It's over. 134 days after Nancy Pelosi announced the opening of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the Senate voted today to acquit the president on both articles of impeachment. He was found not guilty on article one, abuse of power, 52 to 48 and on article two, obstruction of Congress, 53 to 47. The vote, which concluded only the third impeachment trial in the history of the United States, was not just historic for that reason: it was the first time that a president received a vote to convict from a member of his own party. That's right: even though it failed, the vote to remove the President of the United States from office was bipartisan, on one article. "Even a single vote by a single member, can change the course of history," lead House manager Adam Schiff said in his closing statements on Monday. He then asked, "is there one among you, who will say, 'Enough'?" It turns out, there was. (Source: Washington Post)
That one senator was Utah Republican and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. "The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust," Romney said in announcing his vote. "What he did was not 'perfect.' No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values." Romney split his vote—he voted not guilty on article two, though he didn't address his reasoning in his floor speech. One thing he did address in his speech is the inevitable attacks he will get from the president and his own party (Don Jr has already called for Romney to be "expelled" from the party). The attacks, he said, will likely "be substantial, and I have to recognize that it was one or the other. One is to say, I don't want to face the blowback. But on the other side, there is: Do you do what you know is right?” Romney concluded, "Do what is right, let the consequence follow." (Source: Politico)
Of course, while the impeachment may have ended today (and these updates along with it), the repercussions of this impeachment process are going to be felt all the way to election day in November—and well past it as well. But there are some immediate ripples from the impeachment process that have actual dates(ish) already set. In roughly chronological order:
The DC Circuit Court of Appeals is set to drop a decision any day now on the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn. While the subpoena of McGahn predates impeachment—it dates to the Mueller investigation—the fight is around the claim by the White House that the executive branch enjoys "absolute immunity" from House oversight. That argument has failed every case leading to this appeal and factored deeply into the House's reasoning for the obstruction of Congress charge. If a decision drops in the next few days and it finds in favor of the House, the timing will be… something.
Next up will be what revelations may come from the release of former National Security Advisor John Bolton's tell-all book. Leaks from the book last week revealed that Bolton claims the president directly talked to him about the link between Ukrainian military aid and politically-motivated investigations. Those revelations almost forced the vote on witnesses and documents in the trial to pass, until the president's defense succeeded in making the out there argument that anything the president does, even if it's shady, can be considered in the public interest and thusly wasn't impeachable. Stares. Bolton's book will be released March 17, barring the possibility that it is blocked by the White House.
Hey, remember that McGahn decision from two bullet points ago? Well, that's not the only case making its way through the courts testing the president's claim of "absolute immunity." In fact, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in three cases this spring where "absolute immunity" is at the center of the president's defense. All the cases are for subpoenas of the president's tax and financial records and were filed by both the House of Representatives and the Manhattan District Attorney. While the Supreme Court will hear arguments this spring, they won't issue a decision until the end of June. A decision in the White House's favor would potentially be devastating for the oversight role of the legislative branch of government.
Lastly (and honestly, I'm probably forgetting a few), the trial of Rudy Giuliani's weird goon associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman will start on October 5. Lev and Igor were arrested on October 10—at Dulles Airport with one-way tickets out of the country—on charges that the two "sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official—a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the US ambassador to Ukraine." Since the arrest, Parnas has cooperated with the impeachment investigation, and documents he provided were incorporated into the House's case against the president.
If you would like your brain to explode just a little bit more, keep in mind that all these dates overlay the entire presidential election season, from the primaries underway now, to the party conventions this summer, to the general election this fall. So that will be… fun? No, no that's not the word. Starts with the same letter though.
Finally, today marks the end of updates on impeachment.fyi. At least until the next impeachment and, since I heard repeatedly during the president's defense that we're living through the "era of impeachment," maybe that will be sooner rather than later. But, personally, I doubt it. I don't think there's the stomach for it, even if there's the evidence. But who knows, I also wouldn't have thought two associates of Rudy Giuliani's would have been arrested at an airport with one-way tickets out of the country back when this started so who knows: Anything is possible. But, for me, I'm tapping out for now. A sincere thank you to everyone who read these updates. Things got a lot mushier in the newsletter. Loloolololol. I did this all for tips. Jesus.
Because of course it would all end this way, the night before the final vote in his impeachment trial, the president delivered his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. While he managed to not directly address impeachment or lose his temper during the speech—which was delivered to 230 House members who voted to impeach him and 49 Senators who voted for more witnesses in his trial—it was still a surreal sight after the long months of these proceedings. Everyone was there: All the House managers sat glumly together behind a gigantic table at the front, Chief Justice Roberts—ready to preside over the impeachment trial in the Senate again tomorrow—sat in the audience alongside other Supreme Court justices, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat prominently behind the President, side-eyeing her way through the speech. Really all it was missing was Rudy and Lev working some grift the viewing gallery. It was like watching a nightmare version of a Wes Andersen film where all the characters are assembled at the end for one last elaborate curtain call. If someone had played Faces "Oh La La" during it, it would have basically been perfect. I mean, not perfect. But it would have been fitting. "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger" indeed. (Source: New York Times)
Prior to the State of the Union, today Senators continued the long, slow grind to tomorrow's final impeachment vote with another day of 10 minute floor speeches. While there have been elements throughout the last—checks calendar—four months (oh god) that have felt looping and repetitive, nothing has felt quite like this. Imagine the same argument for removing the president from office followed by the same argument for why he did nothing wrong, on repeat forever. You get the idea. Anyway, in and among the repetition there were a few moments worth mentioning.
Senator Rand Paul, who twice had his question refused during the trial by Chief Justice Roberts because it named the whistleblower, did exactly what you probably expected he would do during his 10 minutes: he named the whistleblower by reading his question on the Senate floor. "They made a big mistake not allowing my question," Paul said. "My question did not talk about anybody who is a whistleblower, my question did not accuse anybody of being whistleblower, it did not make a statement believing that someone was a whistleblower. I simply named two people's names because I think it's very important to know what happened." Sure Rand. Just how much did he not name the whistleblower? Well not only did he name the potential whistleblower in the question, he also had their name on a giant poster next to him which reproduced his question in its entirety. Look, I have written 88 of these updates without swearing even once but there's only one left so: Rand Paul is an asshole. (Source: Politico)
Speaking of, Maine Republican Susan Collins—one of only two Republicans to vote in favor of new witnesses in the trial—revealed how she would vote today. If anyone was expecting a repeat performance of the witness vote, well, it didn't happen. While she admitted that "it was wrong" for Trump to ask Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, "I do not believe that the House has met its burden in showing that the president's conduct, however flawed, warrants the extreme step of removal from office," she explained. Collins was later interviewed by CBS news where she said she believed that "the president has learned from this case." What might he have learned, do you think? Well, Collins continued, "the president has been impeached. That's a pretty big lesson." If that maybe sounds a little, uh, iffy, Collins concluded "he will be much more cautious in the future." Stares. (Source: CBS News)
Just how much has Donald Trump learned his lesson do you think? Well, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was on NPR today explaining that "Absolutely, 100%" the president should pick right up where he left off in investigating Joe Biden. "I would have no problem with him doing it. In fact, I'd have a problem with him not doing it. I think he would be saying that Joe Biden can get away with selling out the United States, making us a fool in the Ukraine." If you have any wonder if all of this will end after this vote, Rudy should clear that right up for you. Of course, Biden's meager performance in the delayed Iowa caucus results may put an end to the investigations more effectively than impeachment did. But what do I know, I'm just some guy. (Source: NPR)
The impeachment trial of the President of the United States reached its final phase today, as closing arguments were given by both the House managers and the president's defense. Immediately after the closing arguments, the trial was recessed until Wednesday at 4pm when the final votes for conviction or acquittal on the two articles of impeachment will be held. In making their closing arguments, the two legal teams made their final attempts to sway any undecided Senators.
For the president's defense, they stuck to the similar themes they've made throughout: the process wasn't fair, there's nothing impeachable in the president's actions, and even if there was, the election is the way to sort it out. After being absent for much of the defense stage of the trial and all of the Q&A phase, former Clinton impeachment special counsel Ken Starr made another appearance for the defense and referenced, of all people, Martin Luther King, saying "During his magnificent life, Dr. King spoke not only about freedom, freedom standing alone, he spoke frequently about freedom and justice"—you know what Ken, I'm going to stop you right there because, well, throws self into traffic. Anyway, Jay Sekulow, the president's personal attorney, wrapped things up by referencing the caucus happening tonight in Iowa, saying that "The answer is elections, not impeachment." (Source: New York Times)
For the House managers, today was their last chance to make a direct appeal to Senators to vote to convict the president. "Even at this late hour," Representative Hakeem Jeffries said during his closing speech, "the Senate can still do the right thing. America is watching. The world is watching. The eyes of history are watching. The Senate can still do the right thing." Which is true, but, screams. The final closing argument was made by Adam Schiff who pushed hard against the argument—made by both the president's defense and many Republicans—that saying the voters should decide is made more difficult by the fact that the president is trying to "cheat in our elections." It's a defense, Schiff said, that admits "he's guilty as sin, but why not let the voters clean up this mess." Ultimately, Schiff's closer was not to appeal to the voters, but to appeal to even one Republican Senator to vote to convict the president. "Even a single vote by a single member, can change the course of history," Schiff said. "It is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority. Is there one among you, who will say, 'Enough?'" (Source: Politico)
With closing arguments wrapped, the trial was announced in recess until Wednesday at four, when the final vote will be held. Between now and the vote, Senators have ten minutes each to make speeches explaining their votes which is, when you break it down across 100 Senators, a really long time. Full disclosure: I've sat through a lot in this process, but 1000 minutes of Senators giving speeches on entrenched positions is very low on my tolerance scale right now. That said every day between now and the vote there will be a handful of Senators whose positions are worth noting. Today we saw two of those.
Conservative Democrat Joe Manchin from West Virginia, used his speech time to make the case for censuring the president—basically an official reprimand for his actions. "Censure would allow this body to unite along party lines," Manchin said. "His behavior cannot go unchecked by the Senate." There are no indications that censure is actually on the table—if nothing else, you'd need a bunch of Republicans to admit that the president's actions weren't perfect. Manchin also said he had still not made up his mind on whether to convict or acquit. He is one of a handful of Democrats that Republicans are hoping will join the acquittal vote and the call for censure may be his way of setting up that vote. But, it's likely we won't know until Wedenesday. (Source: CNN)
One vote that we won't have to wait until Wednesday to find out is moderate Republican Lisa Murkowski from Alaska. Despite her vote on Friday to not call witnesses, there was still a (small) question on whether she would potentially vote to convict the president. Murkowski made quick work of that question tonight, saying from the Senate floor, "I cannot vote to convict." She then chastised the whole process as being partisan and flawed and that "few in this chamber approached this with a genuinely open mind." She called the president's behavior "shameful" but concluded that "the Constitution provides for impeachment but does not demand it in all instances." She didn't go on to say what instances it did, so shruggie guy emoji. (Source: Washington Post)
Meanwhile, because everything happens so much, tomorrow the president—the very same president whose impeachment trial is limping to a finish—will be delivering his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, meaning a room that will be over half filled with people who either voted to impeach him or will be voting to convict him. This won't be awkward or weird at all. Anyway, Republicans are really really hoping that the president leaves any attacks about impeachment out of his State of the Union speech. "We’re not done tomorrow and I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to bring it up," Oklahoma Senator James Lankford told Politico. "He is his own person, obviously he can bring up things as he chooses to ... but I’m not coming into that speech to be able to hear more about impeachment." Iowa Senator Joni Earnst echoed the sentimant saying, "There are a lot of really great things he should talk about—and stay away from maybe what the proceedings are." Don't hold your breath.(Source: Politico)
Finally, if you think that Wednesday's vote will bring this chapter of, well, whatever you want to call it, to an end you might want to look away here because Rudy Giuliani's goon associate Lev Parnas just had his trial date set and it's … a month before election day. No really. A US Federal judge today announced that the trial of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Rudy Giuliani's whose dealings in Ukraine have been all over this entire impeachment process, will start on October 5. According to Reuters, "a trial may last two to three weeks." The presidential election will be held on November 3. Somewhere in that window is when my heart actually explodes out of my chest. (Source: Reuters)
3 Weeks Ago
The vote to call new witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump failed this afternoon, 49-51. Even before the start of the trial in the Senate, Democrats have been looking for four Republicans to join 47 Democrats in voting for witnesses, in order to cross the 51 vote threshold. In the end, they fell two short, only being joined by Utah Republican Mitt Romney and Maine's Susan Collins. Last night, Lamar Alexander, another holdout, announced that he would vote no and, just prior to the trial starting today, the only other possible vote, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, announced that she too would vote against witnesses. The bid for witnesses was a huge part of the House manager's presentations over the last nine days of the trial, but despite making their case repeatedly, it fell just short. The trial, however, did not end with a vote to acquit the president today as had been anticipated. Instead it just… sorta ended. It was really weird.
The overall feel of the day was that of a whimper, not a bang. Prior to the witness vote, both the House managers and the president's defense had two hours each to make their case for and against witnesses. House managers tried to make the most of their time, offering arguments for why John Bolton should be called alongside White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and two officials from the White House Office of Management and Budget. Using about 90 minutes of their 120, their case ended with Adam Schiff making a plea that "a trial without witnesses is no trial at all." The president's defense didn't offer much, using mmmmmmaybe 30 minutes of their two hours to once again argue that nothing the president did was impeachable so why bother with witnesses which, screams. And then, after both sides made their arguments, things just sort of ground to a halt. One 15 minute break turned into an hour. A quorum call—basically a roll call—turned into another hour. And then the witness vote just sort of happened and then, immediately, the Senate recessed for… an unspecified amount of time. It was really, really weird.
So what happened? Apparently there were disagreements on how to actually end the trial between, as you might expect, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. But there were also intra-Republican disagreements as well, between Republican Senators that wanted to wrap the whole trial up tonight and those that wanted to get some speechifying done. At the end of the day, had McConnell had the votes to move forward with the acquittal tonight he would have. Instead, this is what things now look like, according to CNN:
There will be votes on a handful of Democratic amendments tonight. The expectation is that all of them will fail.
The Senate will then break over the weekend.
The House managers and president's defense will offer closing arguments on Monday.
Then the speeches start. Floor speeches will last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The final two votes in the impeachment trial, one for each article of impeachment, will be held on Wednesday. Every expectation is that the president will be acquitted.
Yes, Wednesday. In other words, the day after Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address with Nancy Pelosi seated behind him and a room full of Democratic House members and Senators that just voted against him. What could possibly go wrong?(Source: CNN)
Meanwhile even as the Senate voted to not allow witnesses, the lawyer for Lev Parnas, Rudy Giulianni's goon friend who was involved in a bunch of the weirder aspects of Trump's Ukrainian scheme, wrote a letter to Mitch McConnell begging McConnell to call Parnas as a witness. If called, the letter said, Parnas "would provide testimony based upon personal knowledge, corroborated by physical evidence including text messages, phone records, documentary evidence, and travel records, which is directly relevant to the president’s impeachment inquiry." Which is all information that maybe could have been more useful if offered up literally any day other than, I don't know, the day they decide against witnesses, just saying. (Source: NBC News)
Speaking of people with useless timing, even more information from the forthcoming book from John Bolton leaked today. The New York Times revealed that in Bolton's book he documents a conversation between himself and the president in May, where Trump instructed Bolton to call Ukrainian president Zelensky and arrange a meeting with Rudy Giuliani. Also present at that meeting? White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and, oh, White House counsel Pat Cipollone. Hey wait. You want to know something really spooky? The lead counsel for the president's defense this past week was also named Pat Cipollone. Wow, what are the odds that a guy with first-hand knowledge of the president's Ukrainian scheme would have the same name as his lead defense attorney. Wild. Since plenty more revelations from Bolton’s book are likely to drop between now and its publication day, it's worth noting once again that Bolton could have directly addressed any of these items that are leaking at literally any point in the last four months. So like, there are no heroes here. (Source: New York Times)
And finally, it was reported today that Marie Yovanovich, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, has retired from the State Department. Yovanovich was the focus of an extended "smear campaign" by Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, and Igor Fruman that ended with her having to flee Ukraine in May 2019. In opposition to all of the edgelords, grifters, and other shady characters that have emerged throughout this whole Ukrainian affair, Yovanovich seems to have been a genuinely dedicated person who was just trying to do her job. Her testimony to the House Intelligence committee last November was marked by a stunning moment when the president threatened her on Twitter as she was speaking and she was asked to respond under oath. In defending herself, she also defended the many people that dedicate their lives to diplomacy and foreign service. Yovanovich was a career foreign service officer for more than 30 years and absolutely deserved better than she got in this whole ordeal. She'll never get an apology from the president, but I for one am sorry. (Source: NPR)
180 questions later, two days of questions from Senators in the impeachment trial of the president has come to an end. Day two of the question and answer session wrapped just before 11pm Eastern after another almost-ten hour day that played out in 87 halting five-minute bursts. It was, in a word, exhausting. An exhausting day in an exhausting week in an exhausting process. But—after events that happened once the trial adjourned for the day—it is likely the penultimate day of the impeachment trial, so I guess there's rest soon. Yay?
Let's do the last part first: Right after the trial was gaveled out for the day, Senator Lamar Alexander—who along with Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski had been a group of holdout Republicans open to the idea of calling witnesses—issued a statement that "There is no need for more evidence," and as a result he would be voting no when the vote for subpoenaing additional witnesses happens, likely closing the Democrat's path to 51 votes in favor of witnesses. In his statement, Alexander affirmed the findings of the House, saying that "it was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation." But, he continued, "the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate." Which, well, screams into the void forever. (Source: Twitter)
Prior to Alexander's statement—which admittedly sucked all of the oxygen out of the room news-wise, and forced a full rewrite of this update at eleven at night—there was ten hours of Senators asking questions of both the House managers and the president's defense team. While many of the questions were rehashes of yesterday (either "yesterday you said X, could you just tell me X again" or "yesterday the other side said Y, why is Y bad?"), the session did offer both the House managers and the defense an opportunity to make their final points:
For the Democrats, today was about having one last chance to convince a handful of Republicans that calling witnesses in the trial of the President of the United States would be a good idea. To that end, lead manager Adam Schiff took one final gambit: "Let's do depositions for one week," he offered. That's how the Clinton impeachment worked, he explained, so "let's take a week to get a fair trial. Is that too much to ask in the name of fairness?" Unfortunately, we likely know that answer.
For the President's defense, today was about driving home their argument that, well, resistance is futile. In answering Senator Lindsay Graham's hypothetical question about testimony by John Bolton, deputy council to the president Patrick Philbin flat out said that even if everything that Bolton alleges in his leaked manuscript is true—and remember, what Bolton alleges is that the president told him directly that Ukrainian military aid was on hold until Ukraine announced investigations into Joe Biden—that it was not "an impeachable offense under the constitutional standard." I. Am. Dead. Inside..
On a, uh, lighter (?) note the day opened with Rand Paul once again being a raging—I don't swear in this newsletter—and attempting, just as he did yesterday, to ask a question that named the whistleblower. After receiving the question from a page, Chief Justice John Roberts read it, paused, and then announced "the presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted." Later in the day, Paul held a news conference where he read his own question aloud because he is Rand Paul, the only sitting Senator to wind up in the hospital after getting in a fight with a neighbor about lawn care. Look, it's late. (Source: Politico)
With the questioning over and with Lamar Alexander's announcement late tonight, there are still three Republicans that have currently signaled they may call for witnesses (obviously, we won't know a final vote until it's, well, final): Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski. Of the three, only Murkowski has not announced a final decision (the other two are yes on witnesses) but if they were all to vote for witnesses alongside 47 Democrats, then the final vote would be 50 Senators for calling witnesses and 50 voting against. A tie. What happens then? Well, either Chief Justice John Roberts breaks the tie or he doesn't, there is no standard. So, if you would like everything to come to a head in the most dramatic way possible tomorrow, there it is. Sobs. (Source: CNN)
About tomorrow. Friday, January 31, at the very least, will be the day that the Senate votes on whether or not to allow witnesses in the trial of the president. Never in history has there been an impeachment trial with no witnesses called, but that looks like the likely outcome at least at the time of this writing. Assuming the vote for witnesses fails—and hang on to your butts here—there's a good chance that the vote for acquittal will also happen tomorrow. Yes, you read that correctly: there is a non-zero chance that this will all be over tomorrow. And, well, if not tomorrow, Saturday. That's so super soon, right? All that said, tomorrow will likely be bonkers and also may take a very long time. Here's the basic deal:
The trial will be gaveled in at 1pm Eastern, at which point four hours of debate on witnesses will begin.
Once that debate ends, likely around 5pm Eastern, a vote will be held on whether to proceed with witnesses.
Assuming that vote fails (again, not over 'til its over), a motion for closing arguments will be made.
Now this is where it could get long, because a motion is amendable and, well, expect Chuck Schumer to add a ton of amendments with the intention of pushing the final vote as late as possible.
At some point, likely very late at night or possibly mid-day on Saturday, a vote will be held to acquit the president. It will pass. Please remember that that vote was never in question, as the rules of impeachment require 2/3 of the Senate to vote to remove the president, a bar that has never been reached. Anyway, this one's ending on a real bummer so how about, uh, wheeeeeeeeeeee. Fart sound.
The first day of questions from Senators ended today after 93 questions—which honestly explains why my head feels the way it does right now—and about 10 hours (eight of which were dedicated to the Q&A).Ouch. For a process that moved through questions with remarkable efficiency—eight hours divided into five-minute increments would give you 96—the most fitting description I have for it is "halting." Each senator would verbally ask to submit a question, followed by a period of complete silence as the question was walked up by a page, then Chief Justice John Roberts would read the question to himself and, finally, read it out loud, only after which the five-minute answer would begin. Rinse, repeat 93 times. It was a lot. And it's happening again tomorrow. Lololololol, sobs.
The full force of the day was that of a back and forth (and back and forth) of questions alternating between Democrats and Republicans. Most were either alley-oops to their respective teams (Democrats asking the House managers easy questions and Republicans doing the same to the White House counsel) or were gotchas headed the opposite direction (like Ted Cruz asking Adam Schiff if he'd still have impeached if it was Barack Obama asking Ukraine to investigate Mitt Romney's son which was actually a question that was asked my god). Anyway, with 93 questions, there is no humanly possible way I'm stepping through everything, so here's a broad look at some of the main points asserted by both sides throughout the lengthy day:
For the Democratic House managers, today was clearly an opportunity for them to seize on the misgivings that had emerged following the various John Bolton leaks throughout the week. In Bolton, they found what they think is a wedge with which to drive a witness vote through, which they called for in many ways:
Since the passage of the articles of impeachment, lead manager Adam Schiff said, "every day there is new information coming to light." That won't stop, Schiff argued, and so if you do nothing now, in March when Bolton's book comes out, or when a new story about what happened in Ukraine breaks, "ask yourself why you didn't want to know that when it came time to make a decision."
Witnesses isn't just about what might happen in the future but also about historical precedent. House manager Hakeem Jefferies reminded Senators that "In every single [impeachment] trial there have been witnesses." And why, he continued, "should this president be held to a lower standard, at this moment of presidential accountability." It's not a bad question.
Finally, as a counter to a repeated refrain by the president's defense that calling witnesses would mean a never-ending trial, Schiff pledged not to take witness fights to court because "we have a perfectly good Chief Justice sitting right behind me who can make this decision in real time."
For the President's defense team, today was about moving the goalposts completely past "the president didn't do anything wrong" and straight to, basically, full nihilism:
Criminal defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz offered a jaw-dropping argument which I'm just going to quote here verbatim: "Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest, and if a president does something that helps him get elected in the public interest, that can not be the kind of quid-pro-quo that results in impeachment." You read that right: If a president believes it benefits the public that he gets elected, then cheating to get elected is OK. Help. Me.
Deputy counsel to the president Patrick Philbin took at look at the facts surrounding the president's request for political favors from Ukraine and argued that getting "mere information" from foreign actors on someone's political opponents is not a violation of campaign finance law or election interference. Which, uh, screams.
And finally, Jay Sekulow, the president's personal lawyer, brought the doom when warning Senators that a vote for witnesses would mean a trial that would make this week "the first of many weeks." The trial would go on "a long time" he argued, possibly "months" as he painted a dire picture of the Senate's work grinding to a halt. Of course there have been impeachment trials in the Senate before and this describes none of them but hey, I'm no lawyer.
Probably the biggest question of the day was not what was asked, but who would do the asking. With the fate of witnesses hanging in the votes of a few Republican Senators, would the three Republicans—Romney, Collins, and Murkowski—who have been most watched this week make their presence known in this process? The answer didn't take long, as the very first question of the day was asked by Maine's Susan Collins on behalf of herself, Mitt Romney, and Lisa Murkowski. At least they know how to make an entrace. Their question? How should Senators think about the articles if they think there may be more than one motive to the president's actions. As you might expect, the president's lawyers said that you can't remove a president for being motivated by personal interest as long as there was also public interest involved (their first take on this question, reflected here, didn't go full Dershowitz), while the House managers argued that you absolutely had to remove a president if there was personal interest involved. So I'm sure that cleared things up for those three, right? (Source: New York Times)
Another big question was one that was not asked, as Chief Justice John Roberts refused to ask a question from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul because he full-on named the whistleblower in his question. According to Politico, Roberts had warned Republicans yesterday that he wouldn't allow the whistleblower's name in any questions. But, you know, Rand Paul is going to Rand Paul I guess. Think he learned his lesson? "It’s still an ongoing process, it may happen tomorrow," he told reporters. Great. (Source: Politico)
Finally, what today (and—oh god—tomorrow too) was about was attempting to swing a handful of Republican Senators either toward or away from calling witnesses, John Bolton most specifically thanks to the steady leaks of details from his book which comes out in mid-March. That is, it was coming out in mid-March but today the White House issued a letter to Bolton's lawyer saying that "The manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed" because it contains what the White House claims is top secret information. What an incredible coincidence that his book would fail a security review this very week. Man, what are the odds. I am sure this is not an end to this manuscript story. (Source: CNN)
The president's legal team wrapped their defense today with a brief set of closing arguments that clocked in at under two hours and included a 15 minute break. Between Saturday's "coming attractions," yesterday's full day, and whatever you would call this, the president's defense used just about half of the allotted 24 hours available to them to make their case, a stark contrast from the 22 used by the House managers during their three days last week. With opening statements from both sides now complete, the trial moves to its next phase—more on that in a second.
The main thrust of today's closing arguments was to diminish the charges against the president. "Impeachment based on what's in the president's mind is not a standard at all," deputy counsel to the president Patrick Philbin argued at the start of the short session. Jay Sekulow, the president's personal lawyer, picked up that thread and ran with it: "there is no violation of law, there is no violation of the constitution, there is a disagreement on policy decisions." Was the Senate really going to remove the president, he argued "for asking a question." Which, well, uh, what if that question was "Who wants to do some murders?" Or "Anyone up for criming?" Or "I want you to do us a favor though," and then asking for, I dunno, a foreign government to investigate political rivals? What about then?(Source: NPR)
The other purpose of today's arguments was to tamp down growing concern among Republicans following the leaks from former National Security Advisor John Bolton's forthcoming book, which allege that Bolton spoke to the president directly about the linkage between withheld Ukrainian aid and investigating Joe Biden which, if true, would deeply undercut the defense the president's team put forward these last three days. According to Sekulow, there was "nothing" in the Bolton manuscript that, "even if true," could "rise to the level of an impeachable offense." Moreso, Sekulow said, "are you going to allow proceedings of impeachment to go on" based on a "New York Times report of what someone says they heard in a manuscript?" Some might call what Bolton wrote evidence, Sekulow said, "I'd call it inadmissible." (Source: Washington Post)
Sekulow chose his words carefully when he said "inadmissible," since prior to the trial getting underway today, both Senator Lindsay Graham and Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, publically announced support of, well, admitting the Bolton manuscript into evidence. Bolton's manuscript is the "minimum amount that we should actually be able to get," Lankford said last night. "I am encouraging the White House, anybody that I can talk to to say: That manuscript is pertinent and we should get access to that manuscript to see what they're actually saying." Graham tweeted this morning that he "totally supports" the proposal, though also suggested that the manuscript be held in a secure location which is hilarious since I can preorder it for my Kindle literally right now. (Source: New York Times)
The thing about a manuscript is that you can't ask it questions like you could of, say, the person that wrote it, and the question of calling witnesses—especially John Bolton—is still very much an open one. Even after the damage control performed by the president's lawyers today, Mitch McConnell told a gathering of Republican Senators this afternoon that by his count they don't currently have the votes to block a call for witnesses. According to the Wall Street Journal, McConnell "had a card with 'yes,' 'no,' and 'maybes' marked on it, apparently a whip count, but he didn’t show it to senators." 51 votes will be needed to force a vote on witnesses and, with only 47 Democratic Senators, four Republicans would need to join them. Apparently, at least as of now, either those four votes flat out exist or there are still enough uncommitted Republicans to muddy the count. That said, nothing is final until it's final and there's going to be a lot of vote whipping between now and a vote. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
When will that witness vote happen? Based on the rules of the trial, a vote for witnesses won't happen until Friday, because questions come first. At the end of arguments today, Mitch McConnell announced the guidelines for the next two days, which he said were reached with Democrats. Tomorrow will kick off the first of two eight hour days where Senators will be able to write questions to the two legal teams. Those questions—alternating between Republicans and Democrats—will be read by Chief Justice John Roberts and both the House managers and the president's defense will be able to answer. Roberts added that, following the precedent of the Clinton impeachment, the format will "operate on a rebuttable assumption" and that both teams of lawyers will be asked to keep their responses to just five minutes. When he said that part, a quiet laugh rose from the Senate chamber and also from my mouth. (Source: NBC News)
After a quick, two-hour session on Saturday, the president's defense kicked into a higher gear today with eight hours of arguments by his legal team. While Saturday's short defense was run by White House counsel Pat Cippolone, today Jay Sekulow, the president's personal lawyer, played the central role for the defense. Offering a very broad defense that covered constitutional issues, attacks against Joe Biden, and actual, you know, defense of the president, it seemed at times like they covering so much ground that they might close their arguments today. However, they announced at the end of the long day of presentations that they will conclude tomorrow. They have 14 hours still available if they want to use all of it, but it's likely that they'll end with time on the clock. Anyway, enough about tomorrow let's get to the arguments they made today:
The main focus of the day—commanding both the opening argument by former Clinton impeachment special counsel Ken Starr as well as the closing presentation by former Jeffrey Epstein lawyer Alan Dershowitz—was that you can't impeach a president for anything other than a crime. This legally-dubious argument was made repeatedly throughout the day, but was at the direct center of both Starr and Dershowitz's presentations. For Starr, he asked the Senators sitting in the jury to ask themselves, "has the House charged a crime or violation of law?" If not, he said, then they could not vote to remove the president. But it's more than just this specific impeachment, Starr argued: We are living through an "age of impeachment" and it is up to the Senate to help us all "step away" from politicizing impeachments, which let me just quickly check my notes to remind myself who Ken Starr is again, hang on. Screams. Dershowitz took "you can only impeach if there is a crime" one better by arguing that neither abuse of power nor obstruction of congress—the two articles the president was impeached on—are even impeachable offenses which, uh how does that work exactly. While citing that "academic consensus is that these are impeachable" offenses, he disagreed with that consensus and referenced historical precedent to back up his argument. It's worth noting that Dershowitz is a criminal defense attorney not a constitutional scholar but, "I do my own research," he said. That was not in dispute, for sure.(Source: NBC News)
Things shifted pretty abruptly away from professorial meditations on the constitution when former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and private lawyer Eric Herschmann spent about two hours defending the president by launching allegations against Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and even Barack Obama. "We would prefer not to be discussing this," Pam Bondi explained, "but the House managers have placed this squarely at issue so we must address it," which, OK Pam, sounds good. Bondi went on to spend nearly an hour detailing the relationship between Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian energy company Burisma along with Joe Biden's role in the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin. When it was his turn, Herschmann stepped Senators through a half-hour deconstruction of a conversation Barack Obama had with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev back in 2012 and how "it was president Obama, not president Trump who was weak on Russia" and that "they are basing this entire impeachment on an inversion of reality" by which I think he meant that they should impeach Obama but honestly I could be wrong because it was right around this exact moment that that my soul left my body completely. Boo. (Source: Politico)
Shoehorned somewhere in the midst of the "what is crime anyway, you know, when you think about it" stuff and the "but Biden and Obama also did things" things was a little bit of, you know, defense of the president by the president's defense. Relegated almost entirely to deputy counsel to the president Mike Purpura, the defense offered was largely a rehash of the same point-by-point refutation of testimony and evidence presented by the House managers he offered on Saturday. He stepped through the July 25th call between the president and Ukrainian president Zelensky once again—pausing to talk about burden sharing naturally—before moving on to point out that the president paused aid to many countries over the summer (though all those pauses, unlike Ukraine, were announced), and that the idea that a meeting with the president was conditioned on the announcement of investigations couldn't be true, because the presidents arranged a meeting in Warsaw on September 1 (which was cancelled when the president stayed in the US because of Hurricane Dorian, though he did go golfing too). On the point of withholding military aid from Ukraine, Purpura said, "Anyone who spoke with the president said that the president made clear that there was no linkage between security assistance and investigations," a point that, well, got a lot more complicated today.
