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Lev Parnas Implicates Giuliani, Pence, Barr, Nunes, and Trump in Ukraine Scandal

One of the central figures that has emerged in the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment is Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Parnas was indicted on federal charges several weeks ago and has since indicated that he is willing to cooperate with Congress’s investigation into allegations that Trump improperly pressured the president of Ukraine to announce an investigation of his political opponent, Joe Biden. On the eve of the House’s transmission of articles of impeachment to the Senate, Parnas sat down with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to discuss documentary evidence that he had produced, including handwritten notes describing the scheme to coerce President Zelensky into announcing an investigation into the Bidens. 

Parnas’s interview signalled a break from the Trump administration, as he directly blamed several key White House figures, including the attorney general and the vice president, for their culpability in the scheme. While Parnas’s claims have not yet been fully vetted, they corroborate much of the testimony provided by other witnesses who participated in the House’s investigation. Most prominently, Parnas reiterated Gordon Sondland’s claim that “everyone was in the loop;” in other words, according to witnesses, all of the senior Trump administration officials were aware of the scheme as it was being carried out. 

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In addition to providing circumstantial evidence corroborating the narrative that has emerged about the president’s involvement in the extortion plot, Parnas also provided previously-undisclosed evidence, further illuminating the roles of individuals connected with the two governments in attempting to carry out the plan. Parnas, by his own account, personally worked with Rudy Giuliani and others to oust former US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was perceived as interfering in the administration’s scheme. 

Parnas also communicated with a new character in the Ukraine story, Robert Hyde, a controversial Republican congressional candidate who was not publicly known to be connected with the scandal before Parnas’s release of text messages and other documents. Hyde, by Parnas’s account, was “always drunk,” and as such Parnas often did not take his text messages seriously. Nevertheless, Hyde’s recently-revealed correspondence with Parnas drew significant media attention as his texts appeared to include personal threats against the ambassador, who seemed to be under surveillance by suspicious figures. Accordingly, and in an ironic twist, Ukraine has opened an investigation into the alleged surveillance of and threats against the American ambassador, potentially paving the way for the release of further evidence about the scandal down the road.

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According to Parnas, essentially all of the highest-ranking members of the Trump administration as well as other government officials were aware of and at least complicit in the scheme, specifically including the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Pence, U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, and Attorney General William Barr. According to Parnas, Pence’s trip to Ukraine was canceled as a direct result of Zelensky’s delay in announcing an investigation into the Bidens, Nunes personally knew Parnas despite his claims that they didn’t know each other and was involved in efforts to produce documents denigrating Biden, and Barr must have known about everything that was happening but chose not to do anything about it, despite his position as the head of the Department of Justice. By Parnas’s account, Guiliani definitely had a direct role in carrying out the scheme whereas the other government officials participated in a supporting capacity. 

While Parnas’s claims are explosive, it’s important to keep in mind that not all of them have been fully vetted, and although Parnas produced documents that support some of his claims, some of what he said may be untrue. Though he pled “not guilty” to largely-unrelated federal charges issued last year, Parnas may be lying in order to diminish the appearance of his own culpability in committing illegal acts, or he may be lying for reasons unknown to the general public. While Parnas’s character and his testimony can reasonably be called into question, the voluminous documentation he made publicly available reveals a near-incontrovertible paper trail that strongly supports the general narrative of the administration’s involvement in a corrupt extortion scheme carried out to compromise an American election.

The White House

Majority of Americans Believe Evidence Supports Removing Trump from Office, Poll Finds

A poll conducted by Ipsos and FiveThirtyEight, an organization that aggregates and analyzes opinion poll data, has found that 52% of Americans believe enough evidence exists with respect to Trump’s conduct with Ukraine and his refusal to cooperate with Congress to warrant his removal from office. An aggregate of polls conducted to determine whether Americans support impeaching Trump has found that roughly half of Americans have supported the impeachment inquiry since Pelosi announced it, whereas the other half oppose impeachment. Though the impeachment inquiry lasted several weeks and produced devastating evidence directly implicating the president in withholding aid money to Ukraine in exchange for campaign assistance, these revelations have not changed Americans’ minds about impeachment, as poll results have remained remarkably consistent throughout the process. However, this most recent poll suggests that some Americans are slowly beginning to realize the extent of the president’s misconduct, though Trump’s remarkably steady approval rating indicates that it is unlikely that an overwhelming majority of Americans will ever support removing the president while he remains in office.

