Chat transcript: Can Trump run for reelection even if he is impeached?

Hello everyone, and welcome to a special edition of Ask Aaron, where we're inviting Amber Phillips in and teaming to do a special impeachment edition.

Pretty much anything related to that is fair game. What's on your mind?

Hey y'all, I'm Amber. Thanks for joining this chat today! We already have a lot of questions we're going to power through. So let's get started.

In all the reveal, the phone transcript & the "whistleblower", where is the treason & high crime that is required by Article II for impeachment?

So the Constitution says impeachment can happen for these reasons:“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.””

But they left it open for lawmakers to decide in the moment how to define that. Which means Congress can define “high crimes and misdemeanors” however it wants, and it doesn’t have to be an actual crime. I think it’s important to remember impeachment is a political process, not a criminal one. As Robert Mueller argued in his report, It’s also the only way to punish a president, given there’s a decades-old legal theory that a sitting president can’t be indicted.

Hi, big fan of the Washington Post! Just wondering - how do we know the source is credible? How do we know it’s not just one guy making this up? If impeachment hinges on the whistleblower’s claims, what do we have to verify it? Also, let’s say he isn’t truthful, how do we know Trump is not just going along with a lie just to really muck up the water? Thanks for your response!

A few points:

1) The whistleblower's credibility is something that needs to be determined. Even if they are acting completely in good faith, secondhand information can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

2) The good news is there will be investigation of this; we don't just blindly rely upon this complaint. The whistleblower can point to specific people that can shed light.

3) Several key claims from the whistleblower have been verified, including key details of the Trump-Zelensky call, and now the fact that the call's rough transcript was stored on a separate computer system with codeword protection. Philip Bump writes here about how much the White House itself has verified key aspects of the whistleblower's complaint.

As I wrote here, Page 5 of a report about the whistleblower by Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, mentions that the whistleblower has “arguable political bias … in favor of a rival candidate.”

But in the very next sentence, Atkinson also said he had determined that that did not affect the credibility of the complaint. “Such evidence did not change my determination that the complaint relating to the urgent concern ‘appears credible,’ particularly given the other information the [intelligence community inspector general] obtained during its preliminary review."

In other words, Atkinson reviewed all angles of potential conflicts of interest by this whistleblower and still found his or her complaint to be credible, including by finding separate evidence.

Also, in questioning Thursday in the House Intelligence Committee, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire backed up the whistleblower’s credibility by saying he operated "in good faith and followed the law." 

Finally  we think of the whistleblower as a reporter, the whistleblower talked to a lot of people who had firsthand knowledge.

In one key instance, we have original source material to back up what the whistleblower has alleged. So far, this person nailed the call between Trump and Zelensky, as Aaron points out. 

Does the process HAVE TO include passage by the Senate where it's pretty much guaranteed to die?

It does. There is no way around this. 2/3 of the Senate is required, meaning about 20 Senate Republicans. It's a high bar for a reason.

But also consider this: The GOP stood by Nixon for a long time. Eventually, the situation became untenable, and he was forced to resign. There is a breaking point in every situation. The GOP's threshold with Trump may be higher than many people want, but there is a threshold.

The House of Representatives alone has the power to impeach a president. But impeachment is not the same thing as removing a president from office. To do that, the Senate has to hold a trial, presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court (whose official title is actually chief justice of the United States, which I learned this week). 

As it stands now, the Republican-Senate has absolutely no interest in kicking Trump out office with a trial. In fact, In fact, on Monday, Senate Republicans were trying to defend Trump. It’s up to House Democrats to uncover something that could change Republicans’ minds.

Another fascinating point on this: If the House impeaches Trump, it’s possible Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could just refuse to hold a trial. For centuries, the agreed-upon reading of the Constitution is that if the House impeaches a president, the Senate holds a trial to convict or to acquit the president. But there could be some wiggle room for McConnell to avoid that spectacle, writes Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel under Barack Obama.

Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT) has publicly supported impeachment hearings so wondering if the other Republican governors of the Northeast (or really anywhere) will also do so?

It wouldn't expect them to, with the exception of possibly some GOP governors in very blue states: Charlie Baker (Massachusetts) and Larry Hogan (Maryland.)

I did think it was notable that even Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine urged a wait-and-see approach. It is easier for governors to take this step.

If an individual who works in the Trump administration is found guilty, for example let’s say it’s A. G. Barr, can Trump pardon him during the impeachment process?

