Dems: Why impeachment is ripe
Do Democrats have enough to make their best impeachment case against Donald Trump? Potentially big witnesses to the president's Ukraine dealings have eluded them, but it would take months for court fights to force cooperation to play out.
As Democratic leaders unveiled two proposed articles of impeachment on Tuesday, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said there is an urgency to act now, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.
"The argument 'why don't you just wait' amounts to this: Why don't you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him just cheat one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time?" And so Schiff joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and other committee chairs to announce the charges.
“Today, in service to our duty to the Constitution and our country, the House Committee of Judiciary is charging the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, with committing high crimes and misdemeanors,” Nadler said.
The first article, on abuse of power, charges that Trump pressured newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, by withholding security aid and a White House invitation.
The second article, on obstruction, charges that Trump directed executive branch agencies and officials to not comply with subpoenas issued by the House. "No President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry," the document said.
Mitch: Must show go on and on?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, expecting a January trial on impeachment, is finding himself at odds with Trump on how the proceeding should be conducted, CNN reported. McConnell wants to wind it up as quickly as possible and move on to other business. Trump wants a show that pumps up the drama, thinking it will help him in the 2020 election.
If Trump got his way, Hunter Biden, Schiff and the anonymous whistleblower should be made to testify, according to CNN. "We would love for a lot of witnesses,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News on Tuesday.
But the Washington Examiner reported there is no “appetite” among Republicans to pursue testimony from people that Democrats blocked Republicans from subpoenaing during the House investigation. Republicans might forgo calling witnesses altogether, saying lawmakers' minds are made up on Trump’s guilt or innocence.
Déjà vu all over again
The day after the Justice Department inspector general reported on the FBI's conduct of the Russia investigation had elements of a sequel to the 2017 James Comey drama, with familiar plotlines and some of the same cast.
Angered at one of FBI Director Christopher Wray's takeaways from the IG's report — that the investigation was properly launched without anti-Trump bias — Trump ripped him on Twitter.
"I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me," Trump said. "With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken." Trump's reference to the "current" director triggered memories of the escalating attacks on Wray's predecessor, Comey, that culminated in his firing.
Later on Tuesday, Trump's guest in the Oval Office was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was last there the day after Comey got axed in 2017. See the story by Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez for more on Lavrov's visit.
Unlike 2½ years ago, when Trump was already stewing over Jeff Sessions, Trump's grievances got enthusiastic support from Attorney General William Barr. Speaking to NBC News, Barr said that contrary to the IG's findings, he still suspected the FBI acted in "bad faith," and "our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press."
Janison: Fantasy Island
As his spectacle of a presidency runs its course, Trump will find it easier to keep dismissing plain reality than to sell the fictions and hallucinations he offers as alternative "facts," writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Trump can abuse Wray with impunity for daring to recognize the IG's findings for what they were, knowing most people won't read the 400-plus-page report. But his Ukraine scheming was so out in the open that Democrats had the probably doomed partisan impeachment thrust upon them.
Trump acts as if the case is clear that the Bidens were corrupt, that Ukraine operatives there were working against Trump and whatever else. But if this was apparent, why would Zelensky's government need to investigate?
Yet Trump openly demanded that Zelensky and his government announce contrived investigations of Trump political rivals that, by the testimony of his own high-level appointees, would unclog U.S. defense funds and an Oval Office meeting for the Ukrainian president. Trump then made his contempt for congressional inquiries clear by withholding documents and witnesses.
Wow, something normal happened
In non-impeachment news, House Democrats and the White House announced a deal on a modified North American trade pact. Pelosi pushed back at Democratic partisans who said they were handing a Trump a victory.
Calling the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement good for workers, farmers and manufacturers, Pelosi gave this answer to those questioning the move. "If we have an opportunity to do the right thing by the American people … we should walk away from it because of him? It's just not worth it, in my view.”
Still, Democrats sparred with the White House over who is the biggest winner in a deal endorsed by both the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We ate their lunch,” Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues about concessions they won. "We are miles and miles from what he put forth, so he has yielded on what this is.” Vice President Mike Pence, however, released a statement praising Trump’s leadership and claiming Democrats “have finally acquiesced.”
Trump, who campaigned on ending the predecessor NAFTA agreement from the 1990s, tweeted that the agreement "will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA." Later, he claimed the reason Pelosi announced it Tuesday is "it plays down the impeachment because they’re embarrassed by the impeachment and our poll numbers have gone through the roof because of her stupid impeachment."
The USMCA is set to come up for a vote at some point next week in the House, where it is expected to receive bipartisan support.
Rudy news runneth over
Rudy Giuliani has settled a nasty divorce case with his third wife, Judith, avoiding a public trial, The New York Times reported. The proceedings revealed their lavish lifestyle, including a $230,000 monthly spending habit, and their six houses and 11 country club memberships. “They wish each other the best of luck," her lawyer said.
Giuliani said Trump has asked him to brief the Justice Department and GOP senators on his findings from a recent trip to Ukraine, The Washington Post reported, but it's not clear they want to hear from him.
Giuliani complained to the Post that the ongoing investigation of him by the Manhattan federal prosecutors who indicted two of his associates in Ukraine ventures is pursuing the “most unfair, vindictive investigation they have ever conducted.” He said “they are refusing to tell us why they are investigating” and “I believe that the leaks and the investigation is intended to intimidate me as the president’s lawyer.”
What else is happening:
- The Justice Department won't oppose a sentence of probation for Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official and associate of Paul Manafort, because Gates provided “extraordinary assistance” in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Gates pleaded guilty to charges related to the foreign political consulting work. Manafort, a 2016 Trump campaign chairman, is serving a 7-year sentence.
- Trump paid a total of $2 million to charity as part of an agreement to end a lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James' office accusing him and his family of illegally mismanaging his charitable foundation. The settlement also called for mandatory training requirements for Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump on overseeing charities, which all three have completed, James said Tuesday.
- Trump plans to sign an executive order on Wednesday leveraging federal funds to target what he sees as anti-Semitism on college campuses, The New York Times reported. The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a nationality, not just a religion. Critics have complained that such a policy could be used to stifle free speech and legitimate opposition to Israel’s policies.
- A federal judge in Texas blocked the Trump administration from using billions of dollars in Pentagon military construction funds to build the Mexican border wall.
- Andrew Yang qualified for the Dec. 19 Democratic debate with a 4% showing in a Quinnipiac national poll. The survey showed Joe Biden at 29%; Bernie Sanders, 17%; Elizabeth Warren, 15%; Pete Buttigieg, 9%; and Mike Bloomberg, 5%. Billionaire Tom Steyer also made the debate cut with enough outside donors, but bigger billionaire Bloomberg, whose campaign is entirely self-financed, has not.
- Buttigieg released his list of clients from when he worked for the McKinsey consulting company. They were Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws, Best Buy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Energy Foundation, the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Department of Defense.