From a legal impeachment perspective regarding the removal of the President of the United States from office, the Republican argument against impeachment witnesses at the Senate trial is sound. As Rudy Giuliani and others have noted, the Articles of Impeachment themselves do not represent charges that warrant removal. Moreover, House Managers did not present enough evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The case should be dismissed prima facie.
From an election optics perspective, blocking witnesses could prove to be disastrous, as The Daily Wire’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro pointed out on Twitter.
There seems to be a consensus on the right that the worst case scenario is more witnesses. I can think of a worse one: witnesses are rejected, then go on to drop pseudo-bombshells two weeks from the election, hurting both Trump and Senators who voted against witness testimony.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 29, 2020
Trump is not his own best defense attorney. Bolton isn't saying anything impeachable. Barring his testimony because you fear political blowback heightens the blowback.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 29, 2020
Shapiro is correct. It was a murky subject before the press leak and media interpretations of excerpts of John Bolton‘s upcoming book. Now that it’s out there, it would be nearly impossible to convince people who are on the fence that blocking witnesses is the right move. Democrats are pushing the “cover-up” narrative and blocking witnesses at this stage would jibe with that narrative.
Democrats will use such a blockage from now until election day. They won’t just use it against the President. They will use it against Republican Representatives who support blocking witnesses. But most importantly, they will use it against Republican Senators. All of them, even the ones who vote for witnesses such as (potentially) Susan Collins (R-ME). The difference is they’ll take her vote to acquit and use it against her, assuming she does vote that way. If she doesn’t, it won’t matter anyway as she’ll lose too much Republican support to win reelection.
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The odds of blocking witnesses at this stage are approaching zero. It’s a pickle for Republican Senators because unless they can convince President Trump it’s a good idea to do so, he’s going to continue to spout out against it. Any Republican Senator that votes against the President’s wishes in his impeachment trial is at risk. But they should assume that witnesses will be called and start shifting the narrative to focusing more on the corruption angle. It isn’t just the Bidens and Burisma, either. They have an ace in the hole that nobody seems to be bringing up.
While all the focus is on the Biden portion of the call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, the other favor asked by the President is equally important as far as witnesses are concerned. Corruption during the 2016 election is an avenue through which Republican Senators could drive a bus full of witnesses. Alleged whistleblower Eric Ciaramella, Alexandra Chalupa, and many, many others are in play if Republicans take advantage of the corruption angle. They’d be foolish to dismiss it.
The executive branch has a responsibility to root out corrupting forces who are breaking the law, foreign or domestic. This is the biggest reason why the “abuse of power” Article of Impeachment is bogus. The Constitution allows the President a wide berth on foreign affairs, and while our sensibilities tell us it’s wrong to pursue “dirt” on a political opponent, determining whether the President should be removed from office comes down to one question: If Joe Biden wasn’t running for president, would it have been illegal for President Trump to ask Ukraine to help investigate Burisma? If not, then the Democrats’ case is that presidential candidates get special privileges above the law.
Instead of fighting calls for witnesses and giving Democrats the “cover-up” narrative to use against every Republican in DC until election day, the GOP should prepare to scorch earth and call the Bidens, the whistleblower, and others.
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