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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

As you can imagine, the comments we're getting these days skew as heavily toward impeachment as the questions we're getting. That said, we did mix in some non-impeachment comments.

Experts Weigh In

V & Z: In discussions of Donald Trump's tax returns, you made a general statement along the lines of: "We're surprised nothing has been leaked to date" in regards to the banks holding copies of documents.

As someone who worked in banking, I can provide a (reasonable) explanation: The entire system is based on trust. Clients trust a bank to provide confidentiality and security of both their money and information. If a bank were to disclose a client's information because they are unpopular, then the bank would soon find itself with a mass exodus of clients. It is functionally the same as a bank leaving its vault open at night.

It is a little-known fact that financial institutions almost universally have segmented and tiered computer systems. Clients map into system groups such as general public, business, private and "PEP." PEP is short for "publicly exposed person" and includes politicians, celebrities and the like. Only a very small, carefully curated group of bank employees would ever have access to PEP-related systems. Beyond the limited number of people for authorities to investigate after a leak, all such systems produce a lengthy paper trail around data access, copying and printing.

In sum, a leak is unlikely because those who could do so have a very clear understanding that the consequences would be some combination of an extended stay in federal prison and/or an inability to work in any financial profession going forward. J.M., Portland, OR

V & Z: The Republicans' talking point that the whistleblower's report is hearsay is misdirection. Yes, the report is hearsay, in that it's a statement by someone without personal knowledge of the events. It's not "evidence" within the meaning of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

However, that's irrelevant because the transcript, which was put out by the White House at Trump's direction, is an "admission against interest." Therefore, it is not hearsay, and as you pointed out, whether or not there is a threat or quid pro quo (thus making it evidence of extortion), it is a solicitation of a thing of value by a political campaign from an foreign person, and thus a violation of the campaign finance laws. The whistleblower report, while not evidence, is a useful road map for Congress to follow to determine from whom it will seek "evidence" that would be admissible in a court.

In sum, Republican arguments that the whistleblower report isn't reliable evidence of a crime are like Nixon saying, "Listen to all these other tapes on which I didn't obstruct justice." The issue isn't a document that isn't evidence; the issue is the admission by Trump, which is evidence. R.M., Brooklyn, NY

Note: R.M. is an attorney who is often kind enough to help us out with the finer points of the law.

Alternate Points of View

V & Z: I disagree with you that Mike Pence is unlikely to get tossed out of office before Donald Trump. If it becomes clear that Pence is as guilty—or more guilty—than Trump (for example, if Pence turns out to have unequivocally been the hatchet man and is the one who made the explicit quid pro quo connection with the Ukrainian government) then the Republicans will be faced with a series of untenable choices: (1) block removal of both Trump and Pence and face the wrath of suburban and many other voters, (2) remove Trump but not Pence, which will anger just about everyone, and (3) remove both and end up with President Pelosi.

The alternative to these is to make a deal with the Democrats to engineer a different outcome. As you noted, the Democrats will probably accept anything that removes Trump. So, the Republicans could offer to throw Pence under the bus first, probably giving him a cushy think tank job, and either remove him or "encourage" him to resign. The two parties agree in private on a palatable Republican to become the next VP. Then they go to Trump and tell him he is going to be convicted, and that he can either nominate the agreed upon VP and get a pardon, or he can refuse and take his chances with President Pelosi.

This presupposes that a smoking gun is found, but if it becomes clear to both parties that both Trump and Pence are unequivocally tainted and have to go, then what other alternative is viable, beyond the one I outlined? J.N., Summit, NJ

V & Z: You wrote: "Xi most certainly does not care for the Donald, and would vastly prefer someone more stable and consistent to deal with. If the Chinese do get involved in the 2020 election, it will not be on the side of the red team." Not so fast. Note that—as seen from Tiananmen Square to the Great Firewall of China to the massing of troops on the border with Hong Kong—the Chinese Communist Party considers democracy and democratic aspirations to be a grave threat. Trump's trade war, in contrast, merely costs money, and could be of some use in getting the average Chinese citizen to rally around the flag. Meanwhile, Trump is destroying what is left of American democracy. It is not at all incredulous to think that the Chinese Communist Party could see the continuation of economic losses of a few hundred billion dollars per year for a few more years as being simply a good investment towards wrecking and discrediting a major part of an existential threat to their continued hold on power. Once the rest of Western democracy can also be similarly dealt with (as appears to be in progress already), the Chinese Communist Party will have secured their position as Eastasia in George Orwell's dystopian nightmare. L.C., Boston, MA

