Exactly how President Trump’s impeachment trial will be conducted in the Senate remained unclear Wednesday night, with the biggest question mark hanging over whether or not additional witnesses will be called for testimony.
But as senators debate hypothetical witnesses, one individual pushed exclusively by Trump’s closest allies doesn’t seem to generating consensus among the soon-to-be jurors of the president’s own party: Hunter Biden.
Several influential Senate Republicans who spoke to The Daily Beast on Wednesday did not appear to have strong feelings about hearing from Vice President Joe Biden’s son on his employment on the board of Burisma, the energy company that Trump and his associates pressured Ukraine to investigate.
Still, Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma in 2015 and 2016 has been top of mind for a Trump-backing circle of Republicans since the impeachment inquiry began.
This week, reported Politico, Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have approached Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a proposal of “reciprocity:” If the Democrats want to hear from former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Republicans should hear from Biden.
Left unmentioned was the fact that Bolton, in a Jan. 6 post on his website, volunteered to testify if Senate Republicans issued him a subpoena. Hunter Biden, meanwhile, admitted in an interview with ABC News that he likely got the job on the company’s board because of his last name, but denied any wrongdoing.
As the trial is set to kick off, raising the prospect of a Hunter Biden appearance might be less of a reflection of genuine desire among Republicans to hear his testimony—and more reflective of a desire to put the screws to Democrats and accommodate a president who may want to push for such testimony later on.
One GOP lawmaker, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, suggested that Biden’s testimony would not help senators resolve the primary question raised by the trial. “I suffer from a legal education and about 20 years’ experience as a lawyer and a judge. I view it through that frame,” he said. “This is about who has material evidence on a disputed question of fact that is charged by the articles of impeachment. To me, that’s the way I approach that.”
“I’m not saying it wouldn’t be interesting,” Cornyn continued. “I’m not saying he won’t be called as a witness, but if he is called as a witness—I mean Bolton, for example, is called witness—I agree with Sen. Cruz and others who said they should be done in pairs, or in other words there needs to be witnesses called by both sides.”
When asked if he felt Republicans needed to hear from Biden during the trial, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri paused for a moment before answering that he’d consider it if Trump’s team felt that way.
“I think the president deserves the right to present his case, have his case presented,” said Blunt. “And if that includes an argument that hearing what was happening in 2016 is part of that argument, we should listen to why they would think that.”
Another, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, spoke about Biden’s testimony only in the context of Democrats’ strategy in proposing witnesses, hewing closely to the strategy Cruz laid out to McConnell.
“If we’re going to have witnesses,” said Lankford, “we should be able to have both sides to be able to have witnesses.”
Though the ground rules for the trial have yet to be released, it is expected that the rules will provide a vote on whether or not to call additional witnesses. Individual witnesses would then be subjected to up-or-down votes requiring a majority of the chamber supporting bringing someone like Bolton or Biden to the stand.
The idea that Biden should testify has animated the GOP’s defense of Trump since the impeachment process began, because it supposedly justifies the president’s deep-seated conviction that Ukraine was corrupt and the way he acted on that conviction by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Politically, the concept is a winner for Trump’s defenders, taking attention and airtime away from the issue of the president’s own conduct and placing scrutiny on a would-be Democratic foe of the president.
House Republicans fully embraced this during the impeachment inquiry, formally requesting that Democrats call Biden as a witness in their inquiry. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) denied that request, saying Biden was not relevant to the questions at hand.
Though he is not, some of Trump’s closest Senate allies are more eager to lean on him—if only to apparently complicate Democrats’ decision-making.
“My colleagues can’t have it both ways,” tweeted Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. “Calling for some, while blocking others. If we are going to give a platform to witnesses the Dems demand, I look forward to forcing votes to call Hunter Biden and many more!”