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House Tees Up Impeachment Articles

House Intelligence Committee Releases Report on Ukraine

The impeachment drama never takes a break. On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee got one last turn as the star of the show, and released its report on impeachment.

As with the preemptive 123-page defense of Donald Trump that House Republicans unleashed on Monday, the Democrats' 300-page report says exactly what you think it says. Most importantly:

The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation's upcoming presidential election to his advantage. In doing so, the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election process, and endangered US national security.

Once the report was officially made public, the Intelligence Committee had to vote on whether or not to send it to the House Judiciary Committee. They decided, after deliberating for roughly as much time as it takes Usain Bolt to run 100 meters, that yes, they would be sending it along.

The ball is now officially in the hands of Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who will oversee his first official impeachment hearing today. Yesterday, Nadler released the list of witnesses who will testify on day one. Seeking to establish a legal basis for impeachment, the Democrats will call a trio of law professors: Noah Feldman (Harvard), Pamela Karlan (Stanford), and Michael Gerhardt (UNC). The Republicans will counter with Jonathan Turley (George Washington University), who has earned quite a...reputation due to his extensive impeachment-related writings for The Hill and other outlets.

Calling a fellow known for his inventive readings of the law is not all that House Republicans plan to do, of course. The Judiciary Committee is chock full of fellows who love to draw attention to themselves, and to perform for the audience of one who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That group includes Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX). It will be very much like the Intelligence Committee hearings, where the two factions have sets of goals that are so far removed from each other's that it will be almost like they are speaking different languages. For our part, we just can't wait to hear three different law professors explain why it's not actually necessary to cross-examine the whistleblower. Anyhow, the fun begins at 9:30 a.m. ET today; C-SPAN is going to stream it here. (Z)

Who Will Be the Impeachment Managers?

That Donald Trump will be impeached, particularly following the release of a report that makes him look only slightly less guilty than Charles Manson, is now a mortal lock. The only plausible way it doesn't happen is if Trump takes the Richard Nixon approach to Watergate (resigning), or the Warren Harding approach to Teapot Dome (dying). And that means, in turn, that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has to start thinking very carefully about which members of her caucus she wants to serve as impeachment managers in the Senate.

There are quite a few factors that the Speaker will need to consider as she's making her list and checking it twice, and they have little to do with who's naughty or nice. To start, there is going to be much demand among House Democrats to be a part of the team, as the impeachment managers will see their profiles permanently raised (U.S. Senate, here I come?) and will also become, on some level, historic figures. In addition, Pelosi wants to make sure that as many different factions within her caucus are represented as possible, so it's clear this is a team effort and not the work of a few wild-eyed raving loonies from California. Both of these factors, then, argue for a large management team.

However, there are also factors arguing for a small management team. Despite having mountains of evidence on their side, the Democrats have the tougher hand to play, and will need to stay on message and on point. That kind of discipline gets harder and harder as more people get involved. Further, the Speaker cannot have any major screw-ups, or even minor ones, as an unwise question or a poor tactical decision could give Trump, Fox News, & Co. fodder for weeks' worth of anti-impeachment rhetoric. From a PR perspective, it would also be all-but-impossible to remove someone from the team if they were doing a sub-par job, as that would be tantamount to announcing "we're trying our case badly!" So, once someone is on Team Impeachment, they are on for good.

Pelosi, who is of course very savvy, has given no public indication as to how many people she is considering, or whom she might tap (though she is talking privately with members of her caucus). Customarily, impeachment managers are drawn from the Judiciary Committee, as that Committee not only has responsibility for adopting the articles of impeachment, it's also populated by legal experts (former lawyers, judges, etc.). In the two presidential impeachments in U.S. history, there were seven managers (Andrew Johnson) and 13 managers (Bill Clinton), respectively. So, the likelihood is that the Speaker is going to pick about a dozen people, leaning heavily on the Judiciary Committee for her choices. The Hill has compiled a list of the favorites, as they see them, along with their selling points (* = member of the House Judiciary Committee):

