Live chat: What to expect in public impeachment hearings (Nov. 12)

Nov 12, 2019

Happy Tuesday. I write about politics for The Fix blog, and I'm chatting live here every Tuesday at noon Eastern about the day's biggest political news. What are you curious about?

Good Tuesday. Thanks for joining me today, a day before the first public hearings in the House's impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

On Wednesday we expect to see two State Department officials with decades of experience, acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor, and top Ukraine foreign policy expert George Kent. They'll testify that people in Trump's orbit were trying to undermine U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine -- and there were quid pro quos attached. 

Here's a look at the 5 questions we still don't know, like who attached the quid pro quos? Was it Trump? Why did Trump dislike Ukraine so much anyway?

What are you curious about? See ya at 12 Eastern.


Given that Rudy Giuliani appears to be at the center of the Ukraine mess, how do you think his role will play out in the impeachment hearings? Do Schiff & Co. have a strategy for dealing with him? Why hasn't he been subpoened yet? Could the FBI be trying to flip his Ukrainian buddies who were arrested to rat him out?

What Giuliani's role is in this is one of my top 5 unanswered questions in the impeachment investigation so far.  As I write: "National security officials in Washington and diplomats in Ukraine were concerned about and mystified by Trump’s personal lawyer, who was working in Ukraine despite having no diplomatic experience nor a government title. Why was Giuliani running a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, and who was he doing it for?"

No, we don't expect Giuliani to get subpoenaed by the House and testify. Though he could appear another way: He is Trump's personal lawyer and could be the one defending Trump in a Senate trial. 

Hi! Thank you for reading my question! Nikki Haley said this morning on The Today Show that she does not support impeachment because, among other reasons, there is an election next year and the people should be able to speak then. I find this disingenuous, to say the least, but it got me thinking about timing of the impeachment. We have a full year to go and she is making an argument that THIS is too close to the election. So what is adequate time in Republicans' view? Conversely, is there a drop dead date by which Democrats feel the impeachment and trial must be wrapped up? Once we hit Jan 1, 2020, will all Republicans say it's an election year and we must let the people speak? Is there a chance the Senate, upon proceeding to trial, would argue they can't vote to remove because it's too close to the election? In other words, where is the arbitrary and invisible line that can't be crossed because it's "too close" to the election according to Dems and Republicans?

I don't think there's a drop-dead date for Congress to finish this, though House Democrats would like for it to be over before 2020, so they can at least say they aren't voting to impeach Trump in an election year.  

That's a distinction without a difference, though. The 2020 election is here; it started months ago with the first official debate, if not before then. 

In the Senate, there is no indication senators will just not hold a trial because it's an election year. Though if they can't defend Trump on the substance of the allegations, "let the people decide" could be a way out for them from voting to convict him. 

Can you please explain them to me?

Trump is the leader of their party! A party ditching its president en masse doesn't happen easily, if ever .... 

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. I fully expect the Republicans on the committee to disrupt this week's first public hearings from the get go, and it wouldn't surprise me if the entire Republican Congress showed up once again ala flash mob (with pizza, of course) and simply refused to allow the proceedings to go forward. How do you think the Democrats will respond to whatever Republicans throw at them?

Hi there. Yeah, the Democratic head of this, Adam Schiff, has sent memos to his colleagues warning that "every member shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House."

I personally don't expect Republicans to storm the hearing room like some of them did the SCIF when closed-door depositions were happening. But I do expect Republicans to throw out a bunch of unrelated, often-unsubstantiated theories that Trump likes to drum up about Russian involvement in the presidential election. I do not know how Democrats counter that --- try to fact check them? ignore them? The GOP goal would be to muddy the waters on who's being investigated, and they could successfully do that just by talking a lot about unrelated issues to what's being investigated by Democrats.

I know the prevailing word is that Congress will pass another CR next week, but I am increasingly worried that Trump won't sign it and will shut down the government to distract from impeachment. In these times where nothing is normal, and the president is completely unpredictable, is it even possible to put odds on me being out of work next Friday? Thanks.