Although a majority of Americans (57%) believe Trump engaged in impeachable conduct, just 47% of Americans favor removing him from office, apparently believing that the question of whether Trump should remain the president should be determined by American voters this November. This means that roughly 15 percent of Americans believe that Trump committed impeachable conduct that warrants his removal from office but do not support removing the president before the election. Predictably, public opinion is split along party lines; 82% of Democrats support removing Trump from office, whereas only 9.7% of Republicans hold the same opinion.

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One thing that both Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on, however, is that the upcoming Senate trial should feature witnesses who were not present during the phase of the process controlled by the House in order to expand on the evidence unearthed over the past few months. 57% of Americans want to see a Senate trial with new witnesses, whereas 39% believe the focus should be kept on the evidence presented by the House. That being said, Democrats and Republicans largely disagree on who should be called as witnesses—Democrats think that officials like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, who have direct knowledge of the conduct for which the president was impeached, should participate in the trial, whereas Republicans want senators to question people like Hunter Biden, who is the subject of Trump’s allegation of his opponent’s political corruption. 

When it comes to how lawmakers are handling the impeachment process, which is currently in a stalemate as Nancy Pelosi continues to withhold the articles of impeachment from the Senate as leverage to negotiate the terms of the trial, Americans are almost evenly split on their approval of this tactic as well. Pelosi’s tactic may end up backfiring on Democrats, depending on how long she continues to withhold the articles, as withholding them for too long could give credibility to allegations that the impeachment process was motivated by political concerns instead of by constitutional obligation as the Democrats claim. 

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The poll also found that Americans are becoming increasingly unlikely to change their mind on the question of impeachment as time goes on. In mid-November, roughly 75% of respondents who believed Trump’s conduct was impeachable felt “absolutely” or “pretty” sure that they were right, whereas now 81 percent of respondents profess this degree of certainty. However, when it comes to Americans who think Trump’s conduct was not impeachable, this degree of certainty has not seen a similar increase, as 71% of this group reported being “absolutely” or “pretty” certain of their view in mid-November and 72% of this group reported being this certain in this latest poll.

Though the holiday season is officially over, the parameters of the Senate trial remain unclear, as lawmakers have made little progress in their negotiations over the rules of the trial. As such, at this unprecedented moment in history, it’s difficult to predict what, if any, effect the trial will have on public opinion, though trends over the past several years suggest any change will be minimal. 

White House

President’s Behavior Unpredictable in Aftermath of Impeachment

Despite the president’s claim that “it doesn’t feel like” he was being impeached, the House of Representatives’ passage of articles of impeachment is having a clear emotional effect on him. Throughout the process, Trump has been especially active on Twitter, a platform he uses to air his many grievances and seek sympathy for what he perceives as unfair attacks on his character and presidency. As the votes that would cement his legacy as only the third American president in history to be impeached and as the first to be impeached during his first term were counted, Trump held a campaign rally in Michigan, basking in his audience’s approval as he angrily castigated Democrats even if he downplayed the significance of the historic night.

Rallies function as a kind of security blanket for the president, as he perhaps loves nothing more than hearing the cheers and applause of his supporters, who are particularly vocal when he belittles and demeans his opponents. As in prior Trump rallies, the president casually encouraged law enforcement officers to use violence against anti-Trump protestors, reiterated improbable or false claims like that he led people to start saying “Merry Christmas” again, and attacked his former political opponent Hillary Clinton and her husband as well as his current rival, Joe Biden. 

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The president apparently acts in this way as a self-soothing behavior, but given the immense level of stress he must be undergoing, this practice may fail to satisfy his ongoing need for admiration and approval. Indeed, Wednesday night’s display was egregious even for a Trump rally, as the president suggested that the recently-deceased husband of a sitting US Representative was looking up at her from Hell as she cast her vote to impeach. This comment offended even some of the president’s most loyal defenders, as a number of audience members audibly groaned and Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s closest allies, criticized him for his slur against a dead man and his grieving widow.

If the president wins re-election next year and Republicans regain full control over Congress, it’s difficult to imagine what obstacles to the expansion of his power would remain.

While Trump’s psychological state has long been a subject of interest and concern to mental health professionals and political experts, it is of particular note in the aftermath of impeachment, as the unprecedented nature of Wednesday’s proceedings combined with his volatile disposition makes it even harder than usual to predict his behavior, which may grow even more chaotic and dangerous as the reality of impeachment’s impact on his legacy sinks in. The president seems to live in a state of perpetual denial, constantly projecting by accusing others of engaging in the same misconduct he is in fact guilty of; however, he does seem to recognize the reality of his circumstances, though his pathological lying makes it difficult to discern his true beliefs. 

