A bad day for the president, from Roger Stone’s criminal conviction to Marie Yovanovitch’s moral conviction.
When he was running in 2016, Donald Trump told me that he reminded himself of another presidential candidate — someone, Trump said, who was also tremendously good-looking, a former entertainer and a Democrat-turned-Republican.
The vainglorious Trump felt he was the second coming of Ronald Reagan.
It is true that, like Reagan, Trump has reshaped his party in his own image, fully inhabiting it. But Reagan’s great mission was to thwart the Evil Empire, taunting that he would put a Star Wars shield in the sky. He wanted democratic ideals to supersede authoritarian rule in the Soviet Union.
Trump’s more sinister and incomprehensible aim is to help the Russians whenever he can.
While Reagan’s legacy will be helping to tear down communism and that wall, Trump’s legacy will be turning Republican lawmakers into dupes assisting Russia as it undermines our democracy — and democracy around the world.
Privately, many Republicans say that they do not buy into all of Trump’s deeply disturbing, topsy-turvy policies toward authoritarian regimes. Trump began echoing the Kremlin talking points during his campaign, saying about Vladimir Putin’s Crimea annexation: “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”
But G.O.P. pols go along publicly because they are recreants, slavishly trying to hold onto voters who are more intensely aligned with Trump than old-style Republicans.
Republicans may be winning the impeachment battle on Fox News but they are getting clobbered by the classy diplomats demonstrating true patriotism in the hearing room. Republican members of the Intelligence Committee risibly struggle to back up Trump on his demented conspiracy theory — belied by the consensus of the entire U.S. intelligence community — that it was Ukraine that meddled in the 2016 election to help Hillary, rather than Putin who meddled to help Trump.
Nancy Pelosi never spoke truer words than when she chided Trump, “With you, all roads lead to Putin.”
Reagan would be stunned to find Republican members of the House at war with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. — all to bolster Trump’s tender ego. Their preference seems to be to allow Russian meddling again if that’s what’s necessary for Trump to prevail a year from now.
Despite Republican efforts to throw up a smokescreen, despite their complaints that they are being muzzled even as they pose questions, it is clear that the president was putting his own political interests — looking for dirt on Hillary and the Bidens — above national security and using shady henchmen to do it.
It’s laughable that Donald Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine. Rather, the most corrupt president ever was determined to export his own corruption to Ukraine.
The longtime civil servants made clear that history in Ukraine is still being written, that soldiers are dying in the “hot war” between Russian and Ukraine and that subjugating U.S. policy to Trump’s petty, paranoid actions may yet deprive us of a valuable ally.
Alluding to Rudy Giuliani and his indicted cronies, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said: “Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador. How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign, corrupt interests could manipulate our government?”
Because Republicans are now dupes to dictators and sleazy foreign businessmen.
Republicans tried to minimize the former ambassador’s ordeal at the hands of her bosses, suggesting it was a matter for H.R. and noting that she now has a sweet gig at Georgetown University. Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley sarcastically riposted that Yovanovitch getting ousted at the pinnacle of her career no doubt felt “like a Hallmark movie.”
Trump told Ukrainian President Zelensky that “the woman was bad news” and added ominously that “she’s going to go through some things.” In another call, Trump introduced his favorite subjects — beauty pageants and Eastern European beauties — telling Zelensky: “When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people. Ukraine was always very well represented.”
In an aria of oblivious self-destruction, the president further intimidated Yovanovitch just at the very moment that she was testifying about how she had felt intimidated by the president.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he tweeted, seemingly blaming her for Black Hawk Down. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”
In testimony Friday afternoon, another State Department aide said that he too overheard Trump on a call with Ambassador Gordon Sondland of the European Union pressing for investigations and that Trump was reassured by his man in Kiev that Zelensky “loves your ass” and would do what it takes. Oh, high-level diplomacy.
Democrats know Moscow Mitch will squelch them in the end but hope they’ll get through to enough independents and suburban Republicans to deny Trump a second term.
No matter how many decent Americans come forward to expose his sordid behavior, will Trump be hauled out of the White House kicking and screaming while a celebratory Baby Trump balloon flies overhead?
