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President Trump Will Be Impeached Tonight

Currently, members of the House of Representatives are debating the articles of impeachment that were approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week. All Republicans are expected to vote against impeachment, and nearly all Democrats will vote to impeach. Former Republican representative Justin Amash, who changed his party to Independent after criticizing the president’s conduct with Ukraine, will also vote to impeach. Members of the House of Representatives will have the opportunity to speak today as they list their reasons for or against impeachment before they vote. The arguments they are presenting, often in a raised voice, are repetitive and predictable; Democrats stress the urgency of removing Trump from office due to the national security risk he imposes, whereas Republicans criticize the process and partisan nature of the proceedings, defend the president’s behavior, and accuse Joe Biden and others of misconduct. As Democrats control more than half of the seats in the House of Representatives, it’s virtually certain that the president will be impeached after a vote which is scheduled to take place tonight.

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Though impeachment is now a virtual certainty, the timeline for when it will occur may change. That is because Republicans have done nearly everything in their power to delay the proceedings, forcing a vote to dismiss them, which of course failed, and engaging in other tactics to delay the inevitable. Depending on how long today’s proceedings run, the vote may be rescheduled for tomorrow morning. This happened last week, when Jerry Nadler moved to wait until the following morning to vote on whether to approve articles of impeachment and send them to the full house after the proceedings ran late into the night. Nadler wanted to avoid criticism that the vote took place late at night, and thus at a time when most people would not be paying attention, so he instead called the vote at 9 AM the next day. Depending on how much time the debate before the vote takes, Democrats may choose to do so again, given the importance and level of controversy surrounding impeachment.

Pelosi reiterated her stance that she desperately wanted to avoid impeachment, fearing the damage it would do to the country, but the president’s conduct left her no choice

As usual, the president gave his opinion on today’s impeachment on Twitter, tweeting a common refrain that the investigation is a witch hunt and his behavior was perfect. In all capital letters, and using several exclamation points, Trump urged his followers to pray for him, an apparent response to Nancy Pelosi’s claim that she prays for the president “all the time.” Trump expressed offense at this remark, accusing Pelosi of lying and claiming she hates him; in response, Pelosi reiterated her claim, and when asked whether she hated the president, she angrily rebuked the charge, offended by the use of the word “hate.” When asked why she thought Trump accused her of lying about praying for him, she said that Trump constantly projects the truth about himself by accusing others of the same wrongdoing he is in fact engaged in, so because Trump does not pray for Pelosi, he believes she must be lying about  praying for him. The conflict escalated when Trump sent Pelosi an angry six-page letter, written very much in the style of his tweets, full of capital letters, exclamation points, and baseless accusations. Pelosi stated that she didn’t read the full letter as she is too busy, but that she got the gist of it, and described it as “sick.”

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In keeping with her commitment to solemnity and prayerfulness during this process, Pelosi and other female Democrats dressed in black clothing to set a somber tone for the day. In her remarks, Pelosi reiterated her stance that she desperately wanted to avoid impeachment, fearing the damage it would do to the country, but the president’s conduct left her no choice as she and other Democrats feel they would be derelict in their duties if they did not vote to impeach. Tonight’s vote will officially ensure that a trial of some sort will take place in the Senate, which is expected to happen in January, though the details of the trial are as-of-yet unknown.

Impeachment

House Panel Votes to Approve Articles of Impeachment

While President Trump has not yet officially been impeached, that historic outcome has become even more likely as the House of Representatives prepares for a full vote on both of the articles that have been presented by the House Judiciary Committee. The full votes on both articles will be held sometime next week, probably Wednesday, and are likely to pass along party lines. Republican members of Congress have shown absolutely no cracks in their resistance to impeachment, as every Republican representative has voted against the process since it began several weeks ago and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he expects no Republican senators to vote to remove President Trump from office.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Jerry Nadler, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff presented the Articles of Impeachment during a press conference on Tuesday, with formal charges including Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. Democrats opted to keep the focus of impeachment narrow in order to build the strongest possible case in a short period of time; although the Mueller Report outlined several instances of potential obstruction of justice, which has been presented as an article in previous impeachments, the articles that the House Panel just approved involved only the misconduct that become evident in connection to a whistleblower complaint from a few months ago. Considering the President’s misconduct to be a national security emergency, Democrats are undergoing the impeachment process as quickly as they possibly can, choosing not to wait for the courts to decide whether the White House is legally obligated to produce documents and witnesses in accordance with numerous congressional subpoenas.

