The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans: The case for impeachment is terrible — and the portions are so small

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) walks to the Senate chamber on Jan. 22, 2020, during the impeachment trial of President Trump (Steve Helber/AP)

Consider Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), assistant leader of the Republican caucus in the Senate.

On Sunday, he appeared on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” to provide his thoughts on the then-imminent launch of President Trump’s impeachment trial. He shrugged at any urgency on calling witnesses.

“The House heard testimony from seventeen witnesses, more than a hundred hours of testimony,” Cornyn said. “All of that will be available to the impeachment managers to present their case to the Senate. And then after they are through, then if the senators, 51 senators, want to hear more, then we can vote to subpoena those witnesses.”

A bit later, he dismissed the idea that more evidence would be needed.

“If the House isn't prepared to go forward with the evidence that they produced in the impeachment inquiry, maybe they ought to withdraw the articles of impeachment and start over again,” he said.

This is not an uncommon line of argument: Why are Democrats so insistent on the Senate gathering new evidence when they’ve already decided that the existing evidence is sufficient to impeach Trump?

But Cornyn didn't leave things there. On Wednesday, after the House impeachment managers began introducing their case against Trump, Cornyn and his colleagues again spoke to reporters about the situation.

“So far, we haven’t heard anything new from what we heard yesterday, and I hope this isn’t just going to be a series of repetitious arguments just to try to fill the time allotted,” Cornyn told reporters. “That’s sort of what it feels like right now."

“We’ve just come out listening to, what, six hours of testimony, and I didn’t hear anything new,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said at another point. Politico collected several similar statements from Republicans: same old, same old.

This, of course, was by design. Each of the quoted Republicans voted against proposals from Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would have, among other things, subpoenaed documents from the administration and allowed witness testimony. On Sunday, Cornyn said the Senate would think about doing that after the first arguments were made; on Wednesday, he lamented the lack of new information.

“The same Republicans saying they heard nothing new just voted nine times to hear nothing new,” Schumer told reporters on Thursday morning.

After Republican senators block new impeachment evidence, Trump boasts about what he’s withholding

It’s not that there actually wasn’t anything new introduced in the first day of arguments, mind you. House impeachment managers referred to two developments that emerged after the House vote to impeach the president.

The first was a letter provided to the House Intelligence Committee by Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“That letter made it clear that Giuliani was representing President Trump as a private citizen and that he was working with President Trump’s knowledge and consent,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Tex.). That letter was made public only a little over a week ago.

The other mentioned development was raised by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). It centered on a Government Accountability Office finding that Trump’s withholding aid to Ukraine was a violation of the Impoundment Control Act.

“The nonpartisan GAO ruled that the hold on military aid was not only illegal,” Schiff said, “but that holding underscores the president's efforts to go to any lengths to ensure his own personal benefit rather than take care that the laws be faithfully executed, as he swore he would do when he took his oath of office."

Cornyn did acknowledge that point on Twitter, calling the ICA violation a “technical infraction."

The House team also noted that, even as the Senate was debating Schumer's proposed amendments late Tuesday evening, new material was published by a group called American Oversight.

“Last night, as we were here late into the night, sometime around midnight, a new tranche of documents were released under a Freedom of Information Act request by an independent watchdog that had been asking for them,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) noted. “They were released last night … on the things that I’m talking about right now.”

It is more than fair for senators to question whether the House impeachment managers are making their case. That, after all, is the point of the trial: to establish whether the available evidence meets their standard of proof. The Democrats’ focus on calling new witnesses has helped bolster the idea that they recognize that they need more to work with — though that also derives in part from the recognition that Republican senators are strongly disinclined to accept their point of view.

What’s more questionable is for Republicans such as Cornyn to try to have it both ways, to oppose the introduction of new material and object to the lack of new material. Especially given the existence of new material.

It brings to mind the old joke: “The food at that restaurant is terrible, and the portions are so small."

The evidence at the impeachment trial is uncompelling, we hear — and there’s simply not enough of it.