Casting a shadow across the proceedings today were the revelations leaked from the forthcoming book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton that said, well, that he spoke with the president and that the president made clear that security assistance to Ukraine was absolutely linked to investigations. Whoops. "Mr Bolton’s explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr Trump’s impeachment trial … was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates," the New York Times reported. Bolton also provided a copy to the White House on December 30 for a security review, which is definitely cool and chill. The president, as you might expect, denied Bolton's allegations on—where else—Twitter after midnight, tweeting "If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book." Considering that Bolton could have come forward with this information literally at any point in the process up to now, he's not necessarily wrong. But that doesn't make the information wrong either. (Source: New York Times)
Finally, the reveal of the Bolton leak couldn't come at a more crucial time in the trial as the president's legal team begins to wrap their defense and, shortly, the question of calling witnesses will again come to the floor of the Senate. And while immediately after the House managers finished making their case, it seemed like Republicans were coalescing around not calling witnesses, now that seems less certain. Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters that it is "increasingly likely" that more Republicans will call for testimony now. Senator Susan Collins said that the Bolton revelations will "strengthen the case" for witnesses and Senator Lisa Murkowski said that she too was "still curious" about what Bolton has to say. If none of those sound like particularly full-throated calls for witnesses, well, they are not, but they are something. The witness vote is likely not until Friday so it's going to be very interesting to see where this goes between now and then—or maybe it won't, because it is still likely it won't go anywhere. I am dead inside. Anyway, expect more drip drip drip from this Bolton book to come out over the week. (Source: Politico)
4 Weeks Ago
The president's defense opened today with a brief series of arguments that had been billed as a "coming attraction" of what the defense will argue during the remainder of their time Monday and Tuesday. In stark contrast to the last few days of the trial that stretched nine to ten hours, Chief Justice John Roberts banged his gavel to adjourn for the day only two hours after he'd opened it. Where the House managers took a methodical, step-by-step approach to assembling the entire narrative of their case on their first day, the President's defense took, far more of a spaghetti-on-the-wall approach tossing a lot out and seeing what might stick. Since only four members of the legal team made arguments today, let's just look at what each one had to say:
Taking on the opening and closing arguments was White House counsel Pat Cipollone. Cipollone's focus was to ask Senators to ask themselves why, in making their arguments, the House impeachment managers left out testimony and evidence they collected. "Why didn't they tell you that," was Cipollone's repeated refrain. In his opening, Cipollone focused on what he called the "key evidence" left out of the president's July 25 call with Ukrainian president Zelensky. That evidence? When presenting the July 25 call to the Senate, the House "left out the entire discussion of burden sharing." Wait what? In a call where the President of the United States asks the President of Ukraine to do him a favor and investigate the Bidens the "key evidence" that the House left out was a separate discussion about whether Europe was giving enough financial support to Ukraine? Apparently, according to Cipollone, this was damning evidence of… something. "They don't bother to read the key evidence of the discussion of burden sharing that is in the transcript himself," he said, angrily. "Why didn't they tell you that." Stares. (Source: New York Times)
Next up was Deputy Counsel to the President Mike Purpura who offered up "six key facts" to prove the president "did nothing wrong."
The transcript shows that the president did not condition security assistance or a meeting on anything.
President Zelensky and other officials have repeatedly said there was no quid pro quo or pressure.
Ukraine didn't know security assistance was paused until late August.
Not a single witness testified that the President himself said that there was any link to investigations or security assistance.
The security assistance was released on Sept 11 and a meeting (at the UN) took place on Sept 25 without the announcement of investigations.
President Trump strengthened US support for Ukraine.
Each point, Purpura said would be enough to "sink the Democrats' case." Purpura then stepped through the July 25 transcript and played clips of the various witnesses that testified during the House inquiry. Probably most effective was a supercut of the number of times US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland—whose testimony at the House hearings in November was a key part of that stage of the inquiry—said he "presumed" something in his testimony. It was a lot. (Source: PBS Newshour)
Things went a little sideways when Jay Sekulow, the president's personal lawyer, revealed a print-out of the Mueller report and, holding it aloft, said that "this cost $32 million dollars. 2800 subpoenas. 500 search warrants. 230 orders for communication records. 500 witness interviews," only to result in finding that there was—say it—no collusion with Russia. What was the point Sekulow was trying to make, what with this being an impeachment inquiry that decidedly is not about Robert Mueller's investigation? Well, it was a little scattershot, but Sekulow's point seemed to be that, because of all the federal investigations into the President's dealings prior to this specific Ukraine situation, that the President had reason to be skeptical of his intelligence services and of using official channels which, well, screams. (Source: NBC News)
The final argument before Cipollone's brief close was by Patrick Philbin, Deputy Counsel to the President. Philbin offered counter-arguments to the obstruction of Congress charge, which boiled down to two main points. The first was that while the House managers repeatedly said in their presentations that the White House had never exerted executive privilege in blocking testimony from members of the executive branch, Philbin asserted that they didn't need to because the impeachment process was invalid up until the House vote on October 31st, which, thinking guy emoji. His second point was that the White House was never allowed to cross examine the witnesses who testified in the House inquiry (though Republican representatives did) and that cross examination of witness testimony is "essential" and "one of the keys" to due process which is a funny thing to assert when you are also advocating not to call witnesses in a trial. (Source: Washington Post)
While the whirlwind defense offered today didn't have a central focus, it did have a central refrain: "We will be very efficient." All four presentations included repeated asides to the lengthy arguments made by the House managers over the previous three days. "We're not going to play the same clips seven times," Jay Sekulow said with a smile, "He said it, you saw it, that's the evidence." In pointing out something in the transcript left out of the House's arguments, Mike Purpura said it was left out "not because they didn't have enough time—that's for sure." The president's defense wanted every Senator to know that they wouldn't keep anyone up late, or away from the rest of the weekend. "We will finish efficiently and quickly," Cipollone said, "so we can all go have an election." How quickly they finish will become clear on Monday when the defense starts up again.
The opening statements by the Democratic impeachment managers came to a close at 9pm Eastern today, after 24 hours spread over the last three days. On day one, the House managers laid out their entire case against the president in narrative form. Yesterday, they focused on the first of the two articles of impeachment—abuse of power—that were passed on December 18th. And today (after, surprisingly, another couple hours on article one), they moved on to article two: obstruction of Congress. In addition to presenting the evidence for how the president obstructed their investigation, the impeachment managers also needed to make the case for why removal from office was the necessary remedy, and had to give a final closing statement, in the hopes of spurring reluctant Senators to action. Just a few days ago, three days felt like plenty of time, but much of this last day felt like it was moving in fast-forward. Here we go.
When it comes to obstruction of Congress, "President Trump categorically, indiscriminately, and in unprecedented fashion obstructed Congress's impeachment inquiry," Representative Sylvia Garcia said. "In other words," she added, "he orchestrated a cover up. And he did it in plain sight." In obstructing the impeachment investigation, Garcia, said, Trump took three distinct actions:
He refused to turn over the whistleblower complaint to Congress.
He issued a blanket order to the executive branch banning all cooperation with the investigation.
And, finally, he publically intimidated witnesses.
"I'm a lawyer and a former judge," Garcia continued, "I have never, ever seen anything like this from a litigant or a party in any case, not anywhere." Garcia's presentation went on to include a long, long list of every subpoena the House issued to a witness that was blocked by the president. All this obstruction meant that President Trump, Representative Jerry Nadler said, "is the first and only president to declare himself unaccountable. If he is not removed from office—if he is permitted to defy the office entirely, to categorically say that subpoenas from congress are nonsense—then we will have lost all power to hold any president accountable." (Source: New York Times)
In closing the Democratic arguments tonight—potentially the last chance the House managers will have to make their case—lead manager Adam Schiff covered a great deal of ground. First, he tried to pre-empt the president's lawyers attempts to undercut the arguments Democrats have made over the last three days. The president's defense, Schiff said, will largely be about attacking the process, attacking the managers, even attacking Schiff himself. But those arguments, said Schiff, are just about saying "please do not consider what the president did." He also said that the president's lawyers would argue that "abuse of power isn't in the constitution," but he asked Senators to think about that: Presidents don't have a "constitutional right to abuse their power." But more than anything, Schiff asked the Senators to find the "moral courage" to stand up to the president, to their peers and potentially to voters at home. He ended by quoting Abraham Lincoln's final message to Congress, warning the Senators that "we can not escape history." That's just dust in my eye I swear. (Source: Bloomberg)
With the Democratic House managers done with their 24 hours of opening statements, the trial now shifts to the president's defense which is scheduled to start tomorrow and to continue on Monday and Tuesday (Sunday is, mercifully, a day off). But today it was announced that the schedule was changing: Instead of a 1pm start tomorrow, the trial will start at 10am Eastern and, according to Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow, the president's defense will only present arguments for three hours. Why? Well, earlier this morning the president himself tweeted that a Saturday TV slot is "Death Valley in TV"—stares—but Sekulow told CNN that the legal team agreed to a request for a short day made by the Senate—which also, stares. Anyway, what will a three hour opening argument look like? Sekulow billed it as a "trailer, a coming attraction" of their defense, which will apparently kick off for real on Monday and go through Tuesday (or until they run out of material). A trailer! Oh god I hope there's dramatic music. (Source: CNN)
Meanwhile, outside of the impeachment trial, lawyers representing the House of Representatives sent a letter to the DC Circuit court late last night arguing that statements made by the president's counsel in the Senate trial "contradict" arguments made by the Department of Justice in blocking former White House attorney Don McGahn's testimony to the House from back in the Mueller investigation days. "President Trump’s arguments in the impeachment trial contradict DOJ’s assertion in this case that the Committee may not seek to enforce its subpoenas in court," the letter reads. The issue that the letter addresses is that, in asserting "absolute immunity" for the executive branch, the Department of Justice has insisted that the House should not even be pursuing subpoenas. But in their statements during Tuesday's 14-hour debate, the president's lawyers accused the House of, guess what, not pursuing subpoenas. So, uh, that's confusing. Anyway, a ruling is due any day now which could get very interesting very fast. (Source: Politico)
In case you were wondering how folks in the executive branch were holding up through all this, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was interviewed by NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly today and, well, lost it when she started asking about Ukraine. "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?" he shouted at her. According to Kelly, he used "the f-word" repeatedly and then took out an unmarked map—which is definitely a normal thing that normal people carry around normally—and asked her to identify Ukraine on it (she did). So yeah, clearly people are holding up great. (Source: Washington Post)
Finally, speaking of people yelling about Ukraine and holding up great, even as the actual literal impeachment trial of the president for, among other things, using Rudy Giuliani and his cronies to force US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, out of her position, a recording of the president ranting about Yovanovich at a private dinner at the Trump International Hotel in DC last spring has surfaced. On the recording, which appears to have been made by Lev Parnas's partner Igor Fruman, Trump is heard yelling "Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it." Which definitely seems, well, in character so, uh I wonder if the House managers can get another couple hours back? (Source: ABC News)
The second day of arguments by the Democratic impeachment managers came to a close at just about 10:30 Eastern tonight after about nine hours. Given the 24 hours and three day window the House managers have to make their case in the impeachment trial of the president, that leaves right around eight hours tomorrow for them to wrap up. For the House managers, this second day was about putting the focus on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, and how what they continually referred to as the president's "scheme" to pressure Ukraine to do political favors for him rose to the level of an impeachable offense.
While much of today, like yesterday, was about offering overwhelming amounts of evidence and testimony on what the president did and when he did it, today also featured an extensive look into why he did it. In other words, today was about the motive as much as it was about the (high) crime. The motive wasn't about rooting out corruption in Ukraine—as the president and his defenders have insisted—but was instead corrupt, the managers argued. The president wanted assistance from Ukraine in taking down his perceived 2020 political opponent, Joe Biden, and while I'm not going to run through all of the evidence they put forth to prove that motive because it took hours, there was a single ten point slide that did a pretty good job of capturing it. Those points included the president's insistence on routing Ukrainian communications through his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, his avoidance of the official channels that would normally be used to initiate investigations in a foreign country, and of course his own words, which they used against him over and over again throughout the day. (Source: Twitter)
One of the more surprising aspects of the Democrats "motive" arguments today was to spend about an hour of their time directly addressing former Vice President Joe Biden's connection to Ukraine. At first, the purpose was to help demonstrate that the president's concern in Ukraine was not "corruption," since he allowed aid to flow to Ukraine in both 2017 and 2018. It was only after Joe Biden announced his candidacy in early 2019 that corruption in Ukraine became a concern to the president, they argued. But in order to make that point, the House managers actually offered an extensive defense of Biden's dealings in Ukraine, explaining that Biden's campaign to get top Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin removed—the basis of a lot of the President's allegations against Biden—was based on US policy and supported by European allies. "There is no comparison—none at all—between what [Biden] did and President Trump’s abuse of power," House manager Sylvia Garcia said. Republican Senators and the president's lawyers, perhaps unsurprisingly, claimed that by bringing Biden into their arguments, he was now fair game. Stares. (Source: Washington Post)
Motive even factored in to the closing statements offered by lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff tonight. Schiff directed his final statement to Senators who may feel that the president's actions were bad, but didn't warrant removal from office. To those Senators he asked: "Can you have the least bit of confidence that Trump will protect our national interest over his own personal interest? You know you can't, which makes him dangerous to this country." He paused before adding "You know you can't. None of us can … You can only trust that he'll do what is right for Donald Trump." (Source: New York Times)
As Democrats put together the pieces of the president's "scheme" in Ukraine, and how it constituted an abuse of power, they relied heavily once again on video and documents from the House investigation. But today House managers also leaned on material that has only been released since the House voted to impeach the president on December 18. Texts between Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani, released to the House just this month, were used by manager Val Demings as she stepped through Giuliani's role in the ouster of US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich. When the focus of the arguments turned to the president's direction to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine, manager Zoe Lofgren used recently-released emails from the White House Office of Management and Budget as well as the decision from the Government Accountability Office released just last week that the hold placed on the aid was illegal. (Source: PBS Newshour)
Another interesting aspect to the Democrats presentation today was that they used Republicans' own words against them. At one point, they played a video clip of Senator Lindsay Graham during the Clinton impeachment, arguing that "high crimes" should be defined as "when you start using your office and acting in a way that hurts people." Graham was not in his seat when that clip aired. Senator Ron Johnson was in his seat when the managers used a letter he had co-written in 2016 in support of Joe Biden's actions to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Shokin from office. Johnson was described as "red-faced" when the letter flashed on the screen. Finally, the managers used a 1998 video clip of Alan Dershowitz, who is on the president's defense team, explaining that "If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of the president, and who abuses trust, and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime," which OK is a good point, thanks Alan. (Source: Bloomberg)
Meanwhile, even as Democrats methodically stepped through their case, Republican Senators found space to complain. The operative phrase? It's repetitive. The Democrats' case "strikes me is very repetitious," Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas said. "There certainly was a lot of repetition," Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski echoed. For Senator Joni Ernst, "we're just hearing that same message," which is another way of saying it's repetitive, but I'm glad she went with something new. "Not hearing anything new" was also, well, repeated a lot. "I didn't hear anything new," Wyoming Senator John Barrasso told reporters. North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer also said that he wasn't hearing anything new and added that "every hour that goes by where they don't say something new, they make it easier for people on the bubble to vote against their position," which, sure man, definitely that's why. (Source: CNN)
Finally, throughout the day there have been increasingly solid reports that Saturday—the first of three days that the president's defense team has to make their case—may be significantly shortened. "Senators and aides in each party say there is an effort in the works to hold a short, morning-only impeachment trial session on Saturday," CNN reported. Apparently everyone's wiped out and would like to go home which, honestly, is very relatable. But what a short Saturday would look like is entirely unclear. Would the president's defense give a brief introduction on Saturday and then dig in to detail after the break? Would they simply hold two days of arguments and start on Monday? Do they just open and close in an hour or two and push the vote for witnesses right up to the start of the week? I recognize that these questions are predicated on the idea that the defense isn't simply going to work off a live stream of tweets, but I'm an optimist. Anyway, according to CNN the plan for a shorter Saturday "is not finalized but seemed to be gaining steam." I for one have every finger and toe crossed that this happens. Please please please. (Source: CNN)
After a brutally long night last night, today the "real" trial of the president—the one involving the presentation of arguments and not an endless loop of rules amendments—began right on time, at 1pm Eastern. This was the first day of three that the Democratic impeachment managers will have to make their case. They can spread up to 24 hours across those three days and today Democrats used eight of theirs, bringing things to a close just before 10pm Eastern. Many of the seven House impeachment managers played a role in arguments today, punctuating their points with extensive video, slides, and excerpts of emails and texts. It was a lengthy day of PowerPoint presentations and quotes from the framers of the US Constitution, but it wrapped up while the clock was in the single digits so I'm chalking it into the win column. For everyone.
The opening statement was given by lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff, who used it to outline what the Democrats' prosecution plan is going to look like. Schiff said that they would be approaching their arguments in three parts—likely corresponding to the three days they have to make them in. The first part, which played out today, would offer "details of the president's corrupt scheme in narrative form." After that, presumably tomorrow, the House managers would look at "the constitutional framework of impeachment as it was envisioned by the founders." And finally, probably on Friday, the Democrats will wrap up with why Trump's actions should result in his removal from office. Schiff also quoted Alexander Hamilton a lot in his opening statement but, mercifully, did not rap. (Source: NBC News)
Today's main focus for the eight hours of arguments was methodically reconstructing the narrative of Trump's actions to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter in order to influence the 2020 presidential election. "In other words," Schiff said, the president wanted "to cheat." Building off the impeachment inquiry by the House and illustrated with video and documents from the testimony at the November impeachment hearings as well as news clips of the president just straight up asking for the Bidens to be investigated, the managers put their case together piece by piece. At this point the contours of the case should be familiar: The President withheld military aid and an official visit to the White House from Ukraine in order to extract a promise to investigate both the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory about Democratic servers. But hearing it all laid out in such detail on the Senate floor was still a moment. During his presentation, impeachment manager Hakeem Jeffries stepped line-by-line through the July 25 call that sits at the center of Trump's impeachment: "President Trump responded, 'I would like you to do us a favor, though,'" Jeffries said. "These words will live in infamy." (Source: USA Today)
While today's arguments started on time and proceeded pretty much according to plan (a protest in the galleries interrupted Jeffries at one point, but was quickly silenced), things still have the potential of going sideways later down the road. Senator Rand Paul today announced that he thinks 45 Republicans are ready to dismiss the trial. "There are 45, with about five to eight wanting to hear a little more," he told the Washington Post. "I still would like to dismiss it, but there aren’t the votes to do it just yet." Only 51 votes would be needed to dismiss the trial once opening arguments are complete and, well, Republicans have 53 members in their caucus. But, not having the votes yet is, uh, something? (Source: Washington Post)
Outside of the Senate chambers, emails released late last night showed a flurry of conversations about Ukrainian military aid between the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon on the evening of July 24, the night before President Trump's "do us a favor though" call with Ukrainian president Zelensky. The heavily-redacted emails, obtained through a public records request by watchdog group American Oversight, were released at almost the same time the Democrats were attempting to get an amendment for a subpoena for Management and Budget officials Robert Blair and Michael Duffey to testify at the impeachment trial. The new emails demonstrate, once again, that there's a lot we still don't know. The amendment for Blair and Duffey was voted down. (Source: CNN)
Finally, as his impeachment trial began, Donald Trump was in Davos Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. He spent 36 hours on the ground holding meetings with foreign leaders and business execs, but the impeachment was never far away. Today he spoke with the press, where he said that he'd like the trial to go "the long way. I would rather interview Bolton. I would rather interview a lot of people." Which, sure, OK, let's go with that. Oh except, "the problem with John [Bolton] is that it's a national security problem," he explained. What kind of problem? Well, the President said Bolton "knows some of my thoughts, what I think about leaders, what happens if he reveals what I think about a leader and it’s not very positive." Stares. In terms of the trial, he said "I’d love to go, wouldn’t that be great. I'd love to sit in the front row and stare in their corrupt faces." Screams. (Source: ABC News)
After nearly thirteen hours, the first day of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump—a day which was only about establishing the rules of the trial—is in the history books. The grueling day, which grew in length as amendment after amendment was debated, opened with a surprise: the rules resolution that had been released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last night had been changed just prior to the start of the trial. Specifically, what had been a truncated two days to make opening arguments for each side was extended to three and the potential of not admitting evidence from the House's impeachment inquiry without a vote had been removed. Beyond that, there were no other changes to the rules resolution, even after all that debate. After the brutally long day, the rules passed at 1:50 AM along party lines 53-47, and the trial will get under way tomorrow after a few hours of sleep for everyone, myself included (for the full schedule as best we know it from here, scroll waaaayyyy down to the last bullet). Good god I am exhausted and this is only just started.
Much of the day's length was thanks to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was determined to get votes on every document and witness Democrats would like to see during the trial. While passage was unlikely, the strategy was to force Republicans to vote against witnesses and documents, which they definitely did. A lot. For the record—and to justify the note taking I did all day and night—the amendments were:
Amendment one: Subpoena for certain White House documents.
Amendment two: Subpoenaing the State Department for documents.
Amendment three: Subpoenaing the OMB for documents.
Amendment four: Subpoenaing the testimony of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney
Amendment five: Subpoenaing documents from the Dept of Defense.
Amendment six: Subpoenaing the testimony of Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, both from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Amendment seven: To prevent the selective admission of evidence and to provide for appropriate handling of classified and confidential material. Which, points for breaking the format.
Amendment eight: Subpoenaing the testimony of former National Security Advisor John Bolton, mustache and all.
Amendment nine: Provide for individual votes on any motion to subpoena witnesses or documents.
Amendment ten: To allow extra time to file responses to motions.
Amendment eleven: To allow Chief Justice John Roberts to rule on motions for subpoenas of witnesses and documents.
Even though every amendment except one failed by a 53-47 party-line roll call vote, each one was accompanied by up to two hours of debate time. So, do that math. The one amendment that had a different outcome was the tenth, which recieved one Republican vote, from Susan Collins, which is definitely not nothing. (Source: Roll Call)
The only changes to the rules weren't made during the lengthy trial session today, but instead were made by Mitch McConnell—literally by hand—sometime this morning after complaints from both Democrats and Republicans about the aggressively short trial length he'd put forward in the rules Monday night. Most notably, Republican Senators Susan Collins and Rob Portman successfully pressured McConnell for the changes. Collins "and others raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in 2 days and the admission of the House transcript [in] the record," Collins spokesperson Annie Clark told Politico. "Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible." While the changes may have no impact on what happens after opening statements or on the ultimate resolution of the trial, that they were made at all is an indication that McConnell may stand on less firm ground that he lets on, so thinking guy emoji. (Source: Politico)
Because of the format of the impeachment trial—where the Senators sit in silence as the jury—the actual debate of the various resolutions introduced by Schumer was not between Senators, but instead between the impeachment managers and the White House defense lawyers. What that meant is that, in looping one-hour increments, today we got a little preview of what the next week of arguments should look like as each side made micro versions of their arguments over and over again throughout the afternoon and long into the night. So what did these Groundhog-Day-like mini-arguments look like?
For Democrats, they took the opportunity to repeatedly lay out the facts of their case against the president as well as to underline the need for additional witnesses and documents and the historical precedent for doing so. Ultimately, lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff asked the jury of Senators, "We are ready to present our case, we are ready to call witnesses. The question is: will you let us?"
For the White House lawyers, the answer was a resounding no, as they used the hours of debate as an opportunity not to defend the president so much but instead to attack the process. Democrats have "weaponized the House of Representatives to investigate, incessantly, their political opponent," White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued. "A doctor would call that projection," which, well, stares.
With cell phones and other electronics confined to the cloakroom, a literal threat of "pain of imprisonment" if they spoke, and only water or milk to drink (really), the lengthy day—the first of many—was going to take some getting used to for the Senators in the jury. While most Senators began the proceedings taking careful notes as arguments were made, it "wasn’t long before they started whispering to their seat-mates or writing each other notes. Some struggled to stay awake as the hours passed with short breaks," Bloomberg reports. I've never felt more kinship with a Senator tbh. It's gonna be a long week. (Source: Bloomberg)
That long week gets underway in earnest tomorr—checks watch—er, today, at 1pm when the Senate trial reconvenes. And, now that the rules are finalized after this long day, we at least know what the next week or so of the trial is going to look like for sure:
The House impeachment managers will make their opening arguments Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They have 24 hours allotted and will distribute them over those three days.
The president's lawyers will start their arguments on Saturday, there will be a break on Sunday, and their arguments will continue on Monday and Tuesday (this feels weird timing-wise and maybe they will adjourn Friday to start this on Monday but it's likely I am lying to myself because it is late).
After both sides have made their opening arguments, Senators will get 16 hours, likely spread over two days, to submit written questions, which Chief Justice John Roberts will read aloud and will get answered by both sides.
Only after all that will there be a vote on witnesses and documents and, after that, potentially the *big* vote on removal or acquittal. If everything moves at the pace set today, that vote would likely happen next Friday or Saturday, January 31 or Feb 1.
Of course, everything has the potential to stretch out and certainly if witnesses are subpoenaed, all bets are off for, like, everything. But, for real now, this is happening. Let's go. (Source: Washington Post)
With the impeachment trial set to begin tomorrow in the Senate (more on that in a sec), the long holiday weekend has been about each side—the impeachment managers from the House of Representatives, and the White House—filing their final briefs outlining their cases. If you enjoy lengthy legal arguments making largely points you've heard before in mobius-strip-like loops, then this has been an outstanding holiday weekend and I'm glad you've had a great time. For the rest of us, I'll outline both sides' briefs below.
The White House offered its first legal defense of the president in the two filings they submitted over the weekend. The first was a short acknowledgement of the trial summons filed on Saturday while the second was today's 171-page full legal brief. The arguments they put forth sounded remarkably similar to a certain twitter feed over the last few months, so you've definitely heard some of this before but here goes:
First and foremost the White House contends (again and again) that the impeachment process has been "rigged" and was unfair to the President.
Then, they argue that impeachable offenses require "violation of established law," which, well, I'm no lawyer but even I know that they definitely do not.
At that point, the White House contends that because no laws were broken, the articles themselves "should be rejected" and the president "immediately acquitted."
Only after all that, do they actually defend the president. When it comes to Ukraine, the White House argues, what the president did was totally legit and "wholly appropriate" and that, on the July 25 call with Ukrainian president Zelensky that sits at the heart of the impeachment, President Trump "did nothing wrong." In terms of the whole "obstruction of congress" thing, they say that everything they did to block witnesses was within the rights of the executive branch.
Finally and most notably, they argue that even if 2/3 of the Senate were to vote to remove the president from office, it would be unconstitutional—stares—because the articles were written so broadly that they "cannot ensure that a two-thirds majority agreed on a particular ground for conviction." In other words they're saying that even if everyone voted to remove the president they may have different motivations for doing so and so he can't be removed and honestly this is the one that broke my head completely.
Anyway, if you want to read those same basic arguments made a bunch of times, feel free to read the entirety of the 171-page legal brief. (Source: original document)
The Democratic impeachment managers also filed a pair of documents this weekend outlining, once again, their arguments for impeaching the president. Since this is approximately the billionth time they've filed official documents outlining their arguments, these latest ones covered well-trodden ground:
The president "used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain, and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress's investigation into his misconduct."
Because the president attempted to interfere in the upcoming 2020 presidential elections, he is an "immediate threat" and should be removed from office "now."
And finally, failure to convict would have lasting impact on democracy, signaling that "a President's personal interests may take precedence over those of the Nation" and would be "entirely incompatible with our constitutional system of self-government."
While the arguments in the Democratic briefs were familiar to anyone paying attention to the multi-stage impeachment process leading up to the December 18 vote, one notable thing was that they fully incorporated documents acquired by the House after the impeachment vote. Interspersed throughout the narrative outlined in the briefs were quotes and references to documents from Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani's associate who only turned over material to the House this month, which, thinking guy emoji. Obviously, there's much more in the full brief filed on Saturday. (Source: original document)
Even with all the briefs filed, before the trial can get fully underway, the rules for how the trial will proceed must be passed. Those rules have been unknown until just now, when the organizing resolution that sets them out was released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. How are they? Well, screams:
Starting Wednesday, the impeachment managers and the White House will each be given up to 24 hours, which they can spread over two days, to make their arguments. Do that math: that means that we're looking at up to four 12 hour days each with 1pm starts. Given breaks and assuming everyone takes their full time, that could mean things go until 2 or 3 in the morning every day. Cries.
Following the marathon days of arguments from both sides, "Senators may question the parties for a period of time not to exceed 16 hours." As existing impeachment rules dictate, these questions will all be written.
After the questioning period is over, there will be four hours of debate on whether or not to subpoena witnesses or documents, after which a vote will be held.
If—and it's still a big if—the vote for witnesses passes, the witnesses will first be deposed and then another vote will be held on whether they'll testify at the trial which, uh.
Now here is the real novel one: While evidence from the House investigation was submitted to the Senate alongside the articles of impeachment, all those documents won't be admitted into evidence until it clears a vote that will be held, like the new witness vote, after the arguments and questions are wrapped up. Yes, that means that it may be possible that this trial accepts no evidence, new or old.
Following these votes (and the witnesses if—say it with me now: big if—they are called), then comes the votes on each article of impeachment. These votes are the big ones and will decide if the president is removed from office or acquitted. Removal requires a 2/3 majority by the Senate.
In the most aggressive timeline—and this resolution is absolutely very aggressive—votes could be held as soon as a week from Wednesday. What the.
The first order of business when the trial begins at 1pm tomorrow will be to debate and vote on this organizing resolution. Expect Democrats to introduce amendments and maybe something unexpected will happen, but the rules need 51 votes to pass and Republicans have 53 seats in the Senate, so, well, is consumed by the gaping void where my heart once was. (Source: original document)
5 Weeks Ago
With the trial of the President of the United States starting in just a few days, one remaining unknown has been what the legal team defending him would look like. Today we found out and, well, waves hands in every direction. Joining White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, the president's personal attorney, will be Ken Starr, former independent counsel during the Bill Clinton impeachment, and Alan Dershowitz, celebrity lawyer most recently known for defending dead child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.Help. Me. In addition to Starr and Dershowitz, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi—who at one point was in a scandal involving a $25,000 campaign donation from Trump possibly tied to not joining the Trump University fraud suit—and another Clinton impeachment prosecution alum, Robert Ray, will join the team. Sure, why not. In the days leading up to today's announcement, reports were circulating that Trump wanted "star power" on his team and, well, "collectively, the new impeachment defense team has made over 350 appearances on Fox News in the last year," Politico reports. Look, you keep reading, I'm just going to go over and curl up in this corner and rock for a few minutes OK? (Source: Politico)
How set is this legal team? Well, as with anything nothing is final until it's final and with this team in particular it's, well, it's this: "I think it overstates it to say I’m a member of the Trump team," Alan Dershowitz told The Dan Abrams Show this afternoon.Wait what? According to the Washington Post, Dershowitz "would be making an argument in the Senate that obstruction of Congress and abuse of power do not reach the constitutional standard for impeachment." "I will be there for one hour, basically, presenting my argument," he told Abrams. Look, I am no lawyer, but I think that a person that comes to a trial and speaks for an hour about a specific subject is usually called an "expert witness" but witnesses aren't happening at this point in the trial so clearly what do I know. (Source: Washington Post)
Hey, remember a couple bullet points up, how Pam Bondi joined the legal team? Well this afternoon the lawyer for Lev Parnas—Rudy Giuliani's associate who flipped this week—tweeted a photo of Pam Bondi grinning at a table with Parnas. Look, just go with it. What's the relationship between Bondi and Parnas, who has been doing media interviews all week laying out everything he knows about the president's dealings in Ukraine? According to the Tampa Bay Times, "Bondi recently left Ballard Partners, a lobbying firm that did business with Parnas and has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in New York." Among the pile of Lev Parnas documents released by the House this week was a series of handwritten notes, one of which indicated a plan to hire Brian Ballard, of Ballard Partners. The words "100,000 month" are scrawled next to his name. Stares. (Source: Tampa Bay Times)
Speaking of the Parnas documents, yesterday Ukraine announced that, based on text messages in those documents that indicated that former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich was under surveillance, they were opening an investigation. Conspicuously absent was any announcement by, you know, the US that they were opening a similar investigation what with it being their ambassador and everything. Well today US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered a less-than-enthusiastic statement into investigating the Parnas texts as well. "I suspect that much of what’s been reported will ultimately prove wrong, but our obligation, my obligation as Secretary of State, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate," he told conservative radio host Tony Katz. I'm sure Marie Yovanovich, who was fired from her post after an extended smear campaign led by Giuliani and Parnas, is just thrilled.(Source: Bloomberg)
OK, getting back to the actual impeachment trial here, today preparations to retrofit the Senate chamber for the trial got underway. "A few dozen administrative staff members assembled on the chamber floor, hauling with them tables and chairs and large-screen TVs mounted onto stands," the Washington Post reported. In addition to the electronics, workers were seen moving in "six tables with a special curved design (three on each side) so that they would fit the arc of the chamber floor." It's all happening.(Source: Washington Post)
With screens and desks and a presidential legal team filled with, uh, "star power," the only thing still unfinished before the impeachment trial can get underway is, you know, rules for how the trial will work. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said that they will follow precedents set by the Clinton impeachment trial, exactly what that means is still unclear. Currently, Politico reports, Republicans are trying to figure out "how to follow the precedent set by Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial while also giving Trump the swift acquittal he desires," which definitely sounds great. Some of the options being debated are things like compressing the 24 hours of opening statements into two 12 hour days (Clinton's impeachment saw the same 24 hours spread over three eight hour days). "In the most aggressive timetable described by some Republicans," Politico reports, "a vote on witnesses could be held after just six days of arguments and questions." At this point, it's expected that much of the first day of the trial will be devoted to "debate over the contours of the trial." Great. (Source: Politico)
The impeachment trial has officially begun. Well, sort of. The actual trial—the part you really want to know about—starts next week, but today the Senate transformed into the court that will try the President of the United States when Chief Justice John Roberts was sworn in and then turned around and swore in the entire Senate, who will serve as the jury. Both Roberts and the Senators swore identical oaths: to "do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws." We'll see how that goes. Immediately after the swearing-in ceremony, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced an adjournment until Tuesday at 1pm when the trial-trial will begin. (Source: New York Times)
With the trial set to start for real on Tuesday, there are a series of deadlines between now and then that need to be met:
The president has been issued a summons and has until 6pm Saturday to file a response.