You’re right that Attorney General Barr has a lot of expensing to do with regard to his alleged involvement in the whistleblower complaint. 

But if Congress wants to impeach Barr, there’s nothing Trump can do about it, since impeachment isn’t the same thing as being convicted of a crime. If Barr were convicted of a crime (by his own Justice Department?), Trump could pardon him. Unless it was a state crime, which Trump has no jurisdiction over. But we are getting way into hypothetical land now. 

I'm worried that the identity of the whistleblower will not remain secret. And that once known, no matter how impeccable the person may be it will allow him/her to be smeared in the attempt to discredit the messenger. Do you think it likely the name will be revealed? And if so what does that mean for the future of people coming forward?

I would be somewhat surprised if their identity didn't eventually become known.

But also remember this: They've said they're willing to talk to Congress. They seem to know what they are getting into and leaning into it. Whether they are fully prepared is another matter.

Now that an official impeachment inquiry is underway, will this limit the White House's ability to keep claiming executive privilege over the testimony of people Congress wants to question?

 I talked to a House Democratic leadership aide who thinks it might, yes. Saying Congress is in an impeachment inquiry strengthens Democrats' cases in court that the Trump administration is stonewalling them. They're already suing former White House counsel Donald McGahn for avoiding a subpoena, and they are suing to try to get the full, unredacted Mueller Report with the underlying grand jury information. The thinking is if Congress can say "we are conducting a serious legal investigation of our own," they have a stronger hand to win those cases.

HI Amber and Aaron -- thanks for teaming up for this chat -- great idea. Former Sen. Flake claims that there are likely 35 senators who, if they could vote in secret, would vote to impeach Trump. Of course, that doesn't mean much if they aren't willing to go public, but your thoughts on that? Any pushback from Republican senate members about that contention? And surprisingly, no Twitter storms from Trump lambasting Flake...yet.

I'll bring up a point I just made on Twitter: These GOP lawmakers have virtually no real love to Trump. If you could wave a magic wand and make Pence the president right now, the vast majority of them would take it in a millisecond.

The problem is they can't make that happen without alienating his passionate supporters or jeopardizing the 2020 campaign and handing it to Democrats. 

If the House impeaches, does the constitution require a trial in the senate, or can senate republicans simply vote to discard the impeachment articles and have no trial at all?

This is an open question. McConnell hasn't said that he would definitely take it up, but it's not clear whether that's his prerogative or Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts's.

It looks like he helped in the Cover-Up. Can he be impeached for Obstruction of Justice?

That's certainly the argument Democrats are making. And I wrote Thursday about how problematic some of the DOJ moves here might be.

He can be impeached. But again, the bar (so to speak) is high.

Giuliani is Trump's personal atty and a private citizen, yet he is negotiating with foreign govts. Doesn't this run afoul of the Logan Act? (and are taxpayers footing the bill?)

1) People might remember the Logan Act coming up during the Michael Flynn situation. It's a seldom-if-ever-enforced law against private citizens conducting diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government.

2) I think Giuliani's argument is that his first aim here is personal rather than diplomatic -- that he's trying to get Ukraine to help his client, and not that he's presenting himself as a representative of the U.S. government.

Whether that's actually true is another matter!

Am I alone in thinking the real loser in this will be Biden, not Trump? Even if the House impeaches Trump, the Senate won't convict him. Meanwhile, the Biden-Ukraine story is back on the front page and won't be going away.

I look at the front page of our newspaper and others and see Trump's alleged wrongdoing and abuse of power, not unsubstantiated allegations about Biden and Ukraine.

However, I think you're right to question whether impeachment of Trump will hurt him or help him. After Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican-led House, his approval ratings shot up. That being said, is this really apples to apples? Both presidents are accused of very different things.

How is it any whistleblower is able to gather evidence, get right to the point and make accusations leading to immediate meaningful effect whereas an Robert Mueller . . . could not? Makes no sense

First, we don't know what effect all of this is going to have yet.

Second, Mueller was operating within some real constrains, including about what he felt he was able to allege.

And third, if not for what's already in the record with Mueller, I don't think you see such a switch reaction from House Democrats. This was as much about the total sum of evidence to date as it was about the seriousness of Ukraine.