  • Hakeem Jeffries* (NY): As Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, he's in. Oh, and he is black
  • Jamie Raskin* (MD): Crackerjack constitutional law expert, also serves on Oversight Committee
  • Zoe Lofgren* (CA): Pelosi ally, only person left in Congress who worked on Clinton and Nixon impeachments
  • David Cicilline* (RI): Member of Foreign Affairs Committee, oversees Democrats' messaging in the House
  • Eric Swalwell* (CA): Former prosecutor, also serves on the Intelligence Committee
  • Val Demings* (FL): Former police chief, the only other Democrat who sits on both Intelligence and Judiciary
  • Adam Schiff (CA): Current face of impeachment, did very well running Round 1
  • Jackie Speier (CA): Friend of Pelosi, loyal Democratic foot soldier, cool in tense situations
  • Jim Himes (CT): Was an excellent Robin to Schiff's Batman during impeachment Round 1
  • Joaquin Castro (TX): Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
  • Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL): Legal expert, good on TV

Of course, Pelosi has 233 people to pick from, and that group includes a lot of legal experts, a lot of Pelosi loyalists, and a lot of people who are good on TV, so she could pull some surprises out of her hat. One wonders if she's not also checking with a few Republicans, to gauge their interest. For example, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) has backed the President on impeachment so far, but he's generally been a NeverTrumper, he's retiring at the end of his term, and he aspires to further political office in the post-Trump era. Though he's black, he would likely become the white knight of the NeverTrump faction of the GOP if he agreed to serve as one of the impeachment managers.

It seems implausible that the Democrats are going to squeeze this in before Christmas, or that they are going to split things over the break. So, Pelosi has a few weeks to figure it out, although probably not much more than that. (Z)

Trump Loses Another Ruling Related to His Finances

It's getting regular enough that you can almost set your watch by it. About once a week, Donald Trump loses yet another court case related to his efforts to keep his financial records secret. On Tuesday, the loss came from the federal court of appeals for the second circuit (New York, Connecticut, and Vermont). By a vote of 2-1 (a Jimmy Carter appointee and a George W. Bush appointee vs. another George W. Bush appointee), the court ruled that House Democrats may subpoena Deutsche Bank and Capital One for Trump's financial records and they must obey the subpoena.

Obviously, Trump isn't going to surrender here, so the only question is whether he and his attorneys will ask for an en banc hearing and decision from a bigger panel of Second Circuit justices, or if they'll skip that and go right to the Supreme Court. If and when SCOTUS gets involved in all of these financial suits, it is hard to imagine that they will see fit to declare that (now) dozens of judges across (now) dozens of rulings (comprising thousands of pages of legal analysis) all got it wrong. Assuming Tuesday's ruling is ultimately sustained, it's not 100% clear exactly what the Democrats will get. It might not be tax returns, as Deutsche Bank claims (possibly truthfully, possibly not) that they don't have them. However, it's likely that it will be enough to figure out exactly what it is that Trump doesn't want people to know. And by the way, if it turns out (and can be proven) that he's deep in hock to the Russians, that could very well be the "smoking gun" that tips the scales on impeachment. (Z)

Harris Has Her Kamala to Jesus Moment

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) had a bit of a surge after the first Democratic debate. After challenging Joe Biden over his friendly relationship with segregationists, she was rising in the polls, and her grand strategy of being the "sorta centrist, sorta progressive" candidate seemed like it might be working. But she never again had so strong a debate performance, and she sagged in the polls, particularly in the two states she was really counting on: California and South Carolina. If that was not enough, her campaign was beset by internal turmoil, and she was burning through money like it was going out of style. The writing was so obviously on the wall that we wrote her campaign obituary over two weeks ago. On Tuesday, she finally decided to take that writing to heart, and ended her campaign. She becomes the latest Democrat whose 2020 presidential campaign did not actually make it to 2020.

