To survive the riskiest battle of his presidency, Trump is skipping the legal minutiae and pulling out his fighting gloves.
For a president steeped in marketing and branding, impeachment offers new terrain on which to run the Trump playbook of defining an issue, waging war and then never backing down.
And the White House’s new strategy of treating impeachment primarily as a political argument puts President Donald Trump directly into his comfort zone.
Trump allies are the first to admit it’s not a strategy born out of any major legal thinking. Instead, it’s a bet Trump can prevail through his own aggressive public messaging campaign and the help of the Republican-controlled Senate, which ultimately would have to vote on the president’s fate following an impeachment trial.
George Washington University law professor who has participated in prior impeachment cases before Congress. “Many of the latest positions laid out in the letter undermine the White House’s best legal arguments.”
The White House letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sent on Tuesday night, said the administration will not cooperate in any way with the Democrats’ investigation. The letter argued the Democrats’ inquiry was invalid because liberals have long sought to discredit Trump since his election in 2016, and this was only the latest salvo.
Democrats launched the inquiry after a whistleblower complaint and White House summary transcript showed Trump asking the Ukrainian president to investigative his political rival ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign, a move Democrats say undermines national security and foreign interference in U.S. elections.
“The lawyers are dealing with a client who wants to see this type of aggressive and, frankly, reckless public banter,” Turley said, referring to the strong rhetoric laid out in that White House letter. “There has never been any evidence of the legal team being the driving force behind the White House’s public statement or strategy. At some point, they will have to mount a legal defense.”
Hiring former Rep. Trey Gowdy as an outside legal adviser was another sign of the political dimensions shaping the White House fight. While Gowdy served as federal prosecutor and district attorney in South Carolina, he’s also known for his partisan and aggressive leadership of the House Oversight Committee and his Fox News commentary.
White House officials expect Gowdy to play the role of made-for-TV surrogate during the impeachment fight, offering political advice, communication skills and “trench warfare” expertise, a senior administration official said. The president was excited he was joining the team, a second aide said.
Among Trump allies and White House officials, there’s also talk of Gowdy potentially managing the White House’s war room to steer the political and communications response, a Republican close to the White House said.
But Gowdy is not expected to be brought into the inner circle of the White House counsel’s office, over which top attorney Pat Cipollone has kept a tight grip.
“The counsel’s office wants to concentrate the flow of information as much as possible. They keep a narrow circle on this. Lawyers do not like others meddling,” said the Republican close to the White House.
In addition to the roughly 40 lawyers within the White House counsel’s office, the president is also receiving legal and communication advice from Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, the law firm of Consovoy McCarthy, and Marc Mukasey, a criminal trial lawyer based in New York, according to a second Republican close to the White House.
These attorneys maintain that the Democratic impeachment inquiry amounts to political theater and an abuse of process.
That argument also conveniently gives Senate Republicans an out, said one of the Republicans close to the White House. “The senators will not have to address the merits of the impeachment investigation. All they will have to say is that this is a charade. Why should I spend a moment on the merits?” this person said.
White House officials and Trump allies argue the administration’s letter to the House does contain legal arguments, despite any skepticism from constitutional law experts.
Officials say the White House has not received due process during the impeachment inquiry, an argument laid out in detail in the letter, including the ability to cross-examine and call witnesses and access evidence and transcripts of testimony.
“Let me just say: The Republican Party and president has been treated extremely badly by the Democrats, very unfairly, because they have a tiny margin in the House. They have eviscerated the rules. They don’t give us any fair play,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday at an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “It is the most unfair situation people have seen.”
Trump added that the White House would cooperate with House Democrats if they held a formal impeachment vote and “if they give us our rights.” He also said the impeachment inquiry will likely end up being decided by the Supreme Court.
Republican lawyers and Trump allies overwhelmingly believe the Republican-controlled Senate will decide the fate of the Trump presidency.
For now, the White House is leaning into its aggressive political strategy of stonewalling the Democrats. They hope the approach will slow the Democrats’ inquiry and sap its momentum, so much so that Americans either become confused about the procedural details or lose interest. Polling now shows a majority of Americans favor the impeachment proceedings.
