When Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz submitted a somewhat tortured hypothetical query about whether it would have been acceptable for President Barack Obama to urge the Russian government to conduct an investigation into Mitt Romney’s son if he knew the younger Romney were being paid $1 million a year by a corrupt Russian company—a not-so-veiled reference to Hunter Biden’s service on the board of Ukrainian energy company—Schiff’s bottom line was simple: Presidents asking foreign governments “to target their political opponent is wrong and corrupt, period.”
Trump’s acquittal has been a foregone conclusion since long before the trial began, and the chance that Democrats might garner the 51 votes required to call more witnesses had all but evaporated by yesterday afternoon, despite former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s reported corroboration that Trump told him he was withholding security assistance to Ukraine until it agreed to investigations into the president’s Democratic rival.
“Probably no” was Schumer’s own assessment of the likelihood of witnesses after one potential GOP target after another either opposed the idea or signaled they might. That reality, and the political calculation behind it, was summed up neatly by Josh Holmes, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who tweeted: “More witnesses = Hindenburg. None of it changes ultimate acquittal.”
Read: Error and trial
So as the hours ticked past, and senators on both sides of the aisle stood and stretched, Schiff appeared to be speaking not only to them but to posterity, as he argued that new information about Trump’s actions on Ukraine was continuing to surface almost daily, and would keep coming in the months and years ahead. “Don’t wait for the book!” he said, referring to Bolton’s memoir.
Responding to a question from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island about whether senators should consider the White House’s refusal to produce witnesses an “adverse inference” against the president’s innocence, under long-standing judicial practice, Schiff was emphatic. “Should you draw an adverse inference? You’re darn right you should!” But he added, “There is no need for inference here. There is just a need for a subpoena.”
But throughout the Capitol all day yesterday, it grew ever clearer that embattled Republican senators such as Cory Gardner of Colorado would rather face the wrath of swing voters who think this truncated trial is unfair than risk prolonging it for even a week or two by calling witnesses and courting the president’s wrath.
“I think we can all see what’s going on here,” Schiff said shortly after 8. “And that’s, If you want to hear from a single witness ... we are going to make this endless; we, the president’s lawyers, are going to make this endless. We promise you, we’re going to want Adam Schiff to testify, we want Joe Biden to testify, Hunter Biden … We will make you pay for it with endless delay.” But Schiff insisted, “We’re not here to indulge in fantasy or distraction. We’re here to talk about people with pertinent and probative evidence … So don’t be thrown off by this claim … You can’t have a fair trial without witnesses.”
Indeed, the House managers have spent more than a week noting that no Senate impeachment trial has ever concluded without calling some witnesses. But in this, as in so many other matters involving the political ascendancy and presidency of Donald John Trump, Schiff and his colleagues, in invoking the power of history’s example, seem poised instead to suffer one more painful lesson in its limits.