Following the Donald Trump presidency is an exhausting task. Trump’s strategy is to flood the zone; through endless outrage, tweeting and scandal, he sucks all the oxygen from the media and public. The effect is to wear down the American people, creating an environment where each ensuing “bombshell” is seemingly just another drop in the bucket.
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s impeachment defense has followed this same playbook. From flatly denying any misconduct and insisting his phone call with President Zelensky was “perfect,” to openly asking Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens on the White House lawn, Trump has continued to generate a great degree of noise and distraction, all-the-while shifting the goalpost on the standard of wrongdoing.
These news stories accumulate, to the point where it becomes difficult to make sense of what may be significant to those on Capitol Hill and what is not. Lest we forget that it was hardly more than a week ago that Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, directly implicated the President in their mafia-style ploy to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Perhaps one of the most depressing and dangerous realities of the Trump presidency is his ability to make Americans look away, precisely because he is engaging in such a high volume of egregious actions.
What then, if anything, should the American people make of the recent “bombshell” allegations brought forward by former national security advisor John Bolton? According to the New York Times, an unreleased manuscript of Bolton’s forthcoming book claims that President Trump told Bolton directly that “he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” If such an allegation is true, any defense of the president which claims he did not abuse his power for political gain would become entirely unraveled.
There is, of course, one obvious way to determine if such allegations are of any factual merit: allow Bolton to testify before the United States Senate. In Bolton, the Senate would have an individual with direct, first-hand knowledge of the president’s actions and motivations in regard to the Ukraine scandal. Further, Bolton has stated clearly that he is willing to testify and would comply with a subpoena from the Senate. Why not put him on the stand?
From a public opinion standpoint, it is clear that the American people want a fair trial — and that involves witnesses. A poll from this past week conducted by Reuters/Ipsos shows that roughly 72 percent of Americans believe that the Senate should “allow witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the impeachment charges to testify.” Support for witnesses is bipartisan, with 84 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans in favor. Historical precedent is also on the side of calling witnesses; the Senate has conducted 15 impeachment trials throughout history, each involving witnesses.
The new details brought forward by Bolton ought to generate momentum for a vote to allow witnesses during the impeachment trial. Yet, Democrats and the American people should not have to count on a small group of supposedly “moderate” Republicans for something so fundamentally imperative to a trial as allowing witness testimony.
The simple fact that Republican Senators have, to date, sought to prevent witness testimony is indicative of the broader rot within the Republican Party. Trump, a president who was quite literally impeached because of his obstruction of Congress, is merely the ringleader of a party that has fully embraced a strategy defined by cover-up and deflection.
If the allegations brought forward by Bolton — a first-hand witness, who is fully willing to comply with the Senate — do not push the needle on witnesses, the impeachment of Trump will be remembered for more than just the President’s misconduct. Republican Senators who fail to summon the miniscule amount of courage required to simply hear from a first-hand witness are no less shameful than Trump himself.