There is the creepy feeling in some quarters that had it not been for the riveting testimony of John Dean, Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel during the Watergate Scandal, the former President would never have resigned and would have manoeuvred to complete his term in office.
“I don’t know if a tape exists. But if it does exist… I think this committee should have that tape because it would corroborate many of the things this Committee has asked me,” Dean told Senate Select Committee holding the Impeachment proceedings against Nixon. The fact of the matter is that Dean knew nothing of a taping system.
But his loud thinking turned out to be the bombshell that brought Nixon down. Senate investigators asked Alexander Butterfield, a Presidential aide, whether there were any tapes. “I am sorry you asked. But yes, there was a taping system that taped all Presidential conversations,” Butterfield replied.
That was enough to bring the roof down! It was soon learnt that Nixon had taped conversations in the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, his office at the Executive Office Building, Lincoln Sitting Room and at Camp David.
In the present context of Trump’s impeachment process, it must have been music to Democrats’ ear to find out that former National Security Advisor John Bolton saying that he is willing to speak at the hearings in the Senate. All along Bolton has been playing by the White House rule book and refusing to testify at the House Impeachment proceedings, making the point that only a court order can make him come to Capitol Hill.
Bolton disagreed with President Trump on many issues including on Iran and North Korea, but he has always been one figure of high importance to the Democrats: he was seen as close to the President being the NSA; his conservative credentials are impeccable, and the extreme right-wing cannot brush him off as an ideologue belonging to the “deep state.”
More than anything there is the conviction in many quarters that Bolton objected to pressuring Ukraine on the Biden investigations and to withhold military assistance. In addition to Bolton, Democrats are also looking at the Acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney and possibly officials from the Budget Office as potential witnesses at the Senate trial.
It is difficult to imagine what Bolton will say if he is asked to appear before the Senate impeachment trial process. Some conservatives will maintain that it is unlikely that Bolton will throw the President under the bus and come away unscathed. But if he indeed has a compelling story that runs counter to what the President and his close aides have been maintaining all along, then there is no telling how the tides will swing in the Senate.
As it is, there is the feeling that given the majority in the Senate and in that it takes 67 votes to throw a President out, Republicans are sitting pretty easy as 20 of them would have to cross over to Democrats for a conviction in the Senate to be a reality. Publicly at least not a single Republican Senator has stepped forward and said that he/she would be voting for the impeachment of the President — this is not out of any great love or admiration for Trump but in a fear of political and electoral retribution.
The Republicans and the White House are angry and frustrated at the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for holding on to the two articles of Impeachment and not transmitting them to the Senate so that the trial could begin. The reason why Pelosi is on a holding mode is out of perception and apprehension that the process in the Senate is going to be a sham and a mockery.
If all Senators at the start of the trial will have to take an oath of impartiality, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is on record saying that he is closely coordinating with the White House thereby infuriating Democrats. Further, McConnell has said that the issue of calling witnesses will only be decided after the first phase — arguments from the prosecution, defence and submission of written questions from both party Senators thereby emphatically ruling out the issue of calling witnesses not before the trial starts.
The Clinton Model as cited by Senator McConnell is not acceptable to Democrats who are demanding a single resolution that will not only set the framework for the process but also calling for witnesses.
The euphoria over the possibility of Bolton appearing before Senators must also be tempered with the numbers issue surrounding calling witnesses. Here a simple majority of Senators, 51, is enough to summon anyone. Here again, Democrats fall short as it would require four Republican lawmakers in the Senate to switch sides.
And it is left to see if the so-called centrists, those in re-election trouble and legacy seekers in the Grand Old Party will abandon Trump. Some in the American media are pointing to four, if not six, GOP Senators have been placed in the “closely watched” category that may provide relief to Democrats, at least in the call for fresh witnesses.
John Dean has nothing to do with the Trump White House or the administration but still the memory of him bringing down a Presidency — unintentionally — is there in the minds of many who were a part of the process nearly five decades ago. The octogenarian not too long said that Democrats have not discussed ten instances of obstruction of justice from the Mueller Report pertaining to President Trump.
“I think this President probably should have been impeached the day he walked in. He’s incompetent. He has a terrible attitude. He does not understand government. He is in there trying to build his own brand, and he’s taking advantage of office from day one. It’s just kind of caught up with him with this incident,” Dean said referring to the Ukraine issue.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.)