A red line for voters?
This is not a good time for Donald Trump to test his theory that he could "stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters."
Contrary to Republican confidence, Democratic anxiety and conventional pundit wisdom, new polls suggest the public isn't locked in against impeachment if his conduct is egregious enough. The exposure of the president's ploy to push Ukraine, a foreign country dependent on U.S. aid, to investigate Joe Biden, a domestic political opponent, has begun to resonate with voters and not in a good way for Trump.
A Sept. 24-26 Morning Consult survey finds 43% in favor of impeachment, up from 36% last week, and 43% opposed, a drop from 49% who just recently thought it was a bad idea. Republicans still stood with Trump, but not as many as before. A SurveyMonkey sampling for Business Insider found a 45%-30% plurality for impeachment and 53%-33% agreeing an impeachment inquiry is warranted. In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, the inquiry is favored by 49% — up 10 points from April — and opposed by 46%.
A YouGov poll asked voters to assume Trump is guilty of the quid pro quo he denies: "If President Donald Trump suspended military aid to Ukraine in order to incentivize the country’s officials to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, would you support or oppose impeachment?" The result: 55% favored impeachment and 26% were opposed.
Do the polls show a temporary bump or the start of a sea change in public sentiment like that seen during the Watergate scandal, which began with a burglary in search of dirt on Democrats and led to President Richard Nixon's downfall in 1974? Risk-averse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the Ukraine scandal changed her calculation because "this one is the most understandable by the public."
There's another Watergate parallel of sorts. A pivot point for unraveling Nixon's cover-up was the revelation at a Capitol Hill hearing by White House aide Alexander Butterfield that Nixon had a secret recording system taping his White House office conversations. The Ukraine whistleblower's complaint revealed Thursday that officials around Trump were so "deeply disturbed" by his call with President Volodymyr Zelensky that they squirreled away the transcript in a system normally used for "classified information of an especially sensitive nature.” Democrats call that a cover-up.
The whistleblower's complaint said a White House official considered the "lock down" move "an abuse" of the classified-information system "because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.” Nope, just politically explosive enough to turbocharge a drive for impeachment. Intriguingly, the whistleblower also said he was told it was “not the first time" a “politically sensitive” Trump call transcript was hidden away in the system for bigger secrets. Read the whistleblower complaint here.
'Road map' for investigation
Testifying before the House intelligence committee, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire wouldn't endorse Trump's charge that the whistleblower's complaint was a "partisan hit job." Though not voicing any conclusion about the allegations, Maguire said the whistleblower acted in “good faith” and “did the right thing.” He also defended the intelligence community inspector general who fought to get the complaint to Congress over White House objections.
The whistleblower, an intelligence officer, sounded the alarm based on conversations with half a dozen White House officials, none of them identified. While he has no firsthand knowledge, his suspicions also were bolstered by news media accounts.
The committee's top Republican, Devin Nunes, dismissed the complaint's details as "hearsay" and attacked Democrats "for their latest information warfare operation against the president.” But Maguire agreed with a Democratic questioner that the complaint "is in alignment with what was released yesterday by the president" — the rough transcript of the Zelensky call.
When the hearing concluded, committee chairman Adam Schiff said, "I think there are any number of potential crimes when a president is soliciting for an assistance again in another presidential election." He said that alongside the rough transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call, a "substantial part" of the complaint "has already been found to be credible" and provides a "road map for our investigation."
The phone call transcript showed Trump asking Zelensky to work with Attorney General William Barr and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Their roles and that of the State Department in facilitating Giuliani's contacts likely will face scrutiny. For more, see Newsday's story by Tom Brune with Laura Figueroa Hernandez. For a concise update on investigation developments, see Figueroa's summary of what we know and what we don't know.
Maybe Trump can show how he acts in the interest of the nation and not just himself, but don't bet on it, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Trump's weapons of choice have not been reason or law. Instead, Trump play-acts the tough guy and makes noise for the "corrupt" and "fake" news media he pretends to have grievances against.
Conspiracy theories and contrived shrieks about cabals and partisan hackery have issued from Trump's office and resorts since well before his election.
They shoot spies, don't they?