Also on Saturday, the House has until 5pm to file their trial brief—basically their prosecution plan.
The White House has until noon Monday to file their own trial brief.
Finally, the House can respond to the White House brief if they want and must have that filed by noon Tuesday.
What all that means is that by the start of trial, we should have a pretty good sense of what everyone's game plans are. But, you know, we'll see when we see. (Source: Bloomberg)
Meanwhile—literally as the trial begins—there is a surprising amount of movement in the exact shady Ukrainian stuff that lead to the impeachment of the president to begin with. First, Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas has begun speaking to the press and the things he is saying are bonkers. "I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president," he told Rachel Maddow last night. "I was on the ground" in Ukraine "doing their work." I could keep quoting this—it's all jaw-dropping soundbites—but really just go watch the clips yourself or check out Parnas tonight when he talks with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Or, you know, do both, have a Parnas party. (Source: MSNBC)
Parnas doing the media rounds wasn't the only new Ukrainian news today. Documents released by the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that showed that former US ambassador Marie Yovanovich may have been under surveillance by Parnas and his cronies have triggered investigations… in Ukraine. "Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on its territory," Ukraine's Interior Ministry announced today. They will "investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws … or [if it was] just bravado and fake talk in an informal conversation between two US citizens," the Ministry explained. There has been no announcement by US agencies of any similar investigation into the potential threats against the former US ambassador, so, you know, screams. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
There was one US investigation into Ukrainian dealings that came to light today, however. The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress, found that the law was broken when the President withheld aid from Ukraine last summer.Wait, say what? "Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," the GAO explained in their report. The White House's Office of Management and Budget "withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act." In other words, that thing that everyone in the administration kept insisting wasn't illegal was illegal. Go figure. Please note: this is not an opinion or conjecture, this is the actual finding by a super-wonky government agency. So like, yeah. OK. (Source: Washington Post)
The waterfall of new revelations over the last few days are increasing Democratic demands for new witnesses and evidence to be called at the impeachment trial. "Evidence is coming in every day that supports our case," Representative Val Demings, who is an impeachment manager, said today. Pointing to, well, everything from the last few days, Rep Jason Crow, another impeachment manger, said, "All of this continues to underscore the need for witnesses and documents." Of course, at least so far, Republicans aren't echoing the call. "They were in such a hurry that they didn’t get all this information? What the heck," Republican Senator Joni Ernst told Politico. What the heck! The question of whether witnesses will be called won't be answered until after the first part of the trial is over, which will likely last two weeks or more, so sit tight. (Source: Politico)
It's official: With a 223-198 vote, an elaborate signing ceremony, and a solemn procession across the Capitol building (really), the impeachment has now moved from the House of Representatives to the Senate where a trial of the president will get underway shortly. Today's vote to transfer the articles split predictably along party lines with only one Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, joining Republicans in voting no. "We are here today to cross a very important threshold in American history," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before today's vote. A few hours later, that threshold was literally crossed when the impeachment managers marched (really) the articles of impeachment to the Senate chambers where they were accepted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will take over the impeachment process from here. (Source: Washington Post)
A key element of today's proceedings was the announcement of the impeachment managers (or House managers, the titles appear to be interchangeable), who will act as the prosecutors of the case at the Senate trial. Speaker Pelosi announced seven Representatives who will serve as impeachment managers: Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, who oversaw the public impeachment proceedings, along with Coloradan Jason Crow, Florida's Val Demings, Texan Sylvia Garcia, New York's Hakeem Jeffries, and Californian Zoe Lofgren. That's a bunch of people! Who are they all? The Guardian has good, short bios of the whole crew. (Source: The Guardian)
Now that the articles have officially reached the Senate, the trial will get underway. While the trial-trial (the part where each side makes their arguments) won't get started until next week, the trial process begins tomorrow. First up the impeachment managers will be invited back into the Senate where they will "formally exhibit" the articles of impeachment—that is, read them. After that, Chief Justice John Roberts will come to the Senate chamber to administer an oath to do "impartial justice" to all 100 Senators, who will serve as jurors. Once that's done, President Trump will be sent a summons notifying him of the trial and he'll submit a formal reply. Then the rules for the trial will be set and then the trial will actually get underway. Exhausted yet? The trial itself will run six days a week so, uh, stay hydrated. (Source: New York Times)
The guidelines that Senators are expected to follow during the trial were released by Mitch McConnell today. In addition to requiring attendance at "all times" during the proceedings (which again, run six days a week), Senators are expected to sit in silence and "should refrain from speaking to neighboring senators," while the case is presented. Reading material must only pertain to the case, and cell phones "should be left in the cloakroom in the storage provided." It's gonna be wild y'all. (Source: NBC News)
Restrictions during the trial aren't just for Senators, press access is going to be severely curtailed as well. The sergeant-at-arms of the Senate issued guidelines yesterday that will confine press to a pen on the second floor of the Capitol and won't allow reporters to walk with Senators in the Capitol hallways at certain times of day. The new rules got pushback today from journalism organizations and from some Senators as well. "It’s a huge mistake," Republican Senator John Kennedy told Politico. "US senators are grown women and grown men. If they don't want to make a comment, they know how to say 'no comment' ... We aren't children." (Source: Politico)
Finally, even as the impeachment trial gets underway in the Senate, repercussions continue to ripple out from new documents released yesterday by the House Intelligence Committee that show the deep coordination that happened last year between Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, and various Ukrainian characters in an attempt to surface dirt on Joe Biden. The documents, which are from Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, were cited by Republican Senator Susan Collins today as evidence that the House "did an incomplete job," in their investigation. However, the House subpoenaed Parnas last fall. He refused to comply and was arrested on campaign finance violations shortly thereafter. The documents turned over to the House come from a federal seizure and were only released by the judge presiding over Parnas's case last week so, well, they haven't been available until right now. Speaking of available, Parnas is appearing on MSNBC tonight which should be, well, something. (Source: Washington Post)
OK, it's happening-happening for real this time: House Democrats will vote tomorrow to transfer articles of impeachment to the Senate, as well as appoint impeachment managers to prosecute the case against the president at the Senate trial that the transfer will kick off. "The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial," Speaker Pelosi said today. Once the vote happens and managers are appointed, those managers will "ceremonially walk the articles of impeachment from the House chamber to the Senate" where they will then formally present the articles and read them aloud. Ceremonially! The vote is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon and the procession—procession—will happen either right after that or Thursday morning. (Source: New York Times)
Once the procession—really—is over, the trial in the Senate officially begins. But don't expect opening arguments to get underway right away. Current expectation is that the "real" trial will get started on Tuesday the 21st after the MLK holiday weekend. However, shortly after the articles are delivered, and certainly before the weekend, Chief Justice John Roberts will swear the Senators in to the impeachment jury, setting up the roles that both will play when the actual trial gets underway next week where the Chief Justice will be the presiding judge and the Senators will watch the trial unfold as jurors. (Source: Bloomberg)
Just how long the trial will last is currently anyone's guess but most people now expect it to overlap the February 3rd Iowa caucuses and potentially the New Hampshire primaries on February 11th. Another event that the trial will overlap? Oh, the president's State of the Union address which is scheduled for February 4. That should go great. "You know, if we’d have gotten started properly," the overlap wouldn't have happened, Senator Roy Blunt told the Washington Post today. But now, he said, avoiding the awkward scheduling is "hard to imagine." If witnesses are called in the impeachment trial—granted, a big if—then expect scheduling overlaps to continue well into February. (Source: Washington Post)
Whether or not witnesses will be called as part of the Senate trial is still an unanswered question. With a 53-member majority, Senate Republicans can likely set the rules of engagement (which only need 51 votes) throughout the trial. For Democrats to have significant influence over things like whether or not witnesses will be called—which they would very much like—they'd need to get four Republicans to peel away from the party line. Well, today a fourth Republican said, sort of, that he'd like witnesses at the trial. Senator Lamar Alexander, who is retiring this year, said that he would vote for calling witnesses "if I needed to." He then immediately added "Or I might not. Or I might," so, uh, stares. He finally added that "It’s important to have a vote on whether we have witnesses or not." OK then thanks Lamar. Alexander joins Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski as Republican Senators who have at least voiced vague support for witnesses, so do with that what you will. (Source: Politico)
Meanwhile, because you know maybe things were starting to feel sort of normal or something, the New York Times has reported that Russian military hackers "have been boring into the Ukrainian gas company" Burisma, you know the company whose former board member was Joe Biden's son Hunter, the guy that President Trump asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to "look into" as a "favor. You know the thing that kicked off the entire impeachment to begin with? Right OK yes that. The Russians are hacking into that. For what? Well, "experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens." Screams. (Source: New York Times)
Finally, just as this update was being drafted, the House Intelligence Committee released a series of documents and text messages from Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas that were turned over by his attorney. In other words, a person that worked closely with the president's personal attorney on his Ukrainian dirt-digging expeditions has flipped on the eve of the impeachment trial. Stares. The documents—which include text messages tracking the movements of former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich (side note: what???) and a copy of notes handwritten on a Vienna Ritz Carlton notepad that read "get Zelensky to announce that the Biden case will be investigated" (side note: WHAT????)—will be included with the impeachment materials turned over to the Senate tomorrow. OK. OK, what. (Source: Politico)
With House Democrats meeting tomorrow to finalize their selection of impeachment managers and to decide when exactly to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, the big question now is simply "when will a trial of the president get started in the Senate?" Well, according to senior Republican Senator John Cornyn, Tuesday the 21st of January "is what it's feeling like," for a start to the trial. According to Bloomberg, Cornyn expects that "the swearing-in of senators as jurors and the summons to Trump would delay opening arguments until after the three-day Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend." Of course, don't use ink in your calendar quite yet. Until House Democrats announce their timing, nothing is final until it's final. (Source: Bloomberg)
Even while we wait on final moves by House Democrats, White House lawyer Pat Cipollone spent the weekend finalizing the president's defense strategy and team. According to CNN, Cipollone "has been quietly working on the President's defense for weeks," and is expected to present the defense in the Senate alongside Jay Sekulow, the president's personal attorney, who Trump has "bragged" about his "strong television appearances" and is expected to be the "public face" of the defense which, well, sure why not. Once the articles of impeachment have been transferred to the Senate the first action we should see from this defense team is a trial brief, which is expected to be filed shortly after the articles and "which will address key legal arguments of the President's defense," so that could come as soon as late this week and then we'll just know how bananas they're going to go. (Source: CNN)
Of course, as his lawyers finalize the plan for his defense, the president and his press secretary Stephanie Grisham are calling for an "outright dismissal"—as the president tweeted—before a trial would even get underway. Grisham went on, where else, Fox News today to say that "the president shouldn’t have to go through this" because he "did nothing wrong." Which, well, stares. Anyway, Grisham went on to say that "obviously he would want a dismissal of everything but at the end of the day if it does go to the Senate for a trial, he does want it to be fair." OK cool cool. (Source: Washington Post)
Meanwhile beyond the still-open question of exactly when the articles of impeachment will be transferred, the other big question the House will answer this week is who the impeachment managers will be. Impeachment managers play the role of prosecutors in the Senate trial and are chosen by the House. Not knowing the rules of the Senate trial and thusly not being able to choose the correct managers were a big reason that Speaker Pelosi held the articles for so long. So, with everything on the brink of getting underway, reports are surfacing that two of the managers will be exactly who most people could have guessed originally: Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, who oversaw the public phase of the impeachment inquiry, and Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler who headed up the drafting of the articles themselves. Of course, the Clinton impeachment saw 13 managers selected, so there are still plenty of slots to fill. We'll likely know who fills them very soon. (Source: Bloomberg)
Finally, even as the House prepares for their final votes in the impeachment process and the Senate gears up for the trial of the president, "an attorney for Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, has turned over photos, dozens of text messages and thousands of pages of documents to House impeachment investigators in an effort to win his client an audience with lawmakers," CNN reported today. Thousands of pages of documents??? The cooperation of Parnas is a gamble by his lawyers to get leniency "as Parnas is increasingly under pressure by federal prosecutors who have said they are likely to file additional criminal charges against him," CNN says. Of course, there's a big question of what impeachment investigation are they supplying document to but, uh, I'm sure someone will think of something. Sits patiently for the leaks to start. (Source: CNN)
6 Weeks Ago
It happened, or, it almost happened, or, it actually will happen, at least, definitely, next week, for sure, probably: After holding back the articles of impeachment for three weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that the House will vote on impeachment managers and then send the articles of impeachment to the Senate next week. Once they receive the articles, the Senate will begin their trial of the president. "I have asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to be prepared to bring to the floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate," Pelosi wrote in a letter to her colleagues this morning. Next week is seven whole days, so when can we expect things to start happening? "I will be consulting with you at our Tuesday House Democratic Caucus meeting on how we proceed further," Pelosi wrote. Upon hearing about Pelosi's statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded "about time." Hope you all enjoyed the break, because things are going to get wild again very soon. (Source: New York Times)
So if the articles of impeachment are transferred to the Senate next week, when would a trial begin and how long would it last? NBC News estimates that January 21st is a realistic start date for the Senate trial, though they do note that President Trump will be in Davos, Switzerland that day, so his lawyers may ask for a delay. From there, using the Clinton impeachment as a guide—which is what McConnell has said he'll do as well—"both sides will likely be given 24 hours, spaced out over a number of days, to make their cases," NBC reports. After that, "Senators will get 16 hours to submit questions to both sides, which, again, will be spaced out over a number of days." After opening statements and questions, Senators would likely vote on whether to call witnesses, and who would be called, which will take additional time. According to NBC, it was 22 days from receipt of articles to the vote for witnesses during the Clinton impeachment and 37 days from the receipt of articles to the vote to acquit. In other words, strap in, it's likely going to be a while. (Source: NBC News)
The question of witnesses was a central reason that Speaker Pelosi held the articles as long as she did, and while she didn't get any concessions to call them prior to the start of the trial, it did seem to keep the possibility alive. Today, Republican Senator Susan Collins told reporters that she and a "fairly small group" of other Republican Senators are working to ensure that the rules for the trial would include allowing for witnesses. "I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on how to proceed with the trial that will allow the opportunity for both the House and the president’s counsel if they choose to do so," she said today. Of course, everything is fluid until it's not, and in this case it would require four Republican Senators to side with every Democrat to force that rule through, which, well, uh. (Source: Bangor Daily News)
A key witness that Democrats would like to call at the Senate trial is former National Security Advisor John Bolton who opened this week by announcing unexpectedly that he would be willing to testify at a Senate trial after refusing to do so during the House inquiry. After Bolton's announcement, the president repeatedly said that he felt it was up to the Senate whether or not to call Bolton, not a decision made by the White House. But today, Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingrahm that he would use executive privilege to block Bolton's testimony "for the sake of the office."Sure, why not. "You can’t be in the White House as president—future, I’m talking about future, many future presidents—and have a security adviser, anybody having to do with security, and legal, and other things" testify, he said. So, well, screams. (Source: Bloomberg)
Finally, and I can't even believe I'm writing this but, the Wall Street Journal today reported that the desire to curry favors with Republican Senators in the impeachment trial may have influenced President Trump's decision to kill Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on January 2nd. Stares. Buried deep in an article that looked into how the strike took place, the journal reported that, "Mr Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with General Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate." So that's just great. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Congress's first week back from winter break is almost over and, as of yet, there's been no movement in transferring the articles of impeachment from the House to the Senate, where a trial of the president will then be held. Why not? "I keep giving you the same answer," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a deeply true statement today at her weekly press conference. "As I said right from the start, we need to see the arena in which we’re sending our managers. Is that too much to ask?" I mean, I guess not? To reiterate her point again: Members of the House of Representative play the role of "impeachment managers" during the trial, essentially acting as prosecutors. Pelosi's position is that without knowing the rules of the trial in advance—including whether or not witnesses would be called—she can't select the right managers. Which, well, OK? But also, uh. And finally, hmmm. All that aside, she did say that she will "send them over when I’m ready, and that will probably be soon." Soon! Soon. Soooooon. (Source: New York Times)
Whether continuing to hold out will get Pelosi any concessions from Republicans still feels like a long shot, but it's definitely succeeding in driving them b-o-n-k-e-r-s. Today more Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, signed on to a measure to change the Senate rules so they could simply dismiss the impeachment if the House doesn't send articles over. Of course, changing those rules would require a 2/3 majority vote in the Senate which definitely won't happen, since it would need numerous Democratic votes, so it's more just an exercise in demonstrating that she's taken up space in their heads rent-free. (Source: Bloomberg)
Back in reality and taking a cue from Pelosi's promise of articles "soon," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican Senators today that he expects a trial to start next week, potentially as soon as Monday or Tuesday. Wait, what? "The sense is that even if they got here at this very moment right now, there’s still a process involved to notify the White House and chief justice and turning it all around," Senator Marco Rubio told the press after a lunch meeting McConnell had with Republicans. "I’m not sure he has any specific knowledge," Rubio continued, "but the gut feeling is that it will come over there tomorrow and set up for a Monday start." A Monday start??? For a process that has been at a standstill since December 18th, that seems, well, really ambitious. (Source: Politico)
Of course, if an impeachment trial starts next week in the Senate, then it's going to slam straight into—checks calendar—the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses, which is currently scheduled for Tuesday, January 14. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar have all qualified for that debate which, well, could get dicey since they need to be in Washington for an impeachment trial. What happens if the trial starts Monday or Tuesday of next week? "Obviously, if there’s a trial on the 14th, then we’ll move the debate," Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee told MSNBC. "If there’s not, then we’re going to have the debate. At the moment, all systems are go, and so we’re going to move forward." Uh, things are going to get real nutty real fast aren't they. (Source: Politico)
Just how nutty could things get? Well, let's wrap with a report from the Washington Post that says there are internal arguments between Senate Republicans, House Republicans, and the White House as to whether or not to add House Republican members Jim Jordan, John Ratcliffe, and Doug Collins to Trump's defense team at the Senate Trial. Hyperventilates. "One thing I’m not eager to do is re-create the circuslike atmosphere of the House—that’s not what we’re going to do here, if we can avoid it," Republican Senator John Cornyn told the Washington Post. Judging by those three dudes' clown show during the House impeachment proceedings, he's not wrong. However, the decision of who defends him at the trial is ultimately up to the president and, well, as one source told the Post—in the most upsetting way possible—"There are a lot of rabbits running around claiming to be the very best bunny, but the president hasn’t yet decided which set of fuzzy tails he’ll use." I. I just. I can't. Tell me about the rabbits, George.(Source: Washington Post)
For the first time since the House reconvened for the new year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to reporters today about what she would need to see before turning over the articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial. "We are waiting to see what the terms are," she explained, because "how we choose our managers depends on what the arena is that we are going into." What she means is that when the articles do move to the Senate, House impeachment managers, chosen by Pelosi, act as prosecutors in the trial. Without knowing how the trial will run, Pelosi says, she can't choose the right managers to try the case. I mean, OK? But also, well, everything below. (Source: Bloomberg)
As you might expect, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was having none of it, insisting once again that "there will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure." Yesterday, McConnell announced that he had the 51 votes necessary to define the rules of the trial once the Senate receives the articles of impeachment from the House. "We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment," McConnell said in response to Pelosi. "The House’s turn is over. The Senate has made its decision." (Source: New York Times)
But clearly not everybody in the Senate has made their decision. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the op-ed pages of USA Today, er, today to once again make the case for witnesses at the trial. "We are not asking for critics of the president to serve as witnesses in a trial. We are asking that the president’s men—his top advisers—tell their story, and for the Senate to have access to the documents that will shed light on the truth." Which yes absolutely, but that and 51 votes makes it happen and more and more it looks like those votes are simply not there. (Source: USA Today)
Other Senators in Schumer's party are starting to cave to the pressure to get the trial started in the Senate. "The longer it goes on the less urgent it becomes," California Senator Diane Feinstein said today, "so if it’s serious and urgent, send them over. If it isn’t, don’t send it over.” For Montana's Democratic Senator Jim Testor, "I don’t know what leverage we have," he told Politico, "it looks like the cake is already baked." Which sounds delicious, but Testor is talking about resigning himself to what's possible rather than talking about dessert. Delaware Senator Chris Coons also wasn't talking about dessert when he said, "I do think it is time to get on with it." Mmmm dessert.(Source: Politico)
While there's a great deal of external pressure on her at this point, Nancy Pelosi is still playing her hand very close to her chest. However, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durban today said that he expected that Pelosi will be making a decision soon. "I understand she may make a decision in the next few days," he said during an appearance on CNN. "But that’s entirely up to her." In defending her delay he added, "What’s she been looking for is not unreasonable. The Constitution calls for a trial in the Senate. She has asked what that trial will be. As one my colleagues said the other day, a trial has witnesses. A coverup does not have witnesses." Of course, a coverup does have witnesses, which is really what this is all about. (Source: Washington Post)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today that Republicans have the votes in the Senate to set the rules of the impeachment trial without any Democratic input. With only 51 votes needed, that's been assumed for some time, but this is the first time McConnell has come out and said that the majority could move forward in this way. So what are the rules McConnell is proposing? "All we are doing here is saying we are going to get started in exactly the same way 100 senators agreed to 20 years ago," McConnell told reporters. "What was good enough for President Clinton is good enough for President Trump." What does that mean? It means that the question of witnesses would be kicked to after opening arguments by the House impeachment managers and the president's defense lawyers, which is how it was done during the trial of President Clinton. In that trial, witnesses were called, though that's no guarantee that would happen this time around. Of course, the rules vote can't happen until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi releases the articles of impeachment, which as of now she has given no indication will happen soon. (Source: New York Times)
McConnell's hand was strengthened by the statements of two Republican Senators that were on a very short list of Senators Democrats had hoped might call for witnesses at this stage, especially after yesterday's surprise announcement by former National Security Advisor John Bolton that he would testify if subpoenaed. Both Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski said today that they backed McConnell's plan of delaying a vote on witnesses. "I think we need to do what they did the last time they did this,” Murkowski said. “And that was to go through a first phase, and then they reassessed after that." Collins—who had previously said she was "disturbed" that McConnell was coordinating the trial with the White House—now believes that it's "difficult to decide in isolation before we have heard the opening statements." (Source: Vox)
Even a few Senate Democrats are now calling on Pelosi to turn over the articles of impeachment. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin—who are ideologically quite far apart from each other—said today that the time has come for the Senate to start the impeachment trial. "I think it needs to start," Manchin told reporters, "I really do. I can't tell the House how to do their business," but "let us do what we have to do over here." Murphy echoed Manchin's sentiments saying "I think the time has past. She should send the articles over." (Source: Axios)
Meanwhile, President Trump reacted to yesterday's Bolton surprise by saying that his former National Security Advisor doesn't know anything. "He would know nothing about what we’re talking about because, if you know, the Ukrainian government came out with a very strong statement 'no pressure, no anything,' and that’s from the boss," Trump told reporters. Of course many of the two dozen witnesses during the House's impeachment investigation specifically called out John Bolton as someone who was in opposition to the president's Ukrainian "drug deal" (his words), and he most likely very much knows what he's talking about but, hey, let's just go with he doesn't. (Source: Bloomberg)
Finally, while Senate Republicans are attempting to delay a decision about whether or not Bolton, or other witnesses, should testify in the impeachment trial, House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff, who ran the open testimony during the House's impeachment investigation, said today that he hasn't taken issuing a subpoena to John Bolton himself "off the table." However, he added "I think what makes the most sense, though, frankly, is for him to testify in the Senate trial." Of course, he also admits that Senate Republicans likely want "to dismiss the matter, make it go away, so the president’s conduct can be covered up," so perhaps he should reconsider the whole "just have Bolton testify at the trial" thing because that seems unlikely my dude. (Source: Washington Post)
After two weeks off for winter break during which waves hands in all directions happened, both the Senate and the House returned to Washington today and found the impasse on the next step of the impeachment proceedings pretty much exactly where they left it back in December. Where was that again? Well:
The president was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 18th.
However, the House has not yet turned over the articles of impeachment to the Senate, which is required in order to start a trial of the president.
This is because House Democrats believe that they need to secure assurances that the Senate trial will include witnesses called by both sides. By withholding the articles, Democrats believe they can exert leverage over the Senate process.
Republican Senators, as you might expect, disagree and, since they have a 53 seat majority in the Senate, could proceed with setting rules for the Senate trial (which only need 51 votes) without Democratic input—but they need the articles first.
What that means is that, at least as of now, "It may feel like we are no closer to establishing the rules for a Senate trial than when we last met," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. "But the vital question of whether or not we have a fair trial ultimately rests with a majority of the senators in this chamber." Senate Republicans are planning on meeting tomorrow to discuss where to go from here. (Source: Politico)
The question of witnesses has largely been about whether an impeachment trial in the Senate could compel testimony from people like White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney or former National Security Advisor John Bolton, both of whom defied House requests for depositions. That question has been largely academic until today. Today John Bolton issued a statement that he would testify in a Senate trial if subpoenaed. "Since my testimony is once again at issue," he wrote, "based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify." Well then. (Source: original document)
Reaction to Bolton's statement today was rapid. Senate Democrats naturally pointed to it in ratcheting up their demands for witnesses at the trial. But so did Republican Senator Mitt Romney. Bolton, Romney told reporters, "has first-hand information and assuming that articles of impeachment do reach the Senate, I'd like to hear what he knows." With the slim majority held by the Republicans in the Senate, only four members would need to break from the party line in order to influence the rules of the impeachment trial. Romney, along with a handful of other Republicans, is among the best bet for that outcome. However, he quickly added that he wouldn't comment on the process in the Senate, because "the leaders are trying to negotiate that process right now." I'm not sure that there is actually a negotiation underway, but hey you do you Mitt. (Source: NBC News)
Much of Bolton's short statement today focused on the lawsuit filed last fall by his colleague at the National Security Council, Charles Kupperman. Kupperman had asked a judge to decide whether he should abide by House subpoena or the White House's directive of non-compliance in the impeachment inquiry. Last week, a judge ruled that Kupperman's question was moot because the House had rescinded the subpoena. In issuing his statement, however, Judge Richard Leon said that he has "no doubt though, should the winds of political fortune shift and the House were to reissue a subpoena to Dr. Kupperman, he will face the same conflicting directives that precipitated this suit. If so, he will undoubtedly be right back before this Court." But, Leon added, "Fortunately, however, I need not strike that balance today." Which, thanks for not much? Interestingly, Leon's failure to rule seems to have forced Bolton to actually decide for himself. (Source: CNN)
The Kupperman non-ruling wasn't the only thing to happen last week that has the potential to impact the impeachment trial. Unredacted emails between the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon surfaced last week that show deep concern by the Pentagon over the hold placed on Ukrainian military aid by the President. According to the legal policy website Just Security, the emails "reveal growing concern from Pentagon officials that the hold would violate the Impoundment Control Act, which requires the executive branch to spend money as appropriated by Congress, and that the necessary steps to avoid this result weren’t being taken." Why not? The emails cite "clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold." So, like, well, screams. Along with witnesses, Senate Democrats have requested these and other documents from the Office of Management and Budget. (Source: Just Security)
Finally, because two weeks can't possibly go by without Rudy Giuliani or his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman getting up to something, a judge ruled last week that Parnas could share documents along with the contents of a cell phone with House Investigators. The material, described as, "two batches of documents seized from his home and the contents of one of his iPhones," was originally seized by federal investigators when they arrested Parnas and Fruman before they left the country back in October, if you have forgotten just how wild things got in the early days of all this. House investigators had requested that material some time ago and now, with this ruling, they'll get it this week. "Review of these materials is essential to the Committee’s ability to corroborate the strength of Mr. Parnas’s potential testimony," his lawyer said. What testimony, you ask? Yes, exactly. What testimony indeed. Welcome back. (Source: Associated Press)
9 Weeks Ago
The final day of the legislative calendar for 2019 saw no movement in the stalemate between the House and the Senate in moving forward with the impeachment trial now that the articles of impeachment have been passed in the House. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are "roaming freely between the lines of the Constitution," Politico writes, "which spells out very little about the technicalities of the impeachment process." At the center of the dispute are a series of statements by McConnell in the last few weeks that call into question whether a fair trial will be held. As a result, Pelosi opted to hold on to the articles of impeachment as a bargaining chip to get concessions from the Republican-majority Senate. "It was definitely the right thing to do knowing you were sending it to what looked like ... an unfair trial," conservative Democrat Joe Manchin told Politico. "So if she can help us get a fair trial that’s what we want to do." As of now, it looks like there won't be any resolution on this before the ball drops on the new year. (Source: Politico)
With the delay of articles of impeachment currently sitting at the center of a Constitutional grey area, Constitutional scholar and lawyer David Feldman, who earlier this month testified in the Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings as a witness for the Democrats, weighed in on what the delay might mean. His assessment? "If the House does not communicate its impeachment to the Senate, it hasn’t actually impeached the president." That said, Feldman also points out that "the Constitution doesn’t say how fast the articles must go to the Senate," and that while a "modest" delay isn't an issue, "an indefinite delay would pose a serious problem." Fun times.(Source: Bloomberg)
Feldman's "problem" scenario of the House never delivering articles of impeachment to the Senate is unlikely, which means that whenever the House finally delivers the articles, a trial in the Senate will get underway. In an impeachment trial in the Senate, Senators act as the jury, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts sits as the judge, and impeachment managers selected by the House of Representatives act as prosecutors. So what have Senators said about the impeachment process that they will sit on the jury of? The New York Times has compiled an excellent look. (Source: New York Times)
A central issue in the delay of delivery of articles of impeachment is the Democratic request for witnesses in the trial. With the Republican majority in the Senate, they could pass the rules for a speedy trial without witnesses with only 51 votes, essentially locking out Democratic input. Of course, complicating life for Republicans—who desire a fast acquittal of the president in the Senate—is the president himself who is "harboring a desire to create a flashy, testimony-filled trial, fueled by a belief that such an approach would vindicate him and embarrass Democrats," Politico reported today. "We don’t want a quick technical acquittal but complete exoneration," an advisor to the president told Politico. With the president's proclivity for complicating his own life, I wouldn't write off the possibility that he will ultimately force a lengthier trial with witnesses called by both sides, which, gestures wildly in all directions. (Source: Politico)
Whether the trial in the Senate is lengthy or brief, has witnesses or doesn't, it couldn't come at a worse time for the five Democratic Senators that are campaigning for president. "The last place I’d think the Senators running for president would want to be in the weeks before the Iowa caucuses is tethered to their desks in the Senate, silently serving as jurors in an impeachment trial," Democratic advisor David Axelrod told Bloomberg today. The Iowa caucus is February 3, followed by the New Hampshire primary on February 11. At this point, the absolute fastest one can expect a trial to start in the Senate is January 6, and that feels fleeting at this point, so, uh, yyyyyeah. (Source: Bloomberg)
Finally, a programming note: With Washington going on winter recess, so to is this website. There will be a pause in updates until Monday, January 6, barring anything bonkers happening (which, well, screams). To fill the time, consider downloading the free eBook "The Impeachment Papers" from the Digital Public Library of America. The book is a massive compendium of the many documents published during the impeachment process, from the whistleblower report, opening statements of witnesses, text of subpoenas, letters from the White House and House members, the articles of impeachment themselves, and tons more. It's a dense compendium, but it's the most complete collection of this stuff that exists, and also it's free. Happy reading and Happy New Year. See you in 2020. (Source: Digital Public Library of America)
If you were expecting things to get more straightforward now that the president has officially been impeached, well, welcome to Thursday where things have most definitely not . The day started with the news that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would delay delivering the articles of impeachment to the Senate, which is necessary to trigger the trial of the president that marks the final phase of the impeachment process. "We are ready," to deliver the articles, Pelosi told press, but with no agreed-upon rules for the Senate trial, she was holding the articles back. "Until we can get some assurances from the majority leader that he is going to allow for a fair and impartial trial to take place," said Representative James Clybourn, "we would be crazy to walk in there." With only 51 votes in the Senate needed to establish the rules for the trial, which Republicans have without Democratic assistance, the belief is that by controlling the timing of delivery of the articles—which in turn controls the timing of the trial—it gives Democrats leverage on the process, like being able to get their witnesses called, that they may not otherwise have. It's a gamble, but, well, there's almost nothing to lose by trying. (Source: New York Times)
If you're saying "Huh, I wonder how that went over with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell," the answer is not well. Mitch McConnell took to the floor of the Senate today to decry the impeachment process and to rant about Nancy Pelosi's gambit. Democrats, McConnell said in his speech, are "too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate." McConnell then accused the Democrats of getting "cold feet" while proceeding to basically make the argument that maybe he isn't up for a "fair and impartial" trial by saying that the process was "poisoned by partisanship," set a "toxic precedent," and that "if either of these articles is blessed by the Senate, we could easily see the impeachment of every future president of either party." He repeated warnings against the Senate "blessing" the impeachment—one assumes, by voting for it—two more times, which, well, uh, looks at the bullet point above. (Source: ABC News)
Of course, maybe you are also wondering if Donald Trump would use the delay in delivery of articles of impeachment to something something fake impeachment something? Well, "lawyers close to President Donald Trump are exploring whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to temporarily withhold articles of impeachment from the Senate could mean that the president hasn't actually been impeached," Bloomberg reported today. In a press availability at the White House later, Trump said that "To me, it doesn’t feel like impeachment," because, he explained, it was a hoax. Screams for an eternity.(Source: Bloomberg)
About that press availability: President Trump welcomed former Democratic Representative Jeff Van Drew to the White House this afternoon and officially announced that, the day after Van Drew voted "nay" on impeachment, he had joined the Republican party. "I believe that this is just a better fit for me," Van Drew said while sitting next to Trump, adding that the president has his "undying support." Of course, as the Washington Post points out, "Aside from impeachment votes, a bipartisan budget deal, and a vote on holding two Trump cabinet officials in contempt of Congress, Van Drew broke with the Trump administration on every major vote of 2019," but sure let's go with "undying support" sounds good Jeff. (Source: Washington Post)
Finally, even with question marks hanging around the articles of impeachment and the future of the impeachment trial in the Senate, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals didn't hesitate to query whether the House was going to continue to pursue appeals on a pair of lawsuits tied up in the impeachment. According to Politico, "Less than an hour after the first impeachment vote was gaveled to a close," the courts had issued a pair of orders asking the House to clarify if they still wanted the testimony of former White House Lawyer Don McGahn or access to portions of the Mueller investigation grand jury documents, now that their impeachment inquiry was done. Of course, the big question right now is simply: is it? Currently, the appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments on these appeals on January 3. Gonna go ahead and bet that the House would like to continue to pursue the cases. (Source: Politico)
For only the third time in history, the President of the United States has been impeached. After lengthy day of debate, the vote fell exactly as expected along an almost party-line split. Article I passed 230-197, with one present vote. Article II passed 229-198, again with one present vote. Two Democrats, Jeff Van Drew and Collin Peterson, voted against both articles. One Democrat, Jared Golden split his vote, yes on Article I, no on Article II. Democrat Tulsi Gabbard voted present because of course. No Republicans voted for impeachment. It's been a long day in a long week in a long few months in a long few years. But tonight, the president has been impeached.
