Eugene Robinson Live: We can't get past the rough transcript

Oct 01, 2019

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to regular therapy session. Well, anything new? Actually, of course, just about everything is new since last we gathered. For one thing, impeachment is happening, which seems worthy of notice. As I pointed out in today's column, the most damaging witness against President Trump, by far, is President Trump himself. To many eyes, including mine -- and, apparently, those of a majority of the House of Representatives -- the rough transcript of his July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine clearly records the commission of an impeachable offense. The president and his defenders are combining attacks on the whistleblower with nothing-to-see-here bluster, but they can't get past that transcript. "I would like you to do us a favor though." Stonewalling the House on witnesses and documents doesn't erase that pesky sentence, doesn't change its clear meaning. Trump still seems to think there's some way he can tweet and threaten his way out of this, but he's wrong. This is real. Let's get started.

Why the heck did the White House release that thing?

I imagine some people at the White House are asking the same question. It appears possible that President Trump genuinely didn't think it was problematic for him. He knows it now, though he continues to pretend the call was "perfect." One has to wonder if that's really the whole conversation, word for word. But what the White House released, by itself, is impeachable.

Funny how Trump and his sycophants have dropped the favored “no collusion” talking point. I guess when you’re caught red-handed colluding – with official documented evidence thereof, no less! – it’s time for some new defenses. As a litigator, my personal favorite is “it’s hearsay!” LOL. Their own damn transcript is NOT HEARSAY!

The hearsay defense is no defense at all, and that's significant. It tells us that Trump and his enablers have no idea how to counter or discredit facts that the White House itself released -- and that show an impeachable offense. The transcript shows collusion in real time. And wouldn't you like to have a look at those calls with Putin hidden on the secret server?

I suppose I should not have been surprised, but was when a recent top Washington Post story was about another inquiry into Hillary Clinton's emails. Do you expect this one to go any where? I'm afraid Republicans are so desperate to throw her into jail that if these investigations continue evidence will be planted to make it happen. What, if anything, could stop these endless probes into a matter that should have been concluded long ago?

Impeachment or removal of Donald J. Trump. Failing removal -- which is not a sure bet either way -- then his defeat next November.

Assuming Donald Trump will lose the next election, democratic contenders have far reaching plans for health care, taxes, climate change and a plethora of other plans. However, isn’t it true that all those plans will take a back burner to deal with DJT’s tentacles of corruption and incompetence?

The next president will have to walk, chew gum, and fix our broken government at the same time.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today. I think the sycophant of the year trophy has to go to Sen. Graham who sat back and did virtually nothing while Trump repeatedly insulted his close friend Sen. McCain in death. And if the story is to be believed, Graham wept openly at the death of Beau Biden because of his deep affection for the former vice president, but now Graham is all in on the Biden/Ukraine nonsense which has been widely discredited. What in the heck happened? Yes, I know...Trump happened, but what is this spell he now has on previously honorable and decent people?

I confess that I don't fully understand what's happened to Sen. Lindsey Graham. Yes, Trump is popular in South Carolina. But Graham has unnecessarily gone all the way out to the conspiracy-theory fringe, where he is keeping Trump company. I don't get why.

This is not as easy as you write. The President has the right to confront his accusers. I doubt whether the whistle blower and the witnesses want to go through that and be outted publicly. So how can this process proceed?

The whistleblower has a right to remain anonymous, but I doubt that will be possible, given the way things work these days. I think his or her identity will be leaked, which is a shame. That said, it's kind of a red herring to suggest that Trump has a right to confront the whistleblower. Perhaps he might, if he hadn't released a transcript and other information that confirms everything in the whistleblower's complaint. Today, right now, the House already has enough information to vote at least one article of impeachment based on the White House transcript of that phone call. How the Senate would construe the rules of evidence in an eventual trial is a different matter.

Can an impeached president run for the presidency again? Can a convicted impeached president run again? Crazy questions I know, but we're in crazy times.

I'll be honest: I have no idea. But yes, we live in crazy times. My seat-of-the-pants guess would be that if Trump is impeached but not removed, he could probably run again with no problem. That assumes his party would want to renominate an impeached president. If he were impeached and removed, though, I have no clue.

Assuming Trump resigns rather than face impeachment , possibly taking Pence, Barr and other admin execs with him, please expound your views on how we can best move past this historic low point in American history and heal our nation?

Those are big assumptions. Sometimes I wonder if Trump might actually resign rather than suffer the humiliation of impeachment and a trial. Most of the time I think he'll cling to office defiantly. The safest assumption, given the lack of courage we've seen so far in the GOP-controlled Senate, is that he will still have to be defeated in the election. And then we'll be able to survey the damage and figure out how to heal.

Mike Pompeo has just refused to let the 5 State Department officials who are supposed to give depositions to do so. Among other things, he says there's no supeona so it's voluntary and that there isn't enough time to prepare. Can he make this hold? And why can't Volker - who resigned - show up since he no longer works for State? Is it possible for people who are still working for State to show up? Would they lose their jobs if they do? Be prosecuted?

I'm not aware of any authority Pompeo still has over Kurt Volker, the special envoy who resigned his post the other day. I assume the Foreign Affairs committee will now issue subpoenas, and we'll see how Pompeo reacts. Who knows whether the other officials are eager to testify or not? (I'm guessing that the former ambassador might be.) If you look at Pompeo's letter, he mentions that some of those asked to come in want to retain legal counsel and need time to gather documents. I wonder if there are behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place for their testimony.

