Looks like Pam Bondi made one convert. As the question of witnesses continues to percolate in the Senate Republican caucus, centrist Democrat Joe Manchin continues to believe that the trial should include testimony from all “relevant” witnesses. And when Manchin says “all,” he really means “all,” to the apparent surprise of Morning Joe’s Willie Geist on MSNBC.
When asked about the John Bolton-for-Hunter Biden swap, Manchin tells Geist he’s in favor of it because he “really” thinks Biden is a “relevant witness.” Watch Geist’s reaction to that answer:
.@WillieGeist asks @Sen_JoeManchin if Hunter Biden is a ‘relevant witness.’ Sen. Manchin responds: “I think so; I really do.” pic.twitter.com/ZESiUMWTWc
— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) January 29, 2020
The clip is rather short, so let’s include the transcript of the overall conversation for better context. Geist sets up this choice by calling it a “sucker’s deal,” and points out that Schiff calls it a “fantasy football draft.” Geist doesn’t offer any arguments in favor of calling Hunter Biden despite Bondi’s rather compelling argument on Monday that the Trump administration had ample reason to suspect Hunter got that job to influence then-VP Joe Biden and that it worked. That’s probably why Geist offered a puzzled reaction when Manchin essentially ignored Geist’s set-up:
GEIST: So, what’s your view Senator of the idea that’s been floated out there in some circles in the Senate by republicans of a one for one trade for witnesses? A lot of democrats say that’s a sucker’s deal. In other words, we’ll give you John Bolton if we get Hunter Biden. Democrats would say Hunter Biden’s not a relevant witness here. I think Adam Schiff said this is not a fantasy football draft, we’re not going back and forth with witnesses. We want to talk to relevant witnesses. Would you be open to that one for one kind of deal?
MANCHIN: Let me just say Willie that I believe – you know, I’ve never been a juror. I’ve never been on jury duty, never been called in my life on juror duty. And all of a sudden I’m sitting in the most prestigious juror in the world. And on that I said, well someone’s got to be a referee here. So, there’s only one person, I definitely think there has to be witnesses. Now, who those witnesses are I would say had to be pertinent to the charges brought against the president.
MANCHIN: Anybody that has pertinent information has to be considered as a witness. And if it gets out of hand who’s calling what, who’s playing politics, who’s doing it constitutionally, then there has to be somebody. There’s only one John Roberts, the Chief Justice, and they voted that down. We should vote again if we come to an impasse because they want to play political games and they’re not looking at what’s relevant to the case. But you know Willie, I think someone has to ask the question. Is this a constitutional trial or a political trial?
GEIST: Is Hunter Biden a relevant witness, Senator?
MANCHIN: You know, I think so, I really do. I don’t have a problem there because this is why we are where we are. Now, I think that he can clear himself of what I know and what I’ve heard. But being afraid to put anybody that might have pertinent information is wrong no matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. And not go home and say, well I protected one who was afraid. No, if it’s relevant then it should be there.
Just having Manchin admit that Hunter’s relevant to this question is a dangerous step for Democrats. Bondi’s argument laid out facts about Burisma and the benefit Mykola Zlochevsky got from Viktor Shokin’s firing that may have been public before then but certainly didn’t get much attention. Joe Biden’s demand for Shokin’s firing wasn’t necessarily a step forward for clean government in Ukraine, and the question is whether Biden and the Obama administration were just clueless about that or whether Biden took action to keep his son’s salary intact.
Perhaps Hunter can “clear himself,” as Manchin suggests, but do Senate Democrats want to roll those dice? Especially facing Trump’s attorneys under oath? That may be a “sucker’s deal,” but not in the way Geist thinks — and it might be Manchin’s way of pushing this toward a quicker conclusion.