Nancy's new nuance
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she came down in favor of an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump in the Ukraine scandal after hesitating for alleged obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation because it would be easier to explain.
In that spirit, Pelosi doesn't love the Latin phrase "quid pro quo" that has been applied to the arms-for-political favors case. She's rebranding it to "bribery."
Testimonies from two veteran diplomats in the first public hearing, she said Thursday, “corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry and that the president abused power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into his political rival.”
Bribery also is specifically cited in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment, which are “treason, bribery or other and high crimes and misdemeanors.”
To Trump's repeated assertion that his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "perfect," Pelosi said, “It’s perfectly wrong. It’s bribery.”
Trump and his allies kept up their attacks on the proceedings as a "hoax" and the testimony as "hearsay." Pelosi responded by inviting Trump to bring forward anything "exculpatory."
Friday's witness: the ousted ambassador
Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador ordered out of Ukraine in May after Rudy Giuliani and his cohorts decided she was in their way, will testify in the second day of open hearings on Friday.
Democrats have described Yovanovitch as the first victim of the pressure campaign on Ukraine. Current and former U.S. diplomats have been outraged by the treatment of Yovanovitch, who had a sterling reputation and is still a State Department employee.
George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told Wednesday's hearing: "It was unexpected and most unfortunate to watch some Americans — including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas — launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine."
That's what he said
A second U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv overheard a cellphone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, his ambassador to the European Union, discussing a need for Ukrainian officials to pursue “investigations,” The Associated Press reported.
The July 26 call was first described during testimony Wednesday by William Taylor, who took over for Yovanovitch in Ukraine. Taylor said one of his staffers overhead that conversation when Sondland phoned Trump from a Kyiv restaurant the day after Trump's call with Zelensky.
That staffer, embassy political counselor David Holmes, is scheduled to testify Friday before House investigators in a closed session. The second staffer was Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv. Trump on Wednesday said he did not recall speaking to Sondland that day, "not at all, not even a little bit.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that Mark Sandy, a longtime career employee at the Office of Management and Budget, is expected to break ranks and testify in closed session Saturday, potentially filling in important details on the holdup of military aid to Ukraine.
Janison: Crazy town
To those who were disappointed that Wednesday's impeachment hearing lacked the spectacle of a steel cage death match, it must be noted that the witnesses were two veteran diplomats who spoke in restrained diplo-speak.
Taylor differentiated between "regular channels" and "irregular channels" — the euphemistic phrasing of a State Department bureaucrat, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Addressing members of Congress in a formal proceeding, he didn't bluntly call the scheme he saw to squeeze Ukraine for Trump's personal political ends an usurpation or subversion of the U.S. government's proper mission, as he might have.
Back in September, he put a blunter assessment in then-private text to Sondland — Taylor thought it “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” That's a word we've heard before from those serving under Trump, such as when White House counsel Don McGahn told others that the president was asking him to do "crazy" things to ward off the Russia investigation.
Giuliani probe heats up
Giuliani is being investigated by Manhattan federal prosecutors for possible campaign finance violations and a failure to register as a foreign agent as part of an active investigation into his financial dealings, Bloomberg News reported, citing three U.S. officials.
One official said the probe of Trump's personal lawyer and point man in Ukraine also includes possible charges on violating laws against bribing foreign officials or conspiracy. A second official said Giuliani’s activities raise counterintelligence concerns as well, although there probably wouldn’t be a related criminal charge.
If Giuliani is charged or indicted, he could expose Trump to new legal and political jeopardy, especially if he’s accused of committing a crime on the president’s behalf, the Bloomberg report said.
Burbs tilt against Trump
Suburban voters — who may be the deciding voices in 2020 — preferred the leading Democratic candidates by narrow margins over Trump, according to the inaugural Kalikow School Poll at Hofstra University.
In hypothetical general election matchups, Joe Biden had a 6.6-point advantage over Trump in the suburbs, Bernie Sanders had a 3-point edge and Elizabeth Warren led by 0.4 points. The nationwide poll released was released Thursday.
“There is an opening for Democrats,” said Craig Burnett, a Hofstra University associate professor of political science and a designer of the poll. “It really just matters who the Democrats nominate and if they choose somebody who’s close to suburban voters on the issues.” For more, see Emily Ngo's story for Newsday.
Bloomberg's sexist excess
As he edges toward a run for president, Michael Bloomberg has a few regrets about some ways he's talked about women over the years.
“Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong,” said a spokesman, Stu Loeser. “He believes his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life.”
The not-quite-apology was given to The New York Times, which looked back at the billionaire's record of crude and sexist remarks while running his company and as mayor.
One of the cleaner lines in a 1990 compilation of Bloombergisms from his employees: "If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale’s.”
What else is happening:
- Giuliani told The Guardian he's not worried that Trump will take the advice of some Republicans to toss him "under the bus" in the Ukraine scandal. "I’m not, but I do have very, very good insurance, so if he does, all my hospital bills will be paid,” Giuliani said. His lawyer Robert Costello, who also was on the call, jumped in: "He's joking."
- An estimated 13.8 million people across 10 networks tuned in for Wednesday’s public impeachment hearings, according to ratings company Nielsen. That ranks behind the 20 million U.S. TV viewers who watched the 2018 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the 19.5 million Americans who tuned in when former FBI Director James Comey testified in 2017.
- Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced a late entry into the Democrats' 2020 race Thursday, positioning himself as a moderate who could peel black voters from Biden. He'll face skepticism from anti-Wall Street voters for his role as a top executive at Bain Capital, a firm co-founded by Republican Mitt Romney.
- Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein accused Warren of engaging in the “vilification” of billionaires. In a crack alluding to her fractional Native American ancestry, Blankfein also said "maybe tribalism is just in her DNA."
- Biden promised New Yorkers he would approve federal money that Trump has blocked for a new rail tunnel connecting Manhattan and New Jersey. The Gateway project is included in Biden's new public works plan, Bloomberg News reported.
- Pelosi said a deal is "imminent" between House lawmakers and the Trump administration on USMCA, the proposed reboot of the NAFTA trade pact with Mexico and Canada.
- The field for Wednesday night's Democratic debate looks set at 10 after Julián Castro didn't make the cut, Politico reported. Expected to attend are Biden, Sanders, Warren, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.