“Our Crazy, Do Nothing … Speaker of the House, Nervous Nancy Pelosi … suggested … that I testify about the phony Impeachment Witch Hunt. She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!”
- Tweet by President Donald J. Trump, November 18, 2019
It is universally expected that this week, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives will approve Articles of Impeachment against President Trump and send them to the Republican-controlled Senate for an Impeachment trial, where it is equally universally expected that he will be acquitted. Where reports differ is whether the Republicans will elect to conduct a streamlined trial involving little new evidence or have an extended proceeding. There are reports that the White House would like a reality show extravaganza involving witnesses such as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, to testify regarding their activities in Ukraine during the Obama Administration. As a counter, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has written a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, requesting that the Senate call former National Security Advisor John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. [If I ever had a shred of sympathy for Mr. McConnell, it would be now. ;)]
Assume that, as we have been told and despite the Republicans’ loud protestations to the contrary, Joe Biden did nothing inappropriate in executing his role on U.S. Ukraine policy during the Obama Administration and that Hunter Biden did nothing illegal (although smarmy) in joining or serving on the board of directors of the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.
If I was advising Mr. Biden today, I would suggest that he consider calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Schumer, talking to them alone – the phones in their ears, none of their staffers in the loop – and indicating that he would be willing to go to the podium as soon as the Articles of Impeachment pass the House and state: if the Republicans want him to testify at the President’s Senate impeachment trial, he is willing to come, without need of subpoena and waiving any right to claim his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and other rights and privileges, to testify publicly about his Ukraine activities … provided that President Trump also publicly testifies at the Senate trial about all of his activities related to Ukraine [put a time frame around it, to protect current Ukraine-related discussions] on the same basis and with the same waivers. In the statement, Mr. Biden would ask to be given access to all government documents relating to his Ukraine activities to refresh his recollection, in the same way as the President would undoubtedly review documents to refresh his recollection. He would conclude his statement: the President said he would consider testifying in the impeachment proceedings … it’s time for him to man up.
If I was Ms. Pelosi or Mr. Schumer, the questions would be: Have the House impeachment proceedings created sufficient misgivings within the persuadable segment of the electorate that although the President is going to be acquitted in the Senate, they’ll prevail in the election – making Mr. Biden’s overture risky? Or are they concerned enough that the President will be able to spin his Senate acquittal into an “exoneration” such an overture by Mr. Biden would be a way to put Mr. Trump in a precarious, and perhaps no-win, position?
If the above assumptions about the Bidens are accurate, the advantages of the strategy for Mr. Biden (and in some ways, for the Democrats) are obvious: it elevates him to the presidential level against Mr. Trump, triggering a Democratic tribal instinct and essentially reducing his Democratic presidential nomination adversaries to a band of dwarfs; whether or not Mr. Biden testifies, it will raise doubts among even vehement Trump supporters as to whether he did anything wrong; it will leave all Americans with the impression that if Mr. Biden and/or his son are subpoenaed by the Republican-controlled Senate without a corresponding appearance by Mr. Trump and perhaps key Trump aides, the Republicans are unfair whitewashers; if Mr. Trump doesn’t testify – no matter what excuse he gives — he will look weak (and spawn endless Democratic ads declaring that he wasn’t man enough to face Mr. Biden); and if he does testify, he’ll most probably perjure himself in a manner that can be readily detected. An added bonus: with the possible exception of Trump Personal Lawyer Rudy Giuliani, any other high-ranking Trump Administration official called to testify – Messrs. Bolton and Mulvaney, or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — will almost certainly testify truthfully, because like Amb. Gordon Sondland, the witness won’t want to risk going to jail for perjury.
For Mr. Biden, the disadvantages – even if the introductory assumptions about the Bidens are accurate — are equally obvious: one illusory, one real. The illusory first: can Mr. Biden handle the Senate Republicans’ grilling? Will he wobble too much? If he can’t, he’s no longer up to the presidency. The real disadvantage: The Republicans would undoubtedly call Hunter to testify; even if the Democrats are successful in getting the Republicans to produce a high-ranking Administration official in return, how would Hunter fare? Even if he hasn’t done anything illegal, he’s not a public performer; can he handle the grilling? Republicans will wish to delve into parts of his background which, like his Ukrainian experience, are somewhat unsavory; can he be sufficiently prepared, through grilling by the nastiest Democrats, before he actually testifies? Does the senior Biden want to put him through that? Is the presidency worth that to him? At the same time: How likely is it that Hunter will end up testifying at the Senate trial anyway? If it’s likely, wouldn’t it be better to grab the high ground?
Now is the time to decide; if the Republicans announce that they are going to conduct an extended process and call the Bidens as witnesses, Mr. Biden has lost the edge.
How do the parties like the hands they hold? Does either want to raise the ante?