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While the outcome in the Democrat-led House of Representatives has been highly predictable throughout the impeachment process, the upcoming trial in the Senate, which is led by Republican Mitch McConnell, is less clear. However, McConnell has shed some light on what the Senate trial will look like during a recent interview with Fox News, during which the Senate Majority Leader indicated that the Senate would follow the White House’s lead in defining the parameters of the trial. 

It’s long been predicted that, regardless of how long the Senate trial goes on and how it is defined, Republicans would vote along party lines to protect the President. Now, McConnell has reaffirmed the congressional body’s fealty to the president, as he has taken the historically unprecedented step of allowing the defendant of a high-stakes trial to define the terms of the trial that will determine whether he is found guilty of committing high crimes and misdemeanors. McConnell said that there is ‘zero chance’ Trump is removed by impeachment, and given the Republicans’ unyielding loyalty to the current Commander in Chief, there is little reason to doubt him.

While President Trump will probably not be removed from office after the Senate trial, impeachment is nonetheless likely to have a lasting political impact, as the general election that will determine the next President of the United States will be held in less than a year. Though one can make a fairly confident prediction that Trump will remain the President through 2020, virtually nobody can speak with certainty at this point about the likelihood of his winning reelection next year. Both Democrats and Republicans have said that they hope impeachment will have a positive effect on their political power; Democrats argue that the public process of impeachment helps to inform the electorate about the President’s many abuses of power and thus of the urgency of removing him from office, whereas Republicans see the outcome of impeachment as a victory for the President, who is sure to portray his acquittal in the Senate as a vindication of his position that Article II of the Constitution, which defines the parameters of the executive branch of the federal government, gives him the power to do whatever he wants.

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Perhaps the biggest takeaway of the likely outcome of impeachment will be that Trump’s claim to absolute executive power, unburdened by the Constitution’s centuries-old system of checks and balances, will be correct. At this moment in history, as Democrats have taken pains to point out time and time again, impeachment and the upcoming general election are the only two remaining constitutional checks preventing the President from consolidating his power and transforming the country’s government into a monarchy or dictatorship. 

If Trump is acquitted by the Senate, as he probably will be, Congress will establish a precedent that it is OK for the President to cheat in American elections by coordinating with foreign powers to interfere in the democratic process around which the country’s entire government is built. Though the upcoming presidential election is likely to be compromised as a result of efforts by the President and Republicans to undermine democracy, it will determine whether or not the United States will remain a republic or descend into an authoritarian state, as the president’s last three years of attacks against the institutions of democratic governance have been remarkably effective and are certain to continue to their completion if he is given another term in office.

Impeachment Trial

President Trump Will Not Participate in Impeachment Hearings

The first phase of the impeachment inquiry, wherein the House Intelligence Committee questioned fact witnesses about a phone call made on July 25th in which President Trump asked President Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate Burisma, a company connected to Joe Biden, has concluded. Now, the inquiry moves to the second phase in the House of Representatives, and the evidence that has been collected so far will be presented to the House Judiciary Committee, during which members of Congress will deliberate over whether to draft articles of impeachment to deliver to the Senate. 

The hearings will be chaired by Representative Jerrold Nadler, who recently penned a letter inviting Trump and his legal counsel to participate in the proceedings. Yesterday, the president declined to participate in the hearings in any capacity, accusing the Democrats of conducting an unfair and biased process, and even going so far as to accuse them of deliberately scheduling the hearings while Trump is out of the country, as he is heading to London this week to participate in a NATO summit.

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The White House’s refusal to participate in the impeachment process in the House marks a reversal from previous comments made by the president. During an interview on Fox News, Trump claimed that he’d be willing to submit a written testimony to the House of Representatives, and said that he wanted a trial and that he’s looking forward to it. Trump and many Republicans believe that impeachment is bound to backfire on the Democrats, as the president is likely to be acquitted by the Senate and then use the Democrats’ failed impeachment inquiry as evidence to bolster his argument that he is being unfairly prosecuted. 