The answer to that: Nyet.
BREAKING: Fox host Bret Baier just admitted that Trump committed an impeachable offense with his tweet about Marie Yovanovitch during the impeachment hearing.
–Donald Trump thrown into disarray by looming impeachment hearings, tweeting 82 times in one day over the weekend, mostly retweeting Fox News content and sending incoherent messages
Fox News Judge Andrew Napolitano just destroyed Republicans over their “secret impeachment” complaints.
Before Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper was scheduled to testify behind closed doors, a group of Republicans stormed a secure room, known as the SCIF, in protest. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) spoke with CNN’s senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju about what was revealed in top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor’s opening statement.
President Trump’s third chief of staff seemed destined for the door until impeachment came along.
Mick Mulvaney’s job was in danger even before his disastrous press conference yesterday, and his equally disastrous attempt to walk that performance back. The fumble could not have been more poorly timed: According to multiple current and former White House officials, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to relay private conversations, Trump has been steadily souring on Mulvaney for weeks.
In his maiden briefing-room appearance yesterday, the acting White House chief of staff acknowledged that the Trump administration had held up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a politically motivated investigation—a quid pro quo that Trump has repeatedly insisted never took place, and is the subject of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
The president has polled confidants about whether Mulvaney is up to the job, blaming him for leaks and negative news coverage, and considering whether he should find someone else to run the West Wing. It might stand to reason, then, that with Trump’s growing frustrations with Mulvaney—coupled with a performance yesterday that could put Trump in greater legal jeopardy than ever before—Mulvaney’s days as acting chief of staff are numbered.
Yesterday’s press conference was significant not just for Mulvaney’s revelations about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. It also laid bare just how key a role Mulvaney has played in those dealings. Mulvaney admitted, for example, that Trump had spoken to him directly about an issue at the heart of Congress’s impeachment inquiry: withholding aid to Ukraine partly because Trump wanted an investigation into a conspiracy theory involving a Democratic National Committee server.
Trump was not happy—and neither were his most prominent allies. The shock of Mulvaney’s admission was only compounded by the flippancy with which he delivered it: For those troubled by it, he told reporters, “get over it.” Mulvaney later walked the claim back, but even in the eyes of the president’s closest confidants, the damage was done. For a White House staffer, there is perhaps no worse place to be than in Sean Hannity’s crosshairs, and that’s where Mulvaney found himself yesterday, after undercutting the administration’s talking points on impeachment in a way that not even a Trump-loving Fox News host could spin. Shortly after the press conference, Hannity excoriated the acting chief on his radio show: “What is Mulvaney even talking about?” Hannity scoffed. “I just think he’s dumb, I really do. I don’t even think he knows what he’s talking about. That’s my take on it.”
Nevertheless, in the course of combusting the White House’s narrative on impeachment, Mulvaney unwittingly demonstrated why, at this fraught moment in Trump’s presidency, he may be untouchable: Should Trump fire him and leave him aggrieved, Mulvaney could prove a damaging witness in Congress’s impeachment investigation.
A former White House official said Trump “will be feeling the pain of having pushed out [former National Security Adviser John] Bolton at a very inopportune time. He won’t make the same mistake with Mulvaney, however frustrated he may be with him. Now, their interests are aligned. They sink or swim together.”
It’s a line of thinking that has come to permeate the West Wing, and it marks a significant shift in how Trump is beginning to view his relationship with his staffers. For the past two and a half years, the White House has operated like a radio perpetually set on scan, with Trump sampling staffer after staffer in search of those whose rhythms match his own. Indeed, as Mulvaney told us earlier this year, it’s made for a West Wing whose atmosphere is dictated by one particular maxim: “He could fire any of us tomorrow.”
With the backdrop of impeachment, however, some White House staffers could feel more secure in their jobs than even their boss—and that’s perhaps especially true of Mulvaney. As Democrats move forward in their investigation, they’re looking for star witnesses, those officials in Trump’s inner circle who could speak authoritatively as to whether Trump pressured a foreign power to open investigations into both the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden. And should Trump discard an adviser in his preferred manner—hastily announce the news on Twitter, then trash the person’s reputation—he or she may decide to become said star witness.
