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Political Wire logo Trump Struggles to Formulate Impeachment Plan
Trump Amps Up Attacks on Whistleblower
Bonus Quote of the Day
Democrats Say Trump May Have Lied to Mueller
Kamala Harris Shakes Up Campaign
Giuliani Suggests He Might Not Comply with Subpoena

Pelosi Anoints Schiff

All committee chairs are equal, but some committee chairs are more equal. When Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she was now in favor of starting an inquiry into the possible impeachment of Donald Trump, she said that six committees would lead the push. It didn't take her very long to figure out that was five too many. The most logical committee to take the lead would be Judiciary, run by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), but he dropped the ball when Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski ran roughshod over his committee while testifying last week. Pelosi noticed and said: "I heard it did not go well." Getting to be a committee chair in the House basically means you have been around for a while, which means some of them are past their prime. So on Friday, Pelosi decided that Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), head of the Intelligence Committee, would manage the impeachment inquiry. Schiff is 59.

Schiff quickly got to work and subpoenaed documents and officials who would have had knowledge of Donald Trump's call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He also scheduled a (closed) hearing with the intelligence community's inspector general, who earlier found the whistleblower's complaint "credible" and "urgent." Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, also said that he expects to talk to the whistleblower "very soon." The timing depends largely on how fast the whistleblower's lawyers can get security clearances.

House moderates are backing Pelosi's decision to muzzle Nadler and put Schiff in charge of the show. They feel that Nadler and his committee are viewed as too liberal and too partisan and maybe not competent enough. In contrast, Schiff is more moderate and maintained control when his committee heard testimony from Acting DNI Joseph Maguire. Progressive Punch rates Nadler as the 26th most progressive member of the House and Schiff 106th.

As an indication of how polarized Congress is, according to Progressive Punch, the least progressive Democrat, Jeff Van Drew (NJ), voted with the progressives 20% of the time while the most progressive Republican, Elise Stefanik (NY) voted with the progressives 16% of the time. So every House Democrat is considerably more progressive than the most progressive House Republican. The Senate is just as polarized. There, the least progressive Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), is much more progressive than the most progressive Republican, Susan Collins (ME). So here, too, all the conservative Democrats (including the much-maligned Joe Manchin, D-WV, and the "trying to save his neck in a red state" Doug Jones, D-AL) are appreciably more progressive than every Republican.

Competence aside, Pelosi understands that the Democrats have to sell the impeachment to the country as fair. Having a moderate who represents a diverse district in northern Los Angeles (CA-28) will be easier to sell to the country than an outspoken liberal from a hugely gerrymandered district covering the upper west side of Manhattan and a big piece of Brooklyn (NY-10). Especially since that outspoken liberal has a long and antagonistic history with Trump that dates back decades. (In the 1980s, Trump wanted to develop a large swathe of land along the Hudson River and then-Assemblyman Nadler blocked the plan.)

Not surprisingly, Trump reacted strongly to Schiff's anointment as his chief adversary. Trump especially didn't like what Schiff said at the start of the Maguire hearing, when he paraphrased Trump's message to Zelensky as "I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you, though, and I'm going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of it." Schiff later defended his remarks as parody, but at the time, he seemed quite serious. (V)

Whistleblowergate Shakes Up the Trump Administration

Publicly, Team Trump is putting on a brave face, insisting that there was no quid pro quo with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and even if there was, there's nothing illegal about it. Privately, however, the revelations have already sent shockwaves through the administration and its staff.

To start with, somebody needs to be blamed here. Donald Trump cannot blame Donald Trump, because Donald Trump never blames Donald Trump. That being the case, the next obvious choice would be his new fixer, Rudolph Giuliani, who clearly deserves much of the "credit" for cooking up the whole scheme. However, Trump does not wish to lose two fixers in the span of six months, particularly when the current one is willing to go on TV and say literally anything he's told to say. So, instead, the blame has fallen on..."acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. The President was already growing weary of Mulvaney, as he does with all of his chiefs of staff. Because Mulvaney's still technically "acting," and a potential replacement would not require Senate approval, axing him is a simple matter. So, don't be too surprised if "Mick the Knife" gets cut sometime soon.

