A focus by House impeachment managers on debunking the Ukraine conspiracy theories President Trump has pushed collided this week with a growing push by Senate Republicans to call witnesses like Joe Biden, ostensibly to litigate those very theories.
A spotlight on the former vice president and 2020 contender is precisely what Trump wanted when he pressured the Ukrainian government to announce investigations into the Bidens — the very alleged abuse of power that lead to Trump’s impeachment.
House Democrats have made a significant part of their case explaining why Trump’s Biden obsession was motivated by electoral concerns — and Republicans have taken the opportunity to argue that calling Joe and Hunter Biden as witnesses is now fair game.
“If we’re going to call witnesses, I think it’s now clear we absolutely must call Hunter Biden, and we probably need to call Joe Biden,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told reporters Thursday.
“I think they’ve raised the issue, frankly, to a higher level than it was intended to be, than it would have been, probably, going into this,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) told reporters Wednesday.
When TPM asked why it took Republicans years to question Biden’s supposed corruption in Ukraine, if it was so obviously troubling years ago, Cramer pointed to the new leadership in Ukraine.
“A couple of years ago, we didn’t have a new president of Ukraine that ran on an anti-corruption platform,” he said. “So now there’s perhaps an opportunity that there wasn’t prior to that election.”
Whether the Biden angle becomes part of the Senate trial, Cramer said, “remains to be seen. But I was a little bit surprised at how much attention it got from the managers today. It’s not necessary to acquit the President, but it may help exonerate him.”
Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow played coy Wednesday when reporters brought up Republicans’ interest in hearing from the Bidens. The President’s legal team, he said, would wait to see the full House case before settling on its response.
Some Democrats have reportedly floated having Joe or Hunter Biden testify in exchange for the testimony of key Trump administration witnesses. Joe Biden, for his part, has said he’d refuse to be a party to such a trade. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pushed back on the plan on Thursday, as have the House managers themselves.
Republicans, nonetheless, have argued that House managers’ own trial strategy makes the Bidens relevant. “It begs questions like, does that mean the Bidens are completely off limits, to where you couldn’t even touch it?” Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) said Thursday.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said the managers made a “very serious strategic error” by involving the Bidens.
“It is directly relevant, I got to say, the need for the Senate to hear the testimony of Hunter Biden,” Cruz said, adding: “The House Democrats have now made Hunter Biden central to the question of the President’s interests.”