Several Republican senators up for reelection this November and facing tough campaigns — including Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — indicated during the meeting that they were ready to vote against witnesses and proceed to the final vote, according to two people familiar with the discussion who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting.
UPDATE #3 (5:45 pm): That sound you hear is Gardner’s
office campaign spokesperson FRANTICALLY trying to claw back Gardner’s two-faced “opinions” on calling impeachment witnesses.
Cory Gardner campaign spokesman clarifies WSJ article quote. Says “Sen. Gardner was reiterating that Dems are the ones saying this is going to hurt Republican Senators up for reelection & are making this political…..(1/2) https://t.co/XI8hBlZJwk
— Caitlyn Kim (@caitlynkim) January 29, 2020
Wait, what? Gardner’s CAMPAIGN is “clarifying” something he supposedly said in a private caucus meeting? How does that work?
UPDATE #2: We changed the headline of this post to reflect the bigger story here. Our original post follows below.
UPDATE: Numerous news outlets are reporting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his caucus today that Republicans do NOT have the votes to block calls for witnesses. And as The Wall Street Journal reports:
…at a meeting of all Republican senators late Tuesday, GOP leaders told their conference that they don’t currently have the votes to prevent witnesses from being called, people familiar with the matter said. Republicans had hoped to wrap up the trial with an acquittal of the president by this week, but Democrats have said he should appear under oath to offer a firsthand account of the president’s motivations for freezing aid to Ukraine—a matter at the heart of the impeachment case…
…Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who face competitive races in the fall, warned colleagues in the meeting against backing more witnesses, people familiar with the matter said. The senators said a drawn-out trial could lead to more Democratic attacks and hurt their re-election chances, the people said. None of the three senators’ offices immediately responded to requests for comment. [Pols emphasis]
But…that can’t be true, right? Gardner was just telling The Denver Post that he has “approached every aspect of this grave constitutional duty with the respect and attention required by law, and with the seriousness our oath requires.”
White House attorneys today rested their arguments in the “defense” portion of the Senate impeachment trial against President Trump. The big question now is pretty much the same as the big question a week ago: Will the Senate approve testimony from new witnesses regarding Trump’s
alleged demand to withhold foreign aid money from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate a political rival of the President?
Senate Republicans are still divided on this question, though there are new signs of movement. Maine Sen. Susan Collins now says that she is “very likely” to support calls for witness testimony, which would likely include that of former National Security Adviser John Bolton. New polling released today from Quinnipiac University finds that 75% of Americans want to hear from witnesses in the impeachment trial, including 49% of Republicans.
For those Republican Senators who are still undecided on the question of calling witnesses — including Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner — the only remaining arguments against such a move are totally and completely silly. As CNN reports:
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said Tuesday that senators participating in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial have “got to be able to see” the book manuscript of former national security adviser John Bolton before they vote on whether to include witnesses in the proceedings. [Pols emphasis]
“We have to resolve in a couple of days if we need witnesses or not — this is an issue that’s outstanding that we don’t have a good way to be able to answer,” Lankford told CNN’s Dana Bash. “We can’t say six weeks from now we’ll be able to see it. We’ve got to be able to see it in advance to be able to make that decision on witnesses in a couple days.”
Asked if seeing the manuscript would “be in lieu” of having Bolton testify in the trial, Lankford said that was not what he was suggesting.
“No, this is read the manuscript to be able to see if we need to call John Bolton, so that question’s unanswered,” he said. “We won’t know how to answer that question until we get through today’s testimony, a couple of days still of questions. I’m just saying this needs to be a part of our information so we can make that decision about witnesses.”
On Sunday, The New York Times, citing multiple people’s descriptions of an unpublished draft manuscript by Bolton, reported Trump in August told his then-national security adviser that he wanted to continue holding military aid to Ukraine until the country helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump’s purported statement, as described by Bolton, would directly tie the US military aid freeze with the President’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his political rivals — undermining a key pillar of the President’s impeachment defense that the two circumstances are unrelated.
Or…and we’ll just toss out a crazy idea here…maybe we could skip ahead AND JUST ASK JOHN BOLTON TO TELL THIS STORY DIRECTLY TO THE SENATE. If you want to know what happened in the Super Bowl taking place this weekend, you could read all about the game in numerous news reports on Monday. Of course, you could also just, you know, watch the game on Sunday.
Anyhoo, this leads us back to the question of where Gardner stands on the idea of calling witnesses or trying to ram through an acquittal of President Trump in time for him to deliver his scheduled State of the Union speech on Tuesday. As Justin Wingerter writes for The Denver Post:
The Yuma Republican, one of 100 senators who will likely decide whether to subpoena Bolton this week, said he is reviewing trial testimony and the law. He did not say if he would like to see Bolton or any other witnesses testify.
“I have approached every aspect of this grave constitutional duty with the respect and attention required by law, and with the seriousness our oath requires,” Gardner said in a statement to The Denver Post. “Now that the House and defense have closed their arguments, I will continue to closely review the law and evidence presented to the Senate, including testimony from the impeachment witnesses.”
Gardner said his focus is now on the questions he will ask of trial participants. Senators will have up to 16 hours Wednesday and Thursday to ask questions of the prosecution and defense. [Pols emphasis]
Gardner has at last figured out that running away from reporter questions makes him look ridiculous, but he still either cannot — or will not — attempt to think ahead more than one step at a time on the question of calling witnesses. Perhaps he is yet holding out some hope that everyone will just forget about this witness thing within the next couple of days and go about their business on other matters. Perhaps he is an adherent to the James Lankford theory of incongruous idiocy. Either way, Bolton is very much a problem for Gardner’s political future.
Back to The Denver Post we go:
Complicating matters is Bolton’s political action committee, which has spent millions of dollars in recent years supporting Republicans. The PAC donated $10,000 to Gardner’s 2020 re-election campaign last fall.
“There’s a broad coalition of people supporting Senator Gardner’s re-election, including President Trump, and the Bolton PAC supports Senator Gardner because of his commitment to a strong foreign policy,” said Gardner’s campaign spokesman, Jerrod Dobkin. [Pols emphasis]
At the moment, Gardner is apparently trying to remain loyal to both Team Trump and Team Bolton, which is as impossible as it sounds. Sticking with our Super Bowl metaphors, this is like saying that you want both Kansas City and San Francisco to win the big game on Sunday.
If the Senate does agree to call witnesses and Bolton says what everyone seems to think he will say, then Gardner will either need to impugn Bolton’s credibility or vote to impeach his good buddy President Trump. Neither are good options for the most endangered Republican incumbent Senator in America in 2020.
It turns out that Gardner’s strategy of avoiding questions and running away from reporters actually made things worse for the Yuma Republican, who is now a national punchline as a Trump toadie. If he had shown some inkling of a spine in the last couple of months, Gardner might have been able to find a more acceptable place in which to stand. Alas, Gardner has well and truly painted himself into an (elevator) corner.
Indeed we do, Senator.