Chat transcript: Which witnesses loom the largest in Trump's impeachment trial?

Jan 17, 2020

The Washington Post's Aaron Blake will be taking your questions on impeachment and the 2020 election. Join us live on Friday at 12 p.m. ET.

Welcome to the Ask Aaron live chat. A little housekeeping at the top: Starting in two weeks (Jan. 30), The Fix will begin doing a joint weekly live chat. It will be on THURSDAYS instead of FRIDAYS and will supplant both my chat and Amber Phillips's.

We think having everyone respond to your questions will liven things up and provide some different perspectives. It will also allow us to answer even more of your questions.

With that out of the way, what's on your mind?

Seems like witnesses might be coming after all -- yesterday seemed to change the conversation some. Was it Parnas' talking? Or the solemnity of it all? Or?????

The swing votes have been really keeping their powder dry, insisting they are open to new witnesses but not saying directly whether they want to hear from Bolton. (Only Romney has said directly that he'll probably vote to allow Bolton to testify).

I expect they'll continue to say that's a question to be decided later, after the opening statements and the time for questions and answers. But Murkowski and Collins appear quite open to Bolton, and they'd need one more GOP vote.

I understand why some left-wing organizations keep trying to downplay the Sanders/Warren battle but this is a big deal right? Two of the leading presidential nominees are calling each other liars over a pretty big issue. I can't even imagine what the outcry would be in 2007 if Clinton told Obama a a minority candidate couldn't win or if Obama told Clinton that a woman couldn't win.

The effort to downplay this has been rather ridiculous. Warren doesn't go up to him after the debate and accuse him of calling her a liar unless a) there are truly hard feelings and/or b) she wants this to be an issue.

Here's the thing: Debate is good! They should disagree. To pretend this is bit of nothing while the two sides and firmly engaged on it is to bury your head in the sand.

Hi Aaron -- thanks for taking questions at the end of a historic week. If I recall correctly, when he was appearing on Fox as an analyst during the House impeachment hearings, Starr found the testimony to be pretty damning for Trump. It seemed to me he also said that, given what was revealed at that point, we might even see a situation where, similar to Nixon, a group of Republican senators might even suggest he resign. So now he's on the defense team? What do you think happened?

Some of Starr's quotes, I believe, were taking out of context. But he did say after Sondland testimony, "It doesn’t look good for the president, substantively." He also said, "This, obviously, has been one of those bombshell days."

Hi Aaron! Is it a problem with how much reporting has focused on the comments between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders? I understand why this matters, but what are the effects of them both dragging this out? It appears to just be riling everyone up and dividing the Democrats.

The amount of reporting hasn't been a problem; this has been a legitimate disagreement about what happened. The media should always be wary of blowing something out of proportion, but it's not like this is a manufactured topic. And it's not the media's job to prevent Democrats from being divided; indeed, Warren seems to be doing that herself by raising this issue, because she wants them divided in her favor.

Is is sad that Nancy Pelosi does not go forward unless she has the votes. What does that say about the timing of her transmittal of the articles of impeachment? She obviously doesn't have the same control over Senators that she has over Representatives, but isn't that an indication that she is pretty sure that she has the four GOP votes in the Senate that she needs to control the process? Or did she just feel she'd run out of time?

She didn't delay because she didn't have the votes; she did so because she wanted to extract some concessions on the rules from the Senate GOP. She didn't ultimately get that, though, and she had to respond to some restlessness in her conference.

Does this improve his chances of receiving a Presidential pardon someday?

It's evident to me that he's counting on that, whether or not he has been given any assurances. Drawing this whole thing out has given him a chance to probably push this whole thing beyond Election Day 2020, at which point Trump can pardon him without worrying as much about political consequences.

What I'm watching for now is if the government charges him with things that perhaps they said they wouldn't as part of the plea deal. He could be looking at more than just a "lying to Congress" charge, based on some of the reporting on his lobbying activities.

At this point, everyone should stop speculating that a handful of Senators will vote to allow witnesses. I highly doubt that Mitch McConnell will allow any witnesses to appear and I am certain that Trump will claim executive privilege over anyone they call.

1. It's not totally up to McConnell. 4 GOP senators are insisting on the right to vote for new witnesses and evidence, which means those votes will take place. And if 4 of them vote against McConnell on any given witness or evidence, it's included.

2. Trump's claims of executive privilege may not work so well in a Senate trial. 

It's weird that some political journalists are acting like the Iowa caucuses are the end rather than the beginning of the primaries, right?