The debate, which lasted for over eight hours (that is, once it actually began—the day opened with Republicans putting forth a motion to adjourn for the day, followed by a resolution to hold Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler in contempt, which, stares), was circular and repetitive. Over and over (and over) again, the arguments boiled down to:
For Republicans, impeaching the president was the end result of a nearly three year "political vendetta" against the president, as House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said. By impeaching the president, Representative Will Hurd, argued, Democrats were setting "a dangerous precedent," and that impeachment would become "a weaponized political tool." Representative Doug Collins wrapped the Republican argument by saying that Democrats had disregarded rules in pushing through impeachment and that "chaos and mob rule" now reign. So, you know, chill stuff.
For Democrats, "the cameras of history" were rolling, as Representative Gregory Meeks said. The historic nature of the vote—and the solemnity with which they approached it—defined the Democratic argument. "Today, this day, we didn't ask for this. This is a sad day. It is not a day of joy," said Representative John Lewis, who knows something about history. But, he said, "when you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Our children and their children will ask us: 'What did you do?'" For 230 Democrats, this is what they did.
With the back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans taking up the brunt of the day (and of the last few weeks), it's worth taking a moment to understand the actual articles of impeachment on the day they were passed:
Article I: Abuse of Power. "Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election" and "used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process."
Article II: Obstruction of Congress. "Donald J Trump has directed the unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives" and, as a result, "abused the powers of the Presidency in a manner offensive to, and subversive of, the Constitution."
While Donald Trump is now only the third US president in history to be impeached, impeachment in the House of Representatives does not mean he's now out of office or can't run for reelection. Instead, the impeachment process now moves to the Senate where a trial will be held in the New Year. If convicted in that trial, which requires a 2/3 majority vote by the Senate, then the president would be removed from office. Of course, as of now, no president has ever been removed from office by a trial in the Senate.
After over 10 hours of debate, the House Rules Committee voted tonight along party lines, 9-4, to approve the parameters for tomorrow's historic vote on articles of impeachment in the House. While most of those ten hours were spent revisiting the various arguments that we've heard repeatedly over the last few months—Democrats outlining how the President pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, Republicans condemning the impeachment process—the committee held their final vote just after 9pm Eastern. According to the rules passed, there will be six hours of floor debate tomorrow, with no additional procedural votes allowed. After that debate, the full House of Representatives will vote on each of the two articles of impeachment separately. This is actually happening. (Source: Politico)
Even while the rules for tomorrow's vote were still being set, the outcome became all but certain. One by one throughout the day, most members of a group of about 30 Democratic representatives, whose support for impeachment was in question, came forward to announce that they backed the vote, all but ensuring passage. While there are still 15 lawmakers who have not announced their votes, at the point of this writing, 218 Democrats have come out in support of impeaching the president, over the majority necessary to pass the articles of impeachment. Only 216 votes are needed, which means that, barring any surprises, by the end of the day tomorrow, the President of the United States will have been impeached for only the third time in history. The Washington Post has a live-updated look at the state of votes. (Source: Washington Post)
While many in Washington prepared for tomorrow's vote, protestors took to the streets tonight in hundreds of cities around the country to rally in support of impeaching the president. The rallies, organized by a coalition of progressive groups, "put a face to the majority of Americans that support impeachment and removal," said Sean Eldridge, one of the event organizers. Under the rallying cry of "Nobody is Above the Law," protestors filled New York's Times Square, the French Quarter in New Orleans, Boston Common, downtown Chicago, and many other places. According to organizers, more than 600 rallies were scheduled tonight. (Source: New York Times)
Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer whose machinations in Ukraine since the spring are at the center of much of what the president is poised to be impeached for, was back at it yesterday and today. Giuliani gave interviews to Fox, CNN, and the New York Times—as well as going on a tear on Twitter—in which he expanded on his allegations against Joe Biden, doubled down on his involvement in the firing of US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich, and reiterating that the president has been "very supportive" of his recent dirt-digging missions to Ukraine. "Just in case you think we’re on defense, we’re not," Giuliani added, which is definitely what you say when you're not. Stares. (Source: Bloomberg)
Speaking of Rudy, Giuliani's associate Lev Parnas, who was arrested at Dulles Airport in October with a one-way-ticket out of the country, had a bail hearing today where it was revealed that, well, in September Parnas got paid a million dollars by a lawyer for Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.Sure, why not. Defense lawyers tried to argue that the money was a loan for Parnas's wife, to which Assistant US Attorney Rebekah Donaleski replied that it was unlikely he gave an "unsecured, undocumented loan to a housewife with no assets." Look, it happens. Firtash has been fighting extradition to the US on bribery and racketeering charges since 2017, has been connected to the Russian mafia, made his fortune selling Russian gas to Ukraine, and oh right is represented by lawyers Joseph diGenova and his wife Victoria Toensing, who have been assisting Giuliani in his Ukrainian endeavors. The judge ruled today that Parnas's bail would not be revoked and he would remain under house arrest. My head hurts.(Source: Reuters)
And while we're on the topic of Ukraine, NBC News today reported that Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine who testified in public impeachment hearings that it was "crazy" for the administration to be linking aid to Ukraine with political favors, will be leaving his post at the end of the year. It's unclear who will replace Taylor. There hasn't been a permanent ambassador to Ukraine since Marie Yovanovich was forced out in part because of a "smear campaign" against her implemented by Rudy Giuliani. I am sure none of these things are related. (Source: NBC News)
Finally, you are perhaps wondering how President Trump spent his time on the eve of his probable impeachment. If you guessed "writing an unhinged six-page letter to Nancy Pelosi," congratulations you are correct. Does he call impeachment a "crusade"? Yes. An "open war on American Democracy"? Sure. Does he say "More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials"? Yes, yes he does. It goes on and on and on. "One hundred years from now," the letter concludes, "when people look back at this affair, I want them to understand it, and learn from it, so that it can never happen to another President again." I mean, OK yes, that. (Source: original document)
The House Judiciary Committee today released a 658-page report that explains in full detail the charges against the president in the two articles of impeachment approved by the committee last Friday. The lengthy report cites extensive evidence and testimony collected over the course of the impeachment investigation to charge that the president engaged in "multiple federal crimes" including bribery and wire fraud. Oh. The report also includes a 20 page dissent written by Republican ranking member Doug Collins who writes that the case is "weak" and "lowers the bar for future impeachments." Despite the minority dissent, the report concludes that President Trump "has placed his own interest in retaining power above our national security and commitment to self-governance," and that he "has done so before, he has done so here, and he will undoubtedly do so again." As a result, the report says, President Trump "should be impeached and removed from office." With this report done, the House Rules Committee will meet tomorrow to finalize the rules of engagement for a debate and final vote on articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives on Wednesday. (Source: original document)
With the final vote on impeaching the president just days away, attention has turned to 31 freshman Democratic House members who come from districts that voted for Trump in 2016 before they elected a Democrat in 2018. A coalition of conservative groups are spending millions of dollars on TV and Facebook advertising targeting the districts of what they're calling the "Dirty 30." Which sounds gross, tbh, and I'm never typing that again. The goal of the groups is to use the impeachment to mobilize voters against those candidates next November. Even Donald Trump Jr has gotten into the mix, tweeting out contact information for the 31 lawmakers and telling his followers to "call non-stop, tweet at them, tell them this will NOT STAND & you’ll remember in Nov." So, well, that's special. (Source: Politico)
Despite the pressure on them, many of those targeted Democrats are announcing their intention to vote for impeachment anyway. According to Politico, "fifteen Democrats in districts won by Trump have now said publicly they will back articles of impeachment." Representative Ben McAdams, a conservative Democrat from Utah said that "the evidence, for me, is clear," in announcing his vote for impeachment. For South Carolina Representative Joe Cunningham, "at the end of day, this is simply about the rule of law, whether we’re a country with laws or not and what type of precedent we want to set for future presidents." Michigan Representative Elissa Slotkin echoed the sentiment, saying "for me, this was an issue of principle. I felt it in my bones." With significant resources mobilized against them, speaking out in support of impeachment—let alone voting for it—comes with major downsides, and yet here they are. (Source: Politico)
Not every vulnerable Democrat is taking as principled a stand, however. Representative Jeff Van Drews saw almost his entire staff quit Sunday after reports leaked that he is expected to switch party allegiances and become a Republican.Whoops. "Sadly, Congressman Van Drew’s decision to join the ranks of the Republican Party led by Donald Trump does not align with the values we brought to this job when we joined his office," his staffers wrote in a joint resignation letter obtained by the Washington Post. It's unknown when Van Drew's party switch may happen, but certainly he'll need to staff up again shortly. (Source: Washington Post)
Meanwhile, even as the vote on impeachment looms in the House, Senate Democrats are wasting no time preparing for the impeachment trial that will follow in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last night, said that he'd like White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify in a Senate trial.Go big or go home, I guess. In addition to the witnesses requested, Schumer also proposed a start date of January 7 for the impeachment trial. Of course, the Republicans are the majority party in the Senate, so Schumer's letter is really more of an opening volley in what he hopes will be a negotiation between the two parties. However, if McConnell can hold together 51 votes from the 53 Republicans in the Senate, they could simply set the trial rules without Democratic input. Which, well, stares. (Source: New York Times)
Finally, even once voting is over in the House this week and even if—as the numbers suggest—the president is impeached, the impeachment investigation in the House won't end, according to a legal brief filed today. House lawyers filed the brief with the circuit court hearing the administration's appeal to keep grand jury documents from the Mueller investigation sealed. "The committee has continued and will continue investigations," Democratic lawyers wrote in their filing, arguing that the need for those documents doesn't stop with the end of the impeachment process. With multiple appeals from the White House trying to block subpoenas by the House, one would expect that those investigations will actually stay open for quite some time. (Source: Politico)
It's the final week of business in 2019 for the House of Representatives, and the impeachment vote looms large. So what does the week look like?
Even before we get to the impeachment vote, the House has two other major votes to hold this week: spending bills to keep the government open past Friday and a vote on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the replacement to NAFTA. So, like, it's a pretty high-stakes week all around.
Impeachment-wise, first up will be a Tuesday debate and vote by the House Committee on Rules to decide on—guess what—the rules that will govern the final impeachment vote in the House. The Rules committee will decide "how long debate will last and how many amendments—if any—will be allowed," according to USA Today. The Rules committee has nine Democrats and four Republicans, so decisions will likely reflect that ratio.
Once the rules have been set, the House is free to hold a full floor debate and vote on impeachment of the president. Currently the expectation is that vote will be held on Wednesday, December 18th. How long and how bananas the debate is will be directed by the Rules Committee. The outcome of the vote is not particularly in question, as the Democrats hold a majority of seats in the House, 233-197. It's expect that, come the end of the vote, the president will be impeached.
Once impeachment is done, everything moves over to the Senate for a trial that could result in the president's conviction—at which point he would be removed from office—or acquittal. No president has ever been convicted by the Senate. So, uh, there's that. (Source: USA Today)
With a vote to impeach the president the likely outcome in the House, the biggest unknown is how many Democrats may vote not to impeach. According to Bloomberg, there are 31 House Democrats that represent districts that Trump won in 2016, potentially making a vote to impeach him politically risky. For some, like Staten Island Rep Max Rose, whose district voted for Trump by 54%, the vote is about "showing integrity and abiding by my oath the Constitution." Rose is expected to vote to impeach. Representative Elissa Slotkin says that among her constituents, there are "more people against than for." She hasn't revealed how she plans to vote. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has said that she will not be pressuring Democrats to vote for impeachment. "People have to come to their own decisions," she said. (Source: Bloomberg)
One Democratic House member has come to a surprising decision: New Jersey Rep Jeff Van Drew, who previously voted against moving forward with the impeachment inquiry, is reported to be leaving the Democratic party and becoming a Republican. The decision, according to the Washington Post, "came after Van Drew joined President Trump for a lengthy Friday meeting, during which Trump urged him to join the GOP." Well. While Van Drew has yet to officially announce the switch, he's already being condemned by some in the party. "Jeff Van Drew has chosen his political career over our Constitution," New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Saturday night. Murphy added that Van Drew was "willing to enable Donald Trump just to try to salvage his own election." (Source: Washington Post)
Once the vote to impeach passes the House, the Senate will hold a trial, where Senators serve as the jury. Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate, but a vote to convict requires a 2/3 majority: 67 votes, meaning that even if every Democrat voted to convict the president they would still need 20 Republican votes. As a result, things could end very quickly. That's exactly what Republican Senator Lindsay Graham would like to see, he said this weekend. "This thing will come to the Senate, and it will die quickly, and I will do everything I can to make it die quickly," Graham said at the Doha Forum on Saturday. Which, uh, seems like a weird thing for a juror to say. But then again, "I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here," Graham explained. Well, screams. (Source: CNN)
Lindsay Graham was back in the news again on Sunday when he told Face the Nation in a pre-taped interview that he would be willing to have Rudy Giuliani testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Giuliani, who is a central figure in the impeachment inquiry, was back in Ukraine just two weeks ago where he claimed to unearth more dirt on Joe Biden. Stares. "Rudy, if you want to come and tell us what you found, I'll be glad to talk to you," Graham said. Previously, the senator had indicated that he didn't want Giuliani to testify to the committee he heads up. What changed? Who knows (you know), but now Graham's saying "We can look at what Rudy's got and Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and anything else you want to look at." Great. Just great. (Source: Politico)
Finally, Giuliani associate Lev Parnas who has been indicted for violations relating in part to their work together in Ukraine and whose phone records released by the House Intelligence Committee indicate that he was in contact with Republican Representative Devin Nunes, is set to go to court on Tuesday for a bail hearing. Prosecutors last week asked a judge to revoke his bail conditions after it was revealed that he'd lied about receipt of a $1 million dollar Russian payment in September. So—looks at impeachment calendar—this all seems just great. (Source: Washington Post)
10 Weeks Ago
In stark contrast to yesterday's 14 long hours of debate, the House Judiciary Committee only needed seven minutes today to vote to approve the two articles of impeachment against President Trump. Splitting, as anticipated, straight down party lines, the 23-17 vote now moves the articles to the floor of the House of Representatives where it is expected to receive a vote next week. "For the third time in a little over a century and a half," Judiciary chair Jerry Nadler said, "the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president." The vote in the Judiciary Committee marked, according to Nadler, "a solemn and sad day." Of course, House Republicans disagreed, calling the vote a "political hit-job," according to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Whatever it is, it's history. The full House is expected to vote on impeachment next Wednesday. Hang on. (Source: New York Times)
How did the president respond to the news that articles of impeachment against him had been approved by the Judiciary Committee? With a threat. "Someday they’ll be a Democrat president and they’ll be a Republican House, and I suspect they’re going to remember it," he told reporters during a press appearance with the president of Paraguay. Sure, why not. Trump then launched into attacks against the whistleblower ("a fraud") whose report kicked off the impeachment, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff ("a disgrace") who lead the impeachment investigation, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman ("another beauty") who testified in open hearings. The articles of impeachment against the president include using the power of the presidency to investigate political rivals for personal gain and obstructing congress by blocking and threatening witnesses, so like everything he said today is very cool. (Source: ABC News)
Speaking of very cool things, Rudy Giuliani—the president's personal lawyer whose continued efforts in Ukraine to uncover dirt against Democrats is a major factor in the impeachment inquiry—spent the morning at the White House. So that's, uh, screams. While what he was doing there is unknown, the Wall Street Journal today released an extensive look into Giuliani's actions in Ukraine covering all the way from 2016 to, uh, last weekend. When Giuliani "returned to New York last Saturday, the president called him as his plane was still taxiing down the runway," he told the Journal. "'What did you get?' he said Mr. Trump asked. 'More than you can imagine,'" Giuliani responded. So, well, keeps screaming. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
If the House votes to impeach President Trump next week (which, because of the Democratic majority there, is very likely), things then move to the Senate where an impeachment trial will be held. Coordination between the White House and Republican Senators on that trial continues to get tighter. Last night Senate Majority Leader appeared on Sean Hannity's Fox News show and pledged "total coordination" between Senate Republicans and the White House. "There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position, as to how to handle this," he said. Senators play the role of the jury in an impeachment trial, so, well even more screaming. (Source: Vice News)
Finally, the Supreme Court today announced that they would take up three appeals from the president, putting his assertion of "absolute immunity" against subpoenas to the ultimate legal test. The appeals are on subpoenas for tax and financial records filed by both the House of Representatives and the Manhattan District Attorney. In all of these cases, the president's lawyers have asserted that he has "absolute immunity" against subpoenas—the same assertion the White House has made in blocking witnesses in the impeachment investigation. Every ruling on this argument up to now has gone against the president and a Supreme Court ruling that followed suit would have huge repercussions. But don't expect a decision that will impact the looming impeachment: The Supreme Court won't hear arguments until the end of March, and won't issue a decision until the end of June. That's just two months before the party conventions that mark the official start of the 2020 general election. So, uh. Wow.(Source: Bloomberg)
After 14 hours of debate in the Judiciary Committee today (which followed three hours of opening statements last night), chairman Jerry Nadler surprised pretty much everyone by postponing a final vote on articles of impeachment until tomorrow, Friday the 13th (stares). Really, after 14 hours, there was no vote. On the plus side, if you are a fan of circular arguments, people that hate each other passive-aggressively saying "my friend," or the phrase "move to strike the last word," then today was really your day. For the rest of us, it was simply a very long day that began and ended in exactly the same place. From opening statements last night, through looping arguments debating five different amendments introduced by Republicans today, to what everyone thought were closing statements as midnight approached, the debate took on a Groundhog Day-like quality, except if Bill Murray never learned a single thing, ever. Despite the hours (and hours) of repetitive debate, already-hardened positions remained that way. For Democrats, the argument remained what it's been for weeks: not only did the president abuse his position by using the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals for his own benefit, he is still trying to do so and they must act accordingly. For Republicans, well, take your pick: the process was unfair, Joe Biden did worse, Adam Schiff something or other, the Democrats can't win next year, oh and Hunter Biden smoked crack (really). After 14 hours of this, with no warning, chairman Nadler recessed the Committee until a final vote—almost certain to be along party lines—in the morning. People yelled. I was one of them. I feel like I'm going to die.
Once the articles have been approved by the Judiciary Committee tomorrow—nobody jinx this, it is going to happen for real this time—they move to the full House of Representatives for debate and a final vote next week. But while tomorrow's vote in the Judiciary is expect to fall cleanly along party lines, next week's may have a few defections. Currently, Democrats are preparing for some members to vote against impeaching the president.Sure, why not. According to the Washington Post, "Lawmakers and senior aides are privately predicting they will lose more than the two Democrats who opposed the impeachment inquiry rules package in late September." While it's unknown how many Democrats may vote against impeachment—or if any will at all (as with everything, nothing is done 'til it's done)—the Democrats have enough of a majority in the House that they could lose 17 votes and impeachment would still pass. They won't lose 17 votes. (Source: Washington Post)
With the outcome of a vote in the full House all but a foregone conclusion (though, so was a vote happening in Judiciary tonight, so what do I know), Democratic House members are now looking toward the trial in the Senate and who will play the important roles of impeachment managers in the trial there. Impeachment managers are essentially the prosecutors of the impeachment trial, making the case to the jury of Senators that the president should be convicted and removed from office. It's a high-profile gig and lots of people are jockeying for it, according to Politico: "Several members have been seeking out Pelosi—even making a beeline for her on the House floor during votes—to deliver their in-person pitch." While House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff and Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler are almost certainly going to be selected as managers, who else gets the tap is a growing side quest of speculation. (Source: Politico)
The White House is gearing up for the Senate trial as well, sending White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland and counsel Pat Cipillone to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office today. The meeting was to have "good close communication, conversation with Senate Republicans in the event the House goes ahead and actually produces articles of impeachment," Ueland told Bloomberg. Ueland declined to say whether calling witnesses were discussed, but White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham earlier said that Trump would like to call "a lot" of them. Save me.(Source: Bloomberg)
Finally, the question of witnesses in the impeachment trial is also a question of length, as calling witnesses would greatly extend the trial. As of right now, Senate Republicans are leaning towards a short trial that would include no witnesses, according to the Washington Post. "I would say I don’t think the appetite is real high for turning this into a prolonged spectacle,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune told the Post. The appetite may not be high, but by going with no witnesses, Senate Republicans "could clash with President Trump’s desire to stage a public defense of his actions toward Ukraine that would include testimony the White House believes would damage its political rivals," the Post writes. So, well, we'll see who wins that one. Guess. Just guess. Screams. (Source: Washington Post)
The biggest news in the impeachment today actually hasn't happened as of this update. Instead, at 7pm Eastern tonight, the House Judiciary Committee will begin the process of debating the two articles of impeachment that were introduced yesterday. "The rare evening session," the New York Times reports, "will give each of the 41 members of the committee a chance to argue for or against Mr. Trump’s impeachment. It could go late into the night." I mean, that's certainly a choice, who doesn't love a night of parliamentary procedures and points of order? After the late night, the Committee will reconvene Thursday morning to begin the markup process, where members can propose edits and amendments to the articles (expect the clownshow to be in full effect for this). Finally, once markup is finished—current expectation is Thursday afternoon—the Judiciary Committee will vote on the articles of impeachment and, assuming they pass, they'll move to the full House of Representatives at that point. If you're into watching people yell at each other late at night, or just curious which representative falls asleep in their chair first, maybe tune in tonight. Otherwise, Thursday's impeachment.fyi update will cover any highlights from tonight along with coverage of tomorrow's vote. (Source: New York Times)
Beyond the debates to come tonight, Democrats have been largely absent from the news today but Republicans have been busy. Jacketless representative, and member of the Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan along with Republican counsel Stephen Castor met with Republican Senators today, "another sign," the Washington Post reports, "that the probe’s center of gravity is soon moving to the other side of the Capitol building." Assuming that the House votes to impeach the president (which is likely because Democrats hold a commanding majority there), the impeachment process moves to the Senate for a trial. Which, according to Mitch McConnell will happen after New Year's. Whether Jordan was meeting to brief Senators on the process thus far or strategize on the trial to come is unknown. It's also unknown if Castor once again brought a grocery bag instead of a briefcase, as he did to Monday's Judiciary Committee hearing. Sorry, not sorry.(Source: Washington Post)
Republican strategy for the trial in the Senate is still up in the air, but at least one House Republican would like them to take a harder line than they're currently signaling. Representative Jim Banks wrote a letter today to Senator Lindsay Graham asking him to "rethink" his impeachment strategy. "The letter comes after Graham, a top Trump ally, rebuffed a number of the House GOP’s calls for hard-line tactics to defend Trump," writes Politico. Those "hard-line tactics"? Banks had previously written Graham asking him to subpoena the phone records of House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff. Stares. "It is urgent we fight fire with fire and tell them enough is enough," Banks wrote in today's letter which maybe seems like a little bit of hyperbole but hey, you do you. When Banks wrote Graham previously, Graham turned him down, explaining simply "we’re not going to do that." But, with so much about the Senate trial still unknown, I wouldn't bet against them doing that quite yet. (Source: Politico)
Finally, speaking of Republican Senators, Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, told the Washington Post that President Trump has asked that he brief GOP Senators, along with the Justice Department, on what he found on his trip to Ukraine last week. Sure, why not. "He wants me to do it," Giuliani told the Post, "I’m working on pulling it together and hope to have it done by the end of the week." Which, what on earth is going on. The Post points out that it's unclear if anyone actually wants Giuliani to brief them: Lindsay Graham has previously said he doesn't plan to call Giuliani to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee and Attorney General Bill Barr has "counseled Trump in general terms that Giuliani has become a liability and a problem for the administration." Despite being in the process of potentially being impeached in part because of Rudy Giuliani skulking around Ukraine, as recently as this weekend the President told reporters that he believed Giuliani would make a report from his trip. "He says he has a lot of good information," Trump said. Which, screams forever. (Source: Washington Post)
Well, it's official: At a brief press conference this morning, House Democrats released the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. Despite everything that has happened or may happen, this is a big deal—it's only the fourth time in US history that impeachment articles have been drawn up against a sitting president. "Our president holds the ultimate public trust," House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler said before introducing the articles. "When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the Constitution, he endangers our democracy and he endangers our national security." That betrayal, Nadler explained, lead Democrats to draft two articles of impeachment. The actual resolution is only nine pages long, but here's the quick two-bullet summary:
Article One: Abuse of Power. "Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election" and "used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process."
Article Two: Obstruction of Congress. "Donald J Trump has directed the unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives" and, as a result, "abused the powers of the Presidency in a manner offensive to, and subversive of, the Constitution."
By introducing these two articles of impeachment, "unlike President Trump, we understand that our duty—first and foremost—is to protect the Constitution and to protect the interests of the American people,” Nadler said. “That is why we must take this solemn step today." (Source: original document)
The introduction of articles of impeachment is only the first step in passing the articles by the full House. The next step in the process will begin Wednesday evening in the House Judiciary Committee with opening statements followed by discussion, markup, probably quite a bit of shouting, and ultimately a vote by the Committee on Thursday. Once that vote in the Judiciary Committee happens, and assuming the articles are passed, then it goes to the full House for a discussion (and more shouting) and then a final vote most likely before the end of next week—which is, like, super soon. For a good understanding of all that's to come, including a potential Senate trial, the Washington Post has put together a very nice flowchart. (Source: Washington Post)
Assuming the articles of impeachment pass the full House, they then go to the Senate for an impeachment trial. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that a potential trial in the Senate will wait until after the winter recess. I mean, thank you? "What is not possible, obviously, would be to turn to an impeachment trial … before we break for Christmas," McConnell told reporters today. Once the Senate reconvenes in 2020, however, McConnell said that he would expect that the trial would proceed with House managers making the case to convict the president and the president's lawyers making their defense. After that, McConnell said, "It could go down the path of calling witnesses and basically having another trial, or it could decide—and again 51 members could make that decision—that they’ve heard enough and believe they know what would happen and could move to vote on the two articles of impeachment." So we've all got that to look forward to once the New Year's ball drops. (Source: Politico)
Finally, one thing that may be resolved before the new year is the lingering lawsuit filed by deputy national security advisor Charles Kupperman, which had a hearing today. Kupperman filed suit back in October asking a judge to decide whether he should follow the House subpoena for him to testify or abide by the White House's directive that he not comply. While the House has since dropped their subpoena—saying that maneuvering the courts would take too long—Kupperman has continued to pursue the case, explaining today that he wants a definitive decision so he can't be held in contempt of Congress at a later date. Kupperman's lawyer also represents former national security advisor John Bolton, who has said he'd follow the ruling as well, which is really the bigger deal in all of this, no offense Charles. At today's hearing, Judge Richard Leon said he would have a decision by the end of the year. Happy New Year! (Source: CBS News)
The House Judiciary Committee held their second hearing in the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump today. Over nine long hours, the hearing featured the lawyers from the House Intelligence Committee—both Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman and Republican counsel Stephen Castor (who brought his notes in a reusable shopping bag)—making their respective cases for and against impeachment. For Democrats, Goldman ran—once again—through the established narrative of the president's actions toward Ukraine. Republicans took more of a—uh—scattershot approach, questioning the process, the absence of Adam Schiff, and Joe Biden's actions toward Ukraine as Vice President. Did I mention that this hearing was over nine hours long? OK, let's look at the main arguments here:
For Democrats, Goldman's 45 minute presentation was largely a run-through of the case that they made through two weeks of open testimony and the 300 page report that followed: the president attempted to use the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival. However, Democrats were quick to point out that this wasn't just about what the president did this spring and summer, he's still actively attempting to solicit Ukrainian help to influence the 2020 election. "If you do not believe he won’t do it again," Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler said, "let me remind you that the president’s personal lawyer spent last week in Ukraine meeting with government officials in an apparent attempt to gin up the same so-called favors that brought us here today." I mean, that's exactly what Rudy Giuliani spent last week doing, so. (Source: Politico)
Republicans, when they weren't calling points of order—which they did, a lot—took today to do what they've been dying to do for weeks now: Make their case against, who else, Joe Biden.Help. Me. From the start of Castor's 45 minute presentation—which focused heavily on Joe, his son Hunter, and Hunter's seat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma—to the many 5 minute rounds of member "questions," Biden was front and center. The Biden argument reached its nadir when, after playing clips from an ABC News interview with Hunter Biden, Republican Representative Steve Chabot declared, "You’re investigating the wrong guy, Mr. Chairman." No, really: Help. Me. Representative Louie Gohmert went so far as to say, "Joe Biden—we're told, gee he may be the next president—well we've already got the forms, all we've got to do is eliminate Donald Trump's name and put Joe Biden's name in there." He added, "I'm scared for my country." Stares. Me too Louie, me too. (Source: NBC News)
The other major point that Republicans made, repeatedly, today was that they were very upset that the House Intelligence Committee report included phone record metadata that implicated Devin Nunes, the Republican ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, in having phone conversations with both Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. I mean, I guess a guy could be pissed at Devin for making the calls in the first place, but instead over and over again Republicans wanted to know who decided to—in ranking member Doug Collins' words—play "match game" by connecting a phone number to Nunes. "We're not going to play cute here," Collins hollered at Goldman, "someone took the records, took those numbers and said, 'hey, let's play match game.'" Match Game was a game show that aired mostly in the 1960s and 70s. I know this because I just looked it up. Anyway, Representative Collins would very much like Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, who he said must have ordered the phone records to be released, to explain himself—which is going to make for an awkward bowl of bean soup at the Capitol cafeteria sometime for sure. (Source: New York Times)
But ultimately this hearing wasn't about Republicans' procedural complaints or their mock trial of the Biden family: It was about the Democrats making a closing argument that the president should be impeached. Having spent the months of October and November investigating the president's actions in regards to Ukraine, as well as a single week in the Judiciary Committee looking into the legal ramifications of it all, the sense seems to be that their case is closed which, uh, aaaaaaaahhhhh??? Yes, that. Anyway, as he gaveled out the proceedings, Jerry Nadler said that the president's "conduct is clearly impeachable. This committee will proceed accordingly." Of course, proceed to what is a little unclear— the theme of the entire Judiciary phase of the inquiry may as well be "next steps are unclear"—but current understanding is that the Committee may draft articles of impeachment by the end of the week. That's like in two days. Here we go. (Source: LA Times)
On Saturday, the House Judiciary Committee released a report outlining what the Committee believes are impeachable offenses. The report has historic significance, as it it's based on one first written during the Nixon impeachment and updated in the 90s for Bill Clinton. "The earlier reports remain useful points of reference," writes Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, "but no longer reflect the best available learning on questions relating to presidential impeachment." The report goes on to define what the committee considers impeachable treason ("a deliberate betrayal of the nation and its security"), bribery ("when the President offers, solicits, or accepts something of personal value to influence his own official actions"), and other high crimes and misdemeanors (divided into three broad categories: abuse of power, foreign entanglements, and corruption of office and elections). While this report isn't the draft articles of impeachment, it's a roadmap straight to them. Here we go. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile, House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, who passed the impeachment baton to the Judiciary Committee last week, was back at it this weekend, writing a letter to Vice President Pence's office requesting that they declassify supplemental evidence from Pence aide Jennifer Williams about a phone call the Vice President had with Ukrainian president Zelensky in September. In his letter, Schiff wrote that the classification of "certain portions" of the call "cannot be justified on national security or any other legitimate grounds we can discern." The Vice President's office has already refused, saying that "because Adam Schiff continues to operate in an underhanded manner, the Office of the Vice President does not even know what he wants declassified." Cool cool. (Source: USA Today)
In other impeachment-related news, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ordered a temporary stay on the release of the president's financial reports to House Democrats. This is the latest legal maneuver in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Trump to block Deutsche Bank and Capital One from releasing financial documents to the House. While he's lost every suit up to now, the stay puts that release on hold at least until this coming Friday when the Court will decide whether to hear the lawsuit. This is the second case that surrounds the administration's claim of "absolute immunity" from subpoena to reach the Supreme Court and it's likely they'll consider both Friday. If they do decide to hear the cases, expect the stay to be extended and for a decision to not come until next summer. Screams into the void. (Source: NBC News)
And, because nothing matters, President Trump said that Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer who just came back from Ukraine where he's reported to have been digging for more dirt on Joe Biden, "found plenty" and that "he's going to make a report, I think, to the attorney general and to Congress." Why the president's personal lawyer, who's already a central figure in this Ukraine scandal, spent the week in Ukraine doing more dirt digging is an open question. Even Matt Gaetz, one of Trump's biggest defenders in the House, told ABC's This Week that it "seems to be odd having him over there at this time." Yes Matt, yes it does. (Source: Bloomberg)
Finally, this coming week has a lot of moving parts. It's probably easiest to just break it down into some bullets of their own.