“What legal strategy?” said a third Republican close to the White House. “It’s a delay strategy to force the Democrats to impeach on procedural grounds of obstructing the investigation. There won’t be a court battle because the Democrats have no need to go to court, they will impeach for failing to provide documents.”
To win the news cycle, Trump just cheats
Partisan outlets go with President Trump’s versions of events, even when they are demonstrably false. Mainstream outlets feel duty bound to report them, even as they debunk the lies.
.. what Alexander Hamilton taught long ago:
.. the despot’s “object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’ ”
.. So much of the journalism about Trump is negative because of what he does every day and because hard-working reporters and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation regularly turn up embarrassing facts. Therefore, journalists feel obligated to make sure that everyone knows they can be just as tough on Democrats.
.. Looking “partisan” is a grave transgression. Trump and the Republicans try to paint this scarlet letter on the media almost daily.
.. Lord knows, Democrats have their problems. Their own politicians regularly point them out by way of scoring points in the party’s factional wars
.. Left-wing candidates did not fare particularly well because rank-and-filers aren’t interested in ideological warfare and are choosing on the basis of personal qualities — it really helps to be a woman this year.
.. And there’s nothing imbalanced about Trump’s sins dominating the news. It’s not the media’s fault that there are so many of them.
The ‘Good Old Days’ of the Trump Presidency
you can’t have it both ways. You can argue that all of the chaos is part of Trump’s strategy. But you can’t cherry-pick the chaos you like and claim the media is making up the rest.
.. I’ve talked to people in the White House. I’ve talked to congressmen and senators off the record. And I’ve talked to far more people who’ve talked to such people. They all say that things behind the scenes in Trump World are nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s stool sample.
.. Just this week, the president’s body man was ejected from the White House on a freezing cold day, and he wasn’t even allowed to get his coat (presumably, he knows stuff — because he was instantly hired by the Trump reelection campaign).
Trump fired his secretary of State over Twitter.
Roll back the clock another week or two, and you have the sudden resignation of Hope Hicks and the revelation that Rob Porter couldn’t get a security clearance because of credible allegations that he was an abusive husband.
I can’t remember the last time Trump humiliated his attorney general, but it feels like we’re due. There was also some stuff about executing drug dealers and calling Chuck Todd a son of a b****. Oh, and there was that stuff about how trade wars are good.
.. Trump loves controversy but hates confrontation. That’s why he wants to force Sessions to quit
- That’s why he fired James Comey while the FBI director was giving a speech in California, and it’s why he wanted to
- fire Rex Tillerson while the secretary of State was in Africa.
- .. when Democrats are in the room, Trump tells them he’d go for comprehensive immigration reform and preens about how he’d like to “take the guns first, go through due process second.”
.. Recently, people close to Mr. Trump say that he has begun to feel more confident that he understands the job of president. He is relying more on his own instincts, putting a premium on his personal chemistry with people and their willingness to acknowledge that his positions are ultimately administration policy, rather than on their résumé or qualifications for the job.
My friend and chicken-wing consultant Steve Hayes argues that Pompeo is in fact “the real Trump whisperer.” He reports:
“I’ve seen a dozen times when Pompeo has talked the president out of one of his crazy ideas,” says a senior administration official involved in the national security debates.
Let that sink in. It’s not quite as reassuring as it sounds. If Haberman is right, then even if Pompeo had success in the past constraining Trump, he might not be able to going forward, given how Trump is more inclined to let his freak flag fly.
.. One of the great divides on the right these days is over the question of whether the policy wins of the Trump administration occurred because of Trump or despite him.
With the possible exception of Ted Cruz, I don’t think any other Republican would have
- moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem,
- opened ANWR to drilling, or
- pulled out of the Paris climate accords and
- TPP (though I think the TPP move was a mistake).
Most of Trump’s policy successes, however, have been accomplished thanks to party and movement regulars in the administration and in Congress
- Judicial appointments have been outsourced to the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell, thank God.
- Tax reform was Paul Ryan’s baby.
I am generally baffled when people say, “He’s gotten so much accomplished.” From where I sit, so much has been accomplished despite him.
