Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Is Trump's time up? (impeachment 2019)

Trump admits that he brought up the Bidens on a phone call with Ukraine's president. A Trump adviser said, as CNN reported on Sept. 23, "This is a serious problem for us. He admitted doing it." More specifically, the whistleblower's Aug. 12 claims have been corroborated, as shown by the New York Times on Oct. 26. And witnesses have begun to testify against him (see my blog post published yesterday).

Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is reduced to arguing that Trump referred to the Bidens only briefly on the phone call. Exactly how that is supposed to help, I don't know.

Tomorrow (Oct. 31), the House plans to vote on formalizing the inquiry. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that having procedures will "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." The procedural document is eight pages long and is expected to pass.

When the impeachment inquiry is completed, the government will decide whether to proceed to an impeachment trial. That outcome looks likely, as a New York Times editorial said on October 18, and "that will force Senate Republicans to choose. Will they commit themselves and their party wholly to Mr. Trump, embracing even his most anti-democratic actions, or will they take the first step toward separating themselves from him and restoring confidence in the rule of law?"

As of late November, Democrats are discussing whether the articles of impeachment should focus on the Ukraine scandal or be expanded to include the arguably criminal allegations in the Mueller report.

Will this end his presidency? Maybe. Here's some reasons why it might not, followed by reasons why it might. Then, I quote some opinions.

"No": Reasons why this scandal won't end his presidency

A certain demographic — historically powerful in the United States, though their dominance has waned somewhat — is nearly unanimously in favor of Trump remaining in office. In an October 2019 column, Michael Gerson wrote that "an extraordinary 99 percent of Republican WEPs [white evangelical Protestants] oppose the impeachment and removal of the president." Robert Jeffress appeared on Fox News citing the 99 percent statistic and claimed that evangelicals see impeachment of Donald Trump as an impeachment of their values. (Which is odd, because Trump's personal values are decidedly not in line with American Christian conservatives' and never have been.)

Elected Republican leaders are mostly not on board.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), as discussed by Jennifer Victor on Oct. 24,
recently indicated that he might support impeachment, and then announced just one day later that he would not be seeking reelection. So, even though support for Trump is eroding, and support for impeaching is growing, most low-ranking Republicans still don’t feel like they can criticize the president and live to see another election.

One newspaper's inquiry found Republicans largely unwilling to discuss the matter. In late October, Chris Cillizza wrote for CNN, "the conservative Daily Caller website asked the offices of each of the 53 Republican senators whether they opposed the impeachment and removal of President Donald Trump. Just seven of them said yes. ... The seven who did confirm they oppose impeachment to the Caller are: Sens. James Inhofe (Oklahoma), Cindy Hyde-Smith (Mississippi), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), Roger Wicker (Mississippi), Mike Rounds (South Dakota), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Jerry Moran (Kansas). ... Of the 46 Republican senators who didn't expressly reject impeachment, almost half — 22 — simply declined to comment to the Caller."

However, as of Oct. 26, fifty senators (all Republicans) had signed a nonbinding resolution to condemn the House impeachment inquiry. There remain three Senate Republicans who have not signed it: Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine. So far, then, exactly half of all Senators have signed this nonbinding resolution. Nonetheless, wrote CNN's Zachary B. Wolf, "the show of Republican cohesion does demonstrate that Trump is in little danger of being removed from office by impeachment, at least right now. It would take 67 senators to remove him." In other words, at the conclusion of the impeachment trial (which has not yet begun — only the inquiry is underway), all 47 Democrats and 20 Republicans would have to vote to remove Trump from office. Regarding the resolution condemning the House's inquiry, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as of Oct. 29, said he had not decided whether to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote. He said he would wait to see if the House's formalization of the impeachment inquiry would contain "due process protections" for Trump.

