Throughout the House impeachment inquiry, Democrats refused to consider the possibility of calling Hunter Biden or his father, the former vice-president, to testify. “This inquiry is not and will not serve as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit,” Adam Schiff wrote in response to Republican requests for Hunter Biden to appear before the House Intelligence Committee.
That calculus may change over in the Senate, where, on day one of President Trump’s impeachment trial, the majority party has denied all Democratic attempts to get witnesses on the schedule. According to the Washington Post, some Democratic senators and their staff are considering whether or not to propose a witness deal that would ensure the testimony of John Bolton and other White House officials with firsthand exposure to the Ukraine scandal in exchange for the testimony of Hunter Biden, or potentially even his father. To borrow the imperfect, but frequent, comparison to a criminal trial, Democrats want Bolton as a possible witness to the abuse of power, while Republicans want the former national security adviser off the docket, in the same way a defense might want to limit the number of eye-witnesses to a crime.
According to the Post, Democrats pushing the testimony swap believe it would not only guarantee Bolton’s account, but that it may also “backfire on Trump and the GOP, giving Biden and the party a platform to strike back and paint Republicans and the White House as obsessed with trying to damage one of Trump’s 2020 presidential rivals.” It could easily go the other way as well, providing Trump’s defense team the opportunity to distract from the evidence of the president’s abuse of power and focus on arguments irrelevant to impeachment — a strategy they were more than willing to employ on day one. If Joe Biden testifies and his performance is less than stellar, it could hurt Democrats in the Senate chamber, and on the campaign trail.
Though senators on both sides have expressed support for the plan — Sherrod Brown said he’d be “fine” with Hunter Biden testimony, while Ted Cruz first proposed the idea publicly — getting the primary front-runner onboard would be a whole different matter. A source close to the campaign told the Post that the former veep did not want to engage with “a stupid Republican talking point.” A Biden campaign aide added that Hunter Biden’s employment in Ukraine has been publicly known for almost six years, and that the “GOP didn’t say a word about any of this until now, half a decade later,” as his father is running against Trump’s reelection.