V & Z: On two occasions, former House Speaker Carl Albert (D-OK) was next in line for the presidency due to a vacancy in the vice presidency: (1) when Spiro Agnew resigned, and (2) when Gerald Ford became president. I remember him saying that he didn't think it would be appropriate for the political party of the president to change for a reason other than a presidential election and, should he become president, he would resign as soon as a Republican vice president was confirmed. D.K., Pataskala, OH

Note: It is certainly possible that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would embrace this same reasoning, despite our supposition otherwise. We probably should also have noted that other politicians have given consideration to schemes like this that, in their view, would have produced a wiser result than if the constitutionally mandated rules were followed to the letter. Most notably, had Woodrow Wilson lost the election of 1916, he was going to ask VP Thomas Marshall and Secretary of State Robert Lansing to resign the next day, then he was going to appoint would-be president-elect Charles Evans Hughes in Lansing's place, and then he was going to resign the presidency. Under the line of succession that was then in effect, that would have elevated Hughes to the presidency instantly, instead of compelling him to wait four months until Inauguration Day, which was March 4, 1917. Given the dangers posed by World War I, and the very real possibility of American entry into the conflict, Wilson felt Hughes should be able to begin implementing his policies immediately.


V & Z: Don't you agree that Joe Biden is suffering in the polls and in his fundraising due to the Ukrainegate publicity? The American people are not that smart and they are starting to be pushed by the Trump noise. It's the same tactic that was used for decades against Hillary Clinton. Eventually people don't fully understand why they don't trust someone, but they just don't. It's why we have laws (regulations) against subliminal advertising. T.S., Eugene, OR

Note: We would not go so far as to impugn the intelligence of all (or most) of the American people, but we will agree that a lot of folks seem susceptible to certain kinds of propagandizing.

V & Z: I'm so glad you ran the "Pounding the Table" piece. I challenge anyone to spend an evening watching Fox News. While the occasional rebuke to the President sneaks out, it is overwhelmingly a nonstop scream stream positioning Democrats as crooks, hating America, dividing the country, advancing another witch hunt, and other atrocities. The whistleblower is dismissed as hearsay, the Bidens are positioned as America's enemy number one, and of course there's "delusional" Nancy Pelosi and "Shifty" Adam Schiff. And the "mob" media is of course in the bag for the Dems. "Ironclad" evidence and witnesses are presented supporting all these positions. Fox News is viewed as legitimate, in that they get headlines promoted regularly on Google news and other news feeds.

It feels like we've devolved into some bizzaro country. I truly fear for our future. B.H., Westborough, MA

V & Z: What the Democrats in the House of Representatives need badly during the impeachment inquiry is a war room. By a war room I don't mean a room full of guns and camouflage. I mean a room with computers and TVs staffed by a group of 15-20 PR specialists 24/7 where they monitor right-wing media constantly and debunk their misinformation instantly. They should be going on Fox News constantly and challenging their narratives with skilled PR operatives. I believe the country is being subjected to information warfare, and it is being directed from Trump's Twitter account as well as from operatives from Russia who were shown by Robert Mueller to be interfering in our political process. Letting misinformation spread about the law as well as Trump's and Biden's actions will be very destructive to the Republic. R.M.S., Lebanon, CT

Impeachment Strategy

V & Z: Although public support for the impeachment of Trump, and even for his removal, has been growing, I don't see how the Democrats' strategy can be effective. Since we know with certainty that Trump will not be removed from office, the only positive effect that might result from an impeachment trial is public testimony by insiders calling out Trump's crimes with authority, which might in turn affect next year's election. However, the only reason such an insider would testify is from fear of being made the scapegoat, e.g., John Dean and Michael Cohen, or fear of prosecution for refusing to answer a subpoena or committing perjury. However, we also know that AG William Barr's Dept. of Justice will flatly refuse to pursue any criminal referrals under such circumstances. Therefore, it is hard to see how a John Dean moment could arise in this impeachment process. Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) may threaten that failing to respond to a subpoena may result in an additional, impotent charge of obstruction, not against the recalcitrant witness, but against the President. How will that threat put fear into the witness himself to compel his cooperation?

That leaves voluntary, innocent witnesses as the only remaining source of corroboration of the president's criminal acts. From this point of view, it certainly looks like the Democrats bungled their first opportunity by questioning former special ambassador Kurt Volker in closed session, rather than in front of the TV cameras. I hope that they don't make that mistake with the upcoming testimony of former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. It is well to remember that it was not the report of Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski that turned public opinion against Nixon, but John Dean's public testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee. Mueller's report and testimony, by contrast, has been the tree that falls in the woods with no one around. C.D., Geneva, Switzerland

V & Z: My thinking is that Democrats gain nothing, but lose a lot, by acquiescing to a secret ballot. Everybody knows that they'll vote to convict, so they have nothing to hide; the Republicans, meanwhile, will be punished in 2020 no matter which way they vote, if those votes are public. And, it seems to me that a secret ballot allows Republicans to engineer a nightmare scenario where some insufficient number of them (say, ten) vote to convict, Trump keeps his office and runs in 2020, and every Senate Republican has plausible deniability. A.F., Seattle, WA

V & Z: I think a secret ballot impeachment trial vote in the Senate would cause a public firestorm and should. We have long-since established that this is partly a political process. Legislators shouldn't get to hide their votes from the people they represent—especially on perhaps the biggest vote they can make, short of a declaration of war. There would be great irony in debasing democracy as a means to removing President Trump as punishment for debasing democracy. J.L., Chicago, IL

Let the VP Sweepstakes Begin!

