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.”
Trump allies felt Giuliani’s free-wheeling monologues were hurting the president. And that was before the ex-New York mayor’s business associates got arrested.
For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.
And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.
Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.
The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.
Giuliani has been Trump’s attack dog since he was hired as an unpaid personal attorney April 2018. But the president’s personal lawyer has now found himself at the center of an unfolding controversy over the president’s attempts to get the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter.
To numerous Trump advisers, though, the appearances have hurt more than they’ve helped the president.
“Rudy right now needs to focus on himself and not Ukraine,” said an outside Trump adviser.
For now, Trump is sticking with Giuliani, or “My Rudy,” as Giuliani said the president sometimes calls him. “Nothing has changed on that,” said Giuliani’s own attorney, Jon Sale. Trump plans to keep using Giuliani on everything but Ukraine matters because they know he’s a witness if this goes to impeachment, according to a source familiar with the legal team’s strategy.
Trump said late Friday he didn’t know if Giuliani was still his attorney. “I haven’t spoken to Rudy,” he said. “I spoke to him yesterday, briefly. He’s a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.”
That’s good for Trump, Giuliani argued.
“I’m not a puppy — I know what I’m doing,” he said. If he didn’t represent Trump, Giuliani added, “they would let him be a punching bag.”
In a text on Saturday morning, Giuliani replied to the two most pressing questions he’s facing. “No knowledge of any probe. Still President’s counsel in same way as before…no change,” he wrote.
In a Saturday morning tweet, Trump wrote: “So now they are after the legendary “crime buster” and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani. He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer.”
At least one Republican suggested Giuliani would not leave even if Trump wanted him to. Either way, Giuliani is not going away, given his central role in the budding Ukraine controversy.
Giuliani fed Trump the information that largely led the president in a phone call to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The former New York mayor had spent months trying to make contact with Ukrainian officials to collect evidence and convince them that they should be looking at Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian gas company and Joe Biden’s Obama-era efforts to have a Ukrainian prosecutor removed over corruption concerns. There is no public evidence that either Joe or Hunter Biden broke any laws.
House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry after Trump’s request was revealed, spurring Giuliani to blanket the airwaves with his bulldog defenses of the president. Democrats have also subpoenaed Giuliani for documents and testimony related to his Ukraine activities, setting off a battle that’s likely to drag on for weeks.
Don Goldberg, who helped respond to congressional investigations in the Clinton White House, said Giuliani shouldn’t be helping Trump when he’s facing his own problems.
“It’s so messed up,” he said. “You’d think a president would want to have competent counsel if you’re talking about fighting for your political life. We’re so far not seeing that with the caliber he’s been using.”
Giuliani suggested in an interview this week that his television appearances could be reduced now that Trump’s legal team is expanding.
Some also speculated that the recent addition of former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to the Trump impeachment legal team was an attempt to reduce Giuliani’s appearances on the airwaves.
Although Gowdy — who led the congressional investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to in the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks — won’t start as a Trump attorney until January, he could appear as a surrogate on television in the meantime.
Democrats initially launched an investigation into Trump on Sept. 24 after learning about his call with Zelensky.
And Giuliani has been talking — a lot.
On Sept. 19, he denied he asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, only to admit it 30 seconds later.
On Sept. 24, he blew up at radio host Christopher Hahn during a joint television appearance, calling him a “moron” and an “idiot.”
On Oct. 6, he yelled at TV host Howard Kurtz, putting his fingers to his lips to shush him in the middle of the interview.
And in a series of phone interviews, Giuliani described himself both as a “hero” and the real “whistleblower” in the Ukraine saga, questioning why anyone would praise the person who initially raised concerns about Trump’s call.
“If I get killed now, you won’t get the rest of the story,” he warned POLITICOlast month.
Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor who has written books on impeachment, said Giuliani’s primary legal role is to appear on television.
“That’s helping facilitate the political arguments the president is making,” he said. “But at some point, if impeachment gets any traction, you’re going to need somebody that can speak more clearly and more powerfully with respect to the different points of the impeachment articles that may be drafted and ratified.”
Giuliani said he and Jay Sekulow, another Trump attorney, are still working for Trump because they successfully represented Trump during Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
“Jay and I got us through the last one, not the peanut gallery,” Giuliani said. “The president has made his views quite well known.”
