After three days of the House Managers’ rollout of the case against Donald Trump, it became clear Saturday morning that his defense team had some video clips of their own.
The key difference: Adam Schiff’s team buried us in quotes and excerpts designed to bolster conclusions fashioned in their heads; the defense attorneys provided a roadmap of things people actually said and did. Repeated examples of Trump voicing concern about Ukrainian corruption. Repeated examples of other nations facing interruptions in aid if their behavior didn’t improve. Taking up only a fraction of one day, Pat Cipollone, Jay Sekulow and company made clear what they have in store as the curtain goes up on Week 2 of impeachment.
There was concern that a Saturday session would not garner the audience captured by three Democrat forays into weekday prime time. But was anyone paying attention by Friday night? It’s hard to imagine millions delaying date nights so that they could catch the 22nd hour of Orange Man Bad. Saturday midday might not be a viewer magnet, but college football somehow manages to attract a crowd, so it’s a matter of whether people were interested.
I was. I was compelled by the first true example of an unfettered Trump defense in an environment not lorded over by Nancy Pelosi. It did not disappoint. And Monday should pick up with ample curiosity over the style, content and duration of the President’s defense effort.
Alan Dershowitz will get a lot of attention, as well he should, partly because he is a Hillary-voting liberal who nonetheless sees the folly of this impeachment effort, but also because his view of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard seems to be different than during the Clinton years. Let me clear this up for Dersh and anyone else: Of course there can be an impeachment without an actual violation of law. But short of that, it had better be something of such pernicious weight that the office itself is damaged to the chagrin of a wide political spectrum. The current spectacle is nothing of the kind.
This week will be a flipping of last week’s script. It is conservatives who will sing the praises of the presentations, and the president’s opponents who will give it the back of their hands. As was true last week, the impact of it as political theater will depend in whether any minds are changed. I suppose viewers who have not bathed in this story for months could have wandered into last week’s House manager marathon, staggering away under the weight of the assembled assertions of guilt, thinking surely there is fire behind these cascading billows of smoke.
But if those same viewers consume the defense, they may come to see the case against Trump as pure conjecture, fashioned from presumptions based on a political inclination to think the worst of a president Democrats could not beat in 2016 and may not be able to beat this November.
This narrow slice of the impeachment audience—the undecideds—will ultimately spell whether the whole drama hurts or actually helps Trump. Conclusions are baked into about 90 percent of the public, and an even higher percentage of the Senate. So what effect will witnesses have on both of those numbers?
No one knows. Democrats envision John Bolton delivering golden testimony that will at last reveal the depth of Trump’s treachery. On Sunday night, they gleefully embraced a tiny snippet of the forthcoming Bolton book in which the former National Security Advisor apparently recalls a conversation featuring Trump weighing a hold on Ukrainian aid until he sees some actual content of a corruption investigation.
In other words, the story of Trump hitting pause on Ukrainian aid dollars pending a commitment to probe corruption is now broken wide open by a Bolton assertion that Trump may have wanted to see actual findings before releasing that aid. What a bombshell.
But that’s what you’d think examining anti-Trump twitter, fawning over this development as a deal-sealer for the necessity of Bolton testimony. Have these people paid attention to Bolton for five minutes? He is a sharp, smart public servant who now envisions a post-government life as a pundit and benefactor through his BoltonPAC. He would also like to sell truckloads of books, a goal not aided by infuriating millions of Trump fans.
It is hard imagining the Democrat witness list providing the gotcha moment they have sought for years. But it is comparatively easier to imagine a Team Trump witness list sparking questions the House Managers decidedly do not want asked. Subpoena Hunter Biden, and the question arises as to what he was ever doing on the Burisma board. Subpoena the Whistleblower, and scrutiny follows as to whether he has always been a political hack wholly undeserving of the clout he has enjoyed.
And by the way, those questions will be broadly asked whether either of them shows up or not.
So far, only Mitt Romney seems eager to side with Democrats in a desire to drag impeachment to the Iowa caucuses if not beyond. One wonders what the senators running for president actually think about the notion of a prolonged confinement while their rivals shake hands and kiss babies from Cedar Rapids to Sioux City.
But for at least a few more days, they, and we, will see what issues from the Senate floor. The witness skirmish will determine whether we get back to our lives by next weekend, or we hunker down for a February filled with battles over narrative.
Did Adam Schiff poison his own witness quest by attempting to intimidate Republicans who might join Romney? Will the glow of the Trump defense’s moment in the spotlight dissuade momentary maverick instincts among Collins, Murkowski, Alexander or anyone else?
The end of this chapter in American history remains clear—a Trump acquittal. But the path to that, however long, will be filled with Democrat attempts to inflict as much damage as possible, and Republican attempts to spark a backfire for the ages.