V & Z: Can't we all just agree that Stacey Abrams is a lock for VP on the Dem ticket? There is simply no one else who has the track record and who appeals to so many constituencies. G.C., Chicago, IL

North to Alaska

V & Z: Hats off for your article and map showing the electoral boroughs/cities in Alaska, and the relative true size of Alaska. We are often ignored. We are not an island off the coast of Mexico. You got the details right, size of Alaska right, the boroughs and even the size of the four large Alaska cities. (Besides Sitka, the others are Juneau, Wrangell, and Anchorage. Some also include Yakutat with 9,459.28 square miles, but I quibble.) Of my pet peeves about Alaska, the only one not included was the fact that Alaska (not California) has the most expensive gasoline ($7.10 per gallon in most rural villages.). But that has nothing to do with electoral politics. D.R., Anaktuvuk Pass, AK

Note: We can never guess what readers are going to like. That answer was meant to be "dessert," an interesting change of pace at the end of a run of pretty heavy-duty impeachment questions. It got a fair bit of positive feedback, which we certainly did not foresee.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct05 Saturday Q&A
Oct04 Digging the Hole Deeper, Part I: Ukraine
Oct04 Digging the Hole Deeper, Part II: China
Oct04 Digging the Hole Deeper, Part III: The IRS
Oct04 Let the Table Pounding Begin
Oct04 Biden's Q3 Fundraising Is Underwhelming
Oct04 Warren Making Inroads with Black Voters
Oct04 Lieberman Running for Senate
Oct03 House Democrats Will Subpoena White House Documents
Oct03 Pence Was Involved in Pressuring Ukraine
Oct03 State Dept. Inspector General Spoke to Congressional Committees Yesterday
Oct03 Support for Impeachment Is Growing
Oct03 Trump's Impeachment Inquiry Will Be More Divisive than Nixon's or Clinton's
Oct03 Justice Dept. Tells White House to Preserve Records
Oct03 Poll: Only 40% of Republicans Believe Trump Discussed Biden with Ukrainian Leader
Oct03 Judge Upholds Iowa's Voter ID Law
Oct03 Sanders Has Heart Stents Inserted
Oct03 Yang Pulled in $10 Million in the Third Quarter
Oct02 Pompeo to Democrats: Shove It
Oct02 A Preview of What's to Come?
Oct02 How Might Senators Vote in an Impeachment Trial?
Oct02 Trump Administration Has a Good Day in Court
Oct02 The Farmers Are Restless
Oct02 Q3 Fundraising Numbers Are Trickling In
Oct02 Lewandowski Pooh-Poohs Senate Run
Oct01 A Bad Day for Team Trump
Oct01 A Bad Poll for Team Trump
Oct01 Maybe Trump Really Doesn't Get It
Oct01 Two Lies and One Truth
Oct01 Three Democratic Campaigns in Trouble
Oct01 "The Body" for President?
Oct01 Two More GOP Congressmen to Exit
Sep30 Pelosi Anoints Schiff
Sep30 Whistleblowergate Shakes Up the Trump Administration
Sep30 Many People May Have Heard Trump's Call to Zelensky
Sep30 Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans See Whistleblowergate as Serious
Sep30 Poll: Majority Approve Impeachment Inquiry
Sep30 Poll: It's Biden & Sanders in Nevada, Biden in South Carolina
Sep30 Impeachment Inquiry Is Shaking Up the Democratic Race
Sep30 Two Republican Governors Back Impeachment Inquiry
Sep30 If Trump Is Impeached, There Will Be a Trial
Sep30 State Dept. Is Investigating Hillary's E-mails
Sep30 Democratic Debate in October Will Be on One Night
Sep29 Sunday Mailbag, Impeachment Edition
Sep28 Saturday Q&A, Impeachment Edition
Sep27 Thar She Blows!
Sep27 Maguire Speaks Much, Says Little in Testimony before House Intelligence Committee
Sep27 Support for Impeachment Is Growing
Sep27 Wanna Bet Trump Gets Impeached?
Sep27 While You Weren't Looking