But even if the Senate ends up calling former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, it is most unlikely to call anywhere close to the wide array of witnesses who have new light to shed on L’Affaire Ukrainienne—like the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former Acting National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman, and other Office of Management and Budget and White House officials who could add details on what the president knew about the hold on aid to Ukraine and when he knew it, along with his motivations for holding it up in the first place.
As useful as this testimony could be, there does not seem to be an appetite for drawn-out appearances from numerous witnesses. Republicans just want the matter to go away, to get to a final vote as quickly as possible. Whether there is enough Republican support to hear from any witnesses at all is very much in doubt: Senator Susan Collins is reportedly working with a “fairly small group” of fellow GOP senators to form a bloc in favor of calling at least some witnesses, but it’s not clear how successful her efforts will be or how seriously she is taking the project. And Democrats may not feel like pushing hard to secure lots of witnesses. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s initial letter to McConnell proposed only four, far from a maximalist approach. Democratic senators campaigning for the presidency may well want to get back to Iowa and New Hampshire quickly—while even those who aren’t seeking the White House worry that the impeachment proceedings will somehow strengthen Trump’s hand by enraging his voter base.
So both sides appear ready to rely on testimony already given to the House to the extent possible. The most anyone is arguing for is hearing from a few witnesses whose testimony the House did not get.
Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic: The serious silliness of impeachment
This isn’t the first time an impeachment trial has been boring. In fact, boring is the American impeachment-trial tradition. The 1999 Senate trial of Bill Clinton, despite being about sex, was incredibly dull. It followed Kenneth Starr’s investigation and highly detailed report, which laid out facts that were never subsequently in serious dispute. The trial consequently involved the presentation of virtually no new information and thus had a similar quality to the current one. There was nothing new to say, though the Senate deposed a few witnesses anyway—just an argument to be had over whether Clinton’s conduct warranted removal from office.
Further back, the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson was likewise tedious. A Baltimore Gazette editorial complained that the trial sparked “less interest in the public mind than the report of a prize fight.” Representative James Garfield, who would later become president, expressed frustration with how the proceedings were droning on: “Here we have been wading in words, words, words, for a whole week.” At one point the British novelist Anthony Trollope, watching arguments in the Johnson trial from the Senate gallery, reportedly fell asleep.