One of the main irritants of the three explanatory days given to each side in the impeachment trial was the stultifying predictability. I obviously agreed with one side and disagreed with the other, but after a while I was able to recite their arguments in my sleep.
The Wednesday Senators’ question period at least offered the possibility of some unscripted moments that might provide a spark of unpredictability to liven up the proceedings for a numb audience.
It was not to be. The air hung thick with coordination on all sides as it became obvious that Democrat Senators would toss up softball questions designed to give House Managers additional bursts of their familiar song, while Republican Senators nudged the president’s attorneys to reach for their best index cards in reply.
The result was another day that achieved essentially nothing on the Senate floor (I barely count Adam Schiff’s denial that he knows who the Whistleblower is). But outside the proceedings, the sideshows provided a diversion or two. Lev Parnas and his ankle bracelet made their way through the Capitol halls, reporters peppered Republicans with Democrat talking points and we learned of a letter from the National Security Council to John Bolton’s lawyer shutting down release of his book pending further examination for possible divulgence of national security secrets.
This path leads to either a hotly anticipated book release or the implosion of its value as it gets roped into impeachment testimony. Democrats who hated Bolton when he joined the Trump team now long for him to rush to their aid in a failing effort. Look for them to exert pressure to lasso the book into some imagined game-changer exhibit that they can pore over in search of potential weapons.
I still doubt how damaging the book will be to Trump, whenever and however it is revealed. I know the adorable title, “The Room Where It Happened,” borrows from a Hamilton lyric describing the mysteries that unfold in the shadows of power. I’m sure Bolton is in a mood to carve out some distance from the president who showed him the door four months ago and who now elbows him sharply on Twitter. But he is in a mood to elevate his own brand, a goal not served by savaging his former boss.
As the week winds down, the witness vote is the only hiccup of suspense that lies ahead. I could probably write the questions sure to issue from both sides Thursday, a final day of presentation that will clear the decks for the skirmish that will make the most news headed into the weekend. How many Republicans will stand against the White House wish for witnesses? Will Mitch McConnell assemble a package featuring poison pills, requiring Democrats to vote to invite Hunter Biden, Adam Schiff and his buddy the Whistleblower in order to secure a Bolton subpoena? Might that chase some Democrats away from the witness vote, especially the ones running for President, who would love to bolt for New Hampshire next week after the Iowa vote Monday which will show them the effects of their absence?
There is nothing in the intensifying tug-of-war over witnesses that peels me from my abiding sense that this all matters very little. Bolton’s book will not be weaponized; his testimony, if it ever happens, will contain no bombshells; if we do have Battle of the Witnesses, that will open the door for weeks of media narratives painting it in the worst possible light for Trump, but may also lay the groundwork for witness testimony that no Democrat ever wanted to see. Call it a wash.
Impeachment is ultimately political theater for partisans. Most of average America is not hanging on each day’s developments. They are going to work and school, taking care of the kids, going about their lives and wondering when this will all end. Subjecting the nation to a tiresome February of witness posturing may come at a cost.
Thursday brings another wheel-spinning day of question time, and another day where the most significant developments will be hammered out behind the scenes.