Making the case against Trump
As the Democrats tell it, the impeachment case they will begin to lay out against President Donald Trump in public hearings starting Wednesday is strong and will get even stronger.
An impressive array of diplomatic and military officials — some defying orders not to testify — have fleshed out what began as a whistleblower's complaint. They've vividly portrayed a scheme to warp U.S. policy toward Ukraine, a weak country facing down Russian aggression, for Trump's personal political ends.
Republicans have faulted the process as unfair. They have offered alternative explanations that range from not bad enough for impeachment to innocent and even laudatory — why shouldn't the president go hunting for the corruption he thinks is there? Why should he let unelected bureaucrats shape his decisions?
It's a virtual given that the Democratic-controlled House will vote, possibly by Christmas, in favor of articles of impeachment to be drafted by the Judiciary Committee after the conclusion of the Intelligence Committee hearings. But it likely would take a seismic shift in public sentiment toward removing Trump to persuade enough Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate to go along.
If that doesn't happen, what will the Democrats have accomplished? "Impeachment is not only a remedy to remove a president. It's also the most powerful sanction the House has," Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff told NPR. "And if that deters further presidential misconduct, then it may provide some remedy even in the absence of a conviction in the Senate."
In Trump's case, it's hard to imagine a deterrent effect. He unwaveringly labels his "favor"-seeking call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as "perfect." That he escaped sanction in the Russia investigation hasn't softened his determination to discredit even its most basic, decisively proven finding — that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election to help him.
On the Russia probe, he's gone after the investigators. On Ukraine, he's also attacking nonpolitical career officials who spoke up in alarm. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump has discussed dismissing the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, because he reported the whistleblower to Congress after finding it credible. Trump believes Atkinson, whom he appointed, has been disloyal.
Tune in, take note
Newsday's Tom Brune details five things to watch for in the hearings, due to start at 10 a.m. with live coverage on the major broadcast and cable news networks.
The first-day witnesses will be William Taylor, the top current U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, the State Department’s lead career official on Ukraine.
Under the rules, Schiff and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the inquiry’s top Republican, will each get 45 minutes for them or their counsels to question the witnesses. Then each of the 22 members of the Intelligence Committee get five minutes for questions. Each witness will be allowed to make an opening statement.
The counsels are expected to conduct much of the questioning. For the Democrats, that will be Daniel Goldman, who built his reputation as a federal mob and securities fraud prosecutor. The GOP's lead counsel is Steve Castor, a House Oversight investigator who helped steer some of the most notable probes of the Obama administration.
Trump will no doubt be heard from, via Twitter and White House availabilities. On Tuesday, in a New York speech on the economy, he told business leaders that House Democrats' multiple inquiries into his presidency and business dealings "are going nowhere, don't worry about it." See Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Bolton: Trump's bottom line
In a private speech last week, former National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested his former boss’ approach to U.S. policy on Turkey is motivated by personal or financial interests, NBC News reported, citing several people who were present.
Bolton said he believed Trump was influenced by business consideration when he bucked his advisers and broad bipartisan opinion in Congress to resist a call for sanctions on Turkey after it purchased a Russian missile system.
The Trump Organization has a property in Istanbul, and the president's daughter Ivanka Trump attended the opening with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2012. Erdogan arrived in White House for a visit with Trump Wednesday. Trump rejected calls to rescind the invitation after Turkey's invasion of Kurdish territory in Syria.
Bolton's dark view of Trump's motives will further fuel interest in what he knows of the president's role in the Ukraine scandal. Officials have testified that Bolton angrily opposed Rudy Giuliani's efforts to squeeze Ukraine into launching investigations for Trump's political advantage.
Janison: Fog machines
It's not just the reality-show leader of the administration untethered from reality. There's trickle-down. People who worked at the high levels of the administration are saying things that, devoid of corroboration, only add to the general confusion, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Trump tweeted a plug for a book by his first UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, who spotlights extreme infighting that might embarrass other presidents. Haley said former Chief of Staff John Kelly and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to "undermine" the president and thwart decisions that Tillerson warned her would cause people to die. She doesn't go on to explain who would die, how or why. Her point was to show she was the loyal one.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry's dealings with Ukraine prompt a whole new set of questions. The Associated Press reported that two political supporters of the ex-Texas governor secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal. This while Trump is railing about Hunter Biden's position with a Ukrainian energy company as practically the crime of the century.
Trump, meanwhile, cooked up whoppers for a speech to the Economic Club of New York. Among them was a boast that his daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump created has created 14 million jobs. Total U.S. employment has risen by about six million over three years, in part reflecting normal population growth.
As they heard arguments Tuesday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority seemed prepared to allow the Trump administration to end DACA — the program that protects 660,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation.
The high court’s decision is expected by June, at the height of the 2020 presidential campaign. The Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it would end DACA protections, but lower federal courts have stepped in to keep the program alive.
Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that if he wins in the Supreme Court, "a deal will be made with the Dems for them to stay!” But Trump’s past promises to work with Democrats on a legislative solution for dreamers hit stalemates over his demands to otherwise add new restrictions on immigration.
The president's tweet also said, "Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels.’ Some are very tough, hardened criminals." But immigrants with significant criminal records are not eligible for the program.
Meanwhile, new government data shows nearly 70,000 migrant children were held in government custody this year — up 42% in fiscal year 2019 from 2018
Taps for Spicey dancer
As an assortment of out-of-office Republicans has learned, a Trump endorsement can carry you just so far. So it went for former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, voted off “Dancing With the Stars” on Monday night.
Trump could fairly claim that his endorsements stirring up the MAGA-minded audience bought Spicer a longer run than he would have had otherwise — eight weeks, the equivalent of about five Scaramuccis.
But Trump evidently didn't want the loser smell to waft over him. He deleted a tweet he sent mid-show that encouraged viewers to vote for Spicer. (The screen shot survives). After the results were in, he sent a new tweet: "A great try by @seanspicer. We are all proud of you!"
What else is happening:
- Just as White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney struggled to settle on a story about Ukraine, he's been pinballing on a legal strategy to avoid testifying to Congress. After fumbled efforts to get the courts to decide, he said he'll just follow White House direction to say no.
- Leaked emails obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center show White House aide Stephen Miller sought to promote white nationalism, far-right extremist ideas and anti-immigrant rhetoric through the Breitbart website ahead of the 2016 election, The Washington Post reports.
- Hillary Clinton said in a BBC interview that "many, many, many people" are urging her to run for president again in 2020 but as of this moment, sitting here in this studio talking to you, that is absolutely not in my plans.”
- A new Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa puts Pete Buttigieg in first place with 22%, followed by Joe Biden at 19%, Elizabeth Warren at 18% and Bernie Sanders at 13%. Only 28% of likely Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa have definitely made up their mind, the survey found.
- Michael Bloomberg flew to Arkansas to personally file paperwork for its Democratic presidential primary. The billionaire former New York mayor is still a maybe candidate.
- Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford ended his challenge to Trump for the Republican nomination, leaving two other extreme long shots — former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld — to tilt at that windmill (which, contrary to Trump's claims, doesn't cause cancer.)
- An NBC News investigation found a top State Department official puffed up her résumé with a false claim to be a Harvard graduate, exaggerating the accomplishments of a nonprofit she worked for and a fake Time magazine cover. There was no immediate administration comment about Mina Chang, who holds the rank of deputy assistant secretary.