Though Trump will not be in the United States during Wednesday’s hearing, he could have chosen to send legal counsel and suggest witnesses for questioning. That being said, the president’s lack of cooperation with the Democrats comes as no surprise, as since the inquiry began Trump has sharply rebuked allegations of wrongdoing and attacked the process of impeachment, ordering some key witnesses to defy subpoenas in a possible violation of law. Republicans in both the House and the Senate have essentially fallen in line under Trump, as every Republican in the House of Representatives voted against opening an impeachment inquiry and Senate Republicans have spoken out forcefully against the proceedings.

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Undeterred, Democrats are not changing their plans to accommodate the president’s requests. The Judiciary Committee’s first hearing will be held on Wednesday, and instead of speaking with fact witnesses, lawmakers will question academics and other legal experts to determine whether the president’s actions justify impeachment. Notably, both Democrats and Republicans had expressed hope that Trump would decide to participate in the inquiry, but they are surely not surprised by his refusal to do so given his past behavior. The fact that the president had an opportunity to participate in the hearings but chose not to undercuts arguments from Trump and his defenders that the White House was not given the chance to help define and shape the process. In fact, this refusal may become part of Democrats’ argument that the president has been actively obstructing justice since learning about the whistleblower’s complaint.

While members of both parties surely would have appreciated Trump’s participation in his own impeachment inquiry, his lack of participation is unlikely to change the outcome in the House of Representatives. Democrats such as Adam Schiff have stated that they were unwilling to be subject to a game of “rope-a-dope” in the courts, proceeding rapidly despite various attempts to stonewall the investigation. Democrats have said that they hope to conclude the first part of impeachment, which takes place in the House of Representatives, by Christmas, and so far show no signs of missing that self-imposed deadline.

Impeachment Trial

Public Impeachment Hearings Conclude as Trump Implicated in Quid Pro Quo

During what will likely become known as the most consequential week of Donald Trump’s presidency, public impeachment hearings produced damning testimony that strongly suggests the President engaged in a quid-pro-quo scheme with the President of Ukraine, asking for information politically useful for his reelection campaign in exchange for military assistance and a meeting at the White House. The witnesses, many of whom have long and decorated careers as non-partisan high-level administration officials, provided testimony recounting virtually all aspects of the alleged quid-pro-quo scheme, including the development of a second, irregular channel for engaging with Ukraine to circumvent the normal, diplomatic channel, and a phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Gordon Sondland during which details of the arrangement were discussed. While Republicans, most notably Representatives Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan, spent the duration of the hearings attacking Democrats and the process of holding impeachment hearings, they failed to produce any evidence contradicting the Democrats’ theory of the case, instead shifting attention towards Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden and promulgating a debunked conspiracy theory suggesting the Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton.

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Of this historically consequential week, perhaps the most significant testimony came on Wednesday, when Ambassador Gordon Sondland confirmed the existence of a quid pro quo and implicated several high-level administration officials in the scheme, including Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Vice President Pence, asserting that “everyone was in the loop.” Although some key witnesses, including Rudolph Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, and John Bolton declined to testify, other witnesses corroborated Sondland’s retelling of events, as members of Bill Taylor’s staff reported overhearing a phone call between Sondland and Trump in a restaurant in Kiev, Ukraine. Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill, the last witness in the two-week series of hearings, went a step further to try to discredit the Republican narrative, claiming that it was a “fictional” conspiracy theory promulgated by the Russians as part of a disinformation campaign to interfere with domestic American politics. Undeterred, Republicans continued to push this narrative, and Senator Linsdey Graham, who will be a juror in the upcoming impeachment trial, launched an investigation into the Bidens, Burisma, and Ukraine, despite criticisms that doing so would have a destructive effect on the integrity of American elections.

One of the lessons of the Trump era is that in modern American politics, even the most confident of predictions can turn out to be completely wrong.

Despite the presence of clear and direct evidence implicating the President in a bribery scheme with Ukraine, Republicans have a number of defenses at their disposal, which are sure to be repeated throughout the next several weeks as the trial begins in the Senate. Reportedly, Republicans in the Senate don’t have the 51 votes necessary to rapidly dismisses charges in the trial, suggesting the event will be a protracted affair, though no one can say for sure exactly what the Senate will do at this point. This morning, after meeting with several Republican senators who will serve as jurors in his trial, the President asserted via phone interview on Fox and Friends that he welcomes a Senate trial, pointing out that a trial would give him the opportunity to call witnesses that could defend his case. During this interview, Trump made comments that appeared to make the hosts of Fox and Friends visibly uncomfortable, such as the claim that officials had to be “nice” to Marie Yovanovitch because “she’s a woman.”