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By analyzing official accounts of his behavior, psychologists have found with a high degree of confidence that Trump does not generally take in critical information and advice, has profound impairments relating to information processing and decision making, and tends to endanger himself and the people around him. These characteristics will likely only intensify as the president processes this new stain on his legacy, and reports have indicated that Trump is incensed by the situation and has privately vowed to exact revenge on his political enemies. As such, the president may not only continue to abuse the awesome powers of the executive branch in his quest for vengeance, but expand his misconduct in further unprecedented and as-of-yet unknown ways. 

Given the Republican party’s near-absolute loyalty to Trump, the limits of executive power are unclear, as congressional Republicans have not yet generally shown any interest in curbing his abnormal and illegal acts as the Constitution requires. Most political analysts agree that Trump is virtually certain to be acquitted in the upcoming Senate trial; if he is, he is likely to feel vindicated and emboldened to expand the scope of his wrongdoing, just as he did on the day after Robert Mueller testified when he tried to cheat in the next election. And if the president wins re-election next year and Republicans regain full control over Congress, it’s difficult to imagine what obstacles to the expansion of his power would remain.

American Flag

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.

White House

Trump’s Russian and Ukrainian Connections, Explained

While the allegations at the core of the current presidential impeachment effort are fairly straightforward, the larger story of the president’s alleged misconduct can become extraordinarily complicated, as Republicans are actively spreading Russian disinformation to defend the president, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction. Additionally, quite a large number of people are involved in this story, each with unique and often mysterious worldviews and motives. While you may know the basic allegation that Donald Trump asked the president of Ukraine for assistance in his personal political campaign in exchange for desperately-needed military assistance, thereby trying to cheat in his next election, you may have not heard about, or have forgotten, the numerous associates of Donald Trump who are linked to Russia and Ukraine, some of whom are currently serving time in jail.

Trump’s connections with Russia and Ukraine predate matters directly related to impeachment. Trump has a substantial personal financial investment in Russia, a corrupt dictatorship, as he has pursued building a Trump property in Moscow for decades. Infamously, Trump publicly implored Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email account when he was the nominee and she was his opponent, but was not found to have successfully colluded with the Russian government to promote his 2016 campaign. The day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified that his team had not found evidence of successful collusion with Russia, President Trump called Ukraine’s President Zelensky for help in his domestic political campaign, apparently having believed he had gotten away with it the first time and thus could do so again without facing consequences. To this day, Trump contends that he did nothing wrong and that his call was “perfect,” and while he often lies, he likely believes this to be true, as he is prone to subscribing to conspiracy theories that are disproven but nonetheless help him politically.

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Trump’s connections with Ukraine are related to his connections with Russia. Paul Manafort, the president’s campaign chairman who is now a convicted felon, previously helped in the campaign of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was a corrupt politician who was preferred by Russia and acted to strengthen Ukraine’s ties with Russia. He was removed from office by the Ukrainian parliament, who also issued a warrant for his arrest for “mass killing of civilians.” Yanukovych now lives in exile in Russia and was succeeded by oligarch Petro Poroshenko, whose administration was also involved in widespread corruption. Poroshenko’s reelection efforts were defeated by the election of current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who won a landslide victory after campaigning on a platform of rooting out corruption.

When Poroshenko was elected president, Joe Biden was the Vice President and had urged President Obama to provide Ukraine with military assistance after that country was invaded by Russia, which he declined to do. So Biden called Poroshenko and urged the newly-elected President to reform his country’s corruption-laden political system, explaining that corruption makes it difficult for other countries to work with them, particularly in their fight against Russia. At around the same time, Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, joined the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, in large part not because of the younger Biden’s experience or skills but because of the value of his last name. 

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Joe Biden, alongside most of the international community, worked to oust Ukraine’s corrupt prosecutor general who was accused of taking bribes from various companies, including Burisma, to protect them from investigation. Ultimately, this prosecutor was fired as a result of the allegations, resulting in the hiring of a prosecutor who would have been more likely to investigate Burisma. Joe Biden contends that he has not discussed Burisma with his son, and there’s no evidence to suggest that he even took Burisma into consideration when deciding to oppose the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Notably, this prosecutor’s removal actually increased the chances that Burisma would be investigated, as the prosecutor was replaced by one who was less likely to accept bribes from companies like Burisma. The fact that Hunter Biden worked for Burisma while his father was the Vice President shows poor judgment and a willingness to take advantage of nepotism, but does not constitute evidence of a crime.

