You might remember that Gov. Asa Hutchinson told me House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would pay a price for the error of holding onto the impeachment articles.
You might remember that he asked what I thought, and I forecast a political wash because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was equally in error for having prematurely and openly acquitted President Trump.
Now it appears that Pelosi is capitulating. She indicates she'll send the formal accusations against Trump to the Senate for trial, doing so without gaining anything yet tangible from her tactic to delay until the Senate assured a fairer trial with fresh witnesses and documents the White House withheld from the House impeachment process.
That's why Hutchinson is the governor, I suppose.
We're seeing a trend of inept Democratic overplay against Trump that turns him into a winning victim. First Bob Mueller was going to nail him. Then the whistle-blower had him dead to rights. Then he'd fomented world crisis with Iran. Blah, blah and blah.
Ideally, House Democrats already would have censured Trump or would still be holding fact-gathering hearings on the Ukraine matter while fighting in court for the right to subpoena key witnesses who had declined to accede to subpoenas.
Instead, they rushed, and did so, it turned out, to wait.
Democrats are contending that Pelosi's delaying tactic put helpful public attention on McConnell's unfairness. They also cite former national security adviser John Bolton's professed willingness to testify for the Senate. They also cite the professed position by a smattering of the more waffling, center-inclined Republican senators--Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski--that they are open to permitting some form of witness testimony.
If those three truly went against Trump and McConnell and were joined by one more Republican ... well, there's no reason to speculate idly in that futile direction. These aren't bold John McCains. Collins, especially, is famous for talking centrism and voting Trumpism.
Trump says he'd forbid Bolton's testimony, though Bolton no longer works for him, on the basis that national security would be weakened forever by open discussion of any president's executive conversations on security issues.
Presumably, if the Senate tried to compel Bolton's testimony--even if limited to deposition-only and confined to three or four Ukraine queries--then Trump's lawyers would refuse. Then Chief Justice John Roberts, who'd be presiding at the trial, would have to decide what could be an epic question.
Overstatement seems to attend all matters Trumpian, so I will not venture into a "constitutional crisis" should Trump tell Roberts to go to hell.
I'm assuming Bolton's testimony, even if limited, would strengthen the case against Trump's self-serving misconduct through his dispatch of personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to execute what Bolton is said to have metaphorically ridiculed as a "drug deal."
I'm of the view that Trump will become more obviously guilty the more we know about what he did. The White House seems by its cover-ups to hold that view as well. McConnell seems committed to act in Trump's protective interest in concession to that view.
I'm also of the view that it doesn't matter to Republicans how clearly guilty Trump becomes. Yeah, but Hunter Biden, they'll say.
In the matter of witnesses, I refer again to the conversation with Hutchinson, who was a House prosecutor in the Senate trial of Bill Clinton.
As Hutchinson explained, he wanted to call witnesses onto the Senate floor, but the decorum-conscious Senate balked. Instead it sought a bipartisan agreement that seems quite out of the question now after two decades of decline in civility and function.
The Senate leadership in the late '90s arrived at a compromise that won overwhelming floor approval. The House prosecutors could take fresh private depositions of three witnesses who'd previously been questioned by investigators. The House prosecutors could refer senators to sections of those depositions and quote from them.
So, with McConnell repeatedly saying the Clinton rules should be followed for Trump, the simple answer is ... alas, not simple, because nothing ever is these days.
Democrats want the Senate to permit some form of questioning of witnesses who haven't previously given sworn testimony to anyone, certainly not the House which made its case without that testimony, barreling ahead rather than waiting for adjudication of the authority of its subpoenas of White House officials.
McConnell can cite the Clinton precedent and say, darn the rotten luck, it appears we won't be able to talk to Bolton. He can say Pelosi should have done that already.
The likeliest scenario is that a superficial trial will occur and that the prevailing political dynamics will remain unchanged.
If Democratic ineptitude persists through the primary and general election, Trump again will prevail in the electoral college by the distribution of swing voters who don't approve of him but can't embrace the option presented.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 01/14/2020
Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: A case study in ineptitude