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As of yet, Republicans have not shown any dissent from Trump and none have called for his removal from office, despite near-unanimous consent among Democrats of the severity of his crimes and the danger he poses to American democracy. As such, it’s hard to imagine that a requisite twenty Republican senators would vote to remove Trump from office. That being said, one of the lessons of the Trump era is that in modern American politics, even the most confident of predictions can turn out to be completely wrong. As such, the upcoming trial is sure to draw a tremendous amount of attention from around the world, and the outcome of the trial, unpredictable as it may be, is likely to have dramatic and historic consequences on American politics.

Impeachment Trial

Public Impeachment Hearings Begin

The next stage of the impeachment inquiry has begun, as witness testimony has moved from being conducted in closed-door rooms to being conducted in public, with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers asking questions of witnesses Bill Taylor and George Kent. The hearing, which started at 10 AM and lasted until the mid-afternoon, represented a forum for Democrats to make their case that the president engaged in what amounts to extortion by threatening to withdraw aid to Ukraine unless that country’s president went on CNN and announced an investigation into Burisma, the company for which Hunter Biden worked while his father was the US vice president. Simultaneously, the hearing was a chance for Republicans to offer their defense of the president, using their allotted time to attack the witnesses’ credibility by asserting that they had never met the president nor listened to the call in question, pointing out that the Trump administration provided military aid to Ukraine when the Obama administration only provided economic and political aid, and expressed outrage at the fact that the whistleblower’s identity has not been disclosed and that he or she has not been called to testify, among other lines of reasoning.

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The hearing began with Adam Schiff, who described the rules for the hearing and introduced the witnesses, and then presented the Democrat’s theory of the case, outlining a summary of events involving Trump’s phone call with President Zelensky. He defended the impeachment inquiry, saying that “if foreign interference is not impeachable, what is?” and worried that if the president gets away with inviting foreign interference, other presidents would feel emboldened to do the same, threatening principles fundamental to the core of the country. Devin Nunes then delivered his opening statement, beginning by attacking Democrats and the “corrupt media” and asserting that the impeachment inquiry is nothing more than a partisan attack on the president, comparing it to what he called the “Russian hoax” which culminated in Robert Mueller’s underwhelming testimony before congress, calling the inquiry a “low-rent Ulkranian sequel.” Nunes described the closed-door testimonies as a “cult-like” atmosphere during which witnesses “auditioned” for a “televised, theatrical performance.” 

Overall, most pundits thought the hearing was a win for Democrats and a loss for Republicans, and as the hearings proceed over the coming days and weeks, this trend is likely to continue.

The witnesses then delivered their opening statements. George Kent spoke first, detailing Rudy Giuliani’s activities abroad, including a “campaign to smear” the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, in order to set up a shadow foreign policy apparatus to allow the president to circumvent official channels in his conduct with Ukraine. Then Bill Taylor gave his opening remarks, reitering testimony he gave earlier behind closed doors and describing the series of events he witnessed and had knowledge of. Taylor also broke news by revealing that a member of his staff had overheard a cell phone conversation between Trump and Gordon Sondland, during which Trump asked about the investigations into Biden, and Sondland responded that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” Also, Taylor testified that Sondland claimed that President Trump cares more about the investigations into Biden than he does about Ukraine. Both witnesses said they thought the president was not genuinely interested in corruption in Ukraine and expressed alarm at his attempt to extort the foreign country.

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While Republicans complained that neither of the witnesses had direct knowledge of the call, another witness who listened in on the call, Alexander Vindman, is scheduled to testify next week. Notably, witnesses who would be able to provide more first hand evidence, including John Bolton, have ignored lawful congressional subpoenas and refused to appear in Congress under orders from the White House. Previously, Republicans complained that the witness depositions were held behind closed doors, though they voted against moving forward with public hearings and complained about the theatrical nature of the event. Republicans spent considerable energy focusing on the whistleblower, asserting that it wasn’t fair that Adam Schiff knows who the whistleblower was and they don’t. (Schiff denies knowledge of the whistleblower’s identity.) Republicans forced a vote to subpoena the whistleblower, which is not expected to pass. 

