Eugene Robinson Live: Will stonewalling against impeachment work?

Oct 08, 2019

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to our chat. So let's get this straight. Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU and a central figure in the Ukraine shakedown, was willing to testify before Congress this week. But now the Trump administration won't let him. Yeah, that's exactly how President Trump would behave if the Ukraine phone call was "perfect" and he had nothing to hide, right? Stonewalling has been a successful strategy against congressional oversight, but against impeachment it doesn't work. It just adds another article of impeachment, as Speaker Pelosi just pointed out. And I'm betting it will add to the big majority of Americans who now support the impeachment inquiry -- and the 49 percent who now believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office. This is getting deep, folks. At this point, I wouldn't believe anyone who tells you confidently that they know how this is going to end. 

And if you missed it, here is my latest column. Let's get started.

What do we do if Mitch McConnell decides to quickly dismiss the impeachment charges with only a trivial, pro forma "hearing"?

Nothing. But there would have to be a vote to dismiss the impeachment charges, and senators would have to go on record. The "defense" that the White House is putting out there is such a rickety mess that you have to wonder how many GOP senators want to stand on it without some attempt to establish the truth.

If the impeachment is successful, and if the Senate finds him guilty, how long does he stay in office legally, and what agency removes him if he doesn't leave peacefully.

If the Senate finds him guilty and removes him from office, he's no longer president. Right then. My guess is that the new president could then ask the Secret Service to escort then-former president Trump from the premises, if necessary.

Could Trump’s obsession with debunking Russian interference, combined with an Eastern Ukraine deal with Putin, represent a payoff to lift Russian sanctions? Ms. Maddow has suggested as much, and hard for me not to see through that lens. Thanks!

That's possible. I hope someday we get to the bottom of the whole Trump-Russia thing. Right now, it's almost a theological question -- a matter of what you believe. There are plenty of facts out there that suggest whatever you choose.

Do you get the sense that Romney might be using back channels to recruit Republican senators to vote with him against Trump? I've been having this fantasy of watching Trump grinning broadly as the Senate votes on removal, and when the Ayes are called, Romney nods at his followers and Trump's jaw drops as the Senate votes overwhelmingly to remove him.

I don't know specifically, but I'll bet there is more going on behind the scenes than anyone realizes. It is still difficult to imagine enough Republicans crossing the fence to remove the president. But today is October 8. What will things look like, say, in December?

I kept hearing how Elizabeth Warren's free ride with the national press was over and there was going to more scrutiny of her, her record, her proposals, etc... It seems her coverage is mainly on the same junk about poll movement like it's sport scores or forecast temperatures. I don't care if she's #1 or #101 in the public polling, tell me about her. I'm not a disinterested party and poll coverage isn't nothing, but it isn't helpful to making my choice on voting day.

With respect, I suggest you crank up the Google machine and read some of the many profiles of Sen. Warren that have run in virtually every major news outlet. There's plenty of biographical information about her out there. Dig in.

If a government employee is subpoenaed by Congress to testify and they refuse, citing a presidential directive, Congress could order them jailed, I think. But if they want to testify, what could happen to them other than being fired? If they are now a private citizen, what hold does Trump have over them?

None that I'm aware of. I can understand that as long as someone is working for the executive branch, he or she could feel obliged to follow the president's directive. If the person quit or was fired, however, I don't know of any impediment. In some cases there could be issue of executive privilege, but I don't know how that's enforced against a witness who wants to talk.

Hi Eugene, I am curious about congressional subpoenas. What is the penalty, if any, for an individual who refuses to comply with a congressional subpoena? What power does the subpoena really hold? If the individual is ordered not to comply by the administration, are the consequences directed at the administration?

The power of Congress to enforce its subpoenas is unclear. There's no jail in the basement of the Capitol. Ultimately, it may be that Congress has to employ its ultimate power -- the power to impeach.

Why is no one focusing on the National security threat that this call generated? In withholding military funds from Ukraine (that Congress approved in America's National security interest) didn't this 'negotiation' give aid and comfort to Russia?

That's actually a major focus. If you look back at the op-ed by seven first-year Democratic members of Congress, advocating an impeachment inquiry, that's their argument. They all served in the military or the intelligence community, and they see this clearly as matter of national security.

So if withholding aid to an ally in exchange for an investigation on your political rival is not impeachable...what is?

Good question. And very succinctly put.