It’s not the first time prominent Republicans have complained to Trump about Giuliani. But those same allies say the situation has grown dire since the House opened its impeachment inquiry.
“I think he’s massively hurting,” said a person close to the Trump campaign. “His TV appearances are so confused and contradictory, he’s creating an impression of internal chaos.”
“He’s inarticulate,” said a Republican who speaks to the president. “Rudy hurts the president with inconsistent, confusing messages.”
One former senior administration official described it this way when asked what Trump’s strategy against impeachment should be: “Hopefully Rudy will be on the space shuttle.”
So far, Trump has not heeded the advice.
“As long as Giuliani is doing battle with the president’s perceived critics and opponents, that’s what matters to the president,” said Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who worked for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “The efficiency of the performance isn’t as important as the willingness to do battle.”
Trump admires Giuliani’s brand, his loyalty and his Trump-like style, according to people familiar with their relationship. He has both political and legal experience at the national level, and has known the president for decades.
“They have a brotherly relationship,” said a second Republican who speaks to the president. “He likes his combative style.”
Giuliani’s reputation soared after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when he was dubbed “America’s Mayor.” These days, he’s regularly mocked on late-night shows and “Saturday Night Live.” His favorable ratings dipped to their lowest point in 2018 since Gallup began their polling on him in 2004.
Still, Trump supporters credit him with helping the president survive the Mueller investigation — and now exposing the Biden allegations.
At the White House Friday, senior aide Stephen Miller forcefully defended Giuliani. “You should all be grateful Rudy Giuliani is helping to shine a light on the endemic corruption that occurred while Joe Biden was vice president,” he told reporters, alluding to unsubstantiated claims that Biden got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect his son.
Republican strategist John Feehery said Trump loves what he is doing. “If this were any other president, Rudy would be a disaster,” he said. “There is a method to the madness. The goal is to always stay on offense and not be defensive.”
But there was at least one sign that Trump might be tiring of Giuliani.
On Thursday, the president told reporters he didn’t know the two Giuliani associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — charged with sending foreign money to U.S. political campaigns. Then, he turned the attention squarely back to Giuliani.
“You’d have to ask Rudy,” he said.
In its latest futile gesture, the House Freedom Caucus sets its sights on ousting the man overseeing Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation...their public relations assault is not actually about his refusing to turn over this or that document related to the Russia investigation. It’s not really even about the lawmakers’ loathing of the broader investigation, though certainly President Trump’s congressional lackeys — Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan most definitely included — are increasingly desperate to derail it... For Freedom Caucus leaders, this impeachment resolution is about something at once much broader and far pettier: the need to make a huge, disruptive, polarizing political stink just as members head home for the long hot August recess. Especially with a critical midterm election coming, it never hurts to have some extra well-marbled meat to throw the voters. And it is unlikely a coincidence that, less than 24 hours after filing, Mr. Jordan — who, lest anyone forget, is multiply accused of overlooking rampant sexual abuse while an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University — formally announced his candidacy for House speaker.Not to make Mr. Rosenstein feel any less special, but this is the fourth year in a row that Freedom Caucusers have pulled a summer-break stunt so nakedly self-serving that it would be comic if it weren’t so odious in its quest to erode public faith in government and in democratic institutions more broadly. Indeed, for all those wondering how the Republican Party reached the point where Donald Trump could swallow it whole with his furious everything-is-awful-and-everyone-is-out-to-get-you brand of demagogy, look no further than the nihilists in the Freedom Caucus... In 2015, Mr. Meadows became an overnight political celebrity when, on the day before break, he filed a motion aimed at overthrowing the House speaker, John Boehner. That effort eventually bore fruit... In 2016, Freedom Caucus members filed a pre-break motion to force a vote on the impeachment of the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen. (Impeachment is all the rage with these guys.)And last summer, they filed a discharge petition demanding a vote on a repeal of Obamacare... it has only nine co-sponsors, and Republican leaders, including Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the oversight committee, have expressed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the effort... Mr. Meadows didn’t even attempt to file a “privileged motion,” as he and his colleagues did against Mr. Koskinen two years ago, which would have forced a vote before members decamped on Thursday... the issue won’t get taken up until lawmakers return from break in September, if then. (That’s the beauty of pre-recess antics: They cannot fail before members get to spend several weeks touting them back home.)
