Failing to get ahead of what has become the drip, drip of new details on Hunter Biden’s business dealings – and the potential ties to his father – could prove to be a pivotal political 2020 hindsight decision for the year.
As noted in my book, “Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump,” voting against calling witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial might have been a political mistake by Republicans.
If former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency and sweeps a new Democratic Senate majority with him, the chance of any future accountability could disappear, regardless of what Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa or others bring to light.
Certainly, from the standpoint of the president’s lawyers. if you’re dealing with a sure-thing Senate trial verdict—a Trump acquittal last February—why cast uncertainty into the picture with a witness?
However, the likely only witness against the president would have been his former national security adviser John Bolton, who all but asked to be subpoenaed ahead of the release of his spicy White House memoir.
If he were called, it would have almost had to come with a trade of Hunter Biden, who we know today might have been forced into telling a far more compelling story under oath than Bolton.
Bolton’s memoir largely backed up a lot of stereotypes Trump’s critics already had about him, a chaotic White House, describing a president obsessed with getting re-elected. His testimony would likely disappoint facing cross examination. It assuredly wouldn’t have gotten 67 votes for removal or even move any other GOP senators beyond Mitt Romney against the president.
Moreover, recall congressional testimony by former FBI Director James Comey, former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, former special counsel Robert Mueller, and others was always hyped as the “this is it” moment to end Trump once and for all. Each time, it was a dud. There is little reason to think this would have been any different with Bolton.
Yet another testimony causing predictable pearl clutching from Trump rivals and “is-that-all” shrugs from Trump supporters might have been worth a deal subjecting the Biden family to scrutiny.
Certainly the Senate impeachment trial happened many months before the Johnson-Grassley report about $3.5 million from Moscow or the more recent news stories on the laptop’s emails and references about “the big guy.”
So, questions would likely have been narrow about the wayward son’s work on the board of Burisma. Nevertheless, many threads could have been pulled with simple questions such as, “Did you ever talk to your father about any business deals?” “Did you ever promise a meeting with your father in exchange for anything?”
To be fair, we don’t yet have a complete picture of all of the laptop and emails. Further, Tony Bobulinski hasn’t been under cross examination either. But, the Biden campaign hasn’t disputed the authenticity of the emails, nor has the former vice president's response fully answered what should be yes or no questions.
The idea of a witness exchange was floated, but Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the impeachment managers, rejected the idea. But in those early stages they were making what were rhetorical arguments since it was unlikely they could get those sought after witnesses with a GOP Senate majority. What if the GOP called their bluff?
If Democrats, at the time, believed Bolton could shift public opinion, they might have eventually been agreeable to a deal—particularly if they really believed there was nothing to the Hunter Biden matter.
Early in the year, Joe Biden’s prospects for winning the Democratic presidential nomination seemed dim. So there was a political case to make at the time among senators that there was no campaign left to save.
This is essentially a counterfactual, or hindsight. But knowing what we know now, that view about a missed opportunity I had at the time seems to have been accurate.
Fred Lucas is the author of Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump (Bombardier Books, 2020).