Juleanna Glover believes the impeachment vote could be held secretly. Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution says only that two-thirds of the Senate must be present. The Senate can set its own rules for the impeachment, but it will need "a simple majority — 51 of the 53 Senate Republicans — to support any resolution outlining rules governing the trial. That means that if only three Republican senators were to break from the caucus, they could block any rule they didn’t like." Glover said:’s not hard to imagine three senators supporting a secret ballot. Five sitting Republican senators have already announced their retirements; four of those are in their mid-70s or older and will never run for office again. They might well be willing to demand secrecy in order to give cover to their colleagues who would like to convict Trump but are afraid to do so because of politics in their home districts. There are also 10 Republican senators who aren’t up for reelection until 2024 and who might figure Trumpism will be irrelevant by then. Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski have been the most vocal Republicans in expressing concerns about Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine. Other GOP senators have recently softened in their defense of him, as well — all before the House has held any public hearings.

There’s already been some public speculation that, should the Senate choose to proceed with a secret ballot, Trump would be found guilty. GOP strategist Mike Murphy said recently that a sitting Republican senator had told him 30 of his colleagues would vote to convict Trump if the ballot were secret. Former Senator Jeff Flake topped that, saying he thought 35 Republican senators would vote that way.

Sen. Lindsey Graham has enabled Trump up to this point. He may continue to do so. He was quoted in the Washington Post as having said on Oct. 15:

“Sure. I mean ... show me something that ... is a crime,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to Axios on HBO in an interview on Tuesday. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.” * * * [Sen. Lindsey] Graham’s comments could signal an inflection point in this impeachment debate. He has in the past twisted and omitted facts to protect Trump, and he’s warning that at some point, he won’t anymore.

Are we at that point? One month later, apparently not yet, and it's unclear what will bring us to that point.

"Yes": Reasons why this scandal will end his presidency

First of all, Americans agree that this type of behavior &mash; seeking foreign help in a presidential election — is bad. There is bipartisan agreement on this. In mid-October, a poll found that over 80 percent of Republicans, evangelicals and people living in rural areas disapprove of a president asking for election assistance from a foreign government.

While theoretical disapproval of the crime does not always translate into specific support for impeaching Trump, a majority of Americans do support the impeachment inquiry. A poll in early October 2019 of the American public found that 1 in 5 Republicans support at least an impeachment inquiry (if they have not already personally reached the conclusion that Trump should be removed from office). Across both parties, then, more than half of Americans support at least an impeachment inquiry. Nearly 2/3 of Americans said that Trump should cooperate with the impeachment inquiry; that is to say, some Americans who do not support the inquiry nevertheless believe that Trump ought to cooperate with it. At the end of the month, another poll had similar results, finding that 49 percent of Americans (including 18 percent of Republicans) want Trump removed from office.

Similar findings come from Fox News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, and Washington Post/ABC News.

On November 3, Trump told reporters that he rejected these numbers. "I have the real polls," he claimed. He said they reveal that "people don’t want anything to do with impeachment." He did not, of course, say what these polls were. They probably do not exist.

During an Oct. 30 lunch meeting, Senate Republicans discussed changing their talking points: that Trump's request was obviously a quid pro quo, but that quid pro quos are common in foreign aid. During that meeting, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said that a quid pro quo is only illegal if there is "corrupt intent," that is, if Trump had "a culpable state of mind." Since crimes do not usually depend on the criminal's state of mind (which is difficult to determine), this argument may not fly.

On Nov. 4, a Huffington Post reporter categorized all 53 Republican Senators' public statements. Only a slim majority (28) say there's nothing to see here, while the rest (25) have some reservations or have chosen not to publicly comment yet. Their positions are:

"The Call Was Totally Fine" (28 senators)
"The Call Was Bad But Not Impeachable" (7 senators)
"The Call Was Wrong" (4 senators: Thune, Murkowski, Sasse, Romney)
"I’m A Potential Juror And Shouldn’t Speak" (4 senators: Collins, Isakson, Young, Enzi)
"Criticized Impeachment But Have Not Weighed In On Call" (10 senators)

On Nov. 7, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that, in an impeachment trial, he will "look at all the evidence like a juror, which is what the Senate serves as, and then I am going to make a decision and what’s based on the best interest of the country given the facts," rather than reacting to "what’s being leaked in the press or what’s being reported or what politicians are saying.”

Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. during the first two years of Trump's term, claimed that there was no quid pro quo because Trump was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempt to withhold aid from Ukraine. (He did, however, delay it for months.)

One indication that the Trump administration is panicking is that they are asking foreign governments to discredit U.S. intelligence findings on this scandal and related scandals, including the Mueller Report. The Independent:

Trump and Barr have also been asking other foreign governments for help in investigating the FBI, CIA and Mueller investigators. The US president has called on the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison for assistance, while the attorney general has been on similar missions to the UK and Italy.

And the information being requested has left allies astonished. One British official with knowledge of Barr’s wish list presented to London commented that “it is like nothing we have come across before, they are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services”.

Trump also, according to the Washington Post on Nov. 6, asked Barr to hold a news conference stating that the Trump/Zelensky phone call was not illegal, though Barr refused.

Republican leaders have to make a decision. Either they ally themselves with Trump at all costs, without qualifying their statements, whatever the evidence against him, or they forgo Trump's good will. A middle-of-the-road, wait-and-see position, such as that attempted by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) — who said that Trump's attempted quid pro quo was "not appropriate" yet isn't "impeachable" — is both "gutless" and "ultimately foolhardy, since Trump will view it as an attack," as Michelangelo Signorile wrote on Oct. 30. Signorile said: "There’s no one left in the White House with good instincts who has any influence on him. He’s making all of the decisions now — decisions that even Republicans admit are terrible," and he "no longer has anyone competent to speak for him either, and the GOP knows this too."

Indeed — supporting Signorile's point — Lindsey Graham says that Trump is too incompetent to do anything corrupt and therefore cannot be impeached.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, is determined to cultivate his own incompetence by referring to the impeachment inquiry as "B.S." while admitting not having read the materials.

Graham also insists that the impeachment inquiry is invalid unless the original whistleblower's identity is outed and the whistleblower testifies before Congress. "It's impossible to bring this case forward in my view fairly," he said, "without us knowing who the whistleblower is and having a chance to cross examine them about any biases they may have. So if they don't call the whistleblower in the House, this thing is dead on arrival in the Senate." To the contrary, however, there are laws to protect the identity of whistleblowers.

It is not necessary to cross-examine the person who reported the crime. And it is a little strange that the defendant would want another one of his accusers to testify, when so many of them have already spoken against him. Outing the whistleblower would simply place the whistleblower at personal risk. It is to Trump's media advantage to paint the idea that he has an anonymous enemy in the government and that this enemy is untrustworthy and can be discredited simply because he or she is anonymous. Accordingly, Trump refused the whistleblower's offer of written testimony. He doesn't want to know what the whistleblower has to say; he wants the whistleblower to reveal his or her face.

Also, while a criminal defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to question their accuser at trial, it is also the generally held legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, which is to say that Trump is not a criminal defendant and it isn't clear that the Sixth Amendment right applies to him. Trump will go on trial by Senate on the question of whether he abused the power of his office and the consequence is that he may lose his job. That is not a criminal trial, and it isn't clear he has the right to cross-examine anyone.

He sows confusion with this line of argument. Demanding the whistleblower's identity (which legally can't be released) is a tactic to delay the process and divert the focus from other people's testimony. It also intimidates anyone else from reporting crimes in the future, anonymously or otherwise, about Trump or about anyone else.

Similarly, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) denies that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, which is fascinating, since going back to September, Trump himself has admitted doing that. He made a televised request apparently to Ukraine on Sept. 20 and to China on Oct. 3. From the time of the whistleblower's initial report in late September through early November, Trump tweeted about the Bidens over 50 times, generally alleging that they did something corrupt related to Ukraine. Trump is clearly asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. This is not in dispute.

Sen. John Kennedy, standing next to Trump at a rally, had this disingenuously apologetic ad hominem for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for her attempt to impeach Trump: "I don’t mean any disrespect, but it must suck to be that dumb."

Rand Paul, who once promoted whistleblower protections... wants to out the whistleblower.

