President Trump is a boss-level troller on Twitter, we all know that. What’s less obvious is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is equally boss level at trolling Trump.
The latest example came Sunday, when Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded to Republicans’ complaints about due process for Trump in the House impeachment inquiry. In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pelosi said: “The president could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants if he wants (under oath) … or he could do it in writing. He has every opportunity to present his case.”
Notably, Pelosi ignored interviewer Margaret Brennan’s skepticism — “You don’t expect him to do that?” Brennan interjected in the middle of Pelosi’s answer. Because Democrats would love to have Trump submit testimony under oath, even though it would be a really, really bad idea for this truth-impaired president to do so.
Sure enough, Trump took the bait on Twitter in a pair of tweets Monday:
“Our Crazy, Do Nothing (where’s USMCA, infrastructure, lower drug pricing & much more?) Speaker of the House, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, who is petrified by her Radical Left knowing she will soon be gone (they & Fake News Media are her BOSS), suggested on Sunday’s DEFACE THE NATION … .
… .that I testify about the phony Impeachment Witch Hunt. She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!”
Let’s stipulate two things here: It would be a great thing if Trump testified, and the chances he will do so approximate zero. First off, his lawyers won’t let him, especially now that the Roger Stone trial produced evidence that Trump may have lied in his evasive written answers to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III about his contacts with Stone. He is simply incapable of keeping his story straight, and his penchant for lying would put him at real risk of generating another article of impeachment with his testimony.
Second, putting Trump on the record in the House will crimp the ongoing efforts by his defenders there. As it is, congressional Republicans can throw up a shifting array of arguments to rebut or explain away the steadily accumulating mass of evidence that Trump leaned on Ukraine to conduct investigations that would help Trump politically. If Trump appears (in person or in writing), that speculation and rationalization will be supplanted by the president’s own words. And remember, it’s the president’s words (or a reconstructed version thereof) in that July 25 phone call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that got Trump in trouble in the first place.
Third, if Trump agrees to testify, he’ll face all sorts of problematic (for him) questions about hush-money payments, Moscow real-estate projects, Russian meddling in the 2016 election, efforts to fire Mueller and other topics that are, at best, tangentially related to Ukraine but intimately tied to the impeachment effort. Even if he sought to limit the testimony to his Ukraine policy, that still brings Russian meddling into the picture.
So don’t hold your breath for Trump to submit to the House Democrats’ questioning. But just by responding to Pelosi, Trump has opened himself up to another criticism. If the president thinks it’s a fine idea for him to testify, why isn’t it a fine idea for the aides whose testimony Trump is blocking?
The most hypocritical complaint from Republicans about this whole process is that we’re not hearing from witnesses with firsthand knowledge (a complaint they make even as they agitate to hear from the whistleblower, whose testimony would be all hearsay). But we’re not hearing from the likes of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who put the aid to Ukraine on hold supposedly on Trump’s orders, or from former national security adviser John Bolton, who pushed back against that delay, because the president won’t let them testify.
If this really is one big hoax, as Trump contends, Republicans ought to be agitating for Trump to drop the claims of testimonial immunity for top administration officials and let them testify. If GOP lawmakers are right about the nothingburgerness of the Democrats’ case, they should be eager to hear Mulvaney et al. expose it as a sham.
Then again, don’t hold your breath for that either.
Jon Healey is the Los Angeles Times’ deputy editorial page editor.