Hi! So. Many. Questions. I'll start with this - how does Biden's "involvement" in the impeachment inquiry affect his candidacy? Does being the object of Trump's request for investigation help or hurt him? I know his poll numbers have shifted this week for other reasons but am wondering how his mere presence in this scandal affects him. Thank you for considering my question!

No Democratic candidate wants to be on the receding end of Trump’s attacks, especially when it’s something convoluted like this that is not that easy to dispel. But the facts are the facts: There is no evidence of wrongdoing by vice president Joe Biden. However, The Post's Matt Viser and Isaac Stanley-Becker report that Biden's team is caught off guard by the overwhelming pro-Trump forces, both in the White House and in conservative media, accusing him of wrongdoing. And since he's not the Democratic nominee, he doesn't have the full backing of the Democratic Party to push back. 

When will William Barr’s impeachment inquiry begin? When will the various state and federal bars begin ethics hearings on the attorneys who failed to uphold their oath and duties?

I answered the impeachment question above. But too be clear, the whistleblower seems to think a number of people have been involved in covering up potential corruption. I'm betting a number of people in the administration are sweating right now.

Getting re-elected is a politician’s overriding concern. If you’re a GOP Senator like Toomey or Portman and your up in 2022 don’t you kind of want Trump gone? Because you’re not going to survive a Trump 6th year midterm wipeout. Wouldn’t you rather run under President Haley or Pence?

I get this question a LOT, like once a week since Trump got elected. And the answer is: No, Republicans see no political benefit to impeaching the leader of their own party, as much of a headache as Trump can be for them. Trump is POPULAR within the Republican Party. To get rid of him would be politial suicide for many of these lawmakers.

And neither do they want Trump to lose next year and then have to work under a Democratic president, who has even less in common with them, policy wise. Republicans have made their bargain with Trump, and they're not about to bail now. At least, not with the evidence before them.

So I'm fairly cynical this is going to go anywhere. The base loves Trump too much, Trump isn't going to resign ala Nixon, and the biggest problem: McConnell isn't going to call for an investigation in the Senate. Which leads me to ask - will this hurt his reelection chances if he doesn't call for an investigation? Or if he does call for an investigation but "wink-wink-nudge-nudge John Roberts, don't actually investigate..." so it dies with the 2020 campaign, would that fulfill the 49% (NPR poll) that want to see impeachment proceedings?

Kentucky voted for Trump by 30 percentage points in 2016, and analysts tell me it's still a very pro-Trump state. So, no, McConnell sees absolutely no political benefit to having an investigation into Trump. 

One interesting point, which I mentioned earlier, is whether McConnell even has to hold a trial if the House impeaches Trump. The past two impeachments, the Senate has held a trial and acquitted the president. Could McConnell just duck that by "reinterpreting" the rules? The Constitution is open to interpretation! Some legal experts are talking about this now. 

Who paid for all of Giuliani’s trips to Ukraine and Paris and other places where he met with current and former Ukraine officials? He is always described as Trump’s personal lawyer, but does he receive compensation or expense reimbursements from the US government?

We don't have any indication that the U.S. government has funded anything, and if it did that would be even more problematic.

But it's worth noting that Giuliani has argued that he has received the go-ahead (on several occasions) from the State Department. So that relationship will be probed.

Did the IC Inspector General interview any of the "officials" mentioned by the whistleblower? Does he know who they are?

In his letter to the acting director of national intelligence, inspector general Michael Atkinson said he did a "preliminary review" that included checking out the contents of that phone call (though he didn't access the whole phone call transcript). He did say he was time constrained, but he did enough of a check on the complaint to determine it was "credible" and worth reporting for further investigation.

I've seen a count of 13 or 14 Democratic House Members opposing impeachment. Curious if you think that's a high number or a low number?

Well, right now we have 12 who don't support an impeachment inquiry, which is different than supporting outright impeachment. That's a very low number. It means nearly all House Democrats support taking the first step to impeachment, despite months and months of internal debate and strife within their caucus. 

Now, as for how many would vote to impeach Trump? So far we only count about 30 who say that now. A House Democratic aide tells me he thinks there is the votes to impeach him (the magic number is 218). But it could cost some vulnerable Democrats (like the 30 who won a district that voted for Trump in 2016) their jobs. 

Also, if you're on Twitter, give a follow to my Fix colleague JM Rieger, who is the impeachment-whip-count master. 

What’s Pence’s role in all of this?

