A push by House Democrats to impeach President Donald Trump by Christmas reflects urgent political pressures but also a deeper driving force: a belief that they have got the impeachment goods on him.
It makes sense for Democrats to seize the moment as the attention of the nation is focused on impeachment, as a torrent of evidence runs in their favor and as flailing Republicans struggle to settle on a coherent defense of the President.
Polls showing a modest spike in the number of Americans in favor of impeaching and removing Trump are another argument for a swift process before the public tires of the whole thing. Speed could help Democrats fashion a concise but direct argument that Trump abused his power by using his authority to set foreign policy in order to demand political favors of a vulnerable government in Ukraine.
All that explains why when former national security adviser John Bolton refused to testify before impeachment investigators Thursday, they declined to issue a subpoena even though he is considered an insider witness with a colorful story to tell.
The inquiry has acquired its own natural momentum. Hundreds of pages of witness testimony appear to bolster the Democratic case that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
In new testimony released Thursday, for instance, senior State Department official George Kent accused Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — who ran an expansive back-door diplomatic track to Ukraine — of promoting a “campaign of lies.”
“I do not believe the US should ask other countries to engage in politically associated investigations and prosecutions,” Kent said, according to the transcript of his deposition.
Waiting longer for testimony from the likes of Bolton might bolster their wider argument and bring crucial new details — but it also may drain more political momentum than it’s worth.
A chance for Republicans to steal the initiative
But it also gives the President’s Republican allies the chance to cause havoc in the hearings, to attack and seek to discredit witnesses, and to stage the kind of procedural brouhahas that may give watching Americans the impression that Congress is just up to its normal partisan tricks.
The President is complaining that he is being treated unfairly, for instance in a tweet on Thursday.
Trump calls the call with Zelensky “perfect” even though it appears to include clear evidence of pressure on Ukraine and at the very least an implied quid pro quo.
Taking up a similar line, Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday, “The American people have the transcript of the President’s call and they can see there was no quid pro quo. The President did nothing wrong.”
Another Republican, Sen. John Kennedy, resorted to personal abuse, blasting Pelosi as “dumb” at a rally in his home state of Louisiana on Wednesday night.
The fact that Republicans are preferring not to address the substance of the case against Trump must be encouraging to Democrats.