There is vanishingly little chance that House leadership will let this toxic nonsense advance — Speaker Paul Ryan already has publicly smacked down the effort — and
zero chance that the motion could amass anywhere close to the two-thirds support required for the Senate to actually remove Mr. Rosenstein.
.. This stunt is in fact so ridiculous, so unfounded, so poisonous to the Republic that Attorney General Jeff Sessions felt compelled not only to publicly defend his deputy, but also to suggest that the lawmakers involved find a better use of their time.
.. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who was fired in January 2017 for refusing to defend President Trump’s travel ban, tweeted a warning about the long-term damage of “using the Department of Justice as a prop for political theater.”
.. It’s not that the Freedom Caucus members don’t recognize the damage they’re doing — or even that they don’t care. It is that delegitimizing government is at the heart of their movement.
.. Conflict and obstructionism have always been their purpose, fueled by their relentless message that
- government is always the problem, that
- all experts are idiots, that
- cultural and coastal elites hate Real Americans and that
- all of Washington is corrupt and broken beyond repair.
.. As has often been noted, Mr. Trump did not invent the apocalyptic message that he has used to dazzle the Republican base. He merely distilled it to its essence. But the base had been groomed for his arrival for years, in no small part by lawmakers like Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan, who have repeatedly proved eager to tear down democratic institutions in the service of their own political aims.
.. So while the Freedom Caucus’s pitiful effort to oust Mr. Rosenstein should not be taken seriously on practical grounds, it is a tragic reminder of the bleak path down which the Republican Party has been slouching in recent years. The rot was there long before Mr. Trump showed up to exploit it, and it is likely to remain long after he is gone.
Babies are seized from their mothers’ arms. Photographs show their anguish. News reports describe their cages. A recording captures their wailing and a U.S. border official’s cold mockery. A defiant President Trump falsely blames others for the misery he created.
And Republican lawmakers respond as they often have: They hold another hearing about Hillary Clinton’s emails.
But they have run this play too many times before.
.. Just 29 seconds into Tuesday’s hearing on the defeated Democratic 2016 presidential nominee and her emails, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, interrupted to point out that something more important needs attention.
.. “They are children who have been forcibly removed from their parents in our name.”
Republicans on the committee tried to silence Nadler with calls of “order!”
Nadler spoke over them: “The United States should be better than this. We should not put children in cages.”
“Regular order!” called out Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
.. Ah, so it’s “regular order” to have the umpteenth hearing about a now-private citizen’s emails, but you’re “pulling” a stunt if you talk about the Trump policy under which border guards are reportedly telling parents they are taking children “for a bath” and the children never return.
No, Republicans, your “regular order” is out of order.
.. As soon as Gowdy had silenced Nadler, two women in the back of the room, with infants in their laps, began to heckle the lawmakers about the inhumanity of Trump’s family separation policy.
Gowdy slammed the gavel to the dais and demanded that the mothers and babies be removed. (At least the Capitol Police had the good sense not to take the babies from the mothers.) “We will be in recess until the Capitol Police restore order!” Gowdy proclaimed.
But “order” remained elusive.
.. Shortly after the moms and babies were evicted from the room, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, spoke. “Are we really going to sit here, 70 members of the Congress of the United States of America, in 2018, and have a hearing . . . on Hillary Clinton’s emails?”
.. “We should be able to agree that we will not keep kids in child internment camps indefinitely and hidden away from public view. What country is that? This is the United States of America! We now have reports of parents being deported, but the Trump administration is keeping their children here.”
.. Unhappy that Clinton wasn’t charged in 2016 for mishandling her emails, they had demanded an investigation into the original investigation of Clinton. That investigation, conducted by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, last week reported misconduct by some officials but “no evidence that the conclusions by the prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations.”
.. Now Republicans, still unsatisfied, are threatening to investigate the investigation of the investigation of Clinton. Senate Republicans hauled Horowitz in Monday, and House Republicans hauled him in Tuesday, to field questions for seven hours from 70 lawmakers
.. they care more about a scrubbed server than a clean conscience.