Meanwhile, another key figure in the whole drama has already exited, stage left. That would be special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who tendered his resignation Friday (doing so by announcing it in, of all places, the student newspaper of his alma mater, Arizona State University). Volker's role in the controversy is still not well understood. On one hand, he definitely arranged meetings between Giuliani and the Ukrainians, and he also provided "advice" to Zelensky on how to proceed. On the other hand, Volker was never a Trump loyalist, and is actually most associated with the late senator and Trump nemesis John McCain. So, Volker's "advice" may have been how to subvert Trump and Giuliani. Undoubtedly, House Democrats will try to get to the bottom of this. It's certainly possible that Volker could turn into a John Dean type, since he knows where the metaphorical bodies are buried.

And speaking of situations that the Democrats will be looking into, there's also the departure of former DNI Dan Coats. He has been out of office for several months, so his departure was not prompted by Whistleblowergate. Or...maybe it was. Knowing what we know now, people have looked back at the timeline of Coats' departure, and noted that Trump fired Coats just days after the phone call to Zelensky, and then categorically refused to promote Coats' chief deputy Sue Gordon, even on an interim basis. She was ultimately forced out just a couple of weeks after Coats was, and no clear explanation was given for either termination. It's possible that all of this was just a coincidence, but if so, it's a heck of a coincidence. The alternative, of course, is that Coats (and possibly Gordon) challenged Trump on the phone call, and he was aggravated (or scared) enough that he sent them packing. They, too, could become future John (and Joan?) Deans, particularly given the circumstances under which they were cashiered.

The temptation to make Nixonian comparisons in this situation is great, but here it is apt. Tricky Dick tried to get the heat off of himself by sacrificing underlings. And some of those underlings (e.g., G. Gordon Liddy) were happy to take the fall. But all it takes is one or two people to decide, as Dean did, that they have no interest in being thrown under the bus. If House Democrats cannot find a single person who was in the know, and is willing to spill their guts, then Team Trump will have pulled off a miracle on a par with the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus turning water into wine, and the Cubs winning the World Series. (Z)

Many People May Have Heard Trump's Call to Zelensky

There is currently a lot of speculation about who the whistleblower might be and where he or she got the information about Donald Trump's call to Volodymyr Zelensky. After all, the whistleblower didn't listen to the call live. To clarify matters somewhat, former CIA officer Joe Willett, who was formerly detailed to the White House, has written a piece about how things work in the White House. Located in the basement of the West Wing is the Situation Room, which is normally staffed by a collection of professionals from the State Dept., the intelligence community, and the military. They listen in on all presidential phone calls. Willett notes that he listened to more calls Barack Obama made to world leaders than he can remember.

Often, someone transcribes the call and disseminates the transcript to the relevant agencies that need to know about the call and/or take action based on it. This means that 10 or more people might either have heard the call in real time or read an original (unredacted) transcript of it. One or more of these people could have leaked the information to the whistleblower.

Willett wrote that calls have not been recorded since the Nixon administration, when a humble tape recorder felled a president. However, sometimes for important calls up to three notetakers transcribe calls in real time. These are combined later to make the final transcript. He also said that transcripts in his time were never edited to remove sensitive information. If this procedure still holds, Congress will no doubt try to talk to as many of these people as possible, since they all heard the call firsthand or read the original transcript. Also no doubt, Trump will refuse to let any of them talk to Congress, even in private. Congress will surely also try to get ahold of the original transcript and will equally surely be rebuffed. Most likely this is going to land on Chief Justice John Roberts' plate, sooner or later. (V)

Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans See Whistleblowergate as Serious