In the short term, this will leave her with plenty of time to serve as one of Donald Trump's jurors in his imminent impeachment trial. In the long term, someone who launches a White House bid after just two years in the Senate does not seem likely to be a Congressional lifer. Indeed, she might leave the Senate before her senior colleague, the 86-year-old, in-her-fifth-term Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Harris is not an obvious VP candidate, as she's not a "Washington veteran" type that might pair with a Washington newbie like Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), she does not appear to be especially popular with black voters, and the Democrats don't exactly need help winning California. However, a cabinet seat in a Democratic administration (probably the AG post) makes sense. Alternatively, she might take a shot at the California governor's mansion when Gavin Newsom is term-limited in six years. Or maybe she will pull a reverse Feinstein and go from the Senate to the mayoralty of San Francisco. (Z)

Steyer Makes the Debate Cut

Who says money can't buy everything? Backed by his piles of cash, and the massive ad blitz he can thus afford, Tom Steyer has now qualified for the sixth Democratic debate. He had the polls prior to this weekend, and on Tuesday he crossed the donor threshold. Given the curious incentives created by the setup that DNC chair Tom Perez devised, it is entirely possible that Steyer was compelled to spend a highly targeted $30 million to attract one-tenth that in donations. Undoubtedly, he wishes he could just approach people on the street, give them $10, and ask them to donate $1 of that to his campaign. If they refused, he could have tried: "How about $100 for a $1 donation?"

And speaking of spending money, someone saw where things were headed and squatted on way back in 2015. It appears that one billionaire, namely Donald Trump, was not willing to meet the squatter's price for the domain, whatever it was. Steyer, however, was happy to pony up. And so, those expecting that Donald Trump would have the domain associated with his 2020 slogan are instead greeted with anti-Trump and pro-Steyer messaging. In particular, people can buy "TRUMP IS A FRAUD AND A FAILURE" bumper stickers for just $1. One wonders if those sales count as donations for purposes of qualifying for the seventh debate.

With Steyer securing his December invite, the next two folks in line are Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Andrew Yang, who each need just one more poll. With a week still left before the cutoff, surely they will get it. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has the donors he needs, but isn't getting any polls. His desperate plea for donations this weekend might have attracted some money, but it's not likely to get people invested in him as a candidate. So the odds are that he's the only participant from debate five who is left on the outside looking in for debate six. And, once that becomes official, he will surely go the way of the Kamala sooner or later, and probably sooner. (Z)

Democrats Can't Sleep on Michigan Senate Seat

The general consensus this year is that Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is probably a dead man walking (unless the Republicans nominate child molester Roy Moore again), but otherwise the Democratic Senate seats are safe, and the next five or six seats on the "most endangered" list are held by Republicans like Thom Tillis (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Cory Gardner (R-CO). That may not quite be right, however, as the GOP is prepping for a battle royale for the Senate seat that's up in Michigan.

There are a number of reasons for the GOP's optimism. Most obviously, they have a strong candidate in John James. He's young (38), black, charismatic, and a military veteran. Further, this is his second go-round. He lost to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in 2018 by 6 points, which isn't close, exactly, but is respectable. This time, he has much higher name recognition and a weaker opponent in Sen. Gary Peters (D). Peters' 36% approval rating is the third-worst in the Senate right now, leaving him tied with Gardner, and just a smidgen ahead of Bob Menendez (D-NJ, 34%) and Tillis (33%). Of course, the Democrats know all of this, so they're going to pull out all the stops to save Peters' seat.

It will be very interesting to see how the coattails play out in Michigan. Peters is unpopular enough that he probably can't help put Michigan back in the blue column. However, a strong Democratic candidate and/or a high anti-Trump turnout could very well pull the Senator over the line. Similarly, it's possible that if Trump can hold the Wolverine State, he can also carry James along with him. Or, maybe James will get moderate Republicans and/or conservative-leaning black voters to the polls, and will save Trump's bacon. In any event, it's one of the states most worth watching in 2020. (Z)

I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part VI

Another day, another scandal. That's not just the Trump administration's mantra, it's ours too, at least at the moment. If you wish to read any of the previous entries in this series:

Up today, it's Edward Snowden's favorite bedtime story.

  1. The Pentagon Papers, 1971 ("Ukrainagon Papers"): As far as documents go, the Pentagon Papers have a lot in common with Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express: It turns out that pretty much everyone mentioned by name was guilty of something nefarious, including four different presidents.