While based on partial truths, Trump’s narrative depends on several facts arguably invented by Moscow

The president’s narrative, then, depends on material falsehoods and happens to be identical to a Russian disinformation campaign, as Russia expert and impeachment witness Fiona Hill recently testified. Republicans and the president falsely allege that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in the 2016 American presidential election, and that Biden’s actions in Ukraine were meant to protect his son from investigation into corruption. These claims are refuted by material evidence, but have nonetheless convinced a significant portion of the American electorate, thanks to Trump and the network of media that supports him. 

While based on partial truths, Trump’s narrative depends on several facts arguably invented by Moscow in an attempt to even further divide the American electorate, as such behavior is consistent with Russia’s foreign policy, particularly in the aftermath of their successful attempt to elect a president they believed would harm the United States. Putin, a former KGB spy, often uses disinformation against his political opponents to harm them, both domestically and abroad. Throughout his presidency, Trump has repeatedly and consistently praised Russian President Putin, despite his corruption and human rights abuses, and has privately met with Putin several times. To this day, we don’t know exactly what the two presidents discussed in these closed-door meetings, as the only other people in the room were translators.

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In addition to Manafort, Putin, and Zelensky, Trump has an unusually large number of connections to people in Eastern Europe for a sitting American president. Rick Gates, for instance, worked in a high level position during the 2016 Trump campaign and briefly worked for the Trump administration before pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and conspiring against the United States by concealing millions of dollars he earned representing pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Yesterday, he was sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years’ probation for this offense. Other Trump associates with connections to Russia who are facing criminal penalties include his former personal lawyer, Micheal Cohen, self-professed “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, and former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. Furthermore, The Moscow Project, which documents the connections between Trump and Russia, has identified 272 contacts between Trump and Russia-linked operatives.

It’s no coincidence, I believe, that Trump’s ongoing abuse of power involves extorting Ukraine, an enemy of Russia and an ally of the United States

While the Mueller Report did not explicitly find that Trump successfully colluded with Russia, it did find that Trump obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, as he is accused of doing to Congress in the present impeachment. It’s no coincidence, I believe, that Trump’s ongoing abuse of power involves extorting Ukraine, an enemy of Russia and an ally of the United States, to the benefit of both Trump personally and Russia. In my view, Trump felt emboldened by the lack of consequences for his request for election interference from Russia, and so did so again with Ukraine, perhaps at Russia’s direction, this time bolstered by a quid pro quo. Thankfully, this second attempt has not so far been as successful, as Trump released the withheld military aid to Ukraine after he was caught and has faced accountability in the form of impeachment proceedings, which have convinced roughly half of the American electorate of the president’s substantial wrongdoing. No one can predict how the results of impeachment will affect the outcome of the next election, but one thing is clear: the theories that Trump was looking forward to impeachment as it would help him politically have been debunked, as the president is clearly troubled, as evidenced by his hundreds of tweets on the subject and his angry letter to Nancy Pelosi, by the constitutional remedy currently being exercised.

Impeachment Trial

Impeachment Trial Plans Begin as Schumer Requests Witnesses

The president will be impeached this week, as the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve  two articles of impeachment for a full vote on the House floor. Because Democrats hold the majority in the House right now and this impeachment is a hyper-partisan affair, it is virtually certain that the House of Representatives will vote to send both articles to the Senate, where a trial of some sort will be held. The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans, who have 53 seats whereas the Democrats have 45. As a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate is required to remove a president from office via impeachment, this outcome is unlikely, particularly because not a single Republican senator has indicated that they’d entertain voting with the Democrats. That being said, the upcoming Senate trial is nonetheless sure to have a significant and difficult-to-predict impact on the political world, particularly in consideration of the fact that the next presidential election is less than a year away.

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Now that impeachment in the House is all but certain, Senate lawmakers have begun publicly discussing the outline and the structure of the trial. Unsurprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has all but confirmed that the outcome of the trial is a foregone conclusion, saying, “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.” Mitch McConnell wants the trial to move quickly and with little fanfare, even suggesting that witnesses may not be called at all, in the hopes that news about the facts pertaining to the trial will fly under the radar to the greatest extent possible, whereas the president wants the trial to be a bombastic, theatrical affair, believing that such an event would bolster his poll numbers. 

Despite this difference in opinion, though, Democrats were infuriated by McConnell’s suggestion that the trial should be orchestrated in coordination with the defendant in the trial, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling it “totally out of line.” During impeachment, senators are assigned the role of juror, and as such are required to swear an oath which reads: “I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.” The Republicans’ coordination with the White House, then, would seem to be a clear and direct violation of this oath, as jurors who have already made up their minds before the trial takes place plainly impede justice.