He also gets “credit” for the fire sale of conservative credibility on countless conservative positions and arguments
.. The GOP’s tax-cut message did not have the salience Republicans hoped
.. Trump is increasingly toxic in normally Republican-friendly suburbs. His rallies may energize the GOP base — but they energize Democrats more.
.. Many of his preferred policies and most of his antics divide Republicans, while they unite Democrats.
.. Let’s also assume Mueller doesn’t find evidence of “collusion” that directly implicates Trump but that he does find enough to land Jared, Don Jr., and Michael Cohen in the dock. Paul Manafort is already looking at spending more than two centuries in jail.
What happens when
- Democrats get subpoena power? What happens when
- they start drafting articles of impeachment? What happens if
- Mueller reveals that Trump isn’t really as rich as he claims and that
- his business is mostly a Potemkin village of money-laundering condo sales? What happens
- if Stormy Daniels — or the retinue of super-classy ladies reportedly looking to follow her lead — releases embarrassing pictures of the president?
How do you think unconstrained Hulk Trump reacts? Heck, how do you think the beleaguered skeleton crew at the White House behaves? Everyone is gonna lawyer up
Normal administrations are crippled by zealous investigatory committees; is it so crazy to think that Donald Trump might not show restraint?
Might he be tempted to give the Democrats the store to hold off investigations, impeachment, whatever? Everyone defends the Jerry Falwell Jr. caucus on the grounds that they have a “transactional” relationship with Trump. Well, what if other transactional opportunities take precedence?
.. in the next couple of years, a tsunami of tell-all books and more-in-sorrow-than-anger reputation-rehabilitating memoirs will probably come out.
.. “character is destiny.” And I’ve never been more confident that that destiny is coming, and it won’t be pretty.
Foreign spies are watching — and probably targeting — Fox News Channel
So if I were a spymaster in the employ of a hostile foreign service, I’d devote some significant effort to penetrating one specific private institution: Fox News Channel.
.. It’s no secret that Fox News — specifically, shows such as “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine” — have outsize influence on the inner workings of how certain policies are carried out by the U.S. government.
.. Mediate recently argued that the most influential people working in the media today are “Fox & Friends” hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt, because “they have captured the President’s attention — which often then gets tweeted and covered by the media — the topics they cover essentially set the national agenda for the rest of the day.”
.. When Fox News broadcasts, the president often reacts impulsively. His tweet threatening North Korea with his “Nuclear Button” at 7:49 p.m. last Tuesday appeared to have been spurredby a Fox News segment on the very same topic that occurred 12 minutes beforehand
.. The Kremlin has indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin reads Trump’s tweets and views them as official White House statements. Pakistan recently summoned the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad to account for Trump’s tweet bashing what he called the country’s “lies & deceit.”
.. Trump’s unfiltered Twitter feed provides world intelligence operatives with “a real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind” — traits to be exploited in further dealings on the global stage.
.. A truly aggressive intelligence effort would not just monitor what’s being said on the network. It would target the on-air talent, as well as the folks behind the scenes who make the network’s programming possible: producers, bookers, associate producers, production assistants and the like.
.. Trump reportedly calls Sean Hannity after his show. If hostile foreign services compromise Hannity’s phone (or place a listening device in the room where Hannity takes his private calls), that could provide real-time intelligence on the American president and his thoughts.
.. For Russian intelligence, a systematic effort to threaten, coerce and co-opt journalists is a decades-old practice.
.. Kalugin wrote that the KGB’s Tumanov helped spread rumors and disinformation within Radio Liberty for years, turning staff against each other and identifying further potential targets for recruitment. He even had a hand in the bombing of Radio Liberty’s headquarters in Munich in 1981.
.. Compared to government workers, Fox employees would make easy targets.
.. Also, it’s television — full of trade secrets, big personalities and titanic egos. Most wouldn’t expect to be compromised by a hostile intelligence power, especially on American soil.
.. Few, if any, have the sort of counterintelligence training the U.S. government administers to people in sensitive positions
.. One of the major rationales for Putin’s behavior is to cause chaos, ultimately weakening and undermining his American adversaries. It’s his real long game.