On Monday December 9, the House Judiciary Committee will hold another public hearing. This hearing will focus around presentations of the evidence collected in the impeachment thus far by lawyers for both parties from the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
On Tuesday December 10, US District Judge Richard Leon will hear arguments in the lawsuit filed by former deputy national security advisor Charles Kupperman, who asked the court to decide whether he should abide by House subpoena or the White House demand of noncompliance in the impeachment inquiry. Kupperman's case may also affect the potential testimony of John Bolton, who shares a lawyer with Kupperman.
Additional legal maneuverings lead to the Supreme Court's closed-door conference on Friday December 13 where they are likely to consider two appeals by the Administration trying to block access to Trump's financial records.
Finally, it's widely reported that the Judiciary Committee will be debating and voting on articles of impeachment potentially by the end of this week in order to bring the articles to the full House next week.
That's just a list of the things we know are happening this week. Lololol. I work for tips. Cries.
11 Weeks Ago
The day after Nancy Pelosi announced that the House was going to officially draft articles of impeachment against President Trump was… a quiet day? For the most part, it was remarkably so. That was, until the end, when White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to the House Judiciary Committee to say that the president would not be taking part in the rest of the impeachment hearings. More than just turning down the invitation, Cipollone said that the Committee "should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings." But what does Pat really think? "Adopting articles of impeachment would be a reckless abuse of power by House Democrats and would constitute the most unjust, highly partisan and unconstitutional attempt at impeachment in our nation’s history." OK then. Cipollone ended his letter by quoting the president's tweet from yesterday—you know, like you do in legal documents—saying that "if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate." (Source: original document)
So about that "fair" trial in the Senate. Politico today did a lot of legwork talking with Republican Senators about their plans for the impeachment trial they're almost certain to hold. Were they, as the president has demanded, considering calling House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi as witnesses? "Are we going to start calling House members over here when we don’t like what they say or do?" Senator Lindsay Graham responded. "I don’t think so." In fact, Politico reports that Republicans are attempting to defend the president without having the trial descend "into chaos or divide their caucus ahead of a tough 2020 cycle." The reason? The math is hard. "Calling controversial witnesses will require near lockstep party unity from 51 of the 53 Senate Republicans to make any procedural maneuvers, a tough task given the diverse views in the GOP, according to senators and aides." Of course, as they say, things are fluid, so we'll see when we see. (Source: Politico)
Meanwhile one potential fact witness to many of the important questions surrounding the president and Ukraine is reportedly negotiating a plea deal. Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani's who was arrested at Dulles airport with a one-way ticket out of the country in October, is reportedly seeking a deal that, according to the Guardian, "would probably require Parnas to offer more information about Giuliani and probably others he had contacts with, including possibly Trump and the Republican congressman Devin Nunes." While Parnas's lawyer wouldn't comment on a potential deal, he did say that Parnas would need to be "granted a level of immunity, such that his statements in the impeachment inquiry cannot be used against him in his federal prosecution." So, uh, game on? (Source: The Guardian)
And finally, speaking of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer has spent the last week in Ukraine gathering, he claims, evidence against Joe Biden. OK now, you may be currently asking yourself: Wait, isn't this whole impeachment about whether or not the president, through intermediaries including Rudy Giuliani, was trying to dredge up evidence that Joe Biden did something something Ukraine something, and isn't it weird that right now in the midst of the impeachment proceedings there's Rudy Giuliani hanging out with a bunch of Ukrainian edgelords bragging about collecting dirt on Joe Biden? And if that is what you are asking yourself, the answer is yes. Beyond that, I do not have the foggiest possible clue. (Source: Washington Post)
It's official: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi today announced that the House of Representatives will begin drafting articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. "The President leaves us no choice but to act," she said, "because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit." Her remarks, delivered outside her office in the Capitol, started with the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and leaned heavily on quotes from the framers of the Constitution if you were wondering what level of Americana Gravity she was going for. "During the debate over impeachment at the Constitutional Convention," Pelosi said, "George Mason asked: 'Shall any man be above justice?'" She answered quickly: "In America, no one is above the law." President Trump has "engaged in abuse of power undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections," she said. And, as a result, "sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our Founders and our hearts full of love for America, today, I am asking our Chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment." Articles are drafted by the Judiciary Committee and then debated and voted on in the full House, so this is the very beginning of the big one. Hold on to yer butts. (Source: transcript of remarks)
While Speaker Pelosi's remarks left a lot unanswered—she gave no timeline or sense of what charges may be pursued—additional reporting has fleshed out our sense of what's coming. According to the Washington Post, "House Democrats are considering articles of impeachment against President Trump that include obstruction and bribery but are unlikely to pursue a treason charge." In terms of timing, the Post reports that the current plan is to hold a floor vote "before Christmas," which, looks at words, looks at calendar, falls on floor. Of course, "the situation remains fluid"—I'd say so—and "discussions about the articles are ongoing." (Source: Washington Post)
How did President Trump take the news? Pretty much exactly how you'd expect: by lashing out on Twitter. "The Do Nothing Democrats had a historically bad day yesterday in the House. They have no Impeachment case and are demeaning our Country. But nothing matters to them, they have gone crazy," he wrote this morning. "Therefore I say," he continued, "if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate." If you wondered what he meant by a "fair" trial, you only had to wait until the next tweet: "We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify, and will reveal, for the first time, how corrupt our system really is." Help. Me.(Source: Politico)
Meanwhile, the White House was back, once again, filing a petition with the Supreme Court asking the justices to hear an appeal on yet another case subpoenaing Trump's financial records. This is the second appeal the administration has filed with the Court in the last month, the first was to fight a subpoena by the Manhattan district attorney, this one is a subpoena by the House. Both appeals concern subpoenas to Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, who Trump sued to stop from complying. You know, like you do. The White House has lost all their appeals on these cases up to now, along with multiple other cases concerning what the administration contends is "absolute immunity" against subpoenas. The Supreme Court may decide as soon as next Friday, the 13th—stares—whether they will hear the cases. If they do (and that's likely), they probably wouldn't issue a ruling until June. Looks at calendar again. Counts on fingers. Cries.(Source: New York Times)
Finally, shortly after Nancy Pelosi's announcement this morning, the House Judiciary Committee finally put another hearing on the calendar. Scheduled for this coming Monday, December 9, the Committee charged with drafting articles of impeachment will follow up yesterday's law professor panel with "presentations from counsels to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and House Judiciary Committee" on the investigation thus far. I mean OK I guess? (Source: CNN)
Public impeachment hearings got underway again today with—checks watch—nearly nine hours of testimony by four constitutional law professors about, well, constitutional law. Really, that was the testimony.The first hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee was about establishing an understanding of what the Constitution says about impeachment and how some of the ambiguities in the text (what constitutes a "high crime," or "misdemeanor" for example) might be interpreted today. The law professors assembled—Noah Feldman from Harvard, Michael Gerhardt from the University of North Carolina, Pamela Karlan from Stanford, and Jonathan Turley from George Washington University—did their best to answer both the 90 minute questioning session (45 minutes for Democratic counsel, 45 minutes for Republican) as well as for the 5 minute rounds for the 41—forty one—members of the Judiciary committee. What did we learn? Well, uh, that the president likely committed a series of impeachable offenses, unless you are a Republican congressperson in which case Adam Schiff, whistleblower, something something. In other words, we're pretty much where we were yesterday. (Source: C-SPAN)
Three of the professors—Feldman, Gerhardt, and Karlan—were unequivocal in their assessment that Trump had committed impeachable offenses in both his demand for political favors from Ukraine and his obstruction of the investigation into his actions. "If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable," Professor Gerhardt testified. "If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning and, along with that, our constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil." While all three professors to come down on the side of impeachment were chosen by Democrats on the Judiciary committee, Stanford law professor Karlan was quick to point out that this wasn't about partisan politics, it was about the Constitution. "The Constitution of the United States does not care whether the next President of the United States is Donald J Trump or any one of the Democrats," she testified, "what the Constitution cares about is that we have free elections." (Source: The Guardian)
The one professor on the panel chosen by Republicans, Jonathan Turley, was less quick to call for impeaching the president—however, he also wouldn't entirely rule it out. Instead, Turley felt that the process had been rushed. "Fast and narrow is not a good recipe for impeachment," he testified. "Impeachments are like buildings. There's a ratio between your foundation and your height. And this is the highest structure you can build." Turley's assessment was that with so many fact witnesses blocked from testifying by the White House, that House investigators should be spending more time in court before proceeding with impeachment in order to prove whether the president's actions were either "obnoxious" or "impeachable." (Source: Washington Post)
Surprisingly, the Judiciary Committee hearing ended today without clear next steps—there are no more hearings currently scheduled nor a timeline for drawing up articles of impeachment. However, House Democrats met earlier today in a private meeting—no aides, staff, or even phones were allowed in—to discuss the impeachment proceedings. According to Politico, halfway through the meeting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asked "Are you ready?" to which the response was "Yes." But, at least for now what they are ready for isn't entirely clear. "We'll see," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, "it depends on what the Judiciary Committee does." Of course, as of this writing, the Judiciary Committee is doing nothing so shruggie guy emoji. (Source: Politico)
The Democrats weren't the only ones meeting today: Senate Republicans sat down for a lunch with White House counsel Pat Cipollone to talk about the potential of an impeachment trial in the Senate. "They just wanted to help us get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they see it," Senate Majority Whip John Thune told Politico. Over the lunch, Senator Lindsay Graham said that Cipollone laid out "here’s why we think the House process was flawed and the president did nothing wrong." Which is a normal thing you do with 53 potential jurors, definitely. (Source: Politico)
Speaking of the Senate, while the timeline in the House is still very much in flux, the Senate's legislative calendar for 2020, released today, is empty in January—an obvious placeholder for an impeachment trial. "When we have clarity on a date to convene and what January will look like, we will get that information out as soon as possible," a Senate aide said in a statement. Happy New Year, I guess. Lololol. Cries(Source: Roll Call)
After two months of investigations, including two weeks of public hearings, the House Intelligence Committee released their impeachment inquiry report today. Across 300 pages, the Committee extensively documents how President Trump "was withholding officials acts" (military aid and a White House visit for Ukraine) "while soliciting something of value to his reelection campaign—an investigation into his political rival." On top of that, the report says that Trump also obstructed the investigation into those actions, in fact, the report says, Trump is "the first President in the history of the United States to seek to completely obstruct an impeachment inquiry." Oh, OK then. The report—which is both very long and very damaging—was approved by the Intelligence Committee on Tuesday night along—surprise surprise—party lines, 13-9. The report will now move to the Judiciary Committee where they'll use it as evidence toward potentially drafting articles of impeachment. (Source: original document)
The first half of the report, "The President’s Misconduct," lays out the entirety of the president's actions in Ukraine. It's all in there: from forcing out the US ambassador and replacing her, essentially, with Rudy Giuliani and US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, to Giuliani's behind-the-scenes investigation of Joe Biden's son and the Ukraine/2016 election conspiracy theory, to the hold placed on military aid to Ukraine, to the "favor" the president asks for on the July 25 call, to the reverberations of that call that eventually lead to this very report, to the—it's a lot. Seeing it all laid out so clearly—in a complete, complex narrative built with testimony, texts, tweets, emails, and more—is pretty dramatic. The extensive research offered in the report paints a portrait of "a president who viewed himself as unaccountable and determined to use his vast official powers to secure his reelection." In fact, Trump's determination is undeterred, the report says, and "given the proximate threat of further presidential attempts to solicit foreign interference in our next election, we cannot wait to make a referral until our efforts to obtain additional testimony and documents wind their way through the courts." Oh.(Source: Washington Post)
The second part of the report, "The President's Obstruction of the House Of Representatives' Impeachment Inquiry" makes the case that the president obstructed the impeachment investigation at historically unparalleled levels. The section dedicates dozens of pages to the many attempts by the House to compel testimony from administration officials and the extent the White House went to block them. Alongside that, it compiles the hundreds of times the president threatened and intimidated witnesses via tweet, interview, and press gaggle. Finally, it offers a history lesson: After looking at the ways previous presidents complied (or didn't) with impeachment investigations, the report concludes that "Donald Trump is the first and only President in American history to openly and indiscriminately defy all aspects of the Constitutional impeachment process, ordering all federal agencies and officials categorically not to comply with voluntary requests or compulsory demands for documents or testimony." I mean, it checks out. (Source: The Atlantic)
While the report largely compiles information that was already public, through testimony, transcripts, and released documents, there's a bunch of new information buried in previously-undisclosed phone metadata. Congressional investigators obtained phone records from AT&T that show extensive communications between Rudy Giuliani and the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, National Security Counsel officials, and—oh hey—ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, which just finished its impeachment investigation, Devin Nunes. The phone records also show Nunes having multiple conversations with Lev Parnas, the Giuliani associate currently under arrest in part for his actions in Ukraine. So, well, what???(Source: Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile, even as Democrats press forward with the next phase of the impeachment inquiry based on the extensive evidence they've gathered, the courts continue to rule against the White House's blockade on subpoenas that predate the impeachment investigation. Today's latest L for the White House was delivered by the US Court of Appeals in New York in a case seeking Trump's banking records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One. The House's "interests in pursuing their constitutional legislative function is a far more significant public interest than whatever public interest inheres in avoiding the risk of a chief executive’s distraction arising from disclosure of documents reflecting his private financial transactions," Circuit Judge Jonathan Newman wrote. This is the third court case in as many weeks to find that the White House's insistence on "absolute immunity" from Congress isn't valid. And, like those others, this one will be appealed to the Supreme Court. (Source: Bloomberg)
Finally, public impeachment hearings start again tomorrow! Can you not wait? Wait—don't answer that. Tomorrow's hearings will be very different than the ones held by the Intelligence Committee two weeks ago. Instead of fact witnesses, four law professors will explore what "high crimes and misdemeanors" means in the Constitution. I mean, OK? After that, well, there's still no public schedule for what happens next. Really. I'm sure they'll think of something. The hearing starts at 10am Eastern. Wear a powdered wig if you want to go full Constitutional cosplay I guess. (Source: PBS NewsHour)
After a week off for Thanksgiving, work begins again on the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. After a November dominated by public hearings held by the House Intelligence Committee, the focus for December now shifts to the House Judiciary Committee, which will start holding open hearings this Wednesday. Since this phase is about drafting articles of impeachment, not about investigating potential impeachable offenses, the focus of these hearings is apparently going to be quite different. How different? Well, Wednesday kicks off with four law professors who, according to Bloomberg, will offer an "opportunity to discuss the historical and constitutional basis of impeachment." I mean, OK? What happens with the inquiry after Wednesday's professorial hearing is actually still unclear—there's currently no schedule after Wednesday. Which, I'm sorry, what?(Source: Bloomberg)
The lack of clarity of the impeachment process from here was the focus of a letter written by White House counsel Pat Cipollone to the Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler on Sunday night. Nadler, Cipollone writes, "provided no information whatsoever as to the dates these hearings will occur, what witnesses will be called, what the schedule will be, what the procedures will be, or what rights, if any, the Committee intends to afford the President" I mean, there is currently nothing scheduled after Wednesday, so like he's not wrong here. Anyway, Trump's lawyer says that he won't be participating in Wednesday's hearing, but won't rule out future participation if they're ever told what they're participating in. Again, not an entirely indefensible position to take—which feels weird to write, but here we are. (Source: Washington Post)
Part of what's holding up next steps is that the impeachment process Democrats laid out requires the House Intelligence Committee to write a report summarizing their investigations from the last few months and deliver it to the Judiciary Committee, who will then consider the evidence in the report and decide if they'll draft articles of impeachment. But the Intelligence Committee report was only just completed today and is now being circulated in draft form among committee members. From there, according to Politico, they will vote on it and pass it along to the Judiciary Committee. So, at best, the Judiciary Committee will receive the report tomorrow afternoon for hearings that begin on Wednesday which sure feels like odd planning but hey, shruggie guy emoji. (Source: Politico)
Meanwhile Republicans have written their own report and went ahead and released it ahead of the Democratic report, because of course they did. Its findings are what you might expect: nothing to see here across 110 pages. The Democrats' case, Republicans say, is based on "hearsay, presumption and emotion," with a "predetermined outcome" and also Democrats "flatly disregard any perception of potential wrongdoing with respect to Hunter Biden’s presence on the board of Burisma Holdings or Ukrainian influence in the 2016 election," which, screams forever. (Source: original document)
While there's a remarkable amount we don't know about what happens next, one thing we do know is that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced today that the House will be open for business the week of December 16 with votes scheduled for the 17-20th. While this wasn't an unexpected move—the government is only funded to the 20th, so they'll definitely be voting on that—it's also exactly the timeline previously floated for potential floor discussion and votes on impeaching the president so, well, here we go. Well, maybe. (Source: Washington Post)
12 Weeks Ago
With yesterday's announcement that the impeachment inquiry is moving to its next phase after the Thanksgiving recess, the White House is left with a choice: to cooperate or not. This phase of the process, which moves to the House Judiciary Committee, is focused on evaluating evidence and drafting articles of impeachment. A major difference from the first phase of the inquiry is that it includes the opportunity for the administration to participate, including cross-examining witnesses and presenting a defense. Despite the oft-repeated talking points about being denied due process and not being able to defend themselves, now that the door is open, it's reported that the White House still may not take part. Shocking, I know. According to the New York Times, those involved in the decision "are deeply suspicious of taking part in a process they view as unfair." Of course, one way to make the process fairer would be to engage with it, but shruggie emoji. The White House has until 6pm Sunday to decide. (Source: New York Times)
Meanwhile, today we learned more from yesterday's release of the testimony of Mark Sandy, deputy associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget. According to the Washington Post, Sandy told investigators that "two officials at the White House budget office resigned this year partly because of their concerns about President Trump’s decision to hold up congressionally approved security assistance to Ukraine." The hold on aid to Ukraine is a central part of the impeachment inquiry and while so far investigators have not directly connected the hold with the president's demand that Ukraine investigate his political rivals, they have also not been able to uncover any actual reason why the aid was withheld. That people within the White House's own budget office were quitting over it certainly underscores just how irregular the hold was. (Source: Washington Post)
Speaking of irregular, the Washington Post is reporting that Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer whose machinations in Ukraine on behalf of the president are a central part of the impeachment investigation, may have been negotiating a contract to represent Ukrainian prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko for $200,000 at the same time he was working with Lutsenko to dig up information on whether Joe Biden used Ukrainian connections for personal gain. Which, waves hands in all directions. While it appears that money never exchanged hands, "negotiations proceeded far enough that legal agreements were drafted under which Giuliani’s company would have received more than $200,000 to work for the Ukrainians," the Post reported. Sure, why not. (Source: Washington Post)
This latest revelation about Giuliani comes after a week where his partner Lev Parnas announced he had shared documents with the impeachment inquiry, and reports came out that federal investigators were issuing subpoenas for information on Giuliani's business dealings. It was not a great week for Rudy. Which might explain why President Trump told conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly that he "didn't direct" Rudy to go to Ukraine.Stares. When asked by O'Reilly what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine then, Trump replied that "you'd have to ask that to Rudy" and that "Rudy has other clients, other than me." While Trump didn't explicitly disavow Giuliani—he told O'Reilly that Rudy was "a warrior"—it's a very curious turn by the president considering there have been two weeks of public testimony directly connecting him with Giuliani's actions in Ukraine. But sure, let's go with he was freelancing. Why not?(Source: Bloomberg)
One final note before we all log off to spend time with family and friends: this newsletter is entirely independent and is run and written by one person (hi!). If these impeachment updates are valuable to you, consider leaving a tip via PayPal, Venmo, or CashApp. Impeachment news isn't slowing down any time soon and your support is central in keeping this running. Thank you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. We'll resume regular updates on Monday, December 2.
The next phase of the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump now has a start date: December 4. With the conclusion of hearings by the Intelligence Committee, impeachment work now moves to the House Judiciary Committee, which will start open hearings next Wednesday.That's really soon. This new phase will be different than the public hearings that just ended, as the Judicial Committee is charged with deciding articles of impeachment, not on investigation. Another big change from last time is that the president will be able to have counsel cross examine witnesses. "The president has a choice to make," Judicial Committee chair Jerry Nadler said today, "he can take this opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process." One of the president's regular complaints is that he hasn't had representation in the hearings, so this fixes that, but the idea that he'll stop complaining about the process sounds far less likely. Either way, December 4, save the date! (Source: Bloomberg)
The announcement of new hearings is great because just earlier today President Trump went on Twitter to say that he would "love to have Mike Pompeo, Rick Perry, Mick Mulvaney and many others testify" and now, with new hearings announced, most certainly they can, right? I mean, sure, any of those people could have easily testified the many times they were asked to by congressional investigators before now. And, you know, if the president was making a truly genuine offer, maybe there wouldn't have been administration lawyers spending their pre-holiday days in court fighting against congressional subpoenas on multiple fronts. But sure, you know, the president said it so, stares off into the middle distance. (Source: Twitter)
Meanwhile, back in this reality, administration lawyers spent their pre-holiday days in court fighting against congressional subpoenas on multiple fronts. First, lawyers from the Department of Justice have asked District Court Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson to put her ruling from yesterday—which found that the White House could not stop members of the administration from testifying to Congress—on hold so they can appeal it to the US District Court of Appeals. In her ruling, Judge Jackson said that the administration argument of "absolute immunity" against congressional subpoenas was "baseless" and that "Presidents are not kings." If the ruling stands, former White House counsel Don McGahn would be compelled to testify and it could give the green light to other administration officials to follow suit as well. However, it will likely get tied up in appeals for some time because that's a pattern we've seen repeatedly at this point including today in another case, but please tell me again how much the president would "love" all his men to testify. (Source: Politico)
On the subject of that other case, administration lawyers yesterday got a stay on a different ruling that would have compelled the administration to abide by Congressional subpoena. The US Supreme Court has put a temporary block on a ruling by the US District Court of Appeals that required the accounting firm that does the president's taxes to turn over tax records to congressional Democrats. The stay is in place so that administration lawyers can file an appeal with the Supreme Court that they shouldn't have to release the tax documents to the House. The Supreme Court has given them until December 5th to file that appeal. Man, I could have sworn that the president just today said he would love for people to be—oh forget it. (Source: NPR)
One of the people Trump said he would "love" to have testify is former National Security Advisor John Bolton, but Bolton won't testify until a judge decides whether he should comply with congressional subpoena or follow the White House's order of non-compliance. Now, you'd think that yesterday's ruling by Judge Jackson, who declared that presidents "do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control," would have decided that. But today Bolton's lawyers said that Jackson's ruling didn't apply to Bolton because of the national security aspects of his job.Stares. "Any passing references in the McGahn decision to presidential communications concerning national security matters are not authoritative," his lawyer said in a statement. As a result, Bolton is still waiting on judicial review, the first hearing for which is scheduled December 10th. It's been 84 years dot gif. (Source: New York Times)
Finally, today the last two remaining transcripts from last month's closed-door depositions were released. The final two testimonies, by Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Mark Sandy, deputy associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, offered a deeper look into the behind-the-scenes machinations happening at both the State Department and the Office of Budget and Management this summer. At the Budget Office, Sandy testified, nobody knew why $400M in aid to Ukraine had been put on hold, only "that the president is directing a hold" on it. And at the State Department, it struck Reeker as "irregular" that the US ambassador to the EU was involved in Ukraine affairs (Ukraine is not in the EU). But, he added "If that was the choice of the President and the Secretary, then obviously, that was their choice." It sure was. (Source: Washington Post)
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff put to rest any question of what happens next with the impeachment inquiry in a letter sent to House colleagues today, saying that a report summarizing the inquiry's findings is underway and will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee "soon after Congress returns from the Thanksgiving recess." But wait, aren't there like—waves hands in all directions—things that could still be investigated? Well yes, and Schiff isn't writing that off: "While we will continue with our investigative work and do not foreclose the possibility of further depositions or hearings," he writes, "we will not allow the President or others to drag this out for months on end in the courts." Besides, Schiff says, "the evidence of wrongdoing and misconduct by the President that we have gathered to date is clear and hardly in dispute. What is left to us now is to decide whether this behavior is compatible with the office of the Presidency, and whether the Constitutional process of impeachment is warranted." So with that, once they receive the report, the Judiciary Committee will consider the evidence and, most likely, draft articles of impeachment in the coming weeks. Here we go—again. (Source: CNN)
Even while Schiff is drafting his report, a big ruling came down this evening about the administration's stance of "absolute immunity" against congressional subpoenas that could have big repercussions on the impeachment inquiry. The short version? The White House's "claim to unreviewable absolute testimonial immunity" is "baseless, and as such, cannot be sustained." The ruling, from Federal District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, comes on a case House Democrats have been pursuing since the Mueller investigation. While the original lawsuit was about compelling the testimony of then-White House counsel Don McGahn, Judge Jackson's ruling was much broader, stating that the law applied to "other current and former senior-level White House officials" as well. Judge Jackson's ruling could have massive implications on the current impeachment proceedings, considering that the White House has blocked many relevant witnesses from testifying, including Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and many others. Of course, this ruling is almost certainly going to be appealed to the Supreme Court so maybe Adam Schiff has a point about the White House dragging this out "for months on end in the courts." But at least on paper, it's a big win for the rule of law. (Source: New York Times)
What's at stake in this lawsuit was underlined once again today in a Washington Post report that an administration review of the president's decision to withhold aid from Ukraine has "turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal." This internal review was undertaken because of the impeachment inquiry and White House lawyers are now "expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president." If only there was a way of legally requiring these documents be turned over to congressional investigators. Thinking face emoji. (Source: Washington Post)
Speaking of turning things over to congressional investigators, ABC News is reporting that Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani's who was arrested last month in part over his work in Ukraine, has turned over photos, audio, and video to the House Intelligence Committee.Oh. Parnas's lawyer said that "his evidence and potential testimony is non-partisan, and not intended to be part of a battle between the left and the right, but rather an aid in the determination by our government of what is in the best interests of our nation." Which I mean OK, but what is on those tapes? For now, we don't know. (Source: ABC News)
Finally, the federal investigation into Parnas and his partner Igor Fruman is potentially moving on to a much larger target: Rudy Giuliani. According to the Wall Street Journal, recent subpoenas in the federal investigation that caught Parnas and Fruman "suggest that prosecutors are looking closely at the work of Mr. Giuliani himself." The subpoenas, according to the Journal, cover an extensive list of potential charges: "obstruction of justice, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, making false statements to the federal government, serving as an agent of a foreign government without registering with the Justice Department, donating funds from foreign nationals, making contributions in the name of another person or allowing someone else to use one’s name to make a contribution, along with mail fraud and wire fraud." Giuliani, of course, denies any wrongdoing, saying, "There’s obviously a concerted effort to spread as many lies about me as possible, to destroy my reputation so that I’m not credible when I continue to reveal all of the massive evidence of criminality by the Bidens." Which, screams. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The weekend got off to a surprisingly impactful start with the release of 100 pages of documents relevant to the impeachment investigation from the State Department on Friday night. The documents, which were acquired via FOIA by the watchdog group American Oversight, show "multiple contacts" between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani this spring—exactly the time Giulaini was conducting a "smear campaign" against then-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich. The documents, which were released by the State Department after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by American Oversight, also include two conspiracy-heavy dossiers on Joe Biden's work in Ukraine enclosed in Trump Hotel folders that were addressed to Secretary of State Pompeo and were sent from the White House. So like, brain actually explodes. (Source: original documents)
Friday night continued to be a rough one for Giuliani, when CNN reported that a lawyer representing Giuliani associate Lev Parnas—who was arrested at Dulles Airport last month on charges stemming in part from his work in Ukraine—said that his client was willing to tell Congress about meetings Rep Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, had with former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin last December in Vienna. Wait, what?? Parnas's lawyer, Joseph Bondy, went on to tell CNN that Parnas was "willing to comply with a Congressional subpoena for documents and testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry in a manner that would allow him to protect his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination." Which, exploded brain explodes again. Nunes has threatened to sue CNN over the allegations. (Source: CNN)
With Parnas allegedly connecting the dots between Nunes and the major players in the Ukraine scandal, it appears that the House is moving toward an ethics investigation on Devin Nunes. Ya think? When asked about a potential investigation, Rep Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it was "quite likely, without question." The Washington Post also connected a Nunes aide with "a group that met frequently in spring 2019 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, to discuss the Biden matter." That group, according to Parnas's lawyer, included Giulini, Parnas, Lev Fruman (who was arrested with Parnas last month), and two lawyers. I wonder if they used Trump hotel folders for their dossiers? Even more brain explosions.(Source: Washington Post)
How'd all this sit with Rudy? Well, Giuliani went to Fox News on Saturday and said if the president were to throw him "under the bus" that "I have insurance." If you were wondering what Giuliani meant by "insurance," he went on Twitter later in the day to clarify: "The statement I’ve made several times of having an insurance policy, if thrown under bus, is sarcastic & relates to the files in my safe about the Biden Family’s 4 decade monetizing of his office." Which certainly seemed like maybe the most bonkers thing he could say until he added "If I disappear, it will appear immediately along with my RICO chart." Brain exploding back and forth, forever.(Source: Bloomberg)
With this impossibly bananas weekend in the background, House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff went on CNN's State of the Union today to answer lingering questions on what happens next in the impeachment inquiry. The answer? It appears that he's taking a two-pronged approach: taking all "the time that's necessary" to compile a report for the Judiciary Committee—which will be in charge of the next phase—but "we may have other depositions and hearings to do" in the Intelligence Committee because "we've continued to learn new information every day and I think that's going to continue." Do you think so? As a result, Schiff said, they may be making addendums and additions to any report they supply to the Judiciary Committee. Seems messy but you do you Adam. (Source: CNN)
13 Weeks Ago
When Adam Schiff gaveled yesterday's Intelligence Committee to a close yesterday, he did so leaving questions unanswered: Will more witnesses be called? Will they pursue administration officials who have defied subpoenas? Whatever happened to the president's offer to submit written testimony? Is this the end of this phase of impeachment hearings? Today didn't bring clarity to any of those questions, but there are some indications that perhaps there are new questions emerging at the House Judiciary Committee who—if this really is the end of this phase—will be picking up the impeachment baton. According to the Wall Street Journal, those questions include tiny details like "how the Judiciary Committee wants to handle hearings," which, like, you'd think they'd have thought of before now but who hasn't done an all-nighter before the big test right? Anyway, the Journal offers a potential timeline from here, that includes hearings and a vote in the Judiciary Committee the first two weeks of December, followed by floor debate over articles of impeachment that could "consume the entire week of December 15" and a vote "shortly before Christmas." Ho ho nooooooo. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Nature may abhor a vacuum, but the President of the United States loves one and moved quickly to fill the void left by the absence of impeachment hearings today. President Trump gave a rambling, 53 minute interview on—where else—Fox & Friends this morning where he lashed out at many of the witnesses in the impeachment proceedings. David Holmes' overheard phone call? "I guarantee you that never took place," Trump said (Gordon Sondland corroborated the call in his testimony). Gordon Sondland? "Hardly know him," Trump explained (Sondland donated a $1M to the Trump inaugural committee). Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch? She said "bad things about me. She wouldn’t defend me." (Stares.) He went on to say that he knows the identity of the whistleblower and continued to spread the now thoroughly-debunked theory that Ukraine "hated me. They were after me in the election." So, you know, it went real well. (Source: New York Times)
Meanwhile, since we're on the messy-people-who-live-for-drama beat, former national security advisor John Bolton returned to Twitter this morning. Bolton, who has defied a subpoena to appear in the impeachment proceedings and who has been namechecked repeatedly in testimony the last two weeks, tweeted that he had "liberated the Twitter account, previously suppressed unfairly in the aftermath of my resignation as National Security Advisor." He ended two different tweets with "stay tuned........" and "More to come....."—you'd better believe I copy/pasted those periods exactly—so clearly there's going to be some mustachioed drama to come. He could just, you know, testify, but that would apparently be too easy or something. (Source: Washington Post)
And, in case you needed any more indication that it was that kind of day, Senator Lindsay Grahham sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last night "requesting documents related to former vice president Joe Biden and his communications with Ukrainian officials," according to the New York Times. Why? I mean besides the very obvious answer of you know why? "Adam Schiff and the House Intel Committee have made it clear they will not look into the issues about Hunter Biden and Burisma," explained Graham spokeswoman Taylor Reidy. You knew why. (Source: Washington Post)
It was a big day for Senators sending letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The ten Democratic Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote Pompeo asking him to recuse himself from State Department business related to the Ukraine scandal at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. The letter, which cited the many instances the State Department refused to cooperate with the House impeachment investigation, said that the "only legitimate option is for you to recuse and delegate the department’s response to the Trump-Ukraine scandal to a senior career department official. We urge you to do so immediately." Don't hold your breath though. (Source: Bloomberg)
Finally, even as House members break for Thanksgiving there's a potential impeachment curveball that could hit before anyone slices turkey. US District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is set to rule no later than Monday on a lawsuit House Democrats filed this spring that seeks to enforce a subpoena against Don McGahn, the former White House lawyer who played a large role back in the Mueller investigation days. What's that got to do with the current investigations? The judge's ruling will decide whether the White House argument that the executive branch should be immune from House subpoenas is valid which, if Judge Jackson rules in the House's favor, could have huge repercussions in their witness strategy from here. (Source: Politico)
Two weeks of public impeachment hearings wrapped today with the testimony of Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council, and David Holmes, a State Department official who works at the US Embassy in Ukraine. After yesterday's lengthy, surprising testimony by US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, I'll admit that I thought today was going to be a snooze. But it turned out to be some of the most compelling, clear, and crucial testimony of the last two weeks—every copyeditor just cringed at my use of three c's there. Sorry not sorry. A few highlights:
The hearing opened with Fiona Hill taking apart the Republican theory—voiced over and over at these hearings—that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. "Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did," she testified. "This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves." Later, Hill expanded on the Russian's motivation: "The goal of the Russians was really to put whoever was going to become the president … under a cloud." Whoever won, Hill explained, the Russians ultimately wanted to "pit one side of the electorate against the other. That they would pit one party against the other … That they would create just the kind of chaos that we have seen in our politics." Sound familiar?(Source: Wall Street Journal)
David Holmes' testimony offered a first-hand account of the activity at the US embassy in Ukraine during the timeframe leading up to Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian president Zelensky, and the aftermath of that call. At the Embassy, Holmes testified, "we'd been hearing about the investigations"—into the Bidens and the 2016 election, pushed by Rudy Giulani—"since March." Giuliani's involvement, Holmes said, wasn't welcome by Ambassador Sondland, who told him "every time Rudy gets involved he goes and F's it all up." But, according to Holmes, Sondland became a key conduit between Ukraine and the president on these investigations, leading to a phone call Sondland held with President Trump on the terrace of a restaurant in Kiev on July 26, the day after the president's call with Ukrainian president Zelensky. Holmes, who reenacted the call with flair, said that when asked by the president if Zelensky would do "the investigations," Sondland replied "He will do it. He'll do anything you ask him to." On Twitter, the president questioned whether it was possible to overhear conversations on the phone, which, screams. (Source: NBC News)