"Not very likely" is the ranking I gave when I looked into this last week. But you're right that Trump is always a wild card! Still, you should be heartened that Trump replied "no no no" when reporters asked him recently if he'd shut down the government because he's mad about impeachment. The president isn't usually that decisive when answering questions.

If a democrat wins the White House but the GOP retains the Senate, is there any chance that the Senate would confirm a dem Supreme Court nominee? Or any lower court nominees?

Good question. I think Republicans would have a very hard time explaining why they're holding up nominations for four years. The public pressure campaign for them to confirm a Supreme Court opening would be enormous. But they can be very, very scrupulous about whom President Warren, for example, nominates.

Is there any reporting on pressure being put on retiring Republican House members to keep them from voting against impeachment? What is your explanation for their lock-step position going into the hearings?

Another good question. I don't know if there is any pressure being put on these lawmakers, but like you, I would sure like to find out.

I think my explanation is the same for any Republican, whether retiring or not: Breaking with the leader of your party, who is also president of the United States, is not a natural or easy thing to do. If there are any Republicans considering doing it, I would imagine right now is still very early in the process. The House doesn't even have articles of impeachment for them to consider. 

Hi Amber, I've been curious about this, and wonder why no one asked this question (or I've missed it - dating back to 2016 when he ran then). Bernie Sanders is an Independent. Why is he able to run in the Democratic primary? I assume he caucuses with the Dems - but isn't this something that we need to talk about? Please explain how this works. (did he file in all the States as "Democrat" - which to me seems disingenuous as he is always referred to as "I-Vt.")

He did indeed file as a Democrat

Just wondering if you have any insight or thoughts on whether any office-holding Republicans will support impeachment. It's disheartening that they're all supporting Trump despite clear evidence that he committed crimes.

I don't have any insider intel on this, but I can say from watching Republicans closely during this process that it seems House Republicans are largely staying together on this and supporting Trump. That will be hugely helpful to Trump. If he can get through this without any defections (Justin Amash aside), he will be able to continue to cast his impeachment as a partisan exercise by Democrats. Because so much for him hinges on that, I imagine the White House is putting immense pressure on Republicans, whose leaders are putting immense pressure on rank and file, to stick with Trump. 

Doesn't the House either have to start enforcing subpoenas or admit that the United States is no longer a functioning democracy?

Well some officials, like George Kent, testified after being subpoenaed. So it's working some of the time. 

But going to court is all they can do on this.

Not so much a question. But I wish the media would stop calling the September 24, 2019 release from Trump a transcript. It is not. It is a summary. When you call it a transcript you imply it is something it is not.

Fair. I think "rough transcript" is the accepted upon language here. 

Not Lord Voldemort, but Bob Mueller. Curious if Democrats on the Hill feel they have learned any lessons from how they put all their eggs in the Bob Mueller basket and he kind of let them down in that area?

I haven't talked to them about this, but it's a good question. My answer for them would be: Performance matters. A steady, seemingly knowledgeable witness matters almost as much as what they actually say. 

How likely is it that Jeff Sessions might win a Senate seat? Follow-up: would it be a good or bad thing for Trump to have Sessions in the Senate?

This one is hard to game out, because there are competing factors: Trump and Sessions, who are both popular in Alabama -- and Trump may be openly antagonistic to Sessions. He certainly hasn't endorsed his former attorney general.

I toyed with the idea that having Sessions in the Senate might be unhelpful to Trump. As I write: If he gets elected in spite of Trump, why would he need to show any loyalty to him in the Senate? And could that pave the way for other senators to break with Trump? But watching Sessions campaign, he's almost groveling to Trump. So I think Sessions sees it in his best interest to align himself with the president again as best he can. (Not that he ever really broke with the president to begin with.)

Will all the sitting Senators competing for the Democratic nomination suspend their campaigns to participate in the impeachment trial? Seems like it would be a bad look to forego the trial, but some of them are fighting to stay afloat on the campaign trail now.

I don't think they'll suspend their campaigns, but they won't be skipping a historic Senate impeachment trial. So that's not great news for the six senators, who make up the 16 in the field so far. The Senate trial, as I game out the timeline now, could extend right up to the Iowa caucus in February, the first voting contest in the Democratic primary. And Iowa is a state that expects its politicians to park themselves there for a good month beforehand to win over voters.

