First, let’s dispense with a silly, semantic claim. Donald Trump has been impeached. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that the House met, called witnesses, heard testimony and voted as a body for no reason whatsoever. Members of the House know it, members of the Senate know it, the vast majority of Constitutional scholars know it, and Donald Trump himself knows it, because last week his own justice department filed a motion in the McGann case arguing that the case is now moot because “Donald Trump has been impeached.” So let’s end this nonsense talk about how Trump hasn’t been impeached. He has.
Next, the notion that Mitch McConnell can blithely ignore the need to call witnesses is absurd, and will become clearly more absurd as the moment of Donald Trump’s day of reckoning before the Senate approaches. I am not saying McConnell cannot get away with it. I am saying, however, he will do so in the face of a mighty rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts, whose duty it is, among others, to decide which witnesses are appropriate to appear before the Senate in the matter of the trial of Donald Trump. That rebuke may very well be the end of McConnell’s career in the Senate, and McConnell knows this. However popular it may be to hate McConnell and give him credit for nothing, unlike Donald Trump, one thing that McConnell isn’t is stupid. He knows just how dangerous the ground he’s on is. He will not easily survive what will almost certainly be a very loud and very public rebuke from this no-nonsense Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
In the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson of 1868 (which was an election year impeachment, by the way), 41 witnesses were called. At the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton (where he was impeached on the 19th of December, just before Christmas, by the way), 3 witnesses were called, including Monica Lewinsky. To call zero witnesses will be quite a departure from a Republican set of talking points which includes loud, excoriating, hostile language at the smallest departure from impeachment precedent. A group that demanded strict adherence to established precedence and bellicose criticism of the process is going to have a hard time explaining why no witnesses have been called. It just might make their previous complaints appear partisan.
We have learned since the impeachment hearings that 90 minutes after Trump’s infamous but “perfect” phone call with Ukrainian president Voldomyr Zelensky, that a Trump appointed OMB official ordered the aid to Ukraine withheld and then said, effectively, to keep it quiet, and to only inform select officials at the Pentagon. The only rational explanation for this is the entity he intended to keep it quiet from was Congress. The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 expressly requires Congress be told about such actions – and they were not. In the final analysis, the executive branch was deliberately interfering with an edict from the legislative, and in order to find out why that witness needs to be called.
Failing to do so doesn’t mean another victory scored for yet another corrupt purpose, compliments of the McConnell Senate. Such a move will, beyond a doubt, come back later to bite them. If Trump is allowed to escape conviction he will continue to try to rig the 2020 election in his favor. If successful he will face impeachment all over again. Next time it may be with a Senate full of Democrats and a majority leader very much interested in conducting a full trial – with witnesses this time. At which point Trump really can make one of his famous brags that will actually be true for once: nobody gets impeached more than Donald Trump.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.