Are the progressives, liberals, etc. the only ones paying attention to impeachment? I'm concerned about the "average' person and the millennials who will have to vote...or will they?

Polls show that support for impeachment has jumped by seven to ten points. The increase is not among Democrats, it's among independents and even Republicans. So yes, I think people are paying attention.

If the courts order the White House to comply with Congressional subpoenas, do you think Trump et al. would simply defy the Judiciary the same way they are currently defying Congress?

Barr is on record as saying the administration would never defy an order from the Supreme Court. We'll have to see, I guess.

Eugene, I am by no means a Trump supporter, but in the case of people accusing him of inciting civil war, people have gone too far. He shouldn't have retweeted Jeffress' statement because it will (and has) stir people up, but it's not a threat of war. Jeffress said a "Civil War-like FRACTURE" meaning the division in the country could be as severe as the Civil War. That's NOT the same thing as saying, "you do this and there will be a civil war." We've got to do better at being accurate because Trump never will be and he'll jump on any error from the other side.

I guess I'm not seeing the difference. The only kind of fracture that's like a civil war is, indeed, a civil war. Any division short of a civil war isn't actually like a civil war at all.

It doesn't matter whether the whistleblower got the information 1st- or 2nd- or even 3rd-hand. It only matters whether that information is correct, which is a matter of questioning the whistleblower's sources who were listening to the phonecall, right?

The inspector general made clear yesterday that the whistleblower does indeed have some first-hand information. So Congress does need to talk with him or her, as well as the sources who fed him/her information. But don't forget that the most damning piece of evidence is not in dispute -- and was released by the White House itself, meaning that Trump can hardly contest it.

If hearsay turns out to be true, isn't that a complete justification for accepting it?

Hearsay is admissible in grand jury proceedings for the purposes of indictment, which is analogous to impeachment -- the filing of charges that will be proved or disproved in a subsequent trial. That said, hearsay is NOT AN ISSUE HERE. That is just smoke and mirrors. Congress has the primary evidence in hand.

Will something more complete and accurate than a "rough" transcript of Trump's July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine ever be released? I'd be interested in seeing any discrepancies between the two.

So would I. It makes no sense to me, in this day and age, that the only record of a conversation between two world leaders would be scribbled notes taken by those assigned to listen in. I don't know if we'll ever get to see a fuller, more precise record of the call.

How surprised are you that Amber Guyger was convicted of murder? After the judge's ruling yesterday about the Castle Doctrine, I was sure she'd be acquitted. Sometimes, there is justice in the world.

I confess that I was somewhat surprised. Obviously the jury didn't buy her story.

If only Trump hadn't added that "though", which Kevin McCarthy tried to pretend wasn't in the call memo because it clearly makes the missile purchase contingent on the favor.

He did add it, though.

Her boss posted something like 100 tweets in the past few days. That sort of makes HIM the winner of the hysteria award, right?

I agree. If anyone still thinks Trump really wants to be impeached and is trying to bait Congress into it, look at his Twitter feed. You can't fake that level of panic.

What the actual F, am I right? It seems that there is not one person of integrity among the Trump team. They're all corrupt it seems. How is it that there seem to be no consequences for anyone? They just ignore depositions and subpoenas. Can you see any of the GOP letting a DEM get away with that behavior? We need to start sending people to jail for non-compliance. What Team Trump has learned is that you can get away with stuff if you have a tantrum. It's so frustrating and infuriating!

Stonewalling is a very effective way to stall and delay. The difference is that now Congress has a hammer -- an official impeachment inquiry. This should prompt quicker and more definitive action by the courts. 

Is inherent contempt of Congress an impeachable offence? What about refusing to comply with a subpoena?

The House has made clear that obstruction of the inquiry could constitute grounds for an article of impeachment.

handle the ongoing impeachment drama? It makes it much harder for them to share their messages with the public when all the media bandwidth is devoted to the sordid saga unfolding.

I think all the campaigns are trying to figure out the answer to your question. I guess my advice would be: Go to Iowa. Concentrate on gaining ground in the early-primary states. Get ready for the next debate. 

Have any republicans identified any inaccuracies in the whistleblower's complaint? So far it looks like his batting average is excellent.

None, as far as I can tell. If there were mistakes, I guarantee we'd have heard about them by now. So far, it looks airtight.

Why would Trump congratulate China on its 70th anniversary? It seems akin to FDR giving Hitler an atta boy in the middle of WWII

Simply unbelievable. 

Do you think this IRS whistle blower story will get any more attention now? Or are we consigned to Ukraine and nothing but for the rest of the year? Maybe bashing the intel community and federal workforce in general wasn't such a great idea.

This episode, which my colleague Catherine Rampell dealt with in her column yesterday, is fascinating. And no, we haven't heard the last of it. Potentially it brings us closer to seeing Trump's taxes.

But Trump and McConnell have tried to stack the SCOTUS. So unless Chief Roberts has another attack of conscience (like with ACA), Trump's safe.

In a fight over the production of evidence, I don't think Trump could count on Roberts' vote. Precedent (from Watergate) is quite clear, in my view.

You are officially instructed to only watch the Nationals wild card game tonight. No Trump news coverage for you.

Go Nats!

What (if anything) will break the logjam for the lily-livered Republicans? The steady stream of ugly revelations doesn't seem to be working, so do we have to see some incredibly brazen corruption come to light in order to move them to action?

We've seen brazen already. Not a peep.


That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks so much for participating, as always, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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