I'm not sure who you're referring to, but it's a very big day in the process! And that's especially the case if its Sanders or Warren winning and then going on to New Hampshire, where they'd have a good shot at two in a row. It's also big if Biden wins, because he figures to do well in South Carolina.

Bernie has raised a lot of money since the debate. Some of his followers are saying that there's a sense of deja vu, with Democrats being unfair to their choice for the nominee. How much bad blood do you think still exists between Bernie's people and the rest of the Democratic party? Do you think this will ultimately help Sanders?

Greivance is a powerful thing in politics. What I wonder is if he can begin to consolidate the voters he had in 2016 that haven't signed up again. Were they with him just because they didn't like Clinton? Could they be easy to pick up if he starts to look like the favorite?

To get on evening news? or??

I believe it's so Roberts can do Supreme Court duty in the morning.

Do you think she helped or hurt herself with the stunt? If she loses, is AZ in danger of going blue?

I tend to think it won't matter a ton. She got a fundraising boost from the Trump campaign over it, and I think much of her base will like that she's sticking it to CNN.

That said, Manu Raju is a tremendous reporter who I've worked with. Singling him personally out for this is unfair. He's the kind of guy who afflicts both sides of the aisle, and this feels misplaced.

We had some technical difficulties and the chat wasn't showing up.

(And I promise it wasn't me forgetting to hit the button!)

Can you explain how Pete Buttigieg has time to run for president while also coaching the Boston Celtics?

After the debate David Axelrod was once again bashing Biden. Some pundits are saying that Axelrod is pulling for Buttigieg. Other pundits consistently say good things about one candidate while criticizing the others. Should they disclose if they are favoring a candidate?

If they clearly support one, sure. I haven't seen his analysis, so I can't speak to Axelrod. But sometimes these pundits also care about certain things over others, so they might be more critical of one candidate than another.

Why is Barack Obama so seemingly missing from all that is going on in Washington and out on the campaign trail? Maybe he is doing stuff behind the scenes. He has more credibility than any single Dem. What is is saving it for? The general election? Or do ex-presidents like old soldiers "just fade away"?

Presidents generally avoid getting involved in the affairs of their successors; it's understood that that's how it should be, because they wouldn't have wanted their predecessors doing the same thing when they were in office.

Do you trust Shirley with all that money?

I give her a $1.75 stipend every week.

The Democratic field does not have a clear leader yet. There's enough uncertainty that Bloomberg and Patrick felt they could enter the race late. So my out-of-left-field question is: Where is Martin O'Malley these days? Everyone else is running, why not the guy from last time?

I can see more of a case for Patrick and Bloomberg right now than for O'Malley. He just didn't do anything last time.

Protector of sexual harassers (at Baylor) -- not sure this is a good look for Trump. PLUS, I thought he hated losers -- technically, didn't Starr's side "lose" the Clinton impeachment? So why hire him -- what's the up side?

1. Starr did step down amid the scandal of alleged sexual assault at Baylor. I expect we'll be talking about that.

2. As to whether he "lost" the Clinton impeachment? He did the investigation, but whether or not the information was sufficient to remove Clinton wasn't really a reflection on him.

Will the senate be following the same process used in the Bill Clinton impeachment?

It will be very similar. The difference now, though, as I have noted, is that the impeaching party doesn't have control over the process. The rules were what they were in 1999 because the GOP could make decisions as they went along. 

How can he swear to be 'impartial' when according to some reports, he was there when 'pressure' was applied to Ukrainians. And don't say "so was Chris Murphy" (you said that in an earlier chat) -- yes Murphy was on trip, but not at that meeting (he was at the front, I believe).

1. He had conversations that pertain to this, but I don't believe there's any indication that he was involved or really clued in to the behind-the-scenes stuff.

2. He can't be replaced as a juror, so there really isn't an alternative.

Do you stay up and watch the debate analysis on all networks after debates?

No. I don't want to have others' analysis color my own.

Since when does "pundit" mean "impartial"?

Pundits don't need to be unbiased. But if they are actively supporting one candidate, that should be disclosed. And it often is.

What tools do Senate Dems have to affect the process and rules? Is a court challenge to some GOP rules/process details possible?

The courts won't rule on an impeachment trial, because it's the Senate's prerogative. That was essentially the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in 1993's Walter Nixon v. United States.

I know--long shot. But if only 1 Article was approved, is that enough for removal or does it have to be both articles?

A president can be removed over one article. It needn't be both.