If Kelly and Tillerson never did what Haley said they did (try to recruit her to undermine the President), isn't that grounds for a fairly substantial defamation suit?

I'm not a media law lawyer (though if I had the money for law school, I've always thought it'd be an interesting career). So I don't know if this rises to a defamation lawsuit, since Trump's top former aides are public figures and have a higher standard.

What I think you're getting at is: Can Tillerson back up his denials? This might be a "she said, he said" situation.

Can you help me understand this Bolton/Mulvaney/lawsuit issue? Although I think that a lot of these people need to respect the subpoenas and get their butts up to the Hill, there are some people who need the judiciary to weigh in on what they could say, given the overlap of executive privilege and the need to provide evidence for the inquiry. It seems to me that Bolton and Mulvaney are two of those people. So why can't they be part of the same lawsuit?

Ya, good question. Explaining this is on my to-do list at some point this week, perhaps in an upcoming edition of my 5-Minute Fix impeachment newsletter. 

From The Post reporting, as I understand it, national security officials like Bolton and a top aide, Charles Kupperman, want to testify if the courts okay it. They feared Mick Mulvaney was using their lawsuit as protection not to obey a subpoena and testify. They also were on opposite sides of the fight over Ukraine policy, so Bolton's team just doesn't like Mulvaney. 

What happens if (when?) the Senate acquits Trump? Do you think that will give the GOP a strong advantage in 2020?

I do not think having a president go on trial for impeachment helps the president's party in upcoming elections. Or at least, for something as serious as these allegations. I'm of the belief that it's a net loss for Republicans to have to spend months defending a president from allegations, supported by a growing cast of witnesses, that he tried to use the State Department and a foreign country for his own political purposes.

I know dems are moving forward while a determination on the Bolton subpoena wends it’s way through the courts. Will his testimony ever be heard?

We don't know at this point. It's possible the answer is no, he won't ever testify. 

don't want to double down on my Nikki is anonymous from last week but I did want to tell a funny story, I'm on the ACELA coming back from NY March 2017 and it's first class where they do serve food but this one time they didn't. A water bottle in the seat next to me and someone keeps coming and asking if she would be able to sit there, someone moved bottle and so she sat in silence, saying unprompted I haven't traveled this way in a long time. I had to plug in her laptop as she conversed with mom and dad in Sikh. Carrie Fisher's ex-husband and daughter on board so no food small price to pay.

A lovely, non-DC story about the Acela corridor!

Can you give us a quick update on the budget? I think that one of the Minibuses passed both houses, yes? Has it been signed? Is the Senate going to try to pass another one? Which departments would then be relying on a CR? And there is another CR in the works, yes? How long is it for and do we have any firm idea if it will be signed? People keep talking about another shut down, but I'm guessing that is just because it happed the last time with almost no warning.

I do not know where all the appropriations bills are right now -- blame the whistleblower -- but I do expect Congress to pass a CR kicking the can down the road till past impeachment. So, like, February. The only wild card for a shut down is Trump, but I am not getting signs from him that he would shut down the government right now. Too much else on his plate.

WHAT TYPE OF COVERAGE IS THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY GETTING IN FRANCE, UK, EURO UNION, SE ASIA, ETC?

I don't know, that's a good question. I am sure the hearings tomorrow will be broadcast in Ukraine! They seem to be paying close attention.

Can you contrast the attitudes (or at least demeanor) of Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee and Republicans serving on the (Watergate) Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities? Does having 6 committee looking into wrong doing muddy the waters that a select committee could wade through more easily?

It's tough because these hearings are decades apart and under different times and circumstances. But I would be curious to see how much more partisan both sides have become. 

Feeling a little exasperated that Biden, according to every survey, is most likely to beat Trump but every Democrat and their uncle thinks they should be the nominee and new ones are coming out of the woodwork all the time. The surveys also say the ability to beat Trump is the number one quality the nominee must have. Besides candidates with big egos, and hordes of political dreamers, what am I missing here ?