When Trump fired Bolton last month, he sent out a frosty tweet saying Bolton’s “services are no longer needed” and later mocked him for supporting the Iraq War. Since then, Bolton has made clear he has no desire to stay quiet, suggesting in a recent speech at a think tank in Washington, D.C., that Trump’s effort to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program is failing. Now Bolton is even better positioned to retaliate, and House Democrats may subpoena him to testify as part of their impeachment probe.
Bolton’s uncertain loyalty in this pivotal moment has convinced many of Trump’s allies that, eager as the president may be to oust him, Mulvaney is better kept inside of the White House. According to the current and former White House officials and others close to the president, people have been urging Trump to hold his acting chief in place, telling him that the risk of an aggrieved ex-official on the outside far outweighs any annoyances Trump may have with him. As President Lyndon Johnson famously said about then–FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, it’s better to keep him inside the tent “pissing out” than the opposite.
“The president always fears that people he either gets rid of or resigns will turn out to be a press liability,” one person close to the White House told us. “But, look, if you treat people like crap, you shouldn’t expect loyalty.”
According to legal experts, by keeping Mulvaney in place, Trump can make a stronger case that Mulvaney is immune from having to testify about conversations with the president. “It becomes more difficult to control those who are no longer part of the executive branch,” Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, told us.
This is not to say, of course, that Trumpworld was quick to move on from Mulvaney’s disastrous briefing-room appearance. One of the president’s personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow, released a terse statement after Mulvaney’s press conference, saying that Trump’s legal team “was not involved” in the briefing.
However, the fact that Mulvaney still holds his job—in spite of the torrent of criticism inside and outside the White House—could underscore just how much impeachment has come to scramble the regular rhythms of this presidency. Gone, perhaps, are the days when Trump would give little thought to axing a senior official. Because while tell-all books come and go—promising a juicy anecdote here, a gossipy passage there—the impeachment inquiry is in motion. Which means the risk of ushering his staff into the arms of Democratic investigators is one that Trump may become less and less inclined to take.
There was a curious moment on Wednesday in the Oval Office, when Trump’s opinion of Bolton suddenly seemed to brighten. No longer did Trump want to dwell on his disagreements with Bolton or how Bolton had wrongly supported the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. “I actually got along with him pretty well. It just didn’t work out,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Sergio Mattarella.
It was as though Trump was telegraphing an understanding of the stakes, in this moment, of having his former national security adviser as an enemy. And earlier today, when he brushed off reporters’ questions about Mulvaney’s press conference, saying simply, “I think he clarified it,” Trump seemed to communicate another message of self-awareness: that he, more than ever, needs Mulvaney as a friend.
Things are more fluid than they seem. That’s my impression of Washington right now. There’s something quiet going on, a mood shift.
Impeachment of course will happen. The House will support whatever charges are ultimately introduced because most Democrats think the president is not fully sane and at least somewhat criminal. Also they’re Democrats and he’s a Republican. The charges will involve some level of foreign-policy malfeasance.
The ultimate outcome depends on the Senate. It takes 67 votes to convict. Republicans control the Senate 53-47, and it is unlikely 20 of them will agree to remove a president of their own party. An acquittal is likely but not fated, because we live in the age of the unexpected.
Here are three reasons to think the situation is more fluid than we realize.
First, the president, confident of acquittal, has chosen this moment to let his inner crazy flourish daily and dramatically—the fights and meltdowns, the insults, the Erdogan letter. Just when the president needs to be enacting a certain stability he enacts its opposite. It is possible he doesn’t appreciate the jeopardy he’s in with impeachment bearing down; it is possible he knows and what behavioral discipline he has is wearing down.
