Perhaps the games that have been played the last few days, including a selective leak of John Bolton’s coming book, have backfired?
After an initial sign of momentum in the direction of Democrats to subpoena Bolton, Chuck Schumer just lost a major swing vote on the matter. Cory Gardner was one of the five members who were expected to possibly vote with Democrats (along with Collins, Murkowski, Romney, and possibly Toomey) to call witnesses. Now, he’s saying that he’s done here.
“I do not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness,” the Colorado Republican told Colorado Politics in a statement. “I have approached every aspect of this grave constitutional duty with the respect and attention required by law, and have reached this decision after carefully weighing the House managers and defense arguments and closely reviewing the evidence from the House, which included well over 100 hours of testimony from 17 witnesses.”
Gardner had previously been noncommittal about Democrats’ demands to call more witnesses, including Bolton, who writes in a forthcoming book that Trump told him he withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden.
This is surprising because Gardner is up for a hard re-election fight this year. There were rumblings that he’d vote for witnesses, even if the vote failed, so he could save face on the issue in a state that’s increasingly choosing to make itself California’s mini-me. But nope, he’s standing firm and using common sense. There’s no reason to hear from a witness that we already know has nothing impeachable to offer.
And let’s be clear, even the “leak” of Bolton’s book is not actually a quote or excerpt. It’s the impression of anonymous sources. That tells us a lot about what may or may not actually be written down. Allowing such supposition to drive the Senate trial would be ludicrous. If Bolton wants to come out and clarify publicly, then perhaps support to call him as a witness would grow among even Republicans. But I believe outside of Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, this Kavanaugh-esque game has blown up in the face of the Democrats. People do not like to be jerked around and that’s exactly what has happened.
There’s another reason these Republican swing votes may be souring on calling witnesses as well. Namely, that Democrats are refusing to work with them and trying to dominate the process. While Romney may be good with just calling Bolton because he’s always good with appeasing Democrats, others like Toomey realize that it’s ridiculous to only let Schumer decide who gets to testify. Compromises to hear from both Bolton and Hunter Biden have been scoffed at by the Democratic members and that’s now working against them.
Further, Ed Morrisey over at HotAir speculates that the Bolton leak may have actually helped Republicans.
Bear in mind that the publication date for Bolton’s memoir was in less than two months. The certainty that Bolton would speak out by mid-March one way or the other put Senate Republicans in an extremely uncomfortable position. If they voted to acquit Trump without knowing what Bolton had to say, the outcome would be widely seen as illegitimate. It might have even pushed House Democrats to vote a new article of impeachment on the basis of Bolton’s memoir and force the Senate back into a trial, but at the very least it would have made for campaign fodder against vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents this fall.
Now, however, the leak lets Republicans off the hook, even if still leaves Trump on it. Trump may not have told the truth in his outright denials on the quid pro quo allegation, but at least Senate Republicans now know that for certain. The New York Times leak put the worst possible conclusion from Bolton where they can openly consider it and then still move to the alternate argument. After all, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy writes at National Review, there is no need to deny the quid pro quo because it’s a moot point — the aid went without strings attached in the end, and it didn’t rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” bar anyway.
I’m still skeptical Democrats won’t cobble together the 51 votes to get Bolton before the Senate, but I’m fairly confident it won’t happen without having the Bidens also get called. That’s a win for Republicans if it plays out that way. But Democrats don’t want Hunter and Joe Biden to get grilled and it’s left them with a decision to make.
Cory Gardner going out on this limb and saying he’s voting no is significant though. One more major defection and that could be all she wrote for Schumer’s hopes.