Meeting privately with U.S. diplomatic officials in New York, Trump slammed the whistleblower as "almost a spy" and said anyone who gave the whistleblower information is "close to a spy" — and he wants to know who they are. Then he said menacingly:
“You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.” The comment was taken as a reference to the execution of spies. Hear the audio clip obtained by the Los Angeles Times or watch the video posted by Bloomberg News.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) tweeted after Trump's remarks were reported: "This cannot be brushed off as Trump being Trump. President Trump is threatening the lives of people in the intelligence community, in a fit of rage after having [his] criminality exposed. This is incredible." Schiff said the comments amounted to "witness intimidation” and told CNN he was "deeply concerned" about the whistleblower's safety.
Maguire has vowed, “I am committed to protecting whistleblowers," but some Republicans on Capitol Hill suggested they wanted the person and his White House contacts unmasked. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, "I’d like to see who the whistleblower is" and Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “It is imperative we find out which White House official talked to the whistleblower and why."
Raging Rudy: I'm the hero here
Giuliani is now being privately blamed by White House aides and other Republicans for egging on Trump to pursue unsubstantiated and debunked allegations and various conspiracy theories focused on Ukraine, Biden and the 2016 campaign. Watching Thursday's hearing and fielding media calls from what he said was his room at the Trump hotel in Washington, Giuliani was defiant and agitated.
Almost shouting, he told a reporter from The Atlantic: “It is impossible that the whistleblower is a hero and I’m not. And I will be the hero! These morons — when this is over, I will be the hero.” Told of a former senior White House official who decried him for putting stuff "in Trump's head," Giuliani snapped: “I didn’t do anything wrong. The president knows they’re a bunch of cowards.”
He continued to stress that “all his facts” were “true” about the Bidens, though there is no evidence so far that they are, The Atlantic wrote.
Asked by an NBC News reporter if he would testify before Congress, Giuliani said, "I don’t go in front of kangaroo courts. I go in front of courts where I at least have a 50-50 chance.”
Senate Republicans brace for storm
Republicans were straining Thursday under the uncertainty of being swept up in the most serious test yet of their alliance with the Trump White House, The Associated Press writes.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stayed silent throughout the day, other Republicans easily defended the president and some simply shrugged it off. “It’s just the president being President Trump,” said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wasn't so dismissive.
“We owe people to take it seriously,” Rubio said. "Right now, I have more questions than answers,” he said. “The complaint raises serious allegations, and we need to determine whether they’re credible or not.” Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska have called the revelations "troubling."
Trump's conduct also gave pause to two GOP members of Schiff's committee. Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio called it "not OK." Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a former CIA officer, said, "There is a lot in the whistleblower complaint that is concerning."
What else is happening:
- A former top prosecutor in Ukraine who said he met three times with Giuliani told The Washington Post he believed that Hunter Biden did not run afoul of any laws in the country. He said Joe Biden's son can't be held responsible for actions by the energy company that employed him "that took place two years before his arrival."
- Acting DNI Maguire told the intelligence committee that protecting elections from foreign interference is "perhaps the most important job that we have with the intelligence community.”
- Maguire, formerly a career Navy officer and SEAL, said he wouldn't have taken the acting DNI job last month if he knew the complaint was about to land on his desk. His predecessor, Dan Coats, said, "I feel so bad for Joe." Maguire was sharply questioned by some Democrats on why he let the Justice Department and White House bottle up the complaint to Congress.
- Corey Lewandowski, one of Trump's 2016 campaign managers, has had conversations with White House officials in recent days about potentially taking a position inside the administration to help the president fight impeachment, CNN reported.
- The Trump administration on Thursday announced it plans to admit no more than 18,000 refugees in the next 12 months, the lowest number since the program began in 1980.
- Elizabeth Warren has edged ahead of Biden in a national poll for the first time. Warren drew 27% support to Biden’s 25% in a Quinnipiac University survey of Democratic voters and independents who lean Democratic.
- Fact-checkers caught up to Trump's comment while appearing with Zelensky Wednesday that when Trump owned the Miss Universe pageant, "we had a winner from Ukraine.” The verdict: It has never happened, either under Trump or at any time in the history of Miss Universe, which began in 1952.