The second is that the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, told his caucus this week to be prepared for a trial that will go six days a week and could last six to eight weeks. In September there had been talk the Senate might receive articles of impeachment and execute a quick, brief response—a short trial, or maybe a motion to dismiss. Mr. McConnell told CNBC then that the Senate would have “no choice” but to take up impeachment, but “how long you are on it is a different matter.” Now he sees the need for a major and lengthy undertaking. Part of the reason would be practical: He is blunting attack lines that the Republicans arrogantly refused to give impeachment the time it deserves. But his decision also gives room for the unexpected—big and serious charges that sweep public opinion and change senators’ votes. “There is a mood change in terms of how much they can tolerate,” said a former high Senate staffer. Senators never know day to day how bad things will get.
The third reason is the number of foreign-policy professionals who are not ducking testimony in the House but plan to testify or have already. Suppressed opposition to President Trump among foreign-service officers and others is busting out.
The president is daily eroding his position. His Syria decision was followed by wholly predictable tragedy; it may or may not have been eased by the announcement Thursday of a five-day cease-fire. Before that the House voted 354-60, including 129 Republicans, to rebuke the president. There was the crazy letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was alternately pleading (“You can make a great deal. . . . I will call you later”) and threatening (“I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy—and I will”).
There was the Cabinet Room meeting with congressional leaders, the insults hurled and the wildness of the photo that said it all—the angry president; Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, standing and pointing at him; and the head of Gen. Mark Milley, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bowed in—embarrassment? Horror? His was not the only bowed head.
The president soon tweeted about a constitutional officer of the U.S. House, who is third in line for the presidency: “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast! There is either something wrong with her ‘upstairs’ or she just plain doesn’t like our great Country. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”
As the Democratic leaders departed, he reportedly called out, “See you at the polls.” Mr. Trump is confident that he holds the cards here—he’s got the Senate, and the base of the party says all these issues should be worked out in the 2020 election. But he is seriously weakening his hand by how he acts.
That meeting will only fortify Mrs. Pelosi’s determination to impeach him.
The president tweeted out the picture of that meeting just as the White House made public the Erdogan letter—because they think it made the president look good. Which underscored the sense that he has no heavyweight advisers around him—the generals are gone, the competent fled, he’s careening around surrounded by second raters, opportunists, naifs and demoralized midlevel people who can’t believe what they’re seeing.
Again, everything depends on the quality and seriousness of the House hearings. Polling on impeachment has been fairly consistent, with Gallup reporting Thursday 52% supporting the president’s impeachment and removal.
Serious and dramatic hearings would move the needle on public opinion, tripping it into seriously negative territory for the president.
And if the needle moves, the Senate will move in the same direction.
But the subject matter will probably have to be bigger than the Ukraine phone call, which is not, as some have said, too complicated for the American people to understand, but easy to understand. An American ally needed money, and its new leader needed a meeting with the American president to bolster his position back home. It was made clear that the money and the meeting were contingent on the launching of a probe politically advantageous to Mr. Trump and disadvantageous to a possible 2020 rival.
Everyone gets it, most everyone believes it happened, no one approves of it—but it probably isn’t enough. People have absorbed it and know how they feel: It was Mr. Trump being gross. No news there.
Truly decisive testimony and information would have to be broader and deeper, bigger. Rudy Giuliani’s dealings with Ukraine? That seems an outgrowth of the original whistleblower charges, a screwy story with a cast of characters— Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, natives of Ukraine and Belarus, respectively, who make you think of Sen. Howard Baker’s question to the Watergate bagman Tony Ulasewicz: “Who thought you up?”
More important will be a text or subtext of serious and consistent foreign-policy malfeasance that the public comes to believe is an actual threat to national security. Something they experience as alarming.
It cannot be merely that the president holds different views and proceeds in different ways than the elites of both parties. It can’t look like “the blob” fighting back—fancy-pants establishment types, whose feathers have been ruffled by a muddy-booted Jacksonian, getting their revenge. It can’t look like the Deep State striking back at a president who threatened their corrupt ways.
It will have to be serious and sincere professionals who testify believably that the administration is corrupt and its corruption has harmed the country. The witnesses will have to seem motivated by a sense of duty to institutions and protectiveness toward their country.
And the hearings had better start to come across as an honest, good-faith effort in which Republican members of Congress are treated squarely and in line with previous protocols and traditions.
With all that the needle moves. Without it, it does not.