    The phrase "Pentagon Papers" can actually refer to two things. The first is an exhaustive account of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967 prepared under the auspices of the Dept. of Defense. The completed document, which was highly classified, filled 47 volumes, had 3,000 pages of narrative and analysis and another 4,000 pages of supporting documents. On one hand, that is really quite an impressive job of tree-killing. On the other hand, the U.S. Civil War lasted just four years, and the report that the government compiled on it—known as the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion—has 128 volumes and 138,579 pages. You can attribute much of that to the fact that the people of the Victorian Era were quite wordy.

    Anyhow, contained within the pages of the report were all kinds of things that are pretty well known today, but were kept secret—and often lied about—when they happened. That the Harry S. Truman administration sent military aid to France as they brutally and unsuccessfully tried to suppress the Viet Minh in the 1940s and early 1950s. That, after the French defeat, the Eisenhower administration engineered the partition of Vietnam and propped up South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem with more than $2 billion in aid ($21 billion today) despite his being quite corrupt and not terribly democratic. That the Kennedy administration decided that Ngo was more trouble than he was worth, and engineered his assassination. That Lyndon B. Johnson was very much in favor of involvement in Vietnam even while he was publicly claiming to be against it, and so arranged for the 1964 "attack" on the U.S.S. Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin that allowed him to significantly escalate American involvement in the conflict. And right in the middle of all of these machinations, of course, was the CIA, the same folks responsible for the Bay of Pigs disaster, as we discussed yesterday.

    The report was completed in 1969, by which time the anti-Vietnam War movement had reached its height. In part, this was due to the length of the War, which was in its fifth year with no obvious end in sight. In part, it was due to the disastrous events of 1968, including the Tet Offensive (a military failure for the North Vietnamese, but a PR victory that undermined American morale) and the My Lai Massacre. In part, it was due to the growing volume and influence of the Black Power movement, whose members wondered why black men should die for the freedom of those in other countries when they were not themselves free at home. And in part, it was due to the fact that President Richard Nixon had run in 1968 on a promise to end the War, but instead escalated it.

    Among the citizens who had previously supported the War, but had turned against it by 1969, was Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg, who is still alive, and should probably be more of an American icon than he actually is, had a résumé that brings to mind that of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: son of Jewish immigrants, decorated Marine Corps officer, Harvard education and widely-respected expert in his field (which, in Ellsberg's case, is decision theory). By the late 1960s, Ellsberg was—like Vindman—working as an analyst for the federal government, although as an employee of a private think tank (RAND). That gave him access to the Pentagon Papers. He had also begun attending anti-war events, and was radicalized by a speech he heard that was given by a draft resister named Randy Kehler, who welcomed the upcoming prison sentence he had been given for refusing to serve. "His actions spoke to me as no mere words would have done," Ellsberg later observed. "He put the right question in my mind at the right time."

    Once Ellsberg had determined to follow in Kehler's steps and do something, it was pretty easy to figure out what that something should be: to bring to light some of the many secrets and lies contained within the pages of the Pentagon Papers. Much harder to figure out was how to do it. The first problem is that you can't exactly put 47 volumes in your briefcase and walk out the door with them. So, assisted by his friend Tony Russo, Ellsberg used a Xerox machine to make duplicates of as many pages of the report as he could. In the end, he managed to copy almost the entire document.

    That leads us to the second thing that can be referred to as the "Pentagon Papers"—the duplicates that Ellsberg made. It also leads us to the second problem he faced—what to do with those duplicates. There was no Whistleblower Protection Act back then, of course. That meant there was no clearly laid out course of action for Ellsberg to take. It also meant that not only was he guilty of a crime, but anyone who publicized the documents likely would be, as well. After much thought, he decided to approach several U.S. Senators, including J. William Fulbright (D-AR) and George McGovern (D-SD), on the theory that senators cannot be prosecuted for anything they introduce on the floor of the Senate. They were noncommittal, so Ellsberg decided to take the matter to the press. He worked with New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan (also still alive), who eventually produced nine stories based on the (photocopied) Pentagon Papers, starting on June 13, 1971.