Sondland was a focus for Republican counsel Steve Castor who, it seemed, hoped to get Hill to cast Sondland's testimony yesterday into question. Instead, when Castor asked her what made her angry in a meeting she had with Sondland, she turned it around in stunning fashion: "What I was angry about was that he wasn't coordinating with us. But I've actually realized, having listened to his deposition, that he was absolutely right. He wasn't coordinating with us because we weren't doing the same thing he was doing." So what was Sondland doing? "He said to me, I'm briefing the president, I'm briefing Chief of Staff Mulvaney, I'm briefing Secretary Pompeo, and I've talked with Ambassador Bolton. Who else do I have to deal with?" It struck her, Hill said, as she looked at the emails Sondland supplied in yesterday's testimony, "that he was absolutely right. Because he was being involved in a domestic political errand and we were involved in national security foreign policy and those two things had just diverged." And that—more than almost anything else that's been said the last two weeks—is the whole problem. (Source: New York Times)
While testimony continued at the House, President Trump and Senate Republicans met at the White House to discuss strategy for what will likely become an impeachment trial in the Senate. According to Politico, there's a feeling that "a motion to dismiss won't fly," and so instead Republicans, at the White House's prompting, "want some kind of factual affirmative defense on the merits." What kind of "merits" you ask? According to White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, Trump "wants to be able to bring up witnesses like Adam Schiff, like the whistleblower, like Hunter Biden, like Joe Biden." Disintegrates into a pile of ash; is blown away by a stiff fall breeze. (Source: Politico)
But, back here in reality, are we headed to a trial in the Senate? Today's hearings wrapped without clear next steps given. Congress takes a recess for Thanksgiving next week and, with no more hearings currently scheduled, what happens from here is a bit up in the air. While I'd expect House Democrats to clarify what they're planning before going on break—and I'd be a little surprised if, coming out of Sondland's testimony yesterday, they don't attempt to call more witnesses—Bloomberg offers a useful look at the many options they have in front of them. (Source: Bloomberg)
Another marathon day of testimony in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump got off to a surprising start today when US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland opened his testimony asking rhetorically "Was there a 'quid pro quo?'" and then answering, "the answer is yes."For real, y'all—this happened. Sondland, who had been implicated as a central figure in the Ukraine controversy by almost every witness up to now, did not mince words. He testified that he aggressively pursued Ukraine's commitment to investigating the president's political rivals, in direct coordination with Rudy Giuliani, "at the express direction" of President Trump. It was remarkable. Read the whole opening statement. It is long but worth it. (Source: New York Times)
Sondland's testimony didn't just stop at the quid-pro-quo, but instead implicated an astounding number of people. "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret," he explained. The people involved were so senior that Sondland pushed back on the idea that they represented an "irregular channel" of communication with Ukraine, which is how acting US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor had described them in his testimony. "I'm not sure how someone could characterize something as an 'irregular' channel when you're talking to the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, the Chief of Staff of the White House," he testified. "I don't know how they could consider us to be the 'irregular' channel and they to be the 'regular' channel when it's the leadership that makes decisions." Well then.(Source: CNN)
While Sondland repeatedly cited conversations at all levels tying an announcement of Ukrainian investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election with a visit to the White House for the Ukrainian president, the connection of military aid for Ukraine never got as explicit a tie. "The aid was my own personal guess," he testified, based on "two plus two equals four." Democrats pushed heavily to try and tie aid into the mix and, in the process, gave Republicans their only breathing room for the entire morning. Sondland testified that he asked the president "what do you want" from Ukraine and that the president told him "I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing." (Source: BBC)
Did the White House grab at that admission with all they had? Of course they did. President Trump, on his way to visit an Apple manufacturing facility in Austin Texas, was photographed holding hand-written notes that in huge Sharpied lettering read "I WANT NOTHING. I WANT NOTHING. I WANT NO QUID PRO QUO. TELL ZELENSKY TO DO THE RIGHT THING. THIS IS THE FINAL WORD FROM THE PRES OF THE U." In addition to the President's Sharpie, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and even Rudy Giuliani, pushed back on Sondland's testimony connecting all of them in the Ukrainian scheme. (Source: NBC News)
The withheld Ukrainian aid was the focus of the second hearing of the day, which didn't get underway until nearly 6:00pm Eastern. At that hearing—which was kept mercifully short after Sondland's testimony stretched to seven hours—Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia and David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs at the State Department, testified that neither of them—nor anyone they talked to at their respective departments—could explain why the $400 million of aid to Ukraine was on hold. Most interesting was that Cooper set a new timeline for when the Ukrainians knew that the aid was put on hold, which up until her testimony tonight was largely believed to be in late August. However, according to Cooper, her staff was fielding queries from Ukraine about the aid in July, including two emails on July 25, the same day President Trump had his call with Ukrainian president Zelensky. So, that's certainly something. (Source: Politico)
Think this never-ending week of testimony is over yet? Not so fast! Tomorrow, theoretically, brings open hearings to a close until (maybe) after Thanksgiving. Things wrap tomorrow with another twofer testimony day: Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council, and David Holmes, a State Department official who works at the US Embassy in Ukraine. At her closed-door deposition, Hill testified of a tenure at the NSC "filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories," and at his, Holmes gave a detailed report of an overhead conversation between Sondland and President Trump, so tomorrow should be fairly wild. It may also be the final day of public testimony in this phase of the impeachment inquiry, but I wouldn't put any bets on that. (Source: New York Post)
Tuesday's double-stacked impeachment inquiry—two witnesses in the morning, two in the afternoon—felt like a day that would never end. But, finally, after over 11 hours of televised testimony, it did. Bursts into tears. What did we learn after all this testimony? Largely that depended on where you fell on the ideological spectrum—which definitely applies to all these hearings, but was especially pronounced today as the two witnesses in the afternoon were specifically requested by Republicans, while the morning picks were by Democrats. That meant that while a lot of the testimony overlapped—three of the four witnesses today were present for the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky—there was divergence in the details, or at least in how they were interpreted. Also, have I mentioned that it was a long day? It was a very long day. Let's break this down person by person:
In the morning, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who wore his Army dress uniform, testified that he "couldn’t believe what I was hearing" when he listened in to the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky. "It was probably an element of shock—that maybe, in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out, and how this was likely to have significant implications for US national security," he said. Vindman withstood attacks by Republicans, who attempted to question his loyalty to the country, and a tweet from the official White House account during his testimony that questioned his judgement. Why go through all this? "This is America," he explained. "This is the country I've served and defended—that all of my brothers have served—and here, right matters." Let's hope. (Source: The Guardian)
Also testifying in the morning was Jennifer Williams, national security aide to Vice President Pence. Williams, who was also present for the July 25 call, described the call as "unusual" and said that it "involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter." In the dozen or so calls between heads of state she'd been involved with before, she said, she'd never heard something like that brought up. Specifically, Williams testified, the reference to former VP Joe Biden "struck me as political in nature given that the former vice president is a political opponent of the president." I mean, yeah, that sounds right. (Source: Politico)
In his afternoon testimony, US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker said that while he originally didn't think there was anything unusual in regards to his work with Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, and US ambassador to the EU Gordan Sondland—both of whom were working backchannels to Ukraine for the president—in retrospect he should have picked up on all the clues they were laying down. Really. "In hindsight," Volker testified, "I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company, Burisma, as equivalent to investigating former Vice President Biden. I saw them as very different. The former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable." Sure, OK man. "In retrospect"—which really could have been Volker's catchphrase for the day—"I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections." Keep in mind, this was a guy Republicans wanted to testify. (Source: CNN)
Sitting alongside Volker was Tim Morrison, the former National Security Council advisor on Russia and Europe. Morrison, who only held that position for about four months, was present on the July 25th call as well. Immediately following the call—on which he testified he was "not concerned that anything illegal was discussed"—he recommended to NSC lawyers that the call be classified because its contents could leak. Which, thinking guy emoji. While he may not have heard anything illegal on the call he immediately recommended be classified—stares—he didn't hear a lot he liked either. Morrison testified that while he prepared a lot of anti-corruption talking points for the president, Trump disregarded them and that the topics he did bring up—namely the Bidens and the DNC server—were "not what we recommended the President discuss." Ya think? (Source: NPR)
Beyond today's testimony, in the ancient times before this day began, House impeachment investigators released the transcripts of State Department officials David Hale and David Holmes late Monday night. In Hale's testimony, he further documented the involvement of Rudy Giuliani in forcing former US ambassador to Urkaine Marie Yovanovich out of her position. And in Holmes's testimony he talked extensively about the phone call between ambassador Sondland and President Trump that he overheard. I'd tell you more but first, it's been a long day, and second, Homes and Hale are both testifying publicly this week. (Source: Axios)
Finally, you know what's better than one day of 11 hours of testimony? Two! We're doing this all over again tomorrow folks. And, tomorrow's a big one: Testifying in the morning is US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland—provided he can get up from under the bus he was thrown under repeatedly today. Sondland has been a main player in all this for a while now but after the public testimony we've gotten so far, where he's been emerged as a truly central figure, there's a lot riding on him. For everyone. I'm sure it will go great.In the afternoon we'll hear from both Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, and David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs at the State Department. Oh, also once the hearings tomorrow wrap up, you can flip right over to the Democratic presidential debate which will start at 9pm Eastern. Weeps inconsolably.(Source: Vox)
If you were hoping Monday was going to start out easy, President Trump took to Twitter early this morning to put an end to that. In a multi-tweet diatribe, Trump wrote that while he "did nothing wrong," he'd "strongly consider" giving written testimony to House impeachment investigators.Stares Of course, he did it while insulting Nancy Pelosi, the House Democrats, the impeachment inquiry, and the news show Face the Nation, so, well, maybe it wasn't the most sincere offer ever? Anyway, he ended his Twitter thread by saying "I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it." Let's just assume that's definitely going to happen. (Source: Twitter)
Of course, even as the president said he'd consider providing written testimony to Congress, the House was in court arguing that he may have lied in his written testimony provided to the Mueller investigation. "There is evidence, very sadly, that the President might have provided untruthful answers and this is a key part of the impeachment inquiry," House general counsel Douglas Letter told the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit today. The House is in court to force the Department of Justice to turn over grand jury material from the Mueller investigation. On top of the questions the House is already attempting to answer by gaining access to these documents, Friday's conviction of Trump associate Roger Stone has opened questions as to whether Trump's written answers to Mueller in regards to what he knew about Stone's contacts with Wikileaks were untrue. So it's definitely a good idea to have him provide written testimony again, that's for sure. (Source: CNN)
Meanwhile, fallout from last week's open impeachment hearings has reached the "palace intrigue" stage. NBC News reported today that the "impeachment inquiry has created the first rift between President Donald Trump and the Cabinet member who has been his closest ally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo." Most of the testimony in the House impeachment inquiry—both closed-door and open—has come from current and former State Department officials. According to NBC, "Pompeo 'feels like he's getting a bunch of blame from the president and the White House for having hired all these people who are turning against Trump and that it's the State Department that is going to bring him down, so it's all Pompeo's fault.'" Well then. (Source: NBC News)
So probably it's not great for Pompeo that yet another another State Department staffer is now scheduled to testify in open hearings. David Holmes, who works at the US Embassy in Ukraine, has been added to the public testimony schedule for Thursday. Holmes overheard the July 26 phone call that US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland had with Trump in a crowded restaurant and just testified behind closed doors on Friday. During that call, Holmes testified that he heard the president ask Sondland if Ukrainian president Zelensky was "gonna do the investigation" into the Bidens, to which Sondland responded that Zelensky would do "anything you ask him to." Holmes will now testify alongside White House National Security Council official Fiona Hill on Thursday, making him the ninth witness scheduled to testify this week. Nine. Cries. (Source: Axios)
This overloaded week of testimony begins tomorrow, Tuesday November 19, with four people scheduled. The morning will feature the dual testimony of Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to VP Pence, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a Ukrainian expert on the National Security Council. Both Williams and Vindman were present on the president's July 25 call with president Zelensky. But that's not all!The afternoon will feature Kurt Volker, former US special representative to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a Russia expert on the National Security Council. Morrison was also on the July 25 call, while Volker has been connected to Gordon Sondland's Ukraine machinations. Four people testifying in one day is one more person than testified all last week, so it's been nice knowing you. Lolololol. Dies. (Source: Vox)
The House Intelligence committee was back behind closed doors on Saturday to hear the testimony of Mark Sandy, deputy associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget. The Office of Management and Budget has been a missing link in testimony up to now, with the acting director and other officials defying Congressional subpoenas. The budget office is the administration arm that actually placed the hold on $400M of Ukrainian military aid that sits at the center of the impeachment inquiry. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sandy told investigators that the hold was "unusual" and that he was never told why the money needed to be held back. Regardless, Sandy signed off on the hold on July 25, the same day as President Trump's call wtih Ukrainian president Zelensky. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Saturday also saw the release of two transcripts from last month's closed-door depositions: Tim Morrison, a Russia expert on the National Security Counsel, and Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to VP Pence. Morrison, who was listening in on the president's July 25 call with Ukrainian president Zelensky, testified that even though he didn't think the president did anything illegal on the call—though the mention of investigations "seemed unusual"—he told NSC lawyers they should restrict access to the call transcript because the contents might leak.Sure, why not. Morison also testified that he was concerned about alternative channels in US/Ukraine communications led by US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. "At some point I became concerned that this parallel process was going to turn into something—and here we are." Here we are indeed. (Source: NPR)
If "unusual" seems like the word of the day in this update, that's because it is! In the other transcript released yesterday, Vice President Pence's national security aide Jennifer Williams, described Trump's request to investigate political opponents "unusual and inappropriate" and that she viewed Trump's requests to be "more specific to the president in nature, to his personal political agenda, as opposed to a broader … foreign policy objective of the United States." Additionally, Williams testified that Ukrainian energy company Burisma was mentioned on the July 25th call, but there's no mention of Burisma in the summary transcript of the call released by the White House which, thinking face emoji. (Source: Politico)
Speaking of discrepancies in White House call transcripts, the Friday release of a rough transcript of an earlier call between Trump and Zelensky raised some questions because it diverged significantly from the original summary of the call back in April. The original summary said the two talked about working together to "root out corruption," which doesn't appear in the new transcript at all. The reason? Apparently the summary was written in advance of the call and, "because the call occurred on a Sunday, likely wasn’t updated." I got nothing. (Source: Politico)
Finally, and heavily in "I got nothing" territory, CNN reported late Friday night on a meeting last year between president Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and the two Giuliani associates who are now under arrest for campaign finance violations, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. After the meeting, which took place during the White House Hanukkah party, Parnas told people he was on "a secret mission" from the president to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens. This happened during the White House Hanukkah party, I can not stress that enough. Parnas "told everyone in Ukraine about the White House meeting," Ken McCallion, a former federal prosecutor with numerous high-level clients in Ukraine told CNN. "He was adamant he was 'their guy'—that they chose him to be their ambassador in Ukraine." Meanwhile in actual reality, Parnas was one of the people, along with Fruman and Giuliani, cited by former US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as involved in the "smear campaign" that lead to her ouster as ambassador. (Source: CNN)
14 Weeks Ago
The second public hearing in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump took place in the House of Representatives today. The House Intelligence Committee questioned former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch for hours about the circumstances surrounding her abrupt firing from her post this spring. Over the course of her testimony, Yovanovitch outlined the smear campaign against her run by Rudy Giuliani and ousted former Ukrainian prosecutors. "When our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me," she testified. "What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a US Ambassador." In her testimony, she asked a very simple question that is endemic to this whole mess: "How could our system fail like this?" (Source: The Guardian)
Unbelievably, while Yovanovitch was testifying about feeling attacked by President Trump during his July 25 call with Ukrainian president Zelensky, Trump took to Twitter to, well, attack her again.For real. "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," he tweeted. "She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him." I just. I can't. A few minutes later, House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff interrupted the Democratic lawyer's questioning to read the tweet to ambassador Yovanovitch, who visibly slumped in her chair on hearing it, saying "It’s very intimidating." Schiff responded: "Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously." I genuinely can't believe that happened, yet here we are. (Source: New York Times)
Yovanovich was not the only person to testify today. Immediately following her testimony, Intelligence Committee members went to the secure room that they'd taken closed-door depositions in all last month to hear from David Holmes, the US Embassy staffer in Kiev who William Taylor testified on Wednesday had overheard a conversation between US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and President Trump. According to his opening statement, Holmes heard Sondland tell Trump that President Zelensky "loves your ass" and, when asked by Trump if he'd investigate the Bidens, Sondland responded that Zelensky would do "anything you ask him to."Really, I can't. Today. I swear.(Source: CNN)
Holmes is actually the first of two days of closed-door testimony the Intelligence Committee will hear. Saturday, Mark Sandy, a career employee at the White House Office of Budget and Management will give a private deposition to the committee. Sandy is the first Budget Office official to testify after multiple people have defied Congressional subpoena. It's expected that he'll be able to fill in "important details on the holdup of military aid to Ukraine." (Source: Washington Post)
Meanwhile, because today was a day that would not end—and so neither will this update—as Yovanovich testified about the smear campaign Rudy Giuliani had orchestrated against her, reports were coming out that Rudy Giuliani was now the focus of a federal investigation for his work in Ukraine. Oh, OK. According to Bloomberg, "The probe of Giuliani, which one official said could also include possible charges on violating laws against bribing foreign officials or conspiracy, presents a serious threat to Trump's presidency." Add it to the pile I guess. (Source: Bloomberg)
Hey, think we're done yet? We're not! Since we're on the topic of oddball characters soliciting foreign help in elections to benefit the president, Trump advisor Roger Stone was convicted today on seven counts of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his involvement with the 2016 Wikileaks' release of a tranche of DNC emails that had been hacked by Russia. Sure, it's not directly related to this impeachment proceeding but also waves hands in literally every direction simultaneously while screaming unceasingly. (Source: Washington Post)
Finally—finally—the day began with what seemed like an attempt to get a leg up on the news cycle when the White House released a rough transcript of another call Trump had with Ukrainian president Zelensky. This call, held days after Zelensky's election in April, involved little more than congratulations between the men. That should have been that, except that the transcript they released "bared little resemblance" to the summary of the call the White House originally released back in April, the Associated Press found. Specificaly, that original summary said that the two discussed ways to help Ukraine "implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption," but there was no discussion of corruption on the call. So like, huh? Also missing from the original summary was a discussion about Ukrainian beauty pageant contestants. "When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people," Trump said to Zelensky, according to the new transcript. Falls to ground. Shatters into dust.(Source: Associated Press)
The big revelation from yesterday's impeachment hearing, that US ambassador to Ukraine Gordon Sondland was overheard having a phone conversation with President Trump in Kyiv the day after Trump's July call with Ukrainian president Zelensky, was backed up by a second witness today. Because of course it was. According to the Associated Press, a second diplomatic staffer at the same restaurant overheard the conversation between Sondland and Trump as well. On the call, which William Taylor testified about yesterday, Trump was overheard yelling through the phone about "investigations" into the Bidens. When asked about the call today, Trump told reporters that he didn't remember making that call "not even a little bit." Well OK then. (Source: Associated Press)
Repercussions from yesterday's testimony found their way to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's weekly press conference today. Pelosi told reporters that the testimony "corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry." Which, I mean, that's been clear for a while right? The key part of the statement was Pelosi's use of the word "bribery" which is specifically used in the Constitution as an impeachable offense: "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Since "high crimes and misdemeanors" is open to interpretation, the belief is that "bribery" is the incantation that gives far less wiggle room. Maybe smash a horcrux or two to be safe. (Source: New York Times)
Meanwhile President Trump had lunch with Republican Senators today where he shared a transcript of another call he had with Ukrainian president Zelensky back in April. "The president had it and we talked a while and he said, 'Here it is, you want to read it?'" Senator Kevin Cramer told the Wall Street Journal. "And he just shuffled it across the table and I read it and gave it back." It's worth noting that the Republican Senators he shared the transcript with will be jurors on his impeachment trial if it reaches the Senate so like, lol nothing matters. Anyway, in a Tweet this Monday, Trump said he'd release the "transcript of the first, and therefore more important, phone call with the Ukrainian President before week’s end." So we've got that to look forward to even if we're not Republican Senators maybe I guess. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Speaking of Republican Senators, according to the Washington Post, "some Republican senators and their advisers are privately discussing whether to pressure GOP leaders to stage a lengthy impeachment trial beginning in January to scramble the Democratic presidential race." There are six Senators currently running for the Democratic nomination. Overlapping the impeachment trial with the leadup to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, both in early February, would keep them largely off the trail. I am bone tired.(Source: Washington Post)
Finally, the open impeachment hearings continue tomorrow with the testimony of former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch was the recipient of a lengthy smear campaign masterminded by Rudy Giuliani that lead to her ouster as ambassador earlier this year. In closed door testimony last month, Yovanovitch said she first heard about Giulani's meddling from a Ukrainian official who told her to "watch her back." Yovanovitch's testimony will begin at 10am Eastern tomorrow and follow the same format as Wednesday's: Opening statements, followed by 90 minutes of questioning by Democratic and Republican lawyers (45 minutes per), followed by 5 minute rounds of a jacketless Representative Jim Jordan yelling—er, I mean 5 minute rounds of Committee member questions, alternating between Republican and Democrat. (Source: NPR)
For only the third time in modern presidential history, the House of Representatives today started hearings that could result in the impeachment of a sitting president. The questioning of William Taylor, acting US ambassador to the Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, lasted from 10am until 2:30pm Eastern with only short breaks throughout. The hearing was a mix of courtroom—the first 90 minutes of questioning was largely done by lawyers representing Republicans and Democrats—and clownshow—every Rep still got five minutes to either ask questions or showboat in the last two hours—and testimony largely covered ground that Taylor and Kent had previously covered in their closed-door testimony last month. But public testimony is very different than reading transcripts and it was historic however you cut it. This phase of the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump has officially begun. (Source: C-Span)
The biggest revelation of the day's testimony came early when Ambassador Taylor described an previously-unknown phone call between President Trump and US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland—a central figure in the US/Ukraine narrative that sits at the center of the impeachment proceedings. The phone call took place on July 26, the day after the now-infamous call between Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky, and was overheard by one of Taylor's staffers. On the call, Trump—who was speaking loud enough that Taylor's staffer could hear him through the phone—asked Sondland about "the investigations" which Sondland then responded were "ready to move forward." After the call, Taylor's staffer asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for," Taylor testified. That quote, that the President cared more about investigating Biden than he cared about Ukraine, came up in questioning repeatedly after Taylor dropped it. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Taylor, a career diplomat who speaks in a deep Leonard-Nimoy-esque bass, repeatedly centered his testimony around Ukraine and its importance in the global order. In his opening statement, he labored to remind Congressmembers and the public that "there are two Ukraine stories today." The first "is the one we are discussing this morning and that you have been hearing for the past two weeks. It is a rancorous story about whistleblowers, Mr Giuliani, side channels, quid pro quos, corruption, and interference in elections. In this story, Ukraine is merely an object." He continued: "But there is another Ukraine story—a positive, bipartisan one. In this second story, Ukraine is the subject. This one is about young people in a young nation struggling to break free of its past." It was a human moment in a hearing that was largely absent of them. (Source: NPR)
For his part George Kent—dressed like the natty professor in a tweed suit and bow tie—spent a good deal of his testimony defending other diplomats who he felt were the recipients of a Rudy Giuliani-led "campaign to smear." Along with Giuliani and his associates, Kent testified that the "chief agitators" on the Ukrainian side were prosecutors fired for corruption who were "now peddling false information in order to exact revenge against those who had exposed their misconduct." Sound like great guys all around. (Source: Politico)
Republicans on the committee spent much of the four and a half hours attempting to shift the inquiry toward—who else—Joe and Hunter Biden as well as revisiting conspiracy theories from the 2016 election. The Republican position was summed up most succinctly by Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes who, in his closing statement, said that that the House "should stop holding these hearings until we get the answer to three important topics." Those topics? "Democrats prior coordination with the whistleblower. … Second, the full extent of the Ukraine's meddling against the Trump campaign. … And third why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden and what did he do for them." Screams into the void forever.(Source: C-Span)
Finally, this all starts up again Friday with the open testimony of former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch—the main subject of Rudy Giuliani's smear campaign—and then shifts into even higher gear next week with eight witnesses giving public testimony. Highlights among those eight include Liutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was on the July 25 call, Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine who was namechecked repeatedly in today's testimony, and US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland who was on the receiving end of the phone call Ambassador Taylor revealed today. Eight. Hold on to your butts. (Source: Washington Post)
Public hearings in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump begin tomorrow. Damn right that's going to lead today's update. Tomorrow will see dual testimony from William Taylor, acting US ambassador to the Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Yes, they're testifying at the same time. No, I don't know why. The full schedule for tomorrow:
The hearing will begin at 10am Eastern.
From there, Democrat Adam Schiff, House Intelligence Committee chair, and Republican Devin Nunes, ranking member, will make opening statements followed by opening statements from Taylor and Kent.
Following opening statements, both Schiff and Nunes, and designated committee lawyers, will get 45 minutes each to question witnesses.
After that, each member of the committee will get five minutes each to ask questions, swapping between Democrat and Republican. There are 22 members of the committee, so that's—does math—110 minutes.
As of now, it's expected that things will wrap up between 2:30 and 4:30 Eastern.
To kick things off for tomorrow, House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff wrote a letter to House members today. The letter—which much of the above timeline comes from—gives both rules and context for impeachment hearings, restates the parameters of the questioning tomorrow, which is supposed to be tightly focused on the president's conduct in regards to Ukraine, and underscores that the inquiry "will not serve as venues for any Member to further the same sham investigations into the Bidens or into debunked conspiracies about 2016 US election interference that President Trump pressed Ukraine to undertake for his personal political benefit." We'll see how that goes. "Above all," Schiff wrote, "these hearings are intended to bring the facts to light for the American people." Here we go. (Source: original document)
Republicans wrote a letter of their own, an 18 page talking points memo sent to committee members. The letter outlines the main Republican strategy for defense, which appears to be—for real here—"the President's state of mind." According to Axios, the letter states that "to appropriately understand the events in question—and most importantly, assess the President's state of mind during his interaction with [Ukrainian] President Zelensky—context is necessary." I mean, sure? (Source: Axios)
Meanwhile today wasn't just about setting things up for tomorrow. We learned more about the timeline of the withheld Ukrainian aid from the transcript of Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. The New York Times reports that Cooper "testified that she and other Pentagon officials had warned the White House over the summer that continuing to deny Ukraine security assistance that had been approved by Congress could eventually cause the administration to run afoul of the law." Checks out. (Source: New York Times)
Finally, even as we teeter on the precipice of the very start of the open impeachment inquiry in the House, Republican Senator Richard Burr predicted that the impeachment trial in the Senate would last for "six to eight weeks."I'm sorry, what? "The day the [Senate] takes it up, we go into session six days a week from 12:30pm until 6:30pm," he said at an event at Wake Forest University yesterday. Six. To. Eight. Weeks. Please. God. Help. Me. Who needed a life anyway. I work for tips. Lolololololol. Cries. (Source: CNN)
Monday was the quietest day we'll have all week, with both a federal holiday today and the (relative) calm before the storm of public impeachment hearings starts on Wednesday. Today did bring the official schedule for those public hearings, with House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff's office announcing that things will kick off at 10am Wednesday with the dual testimony of William Taylor, acting US ambassador to the Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Taylor's closed-door testimony included a detailed outline of the "irregular channels" of communication with Ukraine run by Rudy Giuliani. Kent's previous testimony attested to a "campaign of lies" that lead to the firing of former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who testifies in the open on Friday. This is really happening—set your DVRs. (Source: CNN)
Despite the federal holiday, transcripts from the last month of closed-door depositions continued to be released. Today saw the release of transcripts of testimony from Laura Cooper—deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia—and Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, two State Department Ukraine specialists. The transcripts continue to flesh out an understanding of both the hold placed on aid to Ukraine that sits at the center of the impeachment inquiry as well as the involvement of the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in Ukrainian affairs. In his testimony Anderson said that National Security Advisor John Bolton "made a joke about every time Ukraine is mentioned, Giuliani pops up." So basically, Giuliani is like the Candyman, only terrible. (Source: Washington Post)
While the final lineup of people called to testify in this phase of the impeachment inquiry is still being settled, one person we officially won't hear from is the whistleblower who kicked everything off with their report to Congress in September. Republicans—and the president himself (more on that in a sec)—have wanted to call the whistleblower, but in responding to their request, Adam Schiff said that the Intelligence Committee "will not facilitate efforts by President Trump and his allies in Congress to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower" and that the whistleblower has a right to remain anonymous. That's going to go over great I am sure. (Source: CNN)
Even though hearings begin in two days, the Republican strategy for the impeachment continues to evolve, with Representative Jim Jordan temporarily assigned to the House Intelligence Committee so he can sit in on the open hearings. Jordan was one of the Republicans that lead the occupation of the secure room where depositions were being held last month as a way of protesting the closed-door nature of the hearings—despite the fact that he had full access to the hearings as the head Republican on the House Oversight Committee. "You want your best contributors for 'showtime,'" one Republican told Politico. "Jordan is definitely a showman." Stares. (Source: Politico)
Finally, the president spent much of the day tweeting about the impeachment proceedings, including saying that "the Whistleblower, his lawyer, and Corrupt politician Schiff should be investigated for fraud!" He paused his tweeting to take part in New York's Veterans Day Parade. When he started again a few hours later, he accused Adam Schiff of having "fabricated my phone call, he will fabricate the transcripts that he is making and releasing!" I'm sure the rest of the week is going to go great. (Source: Twitter)
Republican House members had a deadline of Saturday to produce their wish list of witnesses for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry. How's it looking? Well, it's "a list that includes former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden"—stares—"and the anonymous whistleblower who filed the initial complaint against President Trump. What's the strategy here? "Republicans want to publicly question witnesses who would divert the conversation away from questions about Trump’s behavior to allegations only tangentially related to the case," writes the Washington Post. Checks out. However, Democrats have final say on who actually gets called, so expect "failure to fulfill Minority witness requests shall constitute evidence of your denial of fundamental fairness and due process" to become a talking point when half these folks aren't called. I need a nap. (Source: Washington Post)
From putting "impeachment inquiry" in quotes every time he uses it, to the list of witnesses that reads like a greatest-hits collection of three years of conspiracy theories—including a DNC staffer who "can assist Congress and the American public in better understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election"—the entirety of Devin Nunes's letter is worth a read. This is an actual document in an actual inquiry in actual Congress. Lights self on fire. (Source: original document)
The GOP list wasn't the only Republican maneuvering happening this weekend. Late Friday night, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney asked to join the lawsuit requesting a judicial decision on whether White House staff should comply with House subpoenas or White House directives of non-compliance. Does this mean that the chief of staff of the White House is attempting to sue the White House? Yes, yes it does. The lawsuit, originally filed by National Security Counsel deputy Charles Kupperman, is also holding up the testimony of National Security Advisor John Bolton. The first hearing is scheduled for December 10. Checks calendar. Bursts into tears. (Source: CNN)
Speaking of John Bolton, a puzzling report from Bloomberg on Saturday placed Bolton at the center of the release of the withheld funds to Ukraine. "Shortly before September 9, Bolton had relayed a message to the State Department that the funding could go ahead. It’s not clear whether Bolton, who resigned from the job a week later, did so with Trump’s approval," Bloomberg reports. Wait what? This report directly contradicts the White House's narrative that Trump himself lifted the hold on the money on September 11 after a phone call with Republican Senator Rob Portman. "I gave the money because Rob Portman and others called me and asked," Trump told reporters last month. The hold and later release of Ukrainian aid—and who knew what when—is a key element of the impeachment inquiry. My head genuinely hurts. (Source: Bloomberg)
If that isn't enough for one weekend, President Trump told reporters yesterday that the White House was readying the release of a second transcript summary with Ukrainian president Zelensky. "We have another transcript coming out which is very important," he told reporters before going to a football game Saturday. He said that the summary, from a call in April after Zelensky won the Ukrainian election, would be released on Tuesday, a day before open impeachment hearings begin. Sure, why not. (Source: The Guardian)
15 Weeks Ago
As the House prepares for open hearings next week, two more transcripts from last month's closed-door testimony were released. The first, by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the director for European affairs for the National Security Council, gave a vivid look into the July 25 call between president Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky. "I’m struggling for the words," he told investigators, "but it was not a positive call." When asked if there was any doubt in his mind that Trump was asking Zelensky to investigate his political rivals as a "deliverable," Vindman responded "There was no doubt."Well then. Of course that wasn't enough for Republican Rep John Ratcliffe who pressed Vindman to define what he meant by a "deliverable." Vindman explained further: "it became completely apparent what the deliverable would be in order to get a White House meeting. That deliverable was reinforced by the President. … The demand was, in order to get the White House meeting, they had to deliver an investigation." (Source: Washington Post)
The transcript of Fiona Hill, senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council was also released today. In her deposition, Hill describes a hellish tenure at the NSC "filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories … accusing me of being a Soros mole in the White House, of colluding with all kinds of enemies of the president, and, you know, of various improprieties." I've had some bad jobs, but omg. When she reported this to her boss, John Bolton, he told her to go to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg: "You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you've heard and what I've said." Well OK then. (Source: Politico)
Speaking of Fiona Hill's boss John Bolton, the former National Security Advisor continues to be a mustachioed enigma in these proceedings, appearing as a critical voice in many transcripts but refusing to appear. Today his lawyer said that John Bolton knows about "many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far." Well, out with it then, right? Not so fast—his lawyer wants a judge to decide whether Bolton should abide by House subpoena or the White House directive of non-cooperation. If that sounds familiar it's because Bolton's lawyer is the same lawyer as Charles Kupperman who has already sued for the same reason. His case is being heard December 10, so it may be a while before we hear about those "relevant meetings and conversations." (Source: New York Times)
While we're talking about not appearing, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney refused to comply with a subpoena today and skipped his hearing with House investigators. You are shocked, I know. He waited until literally the last minute to do it, according to Time. "Mulvaney’s lawyer informed the committees leading the impeachment probe one minute before the deposition was supposed to start that Mulvaney had been directed not to comply with the subpoena." So there's your fun fact for the day. (Source: Time)
If you were wondering how next week's public hearings were weighing on the president, he's "not concerned about anything," he told White House reporters today. Hmmmmm. "The testimony has all been fine," he said (side note: it hasn't). "I mean, for the most part, I never even heard of these people. I have no idea who they are," which is a little odd because he appointed a number of them. Anyway, he added that "They shouldn't be having public hearings; this is a hoax." Screams into the void for all eternity. Public hearings begin on Wednesday. (Source: New York Times)
Preparation for next week's start of open impeachment hearings continued today with Democrats revealing the three questions they are using as the "official parameters" of public hearings:
Did the President request that a foreign leader and government initiate investigations to benefit the President's personal political interests in the United States, including an investigation related to the President's political rival and potential opponent in the 2020 US presidential election?