The decisions senators will make throughout the process are hard to predict and will shed light on these their characters and indeed on the health of the republic generally.

Nevertheless, Democrats are doing everything in their power to negotiate with the Senate majority to make the trial process as fair as they can. Accordingly, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer today wrote a letter to McConnell outlining the witnesses he wishes to call during the trial, which will likely not be held until next year. Given the president’s love of drama and theatrics, it is likely that some witnesses will be called for the trial, though it’s unclear exactly who would be compelled to testify: Schumer specifically requested the appearance of Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former Security Advisor John Bolton, both of whom refused to cooperate with congressionally approved subpoenas during the inquiry at the direction of the White House and may simply continue to ignore further calls to testify; and Republicans likely will seek testimonies of the unnamed whistleblower and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the former of whom is protected by anonymity statutes and the latter of whom is not a fact or expert witness in this case and thus would have little legal justification for being compelled to act as a witness. 

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Though Schumer knows that he likely cannot change McConnell’s mind, or the minds of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the Senate, he believes he may convince enough Republican senators that at the very least relevant witnesses should be called to testify to secure the 51 votes necessary to pass an agreed-upon set of rules designed to enable a fair trial. When it comes to impeachment trials, there exists very little historical precedent for how they should be arranged and conducted, and impeachment has never before occurred in a political environment as hyper-partisan and polarized as today’s; as such, the decisions senators will make throughout the process are hard to predict and will shed light on these their characters and indeed on the health of the republic generally.


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 2

Legal Scholars Testify Trump Committed Impeachable Offenses

Today, the first public hearing conducted by the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives began, as four legal scholars provided testimony to help lawmakers determine whether to issue articles of impeachment against President Trump. Three of the witnesses were requested by Democrats, and one was requested by Republicans; predictably, the three legal scholars called by Democrats testified that they believe that Trump should be impeached, whereas the fourth witness warned that the process of impeachment could establish a dangerous precedent. All four witnesses are highly decorated constitutional scholars, and are employed by universities like Harvard and Stanford. For Democrats, the purpose of this hearing is to educate both Congress and the American public about the constitutional process of impeachment and what actions necessitate it. Republicans used their speaking time during the hearing to complain about the process of impeachment, arguing that there do not exist any facts on the matter and frequently used parliamentary inquiries to disrupt the process, including a request for a vote on whether to subpoena the whistleblower.

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To make their point about why they believe Trump should be impeached, the witnesses employed analogies describing how similar behaviors by others would clearly be seen as wrong. For example, professor Pamela Karlan described the hypothetical example of a police officer who pulls over a speeding driver and offers not to write him a ticket in exchange for twenty dollars. In this hypothetical, the driver does not have twenty dollars in his wallet, but the police officer lets the driver off with a warning. Clearly, the police officer in this example is still guilty of the crime of bribery, even though his attempt was ultimately unsuccessful. Professor Karlan compares this example to the real-life actions taken by Trump, who similarly bribed the President of Ukraine with the promise of military aid in exchange for assistance in his re-election campaign in the form of opening an investigation into his political rival.

Ominously, the witnesses warned that if Trump is not impeached for this offense, then a precedent will be established that no president can ever be impeached for anything

Another impeachable offense discussed by the witnesses was obstruction of justice. The witnesses testified that Trump has engaged in a pattern of obstruction of justice, not only during the Ukraine investigation by ordering staff not to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony, but also during the Mueller investigation, as described in detail in the second half of the infamous Mueller report. Precedent has established that obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense, as the offense factored heavily in the impeachments of both Nixon and Clinton. Obstruction of justice has been considered impeachable because it harms Congress’ ability to carry out its constitutional duty of oversight over the other two branches of government.

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Throughout the witnesses’ testimonies, a common recurring theme was the intent of the Framers when they decided to include the mechanism of impeachment in the Constitution. The Framers specifically feared that a president would be naturally inclined to abuse the power of his office in order to undermine the election process. In fact, this very fear is what motivated some of the Framers who originally opposed including impeachment in the Constitution to change their mind. Under English law at the time, the only member of the government who could never be impeached was the King, and the Framers wanted to ensure that the United States would not become a monarchy or a dictatorship due to a president’s abuse of power. As such, the witnesses argued that impeachment exists for the very reason it is currently being used, which is to prevent a president from abusing his office in order to transform the government from a democracy to an authoritarian system. Ominously, the witnesses warned that if Trump is not impeached for this offense, then a precedent will be established that no president can ever be impeached for anything, as the actions taken by the president for which he is currently being impeached are precisely the ones for which the process of impeaching an American president was originally created.

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.