A new ABC/Ipsos poll shows that 43% of Americans see Donald Trump's attempts to get dirt on Joe Biden as very serious and another 21% see it as somewhat serious. In contrast, 36% see it as not so serious (19%) or not serious at all (17%). Not surprisingly, opinions broke largely along partisan lines, with 91% of Democrats and only 32% of Republicans seeing it as serious. And this is before Congress gets to work interviewing people who know more about the call and its context. It is not a great starting position for Trump, and could get worse as more information comes out. (V)

Poll: Majority Approve Impeachment Inquiry

Consistent with the view that Donald Trump's attempt to get Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Joe Biden is serious, a majority of Americans approve of the impeachment inquiry. Among all Americans, 55% approve of the recently opened impeachment inquiry and 45% disapprove, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll released yesterday. Democrats strongly approve (87%), Republicans mostly oppose (77%), and independents are evenly split.

The poll also asked whether Trump's request was proper. The response was: 41% illegal, 31% not proper but legal, and 28% proper. In reality, soliciting election help from a foreign national is a federal felony, even if there is no quid pro quo. Even more ominous for the President is that 42% say he deserves to be impeached, 36% say he shouldn't be impeached, and 22% don't know yet. And this story is just getting started. Many more shoes are likely to drop if Congress gets the documents and witnesses it wants. (V)

Poll: It's Biden & Sanders in Nevada, Biden in South Carolina

Two new polls from CNN/SSRS show that Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are tied in Nevada, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) close behind. In South Carolina, it's Biden by a country mile. Here are the numbers:

Candidate NV SC
Joe Biden 22% 37%
Bernie Sanders 22% 11%
Elizabeth Warren 18% 16%
Kamala Harris 5% 3%
Pete Buttigieg 4% 4%
Tom Steyer 4% 3%
Andrew Yang 3% 0%
Cory Booker 2% 2%
Tulsi Gabbard 1% 1%
Amy Klobuchar 1% 1%
Tim Ryan 1% 0%
Marianne Williamson 1% 1%

Nevada has been close all along, and we expect the top three candidates to continue to bunch up there near the top. Changes in the order reflect more statistical fluctuations than anything else. It is safe to say that in Nevada it is a three-way race among Biden, Sanders, and Warren, and unless something dramatic happens, the rest are toast. In particular, Julián Castro registered at 0% in the early state with the most Latinos. He also registered at 0% in South Carolina. Probably time for him to find something else to do with his time.

South Carolina is different from Nevada because about 60% of the Democrats in South Carolina are black. Biden is immensely popular with black voters, in part due to his association with Barack Obama, who is hugely popular in the Palmetto State. Noteworthy is that the two black candidates in the race, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), come in at 3% and 2%, respectively. So the old white guy is crushing the two young black candidates. Race is important, but it's not the whole story by any means. Also noteworthy is that Andrew Yang came in at less than 0.5%. South Carolina is a poor state and its black residents are generally poorer than its white residents. Yet his plan to give everyone $1,000/month for free doesn't seem to have many supporters, even among relatively poor people. (V)

Impeachment Inquiry Is Shaking Up the Democratic Race

The impeachment inquiry is starting to affect the Democratic presidential contest. Elizabeth Warren got on the impeachment train early and could benefit from the strong impeachment sentiment among Democrats. However, Joe Biden could also benefit if Democrats see him as the victim of Trump's dirty tricks. Bernie Sanders has said the politics of impeachment are complicated. The problem for the other candidates, is that no one really cares what Marianne Williamson, Tom Steyer, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), and most of the others think. So much oxygen is being sucked up by Whistleblowergate and the impeachment inquiry that none of the minor players can get any attention, and that is bad for them.