I think people like Deval Patrick see a Biden/Warren/Sanders that haven't locked up the primary in a decisive way, so there's still a "why not me?" mentality. I'm not saying that's the right political analysis. I am sure ego colors it more than a little bit, too.

What do you think about Castro's support for a change in the order of the primaries? Is there any realistic chance of that happening? I thought his argument about the demography of Iowa and New Hampshire was really compelling. (The impact on his campaign doesn't really matter since he can't be polling too much lower than he already is.)

This has been an argument in Democratic circles for years now, and it's one of the reasons the DNC allowed South Carolina and Nevada to be the No. 3 and 4 states, respectively. But it doesn't change the fact the Democrats still have two largely white states casting the first votes

One of many reason Iowa should lose its first in the nation status. I don't really want to have my choices winnowed to people who have time to park themselves in Iowa for a month.

You'll get your say on Super Tuesday maybe? 

Isn't it within executive power to not produce members of the administration to appear before Congress?

I need to look into this a little more, but I think that the answer is: Only to some extent. A constitutional law professor I talk to regularly, Josh Chafetz at Cornell University, said there is no such thing as "absolute immunity" as Mick Mulvaney claimed to dodge a Democrat subpoena. 

Saying now that he'll "follow Trump's orders not to cooperate" -- how is this not obstuction? Isn't it, like, textbook?

I think it's very likely that obstruction of the impeachment probe is an article of impeachment against Trump. It was against Nixon!

Will the members of the house committees holding the hearings ask the questions or will staff ask the questions? Without some very well planned strategies, I can see the public hearings degrade into a fiasco.

The staff will be doing most of the questioning, at least at the top when Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gets 45 minutes to question Bill Taylor. The top Republican, Devin Nunes, also gets 45 minutes. I believe he is expected to rely heavily on staff as well. The rest of the lawmakers may want their five minutes of fame and ask questions themselves.

That's pretty embarrassing, isn't it? Wouldn't it be better to not quote at all than to not be sure you have it right? We're supposed to trust the media. Again, this was a NYT reporter, right?

It was a Los Angeles Times reporter. These things happen, but it was particularly brutal because it went viral for awhile, and a lie travels around the world and all that..

Do you have any insight as to what (exactly) is the plan (on impeachment) to genuinely sway republicans?

I am not sure there is a strategy on House Democrats' part. They are focused on swaying you, dear voter, over their colleagues, whom have shown remarkable loyalty to the president thus far.

Would you advise Dems to hold someone like Mulvaney in contempt? Is there a benefit to no-nonsense mentality, or will it more likely read as a partisan play?

I think at this point, they don't have time for contempt votes. They are on a super tight timeline to get Trump impeached (or not) by Christmas. But The Post has been reporting the threat of a contempt vote could propel Mulvaney to testify. 

Article Two, Section Four of the United States Constitution provides that: "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."

My Fix colleague Aaron Blake has written about this. Why aren't Dems accusing Trump of bribing Ukraine with $391 million in military aid?

If Bolton can't testify, will he still get his say in some other medium? Seems to me based on that "I'll be back" tweet after he left that he sure has some things he wants to say.

He has a book forthcoming! But agree, he seems like he really wants to be part of this impeachment conversation.

Which entity in the federal government is ultimately responsible for the Whistleblower and their family's safety ?

Another very good question that I do not know the answer to. This person is a CIA agent, so I wonder if that agency would undertake protections the way it does for its undercover agents?

Will the identity of the whistle blower be protected during the public hearings and if so, how can they prevent a Member from blurting it out?

I don't know. I'm glad I'm not Adam Schiff! 

Okay, fantastic questions today. I need to break right at 1 to get a lot of work done ahead of Wednesday's public hearings. The Fix's preview content so far includess:

Who is Bill Taylor and why does his public testimony matter?

Who is George Kent and why does his public testimony matter?

5 unanswered questions in the impeachment inquiry

 
And I'll be analyzing all of this in my 5-Minute Fix impeachment newsletter, in your inbox every weekday afternoon. I'll also be on our Post Live show at washingtonpost.com starting at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow Eastern.

In This Chat
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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