Did the President–directly or through agents–seek to use the power of the Office of the President and other instruments of the federal government in other ways to apply pressure on the head of state and government of Ukraine to advance the President's personal political interests, including by leveraging an Oval Office meeting desired by the President of Ukraine or by withholding US military assistance to Ukraine?
Did the President and his Administration seek to obstruct, suppress or cover up information to conceal from the Congress and the American people evidence about the President's actions and conduct?
These tightly-focused inquiry parameters appear to be an attempt to keep the next phase of the impeachment inquiry—which will allow Republicans to call their own witnesses as well—dialed into the key question of presidential abuse of power. Next week is going to be bonkers isn't it. (Source: Politico)
As Republicans draw up their list of potential witnesses they'd like to call, their number one appears to be the anonymous whistleblower who kicked off the whole impeachment inquiry. How would an anonymous whistleblower testify in an open hearing? Well, according to Republican Rep Mark Meadows, "The whistleblower statute never required for anonymity." Which, thinking face emoji. Republicans have until Saturday to deliver their list of witnesses to Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff. But—twist—Democrats have veto power on anyone on their list so all bets are off on who actually makes it through. (Source: The Hill)
In addition to figuring out their list of potential witnesses, Republicans are also deciding if they want to shift the makeup of their side of the Intelligence Committee, which will lead this stage of the inquiry. Specifically, Republicans are considering moving Jim Jordan, currently the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, over to Intelligence. Why make the move? "We are interested in putting together the best team," a senior Republican aide told CBS News. Jim Jordan is their best player? I, uh—walks away slowly.(Source: CBS News)
Meanwhile, actual work got done too, with Jennifer Williams, an advisor to VP Pence on Europe and Russia, testifying today. The White House attempted to block Williams, but she appeared under subpoena. This is potentially a "what did the Vice President know and when did he know it" moment for the inquiry, as Williams is the first person from Pence's staff to give a deposition. While we don't yet know what she covered, her lawyer said "we expect her testimony will largely reflect what is already in the public record." After the release of thousands of pages of transcripts this week, there is a lot in the public record. (Source: Washington Post)
Speaking of transcripts, the House Intelligence Committee also released the transcript of the testimony of State Department official George Kent today. In his testimony, Kent said that "POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelenskyy to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton."Whaaaaaat. Kent is one of three people giving open testimony next week so, uh, that should be something. (Source: Axios)
Finally, how close was Ukrainian president Zelensky from going on that microphone and saying those words? According to a report in the New York Times today, very. "Finally bending to the White House request, Mr Zelensky's staff planned for him to make an announcement in an interview on September 13" What stopped him? Word that the White House had frozen aid to Ukraine leaked out and, two days before the interview was scheduled, "the Trump administration released the assistance and Mr Zelensky’s office quickly canceled the interview." Stares off into the middle distance.(Source: New York Times)
The "public phase" of the impeachment inquiry got a start date today. After last week's floor vote in the House, the impeachment inquiry has looked pretty much the same, with closed-door testimony scheduled all week. But that stops next week when the first public testimony in the impeachment inquiry will be held Wednesday, November 13. That day will see two televised testimonies by William Taylor, acting US ambassador to the Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch—who, according to testimony over the last month, was smeared repeatedly by Trump loyalists before being fired—is scheduled to testify publicly on Friday the 15th. All three were previously deposed by House investigative committees, but now will testify in an open, televised setting. Cue the fireworks. (Source: New York Times)
Between now and then, House committees will continue to release transcripts of the closed-door testimony taken over the last month. Today, transcripts of the ten-hour testimony of William Taylor were released. Over the lengthy transcripts, Taylor paints a picture of US Ukraine policy running through Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, instead of diplomats—as he calls it, a "regular channel" (US diplomats) and an "irregular channel" (Giuliani and various cronies). "The irregular channel seemed to focus on specific issues, specific cases, rather than the regular channel's focus on institution building," Taylor testified. Those specific issues? Take a guess. Taylor's detailed testimony gives extensive names and dates thanks in part to his extensive notetaking. As he explains, "I keep a little notebook where I take notes on conversations, in particular when I’m not in the office. So, in meetings with Ukrainian officials or when I'm out and I get a phone call and I can—I keep notes." All hail the notetakers. (Source: Politico)
The release of another transcript this week resulted in a dramatic revision. Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU, revised his previous testimony, now admitting in a sworn statement that "resumption of the US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement." The revision is the first time Sondland has admitted that the White House attached conditions to the release of military aide to Ukraine—a big reversal from his original testimony where he repeatedly said he didn't believe that there were. I don't know quite how you can just idly add that in that later and it's all cool, but here we are. (Source: Bloomberg)
Even as transcripts are released (and, uh, revised) and the House gears up for public testimony next week, investigators continue to hold closed-door depositions as well—or at least are trying to. While David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs at the State Department, showed up to testify today, three others, including energy secretary Rick Perry, no-showed. While Perry was not under subpoena, Russel Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget and Ulrich Brechbul, a State Department official who listened to Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian president Zelensky, had both been issued subpoenas after no-showing previously. What to do about all these no-shows? Well, according to the New York Times, Adam Schiff has "indicated he will count refusals to appear as part of an article of impeachment against Mr Trump for obstruction of Congress." K, that works. (Source: New York Times)
Finally, speaking of subpoenas, House Democrats announced today that they've given up pursuing a subpoena for former deputy national security advisor Charles Kupperman, who had filed a lawsuit asking a judge to determine if he should comply. Earlier this week a judge set a hearing date of December 10th, more than a month away and well into the public phase of the impeachment inquiry. Instead of pursuing this suit, House Democrats told Kupperman's attorney that they hope "Kupperman will comply with an upcoming ruling in a similar case involving former White House counsel Don McGahn." Definitely hoping is going to go great here I'm sure. (Source: Axios)
16 Weeks Ago
Welcome to the official impeachment inquiry! The House of Representatives voted today to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry that has been underway for the last month and to move it into a new, more public phase. This is only the third time in modern history that the House has voted on an impeachment inquiry of a president, so like, take a moment here. "What is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who on Monday introduced this resolution. The resolution outlines the next steps of the impeachment inquiry, now focused heavily on public hearings starting in November which will almost certainly lead to articles of impeachment being filed and a vote taken maybe before the winter holidays. Things just got very real. (Source: Washington Post)
Today's historic vote was also a moment of truth for lawmakers who may have been reluctant to put their names to an impeachment vote. The final vote fell almost entirely on party lines, with 232 voting to approve and 196 opposed. Two Democrats—Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey—joined every Republican in voting against the resolution. Justin Amash, who left the Republican party earlier this year, voted in favor. If you want to see the whole list of names, the New York Times has a good look at how everyone voted. (Source: New York Times)
Meanwhile—literally as the vote was underway upstairs—House investigators were hearing from Tim Morrison, the Europe and Russia chief for the National Security Council. In eight hours of testimony, Morrison is reported to have further corroborated the withholding of military aid to Ukraine in return for political favors for the president. According to Politico, Morrison was "careful to not directly criticize the president's actions" in his testimony, though it is notable that he resigned his job at the White House just prior to his deposition. Hmmmm.(Source: Politico)
Speaking of testimony, today we continued to learn more about Tuesday's testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. According to the Washington Post, Vindman testified that when he raised concerns about the president's July 25 call to White House lawyer John Eisenberg, Eisenberg responded by moving the transcript of the call with the president of Ukraine to a classified server. In case you were wondering, that's "a step that other officials have said is at odds with long-standing White House protocol." Eisenberg has now been asked to testify on Monday. Don't put big money on him showing up. (Source: Washington Post)
But with today's vote, the time of closed-door testimony is coming to a close. "A lot of the damning evidence already came out. And a lot of these witnesses are corroborating essentially the same narrative, which hasn’t changed," Representative Ted Lieu told Politico. While there are still people lined up for testimony, another source said "Given the evidence we’ve collected so far, we think we’re ready to enter a public phase sooner than later." Here we go. (Source: Politico)
The biggest news of today was further details from yesterday's testimony by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. Citing multiple people familiar with Vindman's testimony, the New York Times reported that "the White House transcript of a July call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president omitted crucial words and phrases."Well then. According to the Times, what was left out of the White House transcript "included Mr Trump's assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R Biden Jr discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr Biden's son Hunter." Oh. That is certainly an omission. (Source: New York Times)
In addition to learning more about Vindman's testimony, today featured two State Department officials testifying to House investigators. Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, who both served as senior advisors on Ukraine, "described to investigators the unusual intrusion into US foreign policy by Trump-aligned consultants, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Robert Livingston, a lobbyist and former GOP congressman," according to Politico. Robert Livingston? A new player has entered the game. In her opening statement, Croft said that Livingston "characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an 'Obama holdover' and associated with George Soros." OK... "It was not clear to me at the time—or now—at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch." Well he sounds great. (Source: Politico)
A third State Department official also appeared on Capitol Hill today. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan answered multiple impeachment-y questions during a confirmation hearing to become US ambassador to Russia. While a confirmation hearing for an ambassador is not the normal setting for this type of inquiry, Democrats got right to the point with Sullivan. Did Rudy Giuliani try to smear ousted US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch? "I believe he was, yes." Should the president use the power of his office to get foreign countries to investigate political opponents? "I don't think that would be in accord with our values." Has Sullivan ever "heard of any other president asking a foreign government to investigate an American citizen"? According to reports, Sullivan "can't think of one off the top of my head." And so here we are again—it's remarkable how consistent all this testimony keeps ending up being. (Source: Washington Post)
Speaking of testimony (when aren't we), Democrats have officially asked former National Security Advisor John Bolton to appear in the impeachment inquiry next week. The mustachioed advisor has come up multiple times in testimony over the last month and his appearance before impeachment investigators was all but inevitable. Bolton has been reported to have viewed Rudy Giuliani as a "hand grenade" and refused to get involved in "whatever drug deal" US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney "are cooking up." That Democrats didn't wait until a judge ruled on whether Bolton's former deputy Charles Kupperman would be compelled to testify (a hearing for which was pushed to Friday), is a sign that they think their hand becomes stronger after tomorrow's floor vote on the impeachment resolution introduced yesterday. (Source: New York Times)
About the vote tomorrow, Democrats emerged from a caucus meeting today and announced that they expected few defections in the vote on the resolution to begin open impeachment proceedings. According to Politico, only five Democrats "have not come out in support of the impeachment inquiry" and only one, Jeff Van Drew who holds a vulnerable seat in New Jersey has said he's leaning toward no. Despite a few potential no votes from Democrats, "I think most of us recognize transparency and articulation of process is in the best interest of the country and for the institution," said Rep Dean Phillips from Minnesota. No Republicans are expected to vote for the resolution. Shocker, I know. (Source: Politico)
And finally, the House will begin the voting process on the impeachment resolution at 10:30am Eastern tomorrow. There will be debate—you think?—and potential procedural shenanigans, so the vote won't begin until some time later. For a full guide on how to watch it and what to expect, Vox has got the hookup. (Source: Vox)
Whoa—we've got an impeachment resolution and a date set for a vote! Now this isn't a vote to impeach the president. Instead the resolution, introduced by Democrats today, sets forward the rules of an official impeachment proceeding—the first step toward likely articles of impeachment. "Following in the footsteps of previous impeachment inquiries," wrote House committee leaders involved in the impeachment inquiry, "the next phase will move from closed depositions to open hearings where the American people will learn firsthand about the president's misconduct." In addition to open hearings, the resolution directs the Intelligence Committee to prepare a report collecting all evidence in the investigation. That report would then be turned over to the Judiciary Committee who would draw up articles of impeachment. There's a long way between here and there though—the resolution will grant Republicans a lot of the things they've asked for, namely being able to issue subpoenas for testimony of their own, and outlines due process rights for the president and his lawyers once the process moves to the Judiciary Committee. A vote on the resolution is set for Halloween—marking the only time that a "do boo, vote" joke could actually sort of work. Sorry not sorry.(Source: New York Times)
If you're into the olde-tyme language of official House legalese, you will have a great time working your way through the text of the resolution itself. If you're not, just the remarkably long title is suitably historic: Directing certain committees to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its Constitutional power to impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America, and for other purposes.(Source: original document)
The resolution wasn't the only action in the House today, as Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top expert on Ukraine, testified to House investigators. The Iraq war vet, who was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by an IED, is the first White House official who was actually on the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky to testify to House investigators. His verdict? "I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the US government's support of Ukraine," he said in his opening statement. "I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine US national security." Yes, yes it would. (Source: Washington Post)
Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed on Friday by former National Security Council deputy Charles Kupperman—who asked a judge to decide if he should abide by House subpoena or White House demands of non-cooperation—has had a hearing set for the suitably spooky date of October 31. US District Judge Richard Leon said that "due to the time-sensitive nature of the issues raised in this case" he was speeding up the process. A decision in the House's favor would probably mean that they would then call former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who is represented by the same attorney as Kupperman and whose name has come up repeatedly in testimony as someone deeply critical of the president's actions toward Ukraine. Halloween is going to be a hell of a day. (Source: Bloomberg)
If fate wants to tack one more thing onto All Hallows' Eve, House lawyers are asking the courts to expedite the Department of Justice's appeal of Friday's decision that they are required to turn over grand jury material from the Mueller investigation. "Delay in this case would not only hinder the House's ability to consider impeachment quickly, but also enhance DOJ's ability to run out the clock on the Committee's impeachment inquiry altogether," wrote House lawyers in their filing. Why not do it on the day everything else is happening too. Boo! (Source: Politico)
Finally, one member of the administration will be testifying tomorrow who can't defy a subpoena. As Politico reports, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan is due to be vetted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday because he's up for a vote to become US ambassador to Russia. What timing. "Senate Democratic aides say Sullivan can expect questions about what role Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, played in shaping Ukraine policy." Ya think? "They'll also want to know what, if anything, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did to rein in Giuliani and other outside actors—as well as Trump—as they sought to pressure Ukraine's government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden." So that should be an interesting wrinkle in an already-interesting day. (Source: Politico)
The impeachment inquiry is suddenly entering a new phase this week with the surprise announcement this afternoon by Nancy Pelosi that the House will be introducing a resolution—potentially as soon as tomorrow—that will set procedural guidelines for public hearings, subpoenas, and what "due process" for the president will look like. "We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives," Speaker Pelosi wrote today. Whether or not it'll accomplish those things is up in the air but either way it is moving fast—a vote is set for Thursday. Hold on to your butts. (Source: Politico)
If the expectation by Democrats is that this resolution will hamper the White House's attack line that the impeachment is "illegitimate," well, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham quickly dispelled that by issuing a statement saying that the impeachment inquiry was "completely and irreversibly illegitimate." As if to underline that "irreversible" is the new talking point, Senator Lindsey Graham took to Twitter to declare that "a vote now is a bit like un-ringing a bell." Damned if you don't, damned if you do I guess. Expect to hear this line of "irreversible" criticism a lot in the next 48 hours. (Source: Associated Press)
Meanwhile, former White House national security deputy Charles Kupperman no-showed his scheduled deposition this morning. Kupperman had filed a lawsuit on Friday asking for judicial guidance on whether he should follow the White House's demand he not cooperate or the subpoena from the House. Kupperman's lawyer has asked for expedited consideration of the lawsuit, but so far there's no timing set and so Kupperman didn't show up. Complicating things further, Kupperman's lawyer is Charles Cooper who also represents mustachioed former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who Democrats would very much like to talk to but right now they'll be waiting on this judge's decision instead. (Source: Washington Post)
And in even more waiting-on-judges news, Friday's decision by a federal district judge that the Department of Justice turn over grand jury materials from the Mueller report to House impeachment investigators has now been appealed to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. You're shocked, I know—go ahead and catch your breath or something. The DOJ had been given a deadline of this Wednesday to turn over the documents. Obviously, in their appeal they are asking for a suspension of that deadline. Who doesn't love waiting for judges? (Source: New York Times)
If after all this you are thinking that perhaps the White House is engaging Democrats in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope with the courts, you will be glad to know that House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff today said in no uncertain terms that "we are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope with the courts" and that the White House's continued obstruction could be construed as "a very powerful case against the president for obstruction." Glad he cleared that up. Cries. (Source: Politico)
House investigative committees were back in session on Saturday, after being closed Thursday and Friday for memorials for Representative Elijah Cummings. Nobody likes working on Saturday—especially Republicans, who wrote a letter of complaint—but State Department acting assistant secretary for Europe, Phillip Reeker, showed up and testified for over eight hours. According to Bloomberg, in his testimony, Reeker said he was "disappointed Secretary of State Michael Pompeo didn’t back the US ambassador to Ukraine when she was targeted in a smear campaign by President Donald Trump and his associates." The closed door testimony was "a much richer reservoir of information than we originally expected," Democratic Rep Stephen Lynch said—for eight hours on a Saturday, I'd sure hope so. (Source: Bloomberg)
As the pace of testimony picks up again this week, the White House's blanket refusal to cooperate with the investigation is the focus of a lawsuit filed on Friday by Charles Kupperman. Kupperman, deputy to former national security advisor John Bolton, wants a judge to decide whether he should listen to the White House, who doesn't want him to testify, or comply with the subpoena from the House. "Plaintiff obviously cannot satisfy the competing demands of both the Legislative and Executive Branches," the lawsuit reads, "and he is aware of no controlling judicial authority definitively establishing which Branch’s command should prevail." Obviously this lawsuit has implications far beyond Kupperman, who is scheduled to be deposed tomorrow, and a decision in either direction will have major repercussions moving forward. (Source: Washington Post)
House Democrats responded to Kupperman's lawsuit on Saturday saying that it is "lacking in legal merit and apparently coordinated with the White House." And, in a refrain that is both familiar and as yet unenforced, said that failure to show up on Monday "will constitute evidence that may be used against him in a contempt proceeding." But, you know, don't hold your breath—so far House Democrats have yet to enforce a single subpoena. (Source: Bloomberg)
Meanwhile, we're still learning more about testimony from the people who have shown up over the last few weeks. The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported on more details from the testimony of US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who has emerged as a central figure in all this. Citing Sondland's lawyer directly, the Journal reported that during his testimony on October 17 when asked whether the president withholding aid from Ukraine in return for political favors "was a quid pro quo, Mr. Sondland cautioned that he wasn’t a lawyer but said he believed the answer was yes." I am also not a lawyer, but I will say ohhhhhhh. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Finally, the Washington Post has a revealing look at what Republicans have been asking during all these depositions. Remember, while Republicans have been pushing the narrative this week that they've been locked out of the proceedings, there are 48 Republican members of the three committees leading this stage of the impeachment inquiry. And it turns out their focus has been on—wait for it—unmasking the whistleblower. During testimony, "GOP members and staffers have repeatedly raised the name of a person suspected of filing the whistleblower complaint," the Post reports. Which definitely seems like a normal line of questioning about—checks notes—the president's conduct. Anyway, testimony picks up the pace again this week so expect much more of this to come. (Source: Washington Post)
17 Weeks Ago
The Republican talking point that the impeachment inquiry underway in the House is "illegitimate" was dealt a significant blow today after dominating the narrative this week. In a ruling related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election (more on that in a second), federal judge Beryl A Howell found that Department of Justice arguments that the House needed to pass a resolution authorizing a formal impeachment proceeding was "cherry-picked and incomplete." The US District Court judge went on to say "more significantly, this test has no textual support in the US Constitution." Judge Howell goes on to cite cases of non-presidential impeachment inquiries in the House that proceeded without a House resolution but, she adds "even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry." Well then.(Source: original document)
Believe it or not, declaring the impeachment inquiry legal was only a side quest in Judge Howell's decision. The rest was a big deal too, seeing as how she ordered that the Department of Justice turn over certain grand jury materials from Robert Mueller's investigation to the House Judiciary Committee—by Wednesday. The Judiciary Committee had sued this summer to release the redacted portions of Mueller's final report along with grand jury materials cited in the report. The grand jury material, usually secret, should be made available to House investigators because the "House was legally engaged in a judicial process that exempts Congress from normal grand jury secrecy rules," the Washington Post reported. Even if the impeachment inquiry remains focused on Ukraine, one would expect that grand jury material regarding Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort's work in Ukraine would be of interest. House investigators would get those on Wednesday, barring a DOJ appeal to the Supreme Court, which, stares at you, eyebrows raised. (Source: Washington Post)
All of this may complicate the job of the person at the White House in charge of counter-messaging the impeachment inquiry—that is, if they had one. Politico today looks at the search for a "communications guru" to handle point on the impeachment at the White House. "They are trying to figure out how to set up a war room, without it being a war room and without it devolving into a civil war inside the White House," Politico reported. Well, it's good to know what you want. And also that it's what you don't want. And also that it might kick off a civil war. Sounds reasonable. (Source: Politico)
Speaking of the White House, lawyers for Tim Morrison, a National Security Council advisor on Russia and Europe, announced today that he would testify to House investigative committees next week. Morrison's testimony would be the first from someone that actually listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky. Despite Morrison's White House role—and the White House's blanket refusal to cooperate with the inquiry—Morrison's lawyer says he will testify. "He's going to answer questions. That's where we're at right now," his lawyer told CNN. "We haven't made final decisions on anything other than he'll appear with the subpoena." Morrison will testify next Thursday and will be one of at least four officials testifying next week as the House gets back to business after pausing Thursday and Friday for Elijah Cummings' memorial services. (Source: CNN)
Last, but certainly not least, Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, butt dialed a reporter from NBC late last night. Catches breath. The call, which came in after 11pm, went to voice mail. Over the three minute message, "Giuliani can be heard discussing overseas dealings and lamenting the need for cash, though it's difficult to discern the full context of the conversation." Back up a second—the need for cash?? "The problem is we need some money," Giuliani is overheard saying to an unidentified second person. After an extended silence from both people, he follows up with "We need a few hundred thousand." Oh. It's worth noting that before he was the president's personal lawyer, Guiliani served as cybersecurity advisor to Trump and, more recently, was paid a half-million dollars by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman's company Fraud Guarantee (stares) for cybersecurity consulting. But he's butt dialing reporters late at night because that is a totally normal and chill thing that all cybersecurity experts/lawyers to the president definitely do. Help me. I deserve an award for putting this news item last tbqh. (Source: NBC News)
Following yesterday's pizza party/raid on the secure facility, Republicans continued to assail the impeachment process today. This time it was Senate Republican Lindsay Graham picking up the mantle by introducing a resolution condemning the impeachment inquiry. The resolution calls on the House to hold a formal vote on opening an impeachment inquiry. In a press conference that accompanied the introduction of the resolution, Graham said that "I'm not here to tell you that Donald Trump has done nothing wrong," but that he deserves the same rights "as Clinton and Nixon." I've heard fuller-throated endorsements in my time, but OK. The resolution is not yet scheduled for a vote in the Senate. (Source: USA Today)
Speaking of yesterday's Republican occupation of the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the basement of the House, Phillip Bump of the Washington Post has an interesting breakdown of the numbers of the protest, including that more than a quarter of the Republicans that staged the action yesterday were already on the committees running this part of the impeachment inquiry—meaning they already had full access to everything happening in the hearings. On the other hand, there was pizza. (Source: Washington Post)
House Republicans—whose pizza party (I'm not getting over it, sorry) delayed testimony by over five hours—weren't the only ones attempting to block yesterday's testimony of Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Far more serious was the letter written by the Department of Defense to Cooper's lawyers prior to her testimony that warned her against testifying. The New York Times got ahold of the letter and annotates it fully. It's a good look into how the administration attempts to pressure people to not testify. After receiving a subpoena from the House, Cooper testified. "The letter leaves ambiguous whether such actions would be insubordinate." (Source: New York Times)
Meanwhile, we're learning a little more about Cooper's deposition. The testimony, which lasted three hours, is expected to 'fill in details of an explosive aspect of Democrats' impeachment inquiry: whether Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine to pressure the ally’s new president.' While Democrats present at the testimony didn't give further details, Republican Mark Meadows—you know one of the 48 Republicans with access—said that 'elements of her testimony conflicted' with the Tuesday testimony of William Taylor. (Source: Politico)
Another Republican that has full access to the impeachment inquiry, Jim Jordan, wrote a letter today to State Department official Phillip Reeker today, complaining that his deposition was rescheduled to this Saturday and he'd like it moved to a different day. His main issue? He doesn't want to have to come in on a Saturday. On one hand, that's very relatable, but on the other, waves hands in all directions. (Source: Axios)
Finally, regular business was halted at the House for the next two days to accommodate memorials for Representative Elijah Cummings, whose death last week cast a long shadow over this week's impeachment proceedings. Today, Cummings "became the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol, an honor bestowed to only a few dozen statesmen, presidents and military leaders throughout US history." RIP. (Source: Politico)
Chaos reigned at the impeachment proceedings today, as House Republicans stormed the secure room House investigative committees were using for depositions. No, really. According to Politico, "GOP lawmakers who do not sit on the three committees leading the inquiry initially refused to leave the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the basement of the Capitol, prompting a standoff with Democrats that ultimately led the House’s sergeant-at-arms to intervene." They even ordered pizza while they occupied the room. Stares right at the camera. In addition to the occupation and the pizza, many of the lawmakers entered the secure room with cell phones, which is strictly forbidden what with it being a secure room in the basement of the United States Capitol Building. I mean, come on now. The protest was in retaliation for what Republicans feel is an unfair closed door proceeding—even though the 48 Republicans on the three investigating committees have full access to the depositions and their lawyers have equal time to question witnesses, so like, shruggie emoji, I got nothing. Do your thing guys, I guess. (Source: Politico)
Would it surprise you that this morning's action by Republicans was coordinated with President Trump? I didn't think so. In a meeting at the White House yesterday with 30 House Republicans, the plan to make a run at the SCIF was devised. "During a nearly two-hour meeting, which focused mostly on the impeachment inquiry, lawmakers shared their plans to storm into the secure room." Sure, why not. (Source: Bloomberg)
As a result of the Republican's pizza-and-cellphone party in the secure facility, the testimony that was scheduled there for today, by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, was delayed by more than five hours. Her testimony—which we'll learn plenty about in the coming days—"focused on the mechanics of US security assistance for Ukraine and fallout from the White House’s decision to withhold it for several months." (Source: Washington Post)
The "mechanics" of that blocked aid to Ukraine was the focus of a New York Times investigation today which revealed that "Ukraine was aware the White House was holding up the funds weeks earlier than United States and Ukrainian officials had acknowledged." The White House has maintained that the Ukrainians didn't know aid had been withheld, and thusly they could not have been pressured into making a deal to release it. But the Times reports that "word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August," so probably someone's got some explaining to do. (Source: New York Times)
Meanwhile, perhaps you'd forgotten that two weeks ago today, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Rudy Giuliani's, were arrested at Dulles Airport with one-way tickets out of the country. Remember them? Well today they got their day in court and, in the process of pleading not guilty, managed to connect "the case to the president himself," according to the New York Times, "saying that some of the evidence gathered in the campaign-finance investigation could be subject to executive privilege." So those two dudes aren't going anywhere anytime soon. (Source: New York Times)
And finally, in an action that will have major repercussions in a few weeks, a federal judge today gave the State Department 30 days to release documents related to the growing Ukrainian scandal after hearing a Freedom of Information Act request by the watchdog group American Oversight. "Whether or not Secretary Pompeo plans to obstruct the impeachment inquiry, the public will begin to see the paper trail detailing the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine," read a statement by American Oversight. Makes a calendar entry for November 22.(Source: Washington Post)
William Taylor, the US chargé d'affaires (the fancy term for "acting ambassador") for Ukraine testified to House investigative committees today over the protest of the State Department, who attempted to block his testimony this morning. Working from extensive notes, Taylor is reported to have "sketched out in remarkable detail a quid-pro-quo pressure campaign on Ukraine that Mr Trump and his allies have long denied, one in which the president conditioned the entire United States relationship with Ukraine on a promise that the country would investigate former Vice President Joseph R Biden Jr and his family, along with other Democrats." Taylor's testimony—which we will almost certainly learn more about in the coming days—directly contradicts the president's assertion that there was "no quid pro quo" between US aid and political investigations by Ukraine. In actuality, according to the New York Times the testimony drew a "direct line" between foreign aid and Trump's political aims. (Source: New York Times)
While we don't know much about the substance of Taylor's testimony yet, his 15 page opening statement has leaked and it paints a very clear picture of a months-long campaign involving EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, US special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker (both of whom have already testified to House committees), and Rudy Giuliani to get Ukraine to capitulate to President Trump's demands in return for military aid. The statement, which paints a timeline stretching back to Ukrainian president Zelensky's election, describes a "weird combination of encouraging, confusing, and ultimately alarming circumstances." The timeline is detailed, damning, and worth reading in all of its PDF-y goodness. (Source: Washington Post)
Speaking of Kurt Volker, US special envoy to Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal today reports on a meeting between Volker and Ukrainian president Zelensky in Toronto on July second, weeks before Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky. Volker "pulled Mr. Zelensky aside at a conference in Toronto on July 2 to urge him to make clear his commitment to investigating corruption and alleged 2016 election interference," you know, like you do in secret at a conference. This report, along with Taylor's opening statement, certainly stretches the timeline far out from Trump's "perfect" call with the Ukrainian president in late July. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile, this morning Donald Trump lashed out at the impeachment proceedings saying "all Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here—a lynching." Stares. As you... Stares again. As you might expect, this particular line of ahistorical attack did not go over well with almost anyone, prompting rare condemnation even from Republicans. "Given the history of this in our country, I would not compare it to a lynching,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "That was an unfortunate choice of words." Democratic Representative Danny Davis was far more blunt in his assessment: "What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked. "Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you. Delete this tweet." (Source: Politico)
Finally, the New York Times reported last night that House Democrats have extended their timeline for impeachment proceedings—now expected to stretch to at least the end of the year. Why? Well, "after a complicated web of damaging revelations about the president has emerged from private depositions unfolding behind closed doors, Democratic leaders have now begun plotting a full-scale—and probably more time-consuming—effort to lay out their case in a set of high-profile public hearings on Capitol Hill." So I guess we'll be together for a while longer still. I work for tips. Lololol. Cries. (Source: New York Times)
This week began with a shuffling of the agenda. While House investigators had planned for testimony of upwards of nine officials over the next five days, but plans have changed to accommodate memorials following the death last week of House Oversight Committee Chair Rep Elijah Cummings. Cummings will lie in state in the Capitol on Thursday with a funeral service on Friday. As a result, many depositions have been postponed. However, House investigative committees are still expected to hear from William Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, and Laura Cooper, who oversees Ukraine and Russia issues at the Department of Defense on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Taylor—who in text messages released a few weeks ago, said it was "crazy" to link Ukraine aide to political investigations—is the testimony to watch this week, even before the schedule was trimmed. (Source: Politico)
Two other officials that were slated to testify this week made the House's reshuffling a bit easier, if we're defining "easier" as "defying subpoenas." Acting head of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought took to Twitter today to declare "I saw some Fake News over the weekend to correct. As the WH letter made clear two weeks ago, OMB officials--myself and Mike Duffey--will not be complying with deposition requests this week." He closed with the hashtag "shamprocess" Which I read as "Shamp Rocess" twice before I got it. (Source: Twitter)
In case you were worried that maybe nothing was getting done in the House today, you'll be glad to know that House Republicans are working to force a vote censuring House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff tonight. The resolution, introduced by Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, says that Schiff "manufactured a false retelling" of the President's call with Ukrainian president Zelensky. The resolution goes on to say that Schiff's actions "make a mockery of the impeachment process, one of this chamber’s most solemn constitutional duties." Which OK, sure guy, that's definitely the thing making a mockery of the process glad you're on it. (Source: NBC News)
Meanwhile, Donald Trump talked to press at a cabinet meeting today, where he claimed the House is "interviewing ambassadors who I’d never heard of." House investigators have talked with the current ambassador to the European Union, the former ambassador to Ukraine, and tomorrow will talk with the current acting ambassador to Ukraine. One would expect that Trump knows who these people are and yet, "I don’t know who these people are. I never heard of them." I'm exhausted. (Source: White House Transcript)
And finally in the same cabinet meeting, President Trump once again attacked the whistleblower who kicked off the impeachment investigation nearly a month ago. Those attacks caused Senator Chuck Schumer to ask "both the acting director of national intelligence and the inspector general on Monday afternoon to outline what 'specific steps' they are taking to protect the whistleblower" in case the president or others identify them. Which is normal and chill for sure. (Source: Politico)
Details from the last week of testimony continues to leak out. On Saturday we learned that George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told House investigators that Rudy Giuliani pushed the State Department to issue a visa to former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. Shokin was forced out of his job in 2016 due to massive corruption, but Giuliani wanted to interview him about, guess what, the Democrats. When State denied the visa, Kent testified, Giuliani "then appealed to the White House to have State reverse its decision." Remarkably, they didn't. (Source: CNN)
Additional reverberations from last week hit yesterday when Republican Representative Francis Rooney—who just Friday was critical of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's Thursday press conference saying Mulvaney "basically said it was a quid pro quo" and that he wouldn't rule out voting for impeachment—suddenly announced Saturday he was retiring in 2020. Wait, what? Uh. I got nothing. (Source: Politico)
The field of Republicans willing to speak up about impeachment is not particularly large (it's less a field and more a patch of sod), but John Kasich, the—checks notes—former Governor of Ohio, joined that small group yesterday. "If you are asking me if I was sitting in the House of Representatives today and you were to ask me how do I feel, do I think impeachment should move forward and should go for a full examination and a trial in the United States Senate, my vote would be yes," he told CNN. Any port in a storm I guess. (Source: CNN)
Finally, Mick Mulvaney attempted once again to walk back his disastrous press conference. Sunday morning he joined the friendly confines of Fox News Sunday to further clarify. In a rambling answer he admitted once again that "the president did mention to me from time to time about the DNC server, he mentioned the DNC server to other people publically, he even mentioned it to president Zelensky in the phone call," before adding that "it wasn't connected to the aid" to Ukraine. K Mick, thanks for clearing that right up. (Source: Fox News Sunday)
18 Weeks Ago
The reverberations of yesterday's press conference with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney—where he admitted to linking military aid for Ukraine with Ukraine investigating Democrats (and that people should "get over it")—continued to ripple out. While Donald Trump has so far stood by his chief of staff, his go-to conservative pundit Sean Hannity told his radio listeners "I just think he's dumb, I really do." On Capitol Hill, even a few Republican lawmakers spoke out. "You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period," said Senator Lisa Murkowski. Rep Francis Rooney of Florida was even more outspoken, saying that Mulvaney "basically said it was a quid pro quo," adding "it’s not an etch a sketch, it's kind of hard to argue that he didn't say it, right?" Yep, you're definitely right about that. (Source: Politico)
But Republican leadership continues to hold the line despite Mulvaney's admissions yesterday. In a press conference today, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy came to his defense saying "I think Mick Mulvaney clarified his statement to be very clear. I take Mick Mulvaney at his word for clarification." Which I mean, OK you do you man. (Source: Yahoo News)
Meanwhile in the House, after four days in a row of depositions, most impeachment work took a breather today after Laura Cooper, a deputy at the Pentagon, rescheduled her deposition late Thursday night. Cooper, who is the deputy assistant secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, is now expected to testify October 24. She joins an already-full calendar with five testimonies scheduled for next week. (Source: Bloomberg)
And to wrap up the week with what has been the White House's ongoing theme, outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry today told House investigative committees that he won't comply with a subpoena for documents that had a deadline for today. Democrats had sought documents pertaining to Perry's involvement in Ukraine but, nope, the Energy Department is "unable to comply with your request for documents and communications at this time." Democrats might want to figure out a strategy for enforcing subpoenas but I'm not holding my breath at this point. (Source: CNN)
Today opened with the somber news of the death of Representative Elijah Cummings. Cummings has played a key role in the impeachment inquiry as the chair of the House Oversight Committee. But more than that, he represented his west Baltimore district for over two decades, earning the respect of those he worked with and represented. "I don’t expect to change the world," he said when he won his first race for the Maryland House of Delegates in 1983 (he moved to the US House in 1996). “I’m just ready to get to work." He did the work. (Source: Baltimore Sun)
The sober news of the morning, however, was quickly replaced by one of the wilder moments since the impeachment inquiry kicked off just over three weeks ago. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney held a press conference to announce that next year's G7 summit, a yearly meeting of world leaders, will be held at the Trump Doral golf club in Miami (stares directly into camera). You would think that would be the update, but in fact the update is that at the presser, Mulvaney was asked about the president's call with Ukraine and the connection between investigating the Democrats and the withholding of $400 million in military aid to the country. Did the president "mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server?" Mulvaney asked rhetorically. "Absolutely. No question about that." Then he added "and that's why we held up the money." When asked, point blank, if this was a quid-pro-quo, he responded "We do that all the time," later telling reporters to "get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy." Help. Me. I. Am. Dying. Inside.(Source: New York Times.)