Many GOP senators have stated that they wouldn’t be watching the hearing. The president’s staff said Trump wouldn’t be watching the hearing, but he offered his commentary on Twitter throughout the event. Overall, most pundits thought the hearing was a win for Democrats and a loss for Republicans, and as the hearings proceed over the coming days and weeks, this trend is likely to continue.

White House

Key Details Omitted from White House Transcript, Official Testifies

The House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry has been progressing rapidly, despite the protests of Republican members of both the House and the Senate as well as strong opposition from the White House. While the White House has attempted to block witnesses from testifying before committees investigating potentially impeachable offenses, many government officials who have been subpoenaed have appeared in the House of Representatives nonetheless, offering damning testimony that corroborates both the whistleblower complaint which started the inquiry as well as leaks from the Trump administration and a reconstructed transcript released by the White House describing a call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine. 

As witness testimony reveals the extent of the Trump administration’s involvement in attempting to secure political dirt from a foreign power, it is also revealing the administration’s attempts to hide their tracks. Yesterday, for instance, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman testified that the transcript released by the White House omitted details about the President’s conversation with Zelensky, suggesting a possible attempt to obscure the nature of the call.

According to Vindman, Mr. Zelensky said the word “Burisma,” the Ukranian energy company Hunter Biden worked for, whereas the official reconstructed transcript is more vague. Additionally, Vindman claims that Mr. Trump mentioned the existence of recordings of Mr. Biden discussing issues of Ukrainian corruption, whereas the reconstructed transcript includes no such detail. Vindman testified that he tried to correct the record, but his corrections were ignored, which is unusual for official notes of conversations between the President and other officials. 

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Additionally, previous witness testimony has alleged that reconstructed transcripts, including the one released by the White House in response to the whistleblower complaint, were stored in a top-secret computer system to which only a handful of individuals had access, in a break from traditional White House methods of handling this sort of information, suggesting that the White House intended to keep secret the details of this call among others even within its own administration. 

Vindman’s testimony doesn’t change investigators’ impression of the fundamental purpose of the call, but rather bolsters the accusation that the call represented an improper request for the Ukranian President to assist in Trump’s reelection campaign. As such, Vindman’s testimony simply adds to the increasingly convincing collection of evidence procured by Congress, enabling the rapid transition towards the public phase of the impeachment inquiry. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, one of the House of Representatives’ main investigators, has declined to take legal action against White House officials who have refused to comply with subpoenas, instead relying on the testimonies of others, including diplomats Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker. Democrats have stated that they want to complete their impeachment investigation quickly, and given the substantial amount of evidence already available to investigators, the testimonies from witnesses who have refused to cooperate with subpoenas are considered unnecessary.

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Although Republicans have decried the impeachment inquiry as an illegitimate and partisan attack on the President fueled by lingering resentment about the outcome of the 2016 election, Democrats’ actions have nonetheless plunged the GOP into chaos, as their defenses of the President’s conduct have become increasingly strained. During Vindman’s testimony, a shouting match between Democratic and Republican representatives reportedly erupted, and last week Republicans attempted to physically obstruct witness testimony, refusing to leave a secure hearing room during a scheduled closed-door proceeding. Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate have generally been uncharacteristically quiet about the specific accusations, claiming that they are reserving judgment until the trial.

Republican protests to the impeachment proceedings have generally been specious — talking points have included the claim that the President is being robbed of due process rights, that the House never voted to formalize the inquiry, and that Republicans have been denied access to witness testimonies. All of these complaints have been addressed by Pelosi’s announcement of a vote to formalize proceedings. Nancy Pelosi has called for a vote tomorrow, October 31st, on a resolution to formalize rules for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry, which would allow Republicans to call witnesses, make witness testimony public, and allow Trump’s lawyers to present a formal defense of him. 

While Republicans in the House of Representatives are likely to continue to decry the proceedings despite these concessions, the Democratic majority in the House ensures that impeachment is all but certain. Only time will tell, however, whether the Senate will decide to remove the President from office, which requires a two-thirds majority vote, meaning 20 Republican senators would have to break ranks with the President, an unlikely but possible scenario.