The whistleblower said his trip to Ukraine for Zelenky's inauguration was scrapped because Trump wanted to use potential meetings as leverage. We don't know a whole lot more besides that, but that seems a key event in the complaint.

I don't expect the Senate to convict if Trump's impeached, but is Mike Pence checking filing dates? Which other Republicans might run if Trump is removed?

Many of the filing dates will likely have passed by the time anything like that would happen. There might be still some contests, but my guess is the GOP would have to pick a nominee by some other means, likely through the RNC.

Dear Amber and Aaron, I know it's a long shot that if impeached President Trump will be convicted in the Senate and removed from office, but even if he were, wouldn't the Trump (formerly GOP) Party re-nominate him and couldn't he run again and, potentially at least, be re-elected? Please tell me that this is not possible.

 It's possible! As I wrote in an impeachment-basics explainer, Trump could run for reelection if he's impeached by the House. If he is removed from office, well, that’s never happened before, so we’d probably all be armchair-interpreting the Constitution to figure that one out. 

UPDATE: To get confirmation on this after the chat, I talked to Josh Chafetz, a constitutional law expert at Cornell University. 

Basically, the Constitution says "Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law."

But what does "shall" mean? Is there wiggle room on that? Also, typically the Senate has taken one vote to impeach someone and remove that person from office, but a second vote to disqualify them from further office, says Josh Chafetz, a constitutional law professor at Cornell University. "There have been 8 impeachment convictions in American history (all of them have been of federal judges), and of the 8, only 3 were disqualified from future officeholding," he told me in an email. 


But remember this above all else: This whole thing is so unprecedented that we don't know for certain what would happen.



IF Trump were to be impeached and a 2/3 Senate votes to remove him, can Trump still run for re-election?

 I just answered this above. Maybe!

The answer appears to be yes. There's nothing about impeachment/removal that bars voters from re-installing the person. 

Clearly the Senate ignores lots of legislation passed by the House. Is there any legal obligation to have the Senate trial if the House impeaches? Or can McConnell just ignore the articles of impeachment?

This is such a fascinating question. I don't have a clear answer, because we're getting into the Wild Wild West -- the Senate has never NOT held a trial after a president was impeached by the House. (All of two times.) Here's what I've written on the little legal theory that's out there:  If the House impeaches Trump, it’s possible Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could just refuse to hold a trial. For centuries, the agreed-upon reading of the Constitution is that if the House impeaches a president, the Senate holds a trial to convict or to acquit the president. But there could be some wiggle room for McConnell to avoid that spectacle, writes Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel under Barack Obama.

I expect we'll be talking about this MUCH more as the impeachment process moves on. No way McConnell wants to hold a trial, and all the spectacle that entails, right before the election.

A poll yesterday showed a spike in support of the impeachment inquiry. Are Americans likely to shift into supporting impeachment as they hear and understand more of Ukrainegate? How much do they understand now? How much of a delay is there between information coming out and it affecting the polls?

You guys know how much I hate to point out I was right, but I wrote on Tuesday about how support for impeachment would quite possibly rise.

Polls suggested many who opposed impeachment did so not because they didn't think Trump deserved it (which was closer to 50-50), but because they just didn't want it to happen. Now that it's closer to happening, it seems those people are on-board.

And don't forget about 6 in 10 Americans dislike Trump. That's a lot of potential impeachment supporters.

During the Clinton years even as Democrats and some Republican opposed impeachment, they did denounce what Pres. Clinton did. That seems like a better strategy than saying there is nothing wrong here or it's laughable to even call for investigation. It's a bit off-putting to this independent to see them so sycophantic about this President.

There just is no room within the Republican Party for deviation from the president. Most of the president's critics in Congress have either left the party or lost reelection, or are trying to run against him and not gaining traction. 

Those of us old enough to recall Watergate remember that AG John Mitchell wound up in prison. Unless Barr is confident that Trump would pardon him, he needs to proceed on the assumption that it's ultimately not in his own best interest to risk breaking any laws.

To be clear, it's not evident that Barr was involved in the Justice Department's decision to downgrade the inspector general's finding of "urgent concern."

It's also not clear whether he was involved in the DOJ Criminal Division declining to pursue a formal investigation.

Can this process be manipulated a little by Democrats so as to make sure the information (dirt) that they find can be out front and in the media at election time? I guess I mean to ask is: Can the Senate vote be done after the election?

There is no set schedule for the House. They can handle it however they want.

