahead of the 2020 election.

But what if Biden took one for the team? What if he dealt with the questions — which are being asked anyway — once and for all, and he did so as part of a deal to get other key witnesses in? That might even win him plaudits from the Democrats he needs to win the nomination. Having the elder Biden testify makes more sense than his son, given Trump’s request dealt specifically with him — not with Hunter Biden or his former employer, Burisma Holdings. To the extent Joe Biden could prove that Trump’s conspiracy theory was baseless, it would reinforce that Trump was concerned about himself and not corruption in Ukraine.

Ron Johnson

This is one nobody is talking about, and there would be obvious problems with it given that Johnson, as a U.S. senator, will serve as one of the jurors in this trial. But we haven’t talked enough about how valuable a witness he might be. Johnson (R-Wis.) was in touch with Sondland about the withheld military aid, he was in touch with Trump about the same thing, and he traveled to Ukraine and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, where Zelensky asked about the aid. All of these things happened in the span of a week.

Johnson has spoken publicly and repeatedly about these things, but given his involvement in the less-solidified of the two quid pro quos — the one involving military aid — getting him under oath would seem to be worthwhile.

Andriy Yermak

Yermak is the top Zelensky aide most involved in the arrangements with the Trump team, and at several junctures, he seemed to understand that a White House meeting for Zelensky was tied to announcing Trump’s preferred investigations. But he is someone the GOP might want to see as a witness, given he recently publicly denied that Sondland had told him the military aid was also tied to the investigations. (That denial is contradicted by two sworn witnesses, though.)

There are obvious problems here, too, given who Yermak is — i.e., not an American citizen. Ukraine would surely balk at him being grilled about the whole thing; they rather clearly just want it to go away and to avoid inflaming an already strained relationship with Trump. But in an ideal world, he’d be taking the stand.