Nevertheless, some of Biden's supporters are afraid that Trump will try to spin the story into "Biden did something bad" and many people will believe it. In truth, Biden was involved, but not the way Trump is telling it. As vice president, Biden tried to get Ukraine to dump a corrupt prosecutor who was ignoring all the country's far-reaching corruption. Biden's concern was that he wanted all the aid the U.S. was giving to Ukraine to help the country, not line the pockets of a few oligarchs and the then-prosecutor was definitely on Team Oligarch. The appointment of an honest prosecutor would have increased, not decreased, the chances of the company his son was involved with being investigated. Unfortunately for Biden, the actual story is probably too complicated for the average American to understand, especially when all the main players have long, difficult-to-pronounce Slavic names. It also does not help Biden that most of the right-wing outlets are peddling versions of "The real story here is Joe Biden's corruption," (see here, here, here, and here for examples). And the RNC already has a commercial it's thrown together called "Joe Biden, What Are You Hiding?" (V)

Two Republican Governors Back Impeachment Inquiry

Liberal Republicans used to roam the Northeast like the buffalo in South Dakota, but those days are largely gone. Still, a few are left. Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT) was the first Republican to back the impeachment inquiry. He didn't call for Donald Trump to be removed from office, only for the House to investigate the whistleblower's complaint and get at the facts. He was followed by Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) who also supports the idea of an inquiry. Baker said: "It's a deeply disturbing situation and circumstance and I think the proper role and responsibility for Congress at this point is to investigate it and get to the bottom of it." The only other Republican governor in New England, Chris Sununu (NH), does not support the inquiry.

As a sign of how thoroughly Trump pulls the strings on all GOP House members, one member, Mark Amodei (NV), initially said he supported the inquiry, and then almost immediately walked it back. The difference between governors and congressmen is that governors are much less dependent on the RNC and the Party for reelection than backbenchers in the House. Even if Scott were to run for a fourth 2-year-term in 2020 (he hasn't decided yet), Trump wouldn't really have much power to damage him. Baker is not up in 2020. (V)

If Trump Is Impeached, There Will Be a Trial

There have been a number of panicky articles all over the Internet to the effect that if the House impeaches Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will simply announce that a trial is not required, and he has decided a trial is not necessary. Over the weekend, the Republican leadership swatted these rumors down and said that if Trump is impeached, the Senate will hold a trial. McConnell actually said that himself months ago. Republicans know that if they didn't bother with a trial, even the least reliable Democratic voters (18-year-olds with no car who work 12 hours a day and live in the hills of Appalachia?) would somehow make it to the polls in Nov. 2020 to make it clear they didn't approve of the Senate's move. The political blowback would just be too strong for the GOP to withstand. Far better to hold a short trial, allow a vote in which Trump is acquitted, and then go back to normal business. (V)

State Dept. Is Investigating Hillary's E-mails

It is often said that the best defense is a good offense. So how is Donald Trump going to deal with accusations of extortion of foreign leaders, leaking classified information to the Russian ambassador, violations of the Emoluments Clause, and general corruption? It's easy as pie: Go after Hillary Clinton's emails.

Yup, the State Dept. has opened a new investigation of Clinton's e-mails. About 130 people who served in the Obama administration have been sent letters notifying them that e-mails they sent to Clinton when she was Secretary of State have been retroactively classified. Therefore they are at risk of being prosecuted for mishandling classified information if they sent it to Clinton's private e-mail server. This investigation has been simmering for as long as 18 months, but it has suddenly been brought to a boil.

Clinton's use of a private e-mail server has already been investigated thoroughly. In July 2016, then-FBI director James Comey announced that Clinton did not break the law. That ought to have been the end of it, unless, of course, Trump wants to change his campaign slogan from "Make America Great Again" to "We All Do It."

Going after former State Dept. officials at this point has all kinds of long-term ramifications. For one thing, it may make the people being investigated unwilling to serve in a future Democratic administration. This could reduce the pool of qualified applicants a future Democratic president would have. But even worse, this kind of stuff is designed to make Democrats' blood boil and could set up a new paradigm for "democracy": Each administration tries to imprison the leaders of the last one run by the other party. While Team Trump may or may not realize it, this investigation could spell trouble for Commerce Dept. Secretary Wilbur Ross (for lying to Congress about the census question) and AG William Barr (for his role in Whistleblowergate), to name just two officials whom a future Democratic AG might decide are a top priority to investigate. As the country may discover, poisoning the well is a lot easier than unpoisoning it.