I think that dragging it out over 13 months, though, might start to make it look pretty politicized. The problem is that the evidence might not be very easy to get if the White House is going to fight them on subpoenas, etc.

I gather from WaPo stories and columns there was no ongoing investigation of Burisma when Ukraine was pressured to fire Shokin, but I have not seen satisfactory verification that there was no ‘quid pro quo’ by Biden involved. Not that it excuses Trump’s attempts to manipulate the situation or Giuliani’s end run around the State Department to help him do it, etc., etc. However, I’m interested in the 'whole truth' and would like to know what concrete evidence there is that completely exonerates the Bidens. Thank you.

Sure! Read this from The Post's Fact Checker. Here's my cliff notes of that: At the time that Biden asked the Ukrainian prosecutor to leave, the investigation into an energy company where Hunter Biden had ties to was shelved. Also, Biden was doing something that most Western countries wanted done. There's no evidence he was stepping outside diplomatic norms to protect himself or his family. 

Hax was so jealous when she saw your impeachment chat getting front page billing that she contacted Ukrainian journalists to investigate you. Watch your back.

Bring it! 

When will there be a witness list provided by Intel committee and what do you think the time line is

I don't have any inside info on that, but I imagine lawmakers are working on that right now. Schiff said this week that there are a lot of people he wants to talk to. I also imagine Congress wants to keep the momentum going -- we're clearly all interested in this -- and hold hearings pretty regularly. However, what happens when Congress goes on a break for the first two weeks of October? Do they lose their momentum? 

Assuming assertions of whistleblower and SC Mueller report are true, can we obtain restitution for America, as is often the case in civil and criminal cases? Due to illegal foreign and domestic 2016 election interference, can both Trump, Pence, hires and jurists be removed? E.Os., reversed; regulations restored; transfers of public property rescinded? Fund with asset forfeiture. Crooks can’t keep the profits of their crimes. Thank you.

That's not how it works. Congress and the ballot box are the remedies for all things.

In this joint chat, if the two of you disagree on a particular topic, who should we listen to?

As is custom in American politics: Whoever's opinion you like better and matches your own sensibilities.

May I just say, I ❤️ you both!

This is no time for both-sides-ism! Choose a side!

(In all seriousness, though, thank you.)

Is the scope of the impeachment going to focus solely on the Ukraine thing? Or is this opening up the whole can of worms for everything?

Everything, though Ukraine will certainly be top of the list. It's what pushed Nancy Pelosi to support an impeachment inquiry.

But notice she didn't create a special committee dedicated exclusively to impeachment, which is the MO for these things. She asked all six committees already investigating Trump (for a number of things) to keep doing their work "under the umbrella of impeachment." A lawyer who was in the House during the Clinton impeachment told me it's "impeachment light." 

Though The Post's Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report that Pelosi favors keeping it focused on Ukraine because people can better understand the allegations.

After Pelosi made her impeachment inquiry statement lots of money started coming in to the Trump re-election coffers. How much is this going to energize his base?

Part of me thinks this calculation was made: Both sides of the aisle are unusually motivated to vote in the 2020 election right now, so the base-energizing side effect that the Democrats feared was more negligible than it would otherwise have been

Putting aside the DNI, could the Inspector General have just taken the report directly to Congress?

Good question. Looks like not without breaking the statute on whistleblower protocol. It's notable that Michael Atkinson, the inspector general, decided to go through the chain of command, which leads him to the intelligence chief, and then told Congress he was at an "impasse" with the DNI chief about whether to share this with Congress and how. 

If Trump is impeached, would Pence become President and possibly pardon Trump and continue his policies?

It's quite possible, given this is what happened with Nixon and Ford.

Two points:

1) Pardoning Nixon proved a dicey move for Ford, and he failed to win the next election.

2) Pence would be the likely replacement nominee in 2020, unless he gets implicated in some direct wrongdoing. He'd have to choose between appealing to a base that might still be loyal to Trump and potentially handicapping himself with swing voters.

3) My suspicion is it would work like this: He wouldn't do it right away, but would be more likely to do it after the 2020 election (win or lose).

When people say that impeachment is a political thing the impression is that it is a bad thing, a mud-slinging event. But what is actually meant by "political" here is #1. How are you going to clarify that it is not #2 -- although it could degenerate into that.. 1) relating to the government or the public affairs of a country. 2) relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics. Impeachment is an important feature of our Constitution dealing with the working of our government and potentially affecting our country significantly. It is political in that it deals with the body politic not with partisanship. How are you and other reporters going to separate these two meanings. Certainly, saying that impeachment is political has been leading to confusion.

