Dear Commons Community,
Elizabeth Drew, a political journalist and author of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times urging Democrats to accept a deal to have John Bolton testify in the Trump impeachment trial in exchange for Hunter Biden testifying. She makes a case that this will help the Democrats (not necessarily resulting in the Senate voting to impeach – not likely) in terms of public perception and the upcoming presidential election, assuming Joe Biden is the Democratic candidate. Here are her key points.
“If there are to be witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump — at this moment an unknown — John Bolton and Hunter Biden would almost certainly be among those called to testify. Some people on Capitol Hill describe it as a one-for-one trade.
This idea has been widely dismissed by both sides. Democrats say Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, is irrelevant to the issues in the articles of impeachment. The president and Republicans assert that Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser who was fired by Mr. Trump — Mr. Bolton says he quit — is simply promoting a forthcoming book and has nothing meaningful to say.
To my own surprise, I now think that such an arrangement might well be highly valuable — for the country.
For some time, I was against the Democrats’ offering any Biden as a witness in Mr. Trump’s trial, on principle. Just because the Republicans want to batter Hunter Biden is no reason to submit either him or his father as fodder to hostile Republicans. But principle can be turned on its head; calling Hunter Biden could backfire on the Republicans big time.
In a television interview last October Joe Biden’s sole surviving and troubled son came across as a straightforward, unassuming guy: He conceded that he most likely wouldn’t have been asked to join the lucrative board of one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, Burisma, or been offered other opportunities, but for his last name.
A multitude of investigations of his arrangement with Burisma have turned up no wrongdoing on Hunter’s part — other than inviting the appearance of a conflict of interest, since at the time his father was in charge of Ukraine policy for Barack Obama. Having him appear as a witness could expose the fatuity of the Republicans’ efforts to smear him and his father. In fact, a number of Republicans actually don’t want to call the younger Biden. They’re worried about the circus atmosphere that might present — and they’d rather have the issue linger as a useful weapon. Acceding to Hunter as a witness would call the Republicans’ bluff.
Having Joe Biden’s son testify would illuminate the Bidens’ irrelevance to the issue of whether the president held up congressionally appropriated military assistance for Ukraine until the Ukrainian president announced — not necessarily conducted, just announced — a government investigation into the Bidens’ role. An appearance by Hunter before Senate questioners now could also go some distance toward removing him as an issue in the general election, should his father be the Democratic nominee. In fact, Hunter could be the star witness as to why a president’s (or vice president’s) offspring should stay out of any business that might have something to do with their parents’ job.
Moreover Joe Biden is at his most moving when he talks about his family and what it has been through: The Republicans could be handing him a lovely opportunity to make a knockout campaign speech.
And several advantages would accrue to the Democrats if Mr. Bolton were to testify. First, this would undermine the White House’s and Republicans’ plan to terminate the trial with a vote to acquit Mr. Trump by the end of this week. Second, Mr. Bolton could smash the White House’s and Republicans’ argument that there is no direct evidence that Mr. Trump himself directly linked military aid to Ukraine to a request that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, announce an investigation of the Bidens. (Mr. Bolton reportedly said as much in an unpublished manuscript of his forthcoming book, causing the White House to threaten to block its publication.)
Third, the longer the trial drags on the greater opportunity there is for more damaging information to arrive on the Democrats’ doorstep. Even if gathering the two-thirds Senate vote to remove Trump from office remains beyond reach, a secondary goal of the Democrats is to make Trump’s acquittal as unglorious as possible. The more an acquittal hinges on preposterous limits on disclosure of information and on preventing witness testimony, the less valid it will seem.”
I think Ms. Drew has good advice for the Democrats.