Would it surprise you to learn that Mulvaney is now trying to walk those statements back? No, no it wouldn't, would it. Mulvaney is now trying to walk those statements back. "The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server," he wrote a few hours later. OK Mick thanks for clearing that up. (Source: NBC News)
Given the relentless nature of today's news cycle, it's easy to forget that US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, testified to House investigative committees today. Considering what a central figure he has emerged as over the last few days of testimony and the role he played in last week's White House blockade of the inquiry, it's remarkable that he's not the biggest story of the day. In his opening statements, which have leaked, Sondland testified he was directed by the president to involve Rudy Giuliani in Ukrainian affairs. It was only "much later" that he realized "Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President's 2020 reelection campaign." Somehow this is not the most remarkable thing that a person said today by a mile. (Source: Politico)
Sondland isn't the only person today saying that the president told them to call Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine. Rick Perry, who tonight officially announced he is resigning as Energy Secretary, told the Wall Street Journal that he was directed by Trump this spring to get on the phone with Giuliani. On the call, according to the Journal, Giuliani "blamed Ukraine for the dossier about Mr. Trump's alleged ties to Russia that was created by a former British intelligence officer and asserted that Ukraine had Mrs. Clinton's email server and 'dreamed up' evidence that helped send former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to jail." Gestures wildly in every direction.(Source: Wall Street Journal)
Hey, how about some real chill news to close things out? Sorry, instead how about a report that Mitch McConnell told Senate Republicans to prepare for an impeachment trial potentially as soon as Thanksgiving. Falls over, lifeless. (Source: Washington Post)
The week of testimony continued in the House today with investigating committees hearing from Michael McKinley, former senior advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. McKinley abruptly quit his position last week. "The timing of my resignation was the result of two overriding concerns: the failure, in my view, of the State Department to offer support to foreign service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry on Ukraine," McKinley is reported to have said in his opening statement, "and, second, by what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance a domestic political objective." (Source: New York Times)
Even as more people are called to testify in the House, we're continuing to learn details about Monday's ten hour testimony by National Security Counsel senior official Fiona Hill. In the latest information to leak, Hill described Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU as "a potential national security risk because he was so unprepared for his job" and that he was "metaphorically driving in an unfamiliar place with no guardrails and no GPS." Guess who is scheduled to testify to the House tomorrow? Gordon Sondland. So that's gonna be something. (Source: New York Times)
While testimony has been going (relatively) smoothly this week, the White House blockade on documents has continued. Yesterday Defense Secretary Mark Esper refused to turn over subpoenaed documents pertaining to the Ukrainian aide package that was held back at the president's direction this summer. In refusing, Esper cited the refrain that we've heard repeatedly this week: that the inquiry is illegitimate because the House has not voted to authorize it. (Source: NBC News)
The Defense Secretary's refusal wasn't the only one from yesterday. In addition to no documents from VP Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani (which were covered in yesterday's update), the Office of Management and Budget was also supposed to produce documents pertaining to Ukrainian aid and they too refused, citing the same old refrain. At some point, one would imagine that Democrats will enforce these subpoenas. But then again, one can imagine lots of things. (Source: Washington Examiner)
Here's a funny thing I keep forgetting: The Office of Management and Budget, which just refused to turn over documents to the House, is run by Mick Mulvaney, who is ALSO the Acting White House Chief of Staff. The same guy! And guess who has a subpoena deadline tomorrow to turn over White House documents? The same guy again! Anyway, speaking of that guy, the Washington Post today pegs him as a key facilitator of the July 25 call, including tricking National Security Advisor John Bolton into thinking he was giving a solo briefing to Trump before the Ukraine call when actually Trump immediately followed the Bolton call with a secret briefing by Gordon Sondland (there's that name again) because why not. (Source: Washington Post)
Finally, to tie up a weird loose end from last week, David Correia, an associate of Rudy Giuliani's partners in Ukraine Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, was arrested today at Kennedy Airport in New York. Correia joins Parnas, Fruman, and another associate, Andrey Kukushkin, in federal custody for campaign finance violations related in part to their work in Ukraine. (Source: The Guardian)
We learned quite a bit more about National Security Counsel senior official Fiona Hill's testimony late last night and this morning. Hill, who spent ten hours testifying on the Hill yesterday, said that Rudy Giuliani "ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented US officials and career diplomats." And that John Bolton, National Security Advisor, told her to raise her concerns with White House lawyers. Wanna guess how that went? (Source: Washington Post)
Hill's testimony about John Bolton was eyebrow-raising enough that it warrants its own bullet point. Hill testified that Bolton told her that he didn't want to have any part of "whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up," and that Giuliani was "a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up." One would expect a subpoena may be heading Bolton's way soon. (Source: New York Times)
Hill was the first of an entire week of testimony scheduled at the House. Today saw State Department Ukraine policy head George Kent testify. Arriving at the hearing in a bow tie, it is expected that Kent would expand on leaked State Department emails he authored that warned about Giuliani's work in Ukraine and that attempts to smear former US ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch were "complete poppycock," which is an adorable way to put it. (Source: New York Times)
Speaking of Rudy Giuliani, today was his deadline to turn over documents to House investigative committees. Surprise! He refused. In a letter authored by lawyer Jon Sale, he called the impeachment inquiry "unconstitutional" and said that the request was "beyond the scope of a legitimate inquiry." Despite the letter being written by a lawyer, in a tweet that accompanied the letter Giuliani himself said, "I do not need a lawyer." Which, waves hands in all directions, OK let's just go with it. (Source: Twitter)
And in other refusing-to-produce-documents news, shortly after Giuliani posted his refusal (which was to a subpoena) VP Mike Pence followed suit and also refused to produce documents (which were requested, but not subpoenaed). In wording that echoed Giuliani's, Pence's refusal called into question the legitimacy of the inquiry. "Never before in history has the Speaker of the House attempted to launch an 'impeachment inquiry' against a president without the majority of the House of Representatives voting to authorize a constitutionally acceptable process." Mike Pence, it should be noted, has a lawyer. (Source: NBC News)
And finally, speaking of the Speaker of the House, today Nancy Pelosi held a meeting with House Democrats to discuss the possibility of holding a vote on the impeachment inquiry--the lack of which is the basis of Republican criticisms of legitimacy. But in a press conference happening literally as I write this update, Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said that they would not hold a vote yet. (Source: CBS News)
Today President Trump's former top advisor on Russia and Europe, Fiona Hill, gave testimony behind closed doors to House committees. Hill, who resigned her position at the National Security Council this summer, was expected to testify "that she and other officials objected strenuously to the removal of the ambassador to Ukraine, only to be disregarded" as well as be questioned about Rudy Giuliani's presence in Ukraine. Hill was the first person from the White House to give a deposition since the White House's letter last week refusing to cooperate with the investigation, and it does not appear that they attempted to block her testimony. She had no opening statement and no part of her testimony has yet to leak or be released, so we're just gonna have to be patient here. (Source: New York Times)
Hill's testimony was not without some fireworks however, as Rep Matt Gaetz, who last week declared that House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff was the "Captain Kangaroo" of a "kangaroo court" (stares into the camera), arrived at Hill's deposition despite not being on the investigative committees and refused to leave until a House parliamentarian ruled he had to get out. "It's not like I'm on the Agriculture Committee," he told reporters. It's true, he's not. (Source: The Hill)
The ability to keep testimony and witnesses private is at the center of ongoing concerns around the whistleblower's potential testimony. Yesterday Adam Schiff told CBS news that he was considering the possibility of not having the whistleblower testify because of growing worry that their identity would be leaked. "Our primary interest right now is making sure that that person is protected," he explained. (Source: CBS News)
After reports about Schiff's concern for the whisteblower's safety surfaced, President Trump took to Twitter this morning to demand that the whistleblower be identified. "We must determine the Whistleblower’s identity to determine WHY this was done to the USA," the President tweeted. Please note that the Whistleblower Protection Act explicitly exists for this reason. Anyway, later he tweeted that people should watch Dancing with the Stars, so here we are. (Source: Twitter)
Late Friday, news broke that Rudy Giuliani is under federal investigation. Considering that two associates of his were arrested last week and that Giuliani's dealings in Ukraine are swirling at the center of the impeachment inquiry, it's perhaps not that surprising. But still, as the New York Times points out, "it is also a stark turn for Mr Giuliani, who now finds himself under scrutiny from the same United States attorney’s office he led in the 1980s." (Source: New York Times)
The no-good-very-bad news week for Rudy Giuliani seemed to come to an ignoble end Friday when Trump said he "didn't know" if Giuliani was still his lawyer, but Trump sent out a series of encouraging tweets en route to his golf course Saturday morning, where he met Giuliani for lunch. So I guess that answers that, for now at least. (Source: New York Times)
Meanwhile, the week ended with a new understanding of the White House's letter that called the impeachment inquiry "illegitimate." While the letter was signed by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, a new report suggests that the letter was largely written by President Trump. According to the Daily Beast, "sources said that Trump enthusiastically suggested adding various jabs at Democratic lawmakers and would request that their 'unfair' treatment of him be incorporated into the letter." Sure, why not. (Source: Daily Beast)
And, finally, in another "but wait, there's more" from last week, the same day that the White House letter dropped, US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland was blocked from testifying. As the week ended, his lawyers said that his testimony was back on and now, according to the Washington Post, he's going to testify that his text saying that there was "no quid pro quo" with Ukraine was also written under the president's direction. "It’s only true that the president said it, not that it was the truth," he's planning to explain. Help. (Source: Washington Post)
19 Weeks Ago
Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch testified behind closed doors to House committees today. Yovanovitch--who was called "bad news" by the president on his July phone call with Ukrainian president Zelensky and who was named as a target by the associates of Rudy Giuliani who were arrested yesterday--testified that "she was forced to leave Kiev on 'the next plane' this spring" on the president's orders. Furthermore, "she warned that private influence and personal gain have usurped diplomats' judgment, threatening to undermine the nation’s interests and drive talented professionals out of public service." Which definitely doesn't seem optimal for, you know, diplomacy. (Source: New York Times)
While Yovanovitch's testimony was not public, her opening statement for the deposition was leaked to multiple press outlets. In it, she warns that the State Department has been "attacked and hollowed out from within" and that "harm will come when private interests circumvent professional diplomats for their own gain, not the public good." It's worth reading the whole statement. (Source: Washington Post)
Yonanovitch's statement echoes reports from NBC last night that Fiona Hill, Trump's former top aide to Russia and Europe, is planning on testifying to Congress that "Rudy Giuliani and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland circumvented the National Security Council and the normal White House process to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine." (Source: NBC News)
Speaking of Gordon Sondland, who kicked off the week's excitement when he was blocked from testifying to the House by the president, his lawyers told NBC today that he will in fact testify next Thursday. However, texts and other documents requested won't accompany him because "by federal law and regulation, the State Department has sole authority to produce such documents." Yeah, don't place any bets on that happening. (Source: NBC News)
And then there's Rudy Giuliani. We've learned a lot more today about his involvement with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested at Dulles Airport yesterday by federal authorities before they left the country. Specifically, it turns out that Giuliani was paid "hundreds of thousands of dollars" by Parnas for "business and legal advice" for Parnas's company--impossibly named "Fraud Guarantee"--at the same time that Parnas and Fruman were investigating in the Ukraine on Giuliani's behalf. Look, it's confusing. Parnas and Fruman have now been subpoenad by the House, maybe they can sort it out. (Source: New York Times)
It seems like this Giuliani-associates story is only going to get more confusing, as a third person named in the indictment along with with Parnas and Fruman, a Ukrainian-born businessman named Andrey Kukushkin, was arrested in San Francisco earlier today. A fourth person named, David Correia, is still at large. What even am I writing. (Source: CBS San Francisco)
And finally, because of course the week was going to wrap up this way, Donald Trump was asked by reporters on his way to a rally tonight if Rudy Giuliani was still his lawyer. His response? "I don't know." Sure, let's go with that. (Source: USA Today)
Some days are like yesterday, where very little happened. And some days are like today where the morning starts with news that two associates of Rudy Giuliani were arrested at the airport with one-way tickets out of the country. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who on Monday refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, were arrested by federal agents at Dulles Airport late Wednesday. Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman says the two "sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official--a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the US ambassador to Ukraine." The two had lunch with Rudy Giuliani at Trump's Washington DC hotel earlier that day, because sure why not. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Parans and Fruman were the subject of a prescient BuzzFeed story back in July that outlined the work they were doing for Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine and is well worth a read-over in light of today's news. (Source: BuzzFeed)
Before departing for a rally Thursday night in Minneapolis, Trump took questions on the White House lawn and, as you might expect, denied knowing Parans and Fruman. "I don't know them, I don't know about them, I don't know what they do," he yelled. "You'll have to ask Rudy, I just don't know." (Source: Associated Press)
Meanwhile Democrats in the House subpoenad Energy Secretary Rick Perry for documents about his involvement with Trump and Ukraine. Cited in the subpoena is the Axios story from this weekend that reported Trump told House Republicans that he only called Ukraine in July at the urging of Rick Perry, so it's not like nobody saw this subpoena coming or anything. "Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena," reads the accompanying letter, "including at the direction or behest of the President or the White House, shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House's impeachment inquiry and may be used as an adverse inference against you and the President." But, you know, we'll see. (Source: original document)
And finally, tomorrow brings ousted US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch to the House for a deposition. Yovanovitch is called "bad news" in the call Trump had with Ukrainian president Zelensky in July. After saying that she was removed as ambassador, Trump went on to say "she's going to go through some things." Maybe by "some things" he meant testifying to the House on an impeachment inquiry? Anyway, we'll see if she doesn't get blocked last minute like Tuesday's expected testimony by Ambassador Sondland. (Source: Washington Post)
The Democratic response to the White House's refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry was surprisingly subdued today. Nancy Pelosi issued a mild statement that was short on both rhetoric and specifics. "Mr. President, you are not above the law," she wrote this morning. "You will be held accountable." However, the letter failed to explain what that accountability would be or when it would happen. (Source: original document)
In fact, the strongest Democratic voice for impeachment today came not from the House but from Joe Biden. "President Trump has indicted himself by obstructing justice, refusing to comply with a congressional inquiry," he told reporters. "He’s already convicted himself.” Which would be nice if that's how it worked, but it actually isn't--someone has to convict him. (Source: Washington Post)
The question Biden poses--whether Trump's refusal to comply with the inquiry is itself an impeachable offense that should be pursued--is apparently the source of an internal debate among House Democrats. While most seem to agree that the letter represents a clear case of obstruction of Congress, "Democrats say they prefer any obstruction charge to play a supporting, rather than starring, role in their efforts." Cool cool. (Source: Politico)
Today feels like a series of escalating dares, culminating with a letter sent from the White House late this afternoon questioning the legitimacy of the entire impeachment inquiry and refusing to participate. "Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections," writes White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, "the executive branch cannot be expected to participate in it." Which may not really be a thing, but as you can see from how the rest of the day played out below, it's the strategy they're going to go with. For now. (Source: Politico)
This letter topped off a day of back-and-forths that centered around the sudden blocking of the testimony of the ambassardor the EU, Gordon Sondland, by (ostensibly) the State Department. "Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena," wrote his lawyers, "in order to answer the Committee's questions on an expedited basis. As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department's direction." OK, but... (Source: NPR)
Of course it didn't take long for Trump to take to Twitter and explain that he, in fact, blocked the testimony, rationalizing that Sondland "would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican's rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public." Sure, why not. Oh, also--keep "kangaroo court" in mind because we're going to circle back to that in a couple bullet points. (Source: Twitter)
As you might expect by this point, Trump's tweet and the blocked testimony took House Republicans by surprise and a contingent of House Republicans went to the White House not because they were upset that the executive branch had interfered in legislative branch biz, but to try and get on the same page. According to Bloomberg, "White House officials agreed to improve communication of their impeachment strategy with allies who are on the front lines." Don't make any bets. (Source: Bloomberg)
The blocking of Sondland has lead Democrats to announce that they'll be subpoenaing him--remember that he featured prominently in the text messages House investigators released last week. The big question is what happens if he refuses to comply with a subpoena. (Source: Washington Post)
And finally, Trump's "kangaroo court" Tweet has already turned into a Republican talking point, with Reps Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz accusing Democrats of running a "kangaroo court" and of Adam Schiff acting like--and reader I quote here--a "malicious Captain Kangaroo." I am so very tired. (Source: Twitter)
More subpoenas went out from the House Intelligence Committee today, this time to the White House Budget office and the Pentagon. While previous subpoenas have been focused on Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, these are focused on the motivations behind suspending $391 million in aid to Ukraine this summer--and whether the two are related. In other words, if this whole Ukrainian situation is a quid-pro-quo, today they're looking into the quid while previously they've been looking into the quo. Or maybe, I don't know--I don't speak Latin. (Source: New York Times)
While subpoenas are going out and depositions are being scheduled, the House is also preparing for the testimony of the original whistleblower (a second was reported to have come forward this weekend). Concerned that their identity could be leaked by Republicans in traditional closed-door testimony, House Democrats are "considering testimony at a remote location and possibly obscuring the individual’s appearance and voice." Seems chill. (Source: Washington Post)
However, just because the House sends a request for testimony does not necessarily mean that person will show up. Today, two South Florida associates of Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, announced through their lawyer (in a letter maddeningly set in Comic Sans) that they had "no response planned." According to the Miami Herald, "Democrats working on the burgeoning impeachment inquiry said Parnas and Fruman’s decision to ignore a request issued last Monday will lead to subpoenas, which would compel them to testify and provide documents or face criminal charges." (Source: Miami Herald)
And finally, while over the weekend Trump was threatening to impeach Mitt Romney (note: he can't), today he took to Twitter to say that Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff should be impeached for 'High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Treason' (note: he can't do that either). So things are going great. (Source: Twitter)
A second whistleblower has come forward! Reported Sunday morning by ABC News, this whistleblower, described only as an "intelligence official," has "first-hand knowledge of some of the allegations outlined in the original complaint." This second whistleblower has already spoken with Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. First-hand knowledge would complicate the inaccurate Republican talking point that the first whistleblower was only reporting "hearsay." (Source: ABC News)
Speaking of things that aren't hearsay, Republican Senator from Wisconsin Ron Johnson told the Wall Street Journal that the US Ambassador to the European Union explained to him back in August that US military aide to Ukraine was tied to investigating the 2016 election. "At that suggestion, I winced," Johnson told the Journal. "My reaction was, 'Oh, God. I don’t want to see those two things combined.'" Trump, naturally, denied that they were. But between the whistleblower, the State Department texts, Senator Johnson, and now a second whistleblower there's a lot of corroboration of this "hearsay." (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile Trump spent most of his Saturday at his Virginia golf club angry about Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who has offered some mild criticism of the Ukraine phone call and Trump's similar request for China to investigate Joe Biden. Trump seems to have decided that "I'm rubber, you're glue" is a workable defense and has called for Romney's impeachment. Please note, you can't actually impeach a US Senator. (Source: Washington Post)
And finally, because why not, yesterday it came out that Trump told House Republicans that this whole Ukrainian phone call mess was actually the work of former Texas Governor, Dancing with the Stars entrant, and current Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Which must come as a surprise to pretty much everyone involved since his name only appears in passing in the original whistleblower report, he's not mentioned on the call transcript, nor is he named in the released text messages. But hey, let's go with it. Conveniently, Rick Perry announced he was leaving his post as Energy Secretary last week. (Source: Axios)
20 Weeks Ago
Low-key looming over today has been the end of the deadline set by Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee, for the White House to turn over documents related to the Ukrainian phone call or face a subpoena to do the same. Well, guess what? The White House didn't comply, and so just as this update was being drafted, a subpoena was sent to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. The White House now has until October 18 to comply. "Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena," the accompanying letter reads, "including at the direction or behest of the President or others at the White House, shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House's impeachment inquiry and may be used as an adverse inference against you and the President." (Source: original documents)
According to a report by Axios, the White House is readying a response "arguing that President Trump and his team can ignore lawmakers' demands until [Pelosi] holds a full House vote formally approving an impeachment inquiry." Which doesn't seem to have a lot of legal standing, but here we are. (Source: Axios)
Meanwhile, if you've been wondering whatever happened to Vice President Pence, who seems to have gone missing, last night the Washington Post broke a story that Trump "repeatedly involved Vice President Pence in efforts to exert pressure on the leader of Ukraine at a time when the president was using other channels to solicit information that he hoped would be damaging to a Democratic rival." Sources close to Pence say he was "unaware" of Trump's motivations to get information on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Which, OK sure. (Source: Washington Post)
And, citing in part the Washington Post's report, today House investigators sent a letter to the Vice President requesting a sprawling list of documents related to actions involving Ukraine. It's not a subpoena, yet, but Pence's deadline is October 15. (Source: original document)
LATE UPDATE—Late Thursday night, the three chairs of the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees released a series of texts they obtained from former US Special Envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker. In the letter that accompanies the release they write that these texts reflect concerns that "critical military assistance and the meeting between the two presidents were being withheld in order to place additional pressure on Ukraine to deliver on the President's demand for Ukraine to launch politically motivated investigations." They are truly wild and include conversations between State Department officials that largely corroborate and add further context to the whistleblower's report. As Bill Taylor, the Charge d'Affaires (the acting ambassador, essentially) at the US Embassy in Ukraine asks in one of the texts, "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?" Yes, yes we are. (Source: original document)
Some days you try hard to come up with a lead story and some days Donald Trump stands on the White House lawn and asks Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. And then ask China to do it too. Ukraine "should investigate the Bidens," he said to reporters on live TV, "because how does a company that's newly formed—and all these companies—and by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine." This really happened. (Source: The Atlantic)
Meanwhile, the Democrat's impeachment inquiry that centers on whether Trump asked the Ukraine to investigate a political rival continued, despite the fact that he did so live on television moments before. Today saw former US Special Envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker testify that he "warned President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, that Giuliani was receiving untrustworthy information from Ukrainian political figures about former vice president Joe Biden and his son." Volker resigned his position last week after being implicated in the whistleblower report. (Source: Washington Post)
Speaking of Volker, the Guardian has an excellent look into how this "mild-mannered former ambassador to Nato" ended up enmeshed in this whole fiaso. The short of it? "He really tried to have his cake and eat it, thinking he could operate inside the administration with one foot outside, that would give him some flexibility. But those two things were incompatible." (Source: The Guardian)
And finally, because today wasn't absurd enough, '90s powergrunge band/internet meme Nickelback issued a copyright infringement notice against a tweet from the president that used the band's video for the song "Photograph" to implicate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in dealings with the Ukrainians. Writing this sentence made me very tired. (Source: The Verge)
Wednesday opened with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling reporters traveling with him in Rome that he was listening in on the call between Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky--he had not previously revealed his presence on the call. "Asked if the call raised any red flags in his mind, Pompeo did not respond." (Source: LA Times)
Later in the morning, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference where she was joined by Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff. At the presser, Schiff said that if the President or the administration interferes in the impeachment inquiry, "any action like that that forces us to litigate or have to consider litigation will be considered further evidence of obstruction of justice." (Source: ABC News)
Meanwhile, Chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee Elijah Cummings issued a letter stating that if the White House did not voluntarily produce documents related to Trump's Ukraine call by Friday, he would subpoena them. "I do not take this step lightly," he wrote. (Source: New York Times)
Then Trump held a wild press conference with the president of Finland where he once again called for Schiff to be "looked into for treason" and claimed that Schiff wrote the whistleblower report himself. And then it really went off the rails, ending with Trump screaming at Fox News reporter John Roberts to ask a question to the Finnish president instead of continually pressing him about the Ukraine call. (Source: CNN)
Finally, the New York Times offered a revealing look at the early days of the whistleblower complaint, including the detail that the whistleblower, following correct procedure, approached an aide at the House Intelligence Committee about their complaint after they felt it wasn't moving forward at the CIA. "The House staff member, following the committee’s procedures, suggested the officer find a lawyer to advise him and meet with an inspector general, with whom he could file a whistle-blower complaint." This is already being mischaracterized by the president as direct involvement by Schiff in the complaint. (Source: New York Times)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter this morning to say that the Democrats were attempting to "intimidate, bully, & treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State" by asking for five current and former officials to testify. Democrats responded by saying that "any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress--including state department employees--is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry." (Source: The Guardian)
What can Democrats do if people like Pompeo or Giuliani refuse to testify? The Washington Post today put up a good breakdown of the options available to them. Though, spoiler alert, "the rule book for how to be a check on the executive branch doesn’t include an executive branch unwilling to cooperate." (Source: Washington Post)
Meanwhile, House committees have continued to send out requests for testimony, summoning former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker (who resigned last week after he was implicated in the whistleblower complaint) and Marie Yovanovitch, former US ambassador to Ukraine. Volker is expected to testify on Thursday and Yovanovitch on October 11. (Source: NBC News)
And finally, on Twitter today, Trump insisted that he be allowed to "interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower." The identity of the whistleblower, who has made an agreement to testify to Congress, is protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act. (Source: Twitter)
Over the weekend, House Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told ABC's The Week that he'd reached a tentative agreement for the whistleblower to testify to the committee. (Source: CNN)
Meanwhile today started with Donald Trump tweeting that Schiff should be "arrested for treason." (Source: Twitter)
That didn't stop Schiff, along with Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel and Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings from issuing a subpoena to Rudy Giuliani. "Our inquiry includes an investigation of credible allegations that you acted as an agent of the president in a scheme to advance his personal political interests by abusing the power of the Office of the President," reads the subpoena in part, and it demands that Giuliani produce “text messages, phone records, and other communications” related to his dealings in Ukraine. (Source: Politico)
Finally, in an indication that this is going to get a lot bigger before it's through, the Wall Street Journal reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was present on the Trump/Zelensky call at the center of the whistleblower complaint. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
21 Weeks Ago
The first subpoena in the impeachment inquiry has been issued! Democrats from three House committees subpoenad Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for documents relating to the President's call with the Ukrainian President and any facilitation the State Department did for his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Will Pompeo comply? Well, "failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry." (Source: ABC News)
US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker resigned his position. Volker had been named in the whistleblower report, which claimed he had helped organize meetings for Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine. (Source: The State Press)
Speaking of Rudy Giuliani, he has kept busy reading his text messages on cable news. Not only do they confirm (again) Giuliani's involvement, they also implicate the State Department and Kurt Volker in particular. (Source: Vox)
The whistleblower's complaint was released by House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff. In it, the whistleblower accuses the president of "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election," in his call with the Ukrainian President and of unnamed senior White House officials intervening "to "lock down" all records of the phone call." (Source: Unclassified document)
The Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, testified to the House Intelligence Committee about the whistleblower complaint. "I am aware that this is unprecedented," he said about a complaint like this involving the president. "This has never happened before. This is a unique situation." (Source: Politico)
Speaking to a group of US Diplomats in New York, Trump accused the whistleblower of being "like a spy" and threatened "You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now." (Source: LA Times)
It's transcript day! The White House released the transcript (which was not a verbatim transcript) of his call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. In the transcript, Trump asks Zelensky for "a favor" and asks for him to cooperate with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in looking into Joe Biden and his son Hunter's activities in Ukraine. (Source: Unclassified document)
Later in the day, Trump held a press conference where he said that he'd produce a transcript of his call with Zelensky earlier in the year. "You can have it anytime you need it. And also Mike Pence’s conversations, which were, I think, one or two of them. They were perfect. They were all perfect.” (Source: Politico)
At about the same time, the White House released the whistleblower's complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees. After seeing the complaint, one anonymous Democratic lawmaker called it "Nothing short of explosive." (Source: CBS News)
Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump explaining "he is asking a foreign government to help him in his campaign, that is a betrayal of his oath of office." (Source: New York Times)
The White House agrees to release the transcript of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Zelensky--which Trump insists is "totally appropriate"--tomorrow. (Source: NBC News)