My column today in the Washington Post explores the possibility of witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial and specifically what the Senate might do if the White House demanded a clearly relevant defense witness named Hunter Biden. As the column was coming out, former national security adviser John Bolton announced that, if subpoenaed, he is “prepared to testify” before a Senate trial. Some of us have been saying for months that Bolton was signaling to the point of screaming that he was eager to testify. Nevertheless, the House refused to subpoena him, let alone seek to compel his testimony. It was the same counterintuitive position that led to the House to withdraw its subpoena for top Bolton aide, Charles Kupperman. Bolton’s announcement only highlights the baffling blunder of the House in rushing this impeachment before creating a complete and compelling record for removal. Instead, it effectively handed over control of the case — and completion of its case — to the Senate and the opposing party.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has demanded testimony from Bolton, current White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and two other White House officials, Robert Blair and Michael Duffey. However, he opposes the appearance of Republicans witnesses like Biden.
Ultimately, Bolton could appear in the Senate only to face an executive privilege objection from the White House. That question would go to Chief Justice John Roberts but ultimately all such on witnesses and evidence are left to the Senate by majority vote.
In his statement on Monday, Bolton took the same position as Kupperman that, in the absence of judicial guidance, “I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study.” The House resolved those questions previously by bizarrely withdrawing the subpoena before a court could rule.
In the meantime, two Senators are discussing changing the rules to force a trial or vote in light of the refusal to submit the matter to the Senate by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The two options discussed by Graham and Hawley — removing the requirement of the submission or holding a summary dismissal vote — were discussed in my column a couple weeks ago.
The option of changing the Senate rules is becoming increasingly possible due to the inappropriate gaming of the system by Speaker Pelosi. Under the Senate rules, the waiting for the list of House managers is a bicameral courtesy that can be withdrawn. However, the complication could be the vote itself. They may have to use a “nuclear option” to allow a majority vote on the question. That would be unfortunate for a myriad of reasons and would ultimately hurt the House. The House should submit the list and articles without further delay in my view.