Incidentally, this new "phase" of the Clinton investigation is going to have zero legal teeth, reclassifications or not. Beyond the fact that Republicans have looked into this matter six ways to Sunday, it is not a crime to inadvertently expose classified information. If so, then any government employee who lost his or her cell phone or had a laptop stolen could end up in the hoosegow. To become criminal, the person has to willfully share classified information with someone who should not have it. Clearly, that bar has not been cleared here, particularly once we include the fact that the messages are being classified retroactively. The only purpose here, then, is whataboutism. (V)

Democratic Debate in October Will Be on One Night

Even though 12 Democrats have qualified for the next debate—the 10 from last time plus Tom Steyer and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—DNC Chairman Tom Perez has decided to shoehorn them all onto the stage at once and hold a single debate on Oct. 15. Previous debates were limited to 10 candidates. This probably works against all the candidates except the top five, since everyone will get less speaking time, and the lower-polling candidates desperately need to break out. That's hard to do if you are hardly ever called on.

The debate will take place at Otterbein University in Westerville, OH, not far from Columbus, OH. The school is associated with the United Methodist Church and has a racial breakdown that is about average for U.S. universities. The moderators will be Erin Burnett (CNN), Anderson Cooper (CNN), and Marc Lacey (NYT). (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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
Sep27 Issa to Challenge Hunter in California
Sep27 Tom Price May Be Back
Sep26 Is This a Smoking Gun?
Sep26 The Historian's Perspective
Sep26 Whistleblower Complaint Sent to Congress
Sep26 Senate Republicans Express Disdain for Impeachment Articles
Sep26 Is This 1974 or 1998?
Sep26 Warren Leads Nationally
Sep26 Warren Leads in California
Sep26 Progressive Candidates Announce Progress
Sep25 An Im-Peachy Day in Washington
Sep25 Trump Distractions Aren't Very Distracting
Sep25 Democratic Debates Lurch Forward
Sep25 The State of the State Polls
Sep25 Bevin Hires New Campaign Manager
Sep24 Whistleblowergate Picks up Steam
Sep23 Ann Selzer: Warren Leads in Iowa
Sep23 Trump Admits That He Discussed Biden with Ukrainian Leader
Sep23 Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Have Lost Factory Jobs This Year
Sep23 Democrats Will Target 26,000 Local Races
Sep23 Alaska Cancels Republican Primary
Sep23 What Are the Candidates Worth?
Sep23 Bill de Blasio Calls It Quits
Sep23 Booker Is Close to Calling It Quits
Sep23 Rand Paul Tries to Block Liz Cheney's Senate Ambitions
Sep21 Saturday Q&A
Sep20 The ?-gate Plot Thickens
Sep20 McConnell Now Wants $250 Million for Election Security
Sep20 Trump's Tax Returns Are Keeping the Courts Busy
Sep20 Withdrawn FEMA Nominee's Issue: He Got into a Bar Fight
Sep20 Harris All-in on Iowa
Sep20 National Polls Say the Democratic Race Is as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Sep20 DNC Has Lots of Oppo Research on Trump
Sep19 Polls: Warren and Biden are Neck and Neck in Iowa
Sep19 Poll: Biden Leads in Florida
Sep19 Trump's FEMA Nominee Is a Disaster
Sep19 Whistleblower Targeted Trump
Sep19 NSA #3 Blasts Trump
Sep19 Trump Picks Robert O'Brien as NSA #4
Sep19 Trump May Face a Domestic Crisis: A General Motors Strike
Sep19 Americans Are Not Keen on Impeaching Trump
Sep19 Fed Lowers Interest Rates Again
Sep19 Sanders Unveils "Housing for All" Plan