I mean, I think they're both intertwined, the politics of impeachment and the fact it's a judicial process undertaken by a political body. Especially these days, when everything is political. Nancy Pelosi seems very aware of this, which is one of the top reasons she was so cold on impeachment for so long. She worried people will see her and her party as overreaching for political benefit, rather than looking at the facts. And will there be some of that (political benefit infusing the impeachment process)? Almost certainly. You can't safeguard Congress from politics. 

I was surprised at Schiff's confrontational tone, busting Maguire's chops for delaying before turning over the whistleblower info. Yes, there is a law saying it must be done in a week, but presidents of both parties like to assert executive privilege, and for good or ill that's part of the system's checks and balances. And Maguire reports to the executive branch, not to Congress, so arguably it was his duty to check first. In the end Maguire did the right thing, so what political advantage was there to Schiff in appearing so mean-spirited? It risks convincing undecided citizens that the Democrats are indeed on a "witch hunt," when in fact there is ample reason to follow up on the allegations.

I think Schiff was generally upset/perplexed at Maguire's decisions to run the whistleblower complaint by the agencies headed by the complaints. As I wrote here: "The problem with how Maguire handled this, Democrats argue, is that he failed to take into context the politics of the moment. This isn’t a typical whistleblower complaint; those normally deal with bad-acting middle managers. It’s a complaint against the president of the United States."

There was an article on one of the other sites suggesting that Trump is getting himself in trouble because he is trying to govern based on right wing conspiracy theories, instead of intelligence or other briefings. Thoughts on this?

The Crowdstrike portion of this really speaks to that. Getting dirt on the Bidens? Okay, at least that makes strategic sense. Continuing to litigate the origins of Russian interference by suggesting it wasn't ACTUALLY Russian interference, though? That carries far fewer benefits. It's trying to prove a very tenuous conspiracy theory. But it seems to be Trump's hobby horse. 

Do read this from The Post's Craig Timberg, Ellen Nakashim and Drew Harwell: "In call to Ukraine’s president, Trump revived a favorite conspiracy theory about the DNC hack."

The Constitution: "no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States." Removal can include disqualification from holding further federal office, but it requires additional affirmative action by the Senate for disqualification. There are precedents of removal but not disqualification, and Alcee Hastings served in the House (and still does) after being impeached and removed from office as a federal judge.

So under that reading of the Constitution, it would take the Senate to act not once but twice to bar Trump from running for president again. Which, in Hypothetical Land, if they're going to go as far as convict him, why not?

How will the House Intelligence Committee get the identities of individuals cited in the complaint and how will they get them to testify? Do you think there will be protracted litigation? Will there be grants of immunity?

I would imagine this is information that the whistleblower could share. And with some of allegations, it could be obvious who might be involved (such as the NSC computer stuff).

Who fares better if Trump is impeached -- Democrats taking the Senate in 2020 or the GOP taking back the House in 2020? Or will both bases be so energized by this that it cancels each other out?

We have no idea. 

But public opinion polling right now shows that impeachment of Trump is not popular. A Quinnipiac University poll that came out in the days of the Ukraine scandal developing show that 57% of Americans don't support impeachment of Trump and removing him from office. (The base wants it to happen, though.) So it's up to House Democrats to convince the broader American public that Trump deserves this. 

I'm reading reports that some of the Democratic Establishment are unhappy that she is so visible and vocal about Trump's impeachment. What possible reason would she have to buckle under their criticisms?

Two things can be true at the same time: 1) The Russians might have changed the result of the election, and 2) Clinton's campaign suffered from fatal flaws that made it close enough for that to be plausible.

I think there is a lot of affection for Clinton. But there is also a sense in the party that re-litigating her campaign isn't entirely productive, especially when they want to be talking about Ukraine.

Because it's a special chat will you guys be doing this until 2PM? ❤️

BREAKING: We will be extending this chat, so stick around!

(Not sure if we'll go quite THAT long, though.)

Thank you Amber&Aaron for taking questions during these rollercoaster days (I would love to have these AA-chats more frequently!). My question is: what can we expect in terms of timings with the impeachment process as envisioned according to "Democrats eye quick impeachment probe of Trump as freshmen push for focus on Ukraine"? What does "quick" mean if it will be focussed on Ukraine? Can we see a vote on impeachment in the House in a matter of days or weeks?