Eugene - I am a lifelong R (and worked at Fox for almost 20 years) who wrote-in Romney in 2016 because I have interviewed Trump and found him to be an utter (arrogant) dolt. Can you please consider penning a column on what people (Republicans) think of any person who writes "in my great and unmatched wisdom"?... Sometimes mockery (SNL anyone?) is the surest way to expose hypocrisy (and/or idiocy, irrationality or delusions of grandeur)... I hate to end this inquiry on such a somber note but this reminds me of Jonestown with all these Trump acolytes - rubes? - lining up at the cool-aid trough... I've produced almost 5,000 shows (I'm now retired) and if I could shake these (1930's) Trump "Brown Shirts" out of their ill-conceived stupor, I would like to try and do so. And one way might be to ask them, "don't you think writing 'in my great and UNMATCHED WISDOM' is a ridiculous thing to write?..."

Pointing out the ridiculous, off-the-wall things Trump says and writes seems to have no impact whatsoever on the hard-core Trump base. I know that makes no sense, but it's true. Thanks for writing, though, and I hope you get your party back someday. I'm a progressive, obviously, but I think it's good for the country to have a rational conservative or center-right party competing for public support of its ideas and policies. Maybe we'll have such a party again. Someday.

So NOW the Republicans grow a spine? I'm not buying it. There has to be something I'm missing.

They seem to feel more comfortable opposing Trump on foreign policy matters. But let's see if it's an actual spine or a fake one. I have my doubts.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today and for your spot on recent column. One of Trump's most shameless and shameful defenders, Sen. Graham, has indicated that he would like Giuliani to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One can only imagine the train wreck potential of that, but what's the strategy there? Is it just Graham once again humiliating himself before Trump to make sure he stays in his good graces? And just to add an editorial comment, Graham once stated that he cowtows to Trump to make sure he (Graham) stays "relevant." How nice that we all have to pay the price for that.

Once upon a time, Rudy Giuliani was a very good lawyer. These days, he sounds more like the guy at the end of the bar at closing time, spouting off about contrails and Area 51. But I have a hard time imagining he wants to submit himself to a congressional hearing, given what we know about his Ukraine activities. It won't be a good look if he has to constantly invoke his right against self-incrimination.

Are you as surprised at how quickly the winds changed on the pro-Impeachment/Impeachment hearings numbers changed? It doesn't come close to atoning for the past three years but it certainly helps. Do you think it's because this outrage is so straightforward and easy to follow?

I am surprised, and it does give me hope. The most surprising number in the new Washington Post poll is that 49 percent of Americans believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office. That's a tectonic shift, and I do think it's because the impeachable offense is so clear and so easily understood.

Just FYI, MSNBC is now reporting Sondland called Trump before sending his stilted "no quid pro quo" text. Nothin' to see here, folks...

This is a very bad look for the White House. If there's nothing to hide, then why not let him testify? 

I was surprised to see such support for the impeachment inquiry, and more surprised at the number that want Trump removed from office. Remembering back to Watergate, the president's support seems to be dwindling much faster now. Do you think this is because 1) the nature of the Ukraine scandal, 2) the 3 years of chaos (Nixon's administration was competent) - or the real-time news cycle?

All of the above. 

What's to stop Trump/GOP from continuing to stonewall on everything, ignore subpoenas, withhold documents, and so on? They continue to do it because they've been doing it for a while and NOTHING HAPPENS. Not sure why this will be any different. Dems are getting trampled here.

Speaker Pelosi reiterated today that such obstruction will be considered further grounds for impeachment. And this, too, is simple and easily understood. Now that impeachment is under way, I don't think this is a winning strategy for the White House.

If Trump is removed from office and Pence becomes President, could Pence name Trump as his VP? Not saying he would, just wondering if it is possible, following impeachment and removal from one office, to be appointed to another.

Congress could remove President Trump from office and disqualify him from holding high office in the future. I'd recommend that.

What are the chances of Pence facing impeachment based on his involvement in the Ukraine arms-for-political smears plot?

I think they're low. Pence leaves very little forensic evidence in his wake. I wonder if he even leaves fingerprints on doorknobs.

Can they be impeached (and tried) together, if applicable?

I don't know if they could be tried together or would have to be tried separately. But look at the politics: If both were impeached and removed, Speaker Pelosi would become president. If there are Republicans who would be tempted to vote for Trump's removal, I'm guessing they would be less tempted if it meant making Pelosi president.

I've heard several commentators (Jonah Goldberg being one) that have said they favor impeachment, but not this close to an election. Your thoughts?

I think that's a ridiculous argument. A president who's just lousy at the job can and should be replaced by the next election. A president who abuses his power the way Trump did should be impeached by Congress. 

If it looks like 90/10 that impeachment and removal is imminent, do you think he resigns?

If it got to that point, I think he would resign. I can't imagine that Donald Trump would want to go down in history as the only president to be impeached and removed. 

WHAT is so compelling about Donald Trump that all these people are willing to lie, go to jail, sacrifice their principles, etc. to do his bidding or protect his illegal actions?

His power over the Republican base. I know a lot of Republicans in Congress who don't like him any more than I do, but who fear him.


That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for a lively hour, 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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