I disagree with the many pundits who say Pelosi's delay failed or backfired. Though it wasn't the reason for her delay, it allowed for the Parnas bombshell to drop, which I believe makes it harder to deny witnesses. What's your take?

By this logic, why not just continue to delay, because even more compelling information could come out?

As a foreigner with limited knowledge but still very curious, the timing of Parnas and the new evidence popping up looked rather interesting to me. Just before/around the time Pelosi signed the letters right? Maybe she was keeping them until they got more evidence. What would you say about it?

They had just been turned over (on Sunday I believe). This wasn't a case of the House holding on to something. Whether Parnas timed the release is another question.

not just him/his attorney. I doubt judge "in" on anything. No?

My understanding is that Parnas asked to be able to turn them over, proactively. 

Hi Aaron, Happy Friday and thanks for being there! Are the House Dems continuing their investigations, do you think? Now that the spotlight is on the Senate and the first two articles, couldn't the House be quietly working on more articles - I should think there's plenty more for them to work on.

There is nothing preventing them from looking at additional articles. I do wonder how much Pelosi wants that, though, given she didn't really want to impeach in the first place and that this would drag the whole thing closer to the election. It would also look like they moved to quickly.

Doesn't this very thing pose a problem for Republican Senators, especially those on the ballot in 2020?

This is the dilemma for the GOP senators: If they don't ask for more information or witnesses, and then the information comes out publicly anyway and is damning, they will look like they were trying to suppress it or didn't want the whole truth.

On that note: Bolton is reportedly going to talk about Ukraine stuff in the book he has coming out this summer.

Why is there no real talk among Dems of calling for Guiliani? Or even Trump?

I'm surprised there isn't more talk about both him and Mulvaney. Bolton is the one who's willing; they were closer to the key events here.

How much control does Roberts actually have? Will (GOP) senators be able to overrule him?

I expect he'll only insert himself when it's truly necessary. Over-involving the Supreme Court chief justice in the Senate's duty to try impeachments isn't great for separation of powers.

1) what time? 2) is this instead of the separate chats? 3) only during impeachment or for how long?

1. I believe it will be at noon, but stand by on that.

2. This will be in place of the Tuesday Amber chat and my Friday chat.

3. This will be the plan indefinitely.

Do you think Lev Parnas' interview will actually carry much weight when it comes to the trial? I've seen some people talking about how he isn't much of a credible source, I've seen others talking about how his interview is pretty damning.

They really need to rely on documents to substantiate his claims. He is under indictment, and there is little to establish his credibility.

Whether or not you choose to believe all of his observations, he sure has a heck of a photo album!

Indeed. It's amazing how close you can get to the president as a super PAC donor!

Why is the American news media so obsessed with the British royals?

The preferred spelling is Meghxit.

I have no earthly idea.

We all know it's there, as is racism. That said, both Warren and Sanders could have handled the situation more adroitly. But, I think it's overkill the amount of time and energy the media (esp. CNN) devoted to dissecting the incident.

I can't really speak to cable news, because I haven't watched the coverage. When you have 24 hours to fill, you tend to revisit stories over and over again. But the print coverage, to my mind, has been very responsible. 

Is this a "norm" that you believe President Truump will abide by when he is out of office?


Can he be called as a witness if there are witnesses allowed? And how could Trump exert executive privilege over him? I'm not sure Trump has a clear grasp of what executive privilege is (to be fair neither do I).

He could be called as a witness, if they have the votes and Democrats want him. But I'm not sure they want him.

As to executive privilege, Parnas didn't work with Trump an in official capacity, so it shouldn't apply.

I thought this was Norman Chads homage and reference to the late, great, Shirley Povich!

You learn something new every day! Apparently I have been doing it wrong.

well, technically, Trump's "under indictment" (impeachment) too, right? So should we doubt all his claims too?

I take the point, but impeachment isn't the same thing as indictment. And neither has been conviced.

That said, we have plenty more to judge Trump's credibility upon. Parnas is a black box.

Of course you know that "Shirley" was an homage to Shirley Povich, a man.

Maybe my "Shirley" is my accountant?

I see this as the typical conversation between women and men of that generation. I can see an aspect of Sanders saying something generic about sexism in presidential elections but Warren hearing for the umpteenth time in her life the notion that a women can't do something and shouldn't even try.

This has been my theory, too. I wish they had been asked about that possibility at the debate! (Or will be moving forward.)

Thanks for coming out, everyone. We'll see you in a week.


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.
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