Thanks for joining us and your question!

Democrats almost certainly want this to be wrapped up as quickly as possible, because it gets even harder to make their case to the American public that this is something they should do as 2020 nears. Still, privately, I heard from a Democratic aide that they aren't too concerned about how long this takes. Build the best case possible to impeach him, however long that takes.

FWIW, Aaron looked at the past two impeachment timelines and found they wrapped up in four months or less.

What's the odds of getting the full transcript if the POTUS classify it top secret even though we have already seen the notes from it.

There is a lot of talk about how this isn't the full transcript. It is indeed based upon notes and recollections of those in the room, and it may not have every detail.

But there likely isn't a full transcript or an actual recording to use to get a fuller picture. Presidents stopped recording such calls a long time ago.

Wait, how could Pence pardon Trump if he lost the 2020 election?

During the lame duck!

So Heidi Heitkamp was a "maybe no, but leaning toward yes" on Brett Kavanaugh nomination at first, but ultimately voted no. I'm not from North Dakota so I don't want to pretend I know if she was sincere or insincere about it, but I bought her explanation. I'm wondering if this will happen when lawmakers learn more and more about the awfulness of this President and the people he was surrounded himself with in the White House?

Yeah, sure, a lawmaker can totally change their mind throughout this process.

One thing I'm looking at is how many House Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry (almost all of them) decide not to support actual impeachment. One aide for a Democrat in a Republican-leaning district told me that the inquiry is going to need to get some "hard, hard evidence" to convince them to vote for impeachment. Others I hear are willing to do "the right thing" as they see it, even if it costs them their jobs.

at the speed with which the situation has evolved? Just a week ago, Schiff was making vague noises about the whistleblower complaint, and within a few days it had moved a lot of fence-sitting Democrats to a pro-inquiry position. If things continue to move at this pace, might we see a vote on the inquiry by the House before the end of this year?

I am a little surprised that they jumped even before we knew a ton of the details about the Ukraine situation. Why not wait a few days just to make sure?

But I think the pressure just became too much.

What is the process to remove or impeach AG Barr for willfully ignoring his oath of office?

Same as impeachment of a president. But I think Democrats have their eye on the big fish in all this, Trump, and aren't so worried about Barr --whom they've already voted to hold in contempt of Congress. 

Why do you think republicans are so afraid of not supporting Trump? There are only a handful on the record saying they disagree with him, but it seems privately they know he is doing a terrible job.

They have seen so many of their colleagues who dared to question Trump see their numbers tank within the GOP. And even those who may not be running for reelection know they will get attacked mercilessly.

Trump's impeachment mean he cannot be arrested after he leaves office?

It would not. Even if he is removed, he is not immune from criminal charges. That would be why he'd still want to be pardoned.

Hi, thank you for reading my question! Do you think the White House is trying to frame Ukraine for the 2016 election interference?

Well if you consider the whistleblower complaint, the allegation is that White House aides were trying to HIDE Trump's conversations and interactions with Ukraine. Again, the complaint argues that Trump wanted Ukraine's help for his reelection, rather than looking backward at 2016. 

There may be a lot of affection but she has been more vilified for a longer period, for mostly unwarranted reasons (a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor??) than any public figure I can think of. I'd say she's been remarkably contained given Trump's unending vomitus output.

I'm not sure Pizzagate is a huge reason she fell out of favor, for what it's worth. I think there is a natural tension, though, between Clinton trying to reclaim her good name and argue 2016 wasn't her fault, and her party's efforts to turn the page and focus on a race they actually can win.

Will the investigation uncover additional high crimes involving leaders of foreign nations?

This is very speculative. It's worth noting that the whistleblower complain says other readouts of Trump's calls with foreign leaders were handled in the same manner as the Ukraine call. For what reasons, we don't know, but this will be something that will be probed.

If it works out that Trump's impeachment is going to pass in the House and the Senate, won't Trump resign at that point?

I've given up on predicting what Trump will ever do. :)

How sanitized do you think the "rough transcript" is? Remember how Nixon's first transcribed tapes were expurgated, then the more complete ones were published. Although we never learned what was on those 18½ minutes that Rosemary Woods erased with her "stretch"!