Ultimately, Trump may be unable to stop people from testifying. As explained in a Huffington Post article on Nov. 15:

Someone who refuses to honor a congressional subpoena risks being held in contempt of Congress, which results in, at the very least, hefty legal bills. Someone who honors the subpoena risks being fired. The latter choice, though, can make the subpoenaed witness seem more sympathetic to the public while making the White House appear both vindictive and secretive.

'Aside from firing them or revoking their clearance, the president has no power to unilaterally do anything against these individuals,' [national security lawyer Bradley] Moss said.


"Anyone who followed the president’s directive to 'read the transcript'...knows that even this sanitized version of the President's call exposes the scheme to public view," Joyce White Vance wrote for Time. "Far from a perfect call, it was a scheme to have a foreign country intervene in our election. It was so far off the mark that when White House officials learned about it, they stashed the record of it on a highly classified server, apparently in hopes it wouldn’t come to light."

James Carville had said Trump appears to be "done." Premature, perhaps, but let's see.

Nancy Gibbs suggested in October 2019 that Trump wants to be impeached because it lets him project an image that he is a victim.

The polls are moving for a reason: Republicans and independents, even those serving in Congress, may not agree where the line is, but they know there’s one somewhere, and it does not involve a shooting on Fifth Avenue.

Consciously or not, might he conclude that impeachment and removal is his least bad option for escaping the 'great white jail'? Resigning is out; that’s for quitters. Defeat in 2020 is worse; losing is for losers. But being impeached and removed from office is the one outcome that preserves at least some ability to denounce the deep state and the quislings in the Senate who stabbed him in the back, maintain his bond with his tribe, depart the capital and launch a media business to compete with the ever more flaccid Fox News. (This all presumes that President Pence pardons him, for which there’s some precedent.) Impeachment lets him go down fighting, and he will call it rigged and unfair and illegitimate and a coup, all of which would be harder if the verdict was rendered next November by millions of voters.

Is he making maximal use of the messaging opportunity? No — he can't. He lacks "message discipline," meaning he changes his story every time he opens his mouth. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham cannot deny that the president is suffering from this critical personality flaw. At least when Bill Clinton was impeached, Graham pointed out, he had a team that was "on message every day."

Stephen Collinson's analysis for CNN on Oct. 25: "The President's wild attacks on witnesses — he blasted 'Never Trump Republicans' this week who criticize him as 'human scum' — may also be counterproductive and alienate undecided Americans."

"Trump has been behaving nearly hysterically in public, his language increasingly reckless and vulgar," Elizabeth Drew wrote on October 15. "And he’s made major foreign-policy errors that have enraged members of his own party." She added: "Trump’s defiance of Congress virtually guarantees that he will be impeached for obstruction, among other possible charges." Impeached, yes; but whether he will be convicted, or otherwise rejected by his own party, is another matter.

Former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent said on television: "People have to stand up and say...this is wrong.”

Just before the first televised impeachment hearings began on Nov. 13, Stephen Collinson wrote of the president: "His fate will have sweeping consequences for the future understanding of powers vested within the presidency itself. The hearings will test whether the ancient machinery of US governance can effectively investigate a President who ignores the charges against him and fogs fact in defining a new post-truth political era."

The accusations

could hardly be more grave. He is effectively accused of committing a crime against the nation itself and the political system that guards its freedoms.

Specifically, Democrats charge Trump with conspiring with a foreign power to influence a US election, an offense many observers believe satisfies the impeachable standard of "Treason, Bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

The eventual case may encompass campaign finance offenses, the flouting of his presidential oath to uphold the law and the Constitution and allege obstruction over his withholding of witnesses and evidence. In more symbolic terms, it would validate the fears of America's founders of one of the greatest threats to their democratic experiment.

Former Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who left Congress in 2018, told CNN on Nov. 29 that he'd spoken to many Republican members of Congress, and "they’re absolutely disgusted and exhausted by the president’s behavior...They resent being put in this position all the time." He said they believe they have to make a choice between winning the next election or looking good in the eyes of history.

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