    The Nixon administration was furious, in part because the Times' reporting encouraged further opposition to the war, and in part because they suspected—quite rightly—that the whole thing would help to uncover Dick Nixon's own less-than-stellar record when it came to prosecuting and telling the truth about the War. The FBI was ordered to find Ellsberg at all costs, and the Times was sued in an attempt to silence further coverage. The Times quickly won that suit, while Ellsberg was finally captured and charged with several crimes, though the charges were eventually dismissed and he was not punished.

    The long-term impact of the Pentagon Papers was substantial, to say the least. Ellsberg's experience prompted the adoption of various protections for whistleblowers, ultimately culminating in the Whistleblower Protection Act in 1989. The Times' defense of itself, a suit properly known as New York Times Co. v. United States, is now a pillar of First Amendment law, as it established that newspapers, in service of the public good, can share information that the government wants kept secret. Nixon, for his part, was determined that there would be no further leaks on his watch, and created the dirty-tricks team known as the Plumbers, a group that just might come up again in this series. Meanwhile, Americans' confidence in their government's ability to conduct a "just" war was thoroughly undermined, forcing a change in approach. To this day, large-scale wars and military drafts are political non-starters for Americans, and it's hard to imagine that changing anytime soon.

And now the mother of them all is on deck. What did the president know, and when did he know it? (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec03 Republicans Close Ranks Around Trump
Dec03 Page and Zelensky Speak Out
Dec03 Trump Readies for Another Trade War
Dec03 Steve Bullock Exits Democratic Presidential Race
Dec03 Garland Tucker Exits North Carolina Senate Race
Dec03 Duncan Hunter to Plead Guilty
Dec03 Assessment of Open House Seats
Dec03 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part V
Dec02 Intelligence Committee Will Circulate Draft Report Today
Dec02 Ranking Republican on Judiciary Committee Wants Schiff to Testify
Dec02 Biden Will Crisscross Iowa for 8 Days
Dec02 Booker is Desperate for Donors
Dec02 Candidates on the Cusp
Dec02 Joe Sestak, We Hardly Knew Ye
Dec02 Disinformation Will Run Rampant in 2020
Dec02 Adam Schiff's Star Is Rising
Dec02 The Youngest Potential Voters Are Not Interested in Voting
Dec02 Poll: Republican Voters Think that Trump Is a Better Leader than Abraham Lincoln
Dec02 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part IV
Dec01 Sunday Mailbag
Nov30 Saturday Q&A
Nov29 Trump Paints Impeachment as an Attack on All Conservatives
Nov29 Nadler Invites Trump to the First Judiciary Committee Hearing on Impeachment
Nov29 The Knives Are Coming Out for Buttigieg
Nov29 Yang Releases His Tax Returns
Nov29 Richard Spencer Is Not Going Gentle into that Good Night
Nov29 Congress May Pass a Bill Somewhat Limiting Robocalls
Nov29 Georgia Governor Brian Kemp May Cross Trump When Filling Isakson's Seat
Nov29 Cummings' Daughters Support Their Father's Aide, Not His Wife
Nov28 Are Trump and Giuliani Turning on Each Other?
Nov28 Giuliani Was Also Doing Business in Ukraine
Nov28 Poll: Support for Impeachment Is Holding Steady
Nov28 Warren Is Slipping in Iowa
Nov28 Some Voters Want Divided Government
Nov28 Everything is Closing in Rural Areas
Nov28 Moderators for December Debate Named
Nov28 North Carolina Senate Race Could Break Spending Records--Again
Nov28 William Ruckelshaus Dies
Nov28 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part III
Nov27 Impeachment Inquiry Never Stops
Nov27 Trump, GOP Angry at Google
Nov27 Warren Gets a Bad Poll
Nov27 What Is Bloomberg Thinking?
Nov27 Obama Reportedly Doesn't Want Sanders to Get the Nomination
Nov27 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part II
Nov26 Navy SEAL Situation Devolves from "Big Mess" to "Total Fiasco"
Nov26 Legal Blotter, Part I: The Congressional Subpoenas
Nov26 Legal Blotter, Part II: The Tax Returns
Nov26 Activist Group Says New Citizens Could Flip Swing States
Nov26 Perry Calls Trump "The Chosen One"