Given there were about a dozen people listening to the call, I would submit that omissions from the rough transcript might not remain hidden forever. I know this is a popular theory, but the whistleblower said they tried to hide the rough transcript, even as it exists in its present form.

Isn't it interesting in how this all benefits Russia? First, it undermines Ukraine's new president at a key time for him; second, it shifts American's focus away from things going on in Europe. I continue to be amazed at the dividends paid from their 2016 election shenanigans.

A very good point.

There was more than one part to Trump's request for a "favor" from Zelensky. We've been largely focused on the request for "dirt" on the Bidens. But there was another part that relates to Ukraine taking the "blame" for hacking the DNC servers. This would in fact be an attempt to take Russia off the hook for hacking the servers. Examine this more deeply and it seems that Trump was not only trying get something for himself, but he was in effect trying to do a favor for Putin and Russia. Have you examined this aspect in any depth?

It's a fair theory. But I'd argue that getting Russia "off he hook" also feeds Trump's narrative -- that this was all a complete hoax from the beginning.

Don't forget that Rep. Larry Hogan Sr. (R-Md.) was, IIRC, the very first Republican member of the House committee to support impeaching Nixon. There's a family value there for Jr. re Trump.

I'd hardly be surprised to see Hogan sign on eventually. He's even floated a potential primary challenge to Trump.

What is the difference between the president being impeached, and an impeachment inquiry?

An impeachment inquiry is a formalized process for deciding whether to impeach. Impeachment is what could happen at the end of it.

All this impeachment talk is really making want to drink. Please help.

Just do yourself a favor and wait four hours, at least.

Are there still any Republican senators and representatives dodging questions on their opinion by saying they haven't yet read the transcript and/or the unclassified complaint ?

Are there plans to investigate whether Giuliani's claims of working with the state department are at all true?

I would imagine it will be a major avenue of inquiry.

Since the President was quick to note that Pence had some "perfect" phone calls of his own, what are the chances the inquiry spills over into his wheelhouse?

That was odd to me. Maybe he was sending a message that Pence is in with him on this one too and better stay loyal?

But again, the canceled Pence trip to Ukraine is an important part of this. People are focused on the military aid as a potential quid pro quo, but meetings to prop up Zelensky were apparently a major bargaining chip. Ukraine has practically begged for them, and Trump had resisted until Zelensky suggested he would pursue Trump's investigations.

Mr. Blake, you took the position yesterday in your analysis piece that there was no quid pro quo in the call summary, notwithstanding that Zelensky expressly raised the issue of the delayed military aid and Trump responded by tying it to the certain favors. Isn't that a quid pro quo?

I said there was no explicit quid pro quo. An explicit quid pro quo is saying, "If you do this, then I will do this."

Here's the exchange between Trump and Zelensky:

ZELENSKY : I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.

TRUMP: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike.

Trump does not say anything amounting to "Okay well in exchange for the Javelins, here's what I would like you do do." Perhaps you can infer it, but I simply don't see how you can establish that 100 percent as an explicit quid pro quo.

And I realize people disagree, but I would emphasize that this isn't an argument Democratic leaders are making. I think that speaks to how provable they believe it to be.

Amber, you said above that Trump might run again even if he is removed and impeached. Actually, if you check the Constitution, you will see that the judgment in an impeachment case may include "disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States." So the Senate could impose that disqualification on the President if it convicts him following impeachment by the House. But the Senate is not obliged to do so; it may choose to remove him from office but not disqualify him from holding office again.

Well, the Senate would have to hold a trial first. What if Trump gets impeached by the House and then McConnell doesn't hold a trial? Or he does, and Trump gets acquitted? He could run for office again -- a federal judge, Alcee Hastings, was impeached in 1988 then ran for Congress and won.

I can see why McConnell would want to drag this out, delay holding a trial. But if they really bury it, won't that hurt them with the voters in 2020? Or will they bet that tribe matters over everything else?

No need to draw attention to the allegations if you don't have to. They're already struggling to defend Trump

Thanks y'all for all the great questions! I gotta go. But keep 'em coming, either by joining me Tuesday from 12-1 Eastern during my regular live chat (it'll be on the home page), or joining my 5-Minute Fix newsletter and emailing me there.

Thanks everyone for coming out to a special edition of the Ask Aaron live chat. And stay tuned for more special editions/themed chats in the future!


In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is a senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron lives with his family and trusty dog, Mauer, in Northern Virginia.
Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
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