Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is ready to proceed with an impeachment proceeding as soon as Nancy Pelosi decides to refer the impeachment articles to the Senate. McConnell’s plan is to proceed in stages.
First, the prosecution and the defense will make their presentations. Then, they will answer written questions from Senators. After that, if a party wants to call witnesses, the Senate will vote on whether to allow it.
According to the Washington Post, all 53 Republican members of the Senate are on board with this procedure. Thus, that’s how things will proceed once Pelosi sends up the impeachment articles.
I hope that after the initial presentations, the votes will be there to dismiss the articles of impeachment on the grounds that the case presented by the prosecution, even if one assumes all of the facts asserted therein to be true, doesn’t meet the constitutional standard for impeaching a president. If that happens, the Senate won’t get to witnesses.
Right now, the focus when it comes to witnesses is on John Bolton. He says he will testify if subpoenaed by the Senate.
Democrats expect Bolton to testify that he understood the Trump administration to be withholding military aid from Ukraine in order to pressure the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens, and that Bolton was unhappy, and maybe alarmed, about this. Their expectation is reasonable. It didn’t take someone of Bolton’s intelligence to figure out that this is what Trump was doing. And as a supporter of Ukraine’s quest to combat Russian aggression, Bolton naturally would have been unhappy and perhaps alarmed.
Indeed, Bolton’s former aides have already testified that their boss viewed Trump’s Ukraine gambit as, metaphorically, a “drug deal.” In addition, Gordon Sondland, who was talking to Trump, understood that the president was conditioning aid to Ukraine on the announcement by that government of an investigation of the Bidens.
In legal terms, Bolton’s testimony, as described above, would be cumulative, and thus unnecessary. The record, for those who are willing to examine it with an open mind, fully supports the inference that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens. It’s almost impossible reasonably to conclude anything else.
It’s true that there’s no smoking gun (nor is any required). But there’s no reason to believe that Bolton will reveal one. It was Gordon Sondland, not Bolton, who was communicating with Trump about this matter.
Why, then, are the Democrats so insistent on having Bolton (and others) testify? Because the testimony by previous witnesses failed to move the needle. Having the high-profile Bolton say the same kinds of things that Fiona Hill (his aide) and Gordon Sondland said, and having him say it in the well of the Senate, won’t bolster the case as a matter of law, but it might help as a matter of showmanship.
And that, after all, is what this impeachment is — a show. The Democrats have no hope of removing Trump. They just want to score points against him and take down a Senator or two from a purple state who votes against removal.
McConnell should run the Senate proceeding with the goal of blocking these objectives. To the degree feasible, I believe he will.