Six reporters take on the week in impeachment
Kyle Cheney, Congress reporter: I’m not as convinced as my colleagues that the hearing had no impact. For one thing, it’s the soundbites — and there were plenty — that will be what most voters see, not the six-hour constitutional lecture. Secondly, it absolutely gave Pelosi and her allies the confidence to finalize their plans. Though the speaker was surely planning her embrace of impeachment well in advance, she relied on the constitutional argument to argue that the conduct unearthed by the House Intelligence Committee warrants — perhaps even requires — impeachment. So even if the impact is minimal for the public, inside the House it matters a great deal.
What should we make of Rudy Giuliani traveling to Ukraine this week?
Anita: It’s a play right out of Trump’s playbook. Both men are in-your-face New Yorkers. Both don’t back down. Both engage in behavior that they know other people will criticize them for. It’s why people close to the president tell me Trump likes Giuliani so much. There have been many times over the last few months that prominent Republicans begged Trump to sideline Giuliani but he simply won’t do it. His behavior — including traveling to Ukraine in the middle of this swirling controversy — is one of the reasons why. And, remarkably, it doesn’t seem to matter to the president that Giuliani has now found himself in legal jeopardy over the attempts to get the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into the Bidens.
Natasha: It seems like it could be part of a defense Giuliani is building for himself, not just for Trump anymore. Giuliani is reportedly under criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York and has reportedly been under scrutiny by FBI counterintelligence officials for months stemming from his Ukraine work. Giuliani said this week that he is still working to exonerate Trump and that the evidence he’s collected on the Bidens will be released “very soon.” But he must realize by now that it is no longer in Trump’s interest, at least politically, for him to continue pursuing the very scheme that is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry. So it makes more sense that Giuliani is now acting in his own interests — collecting “evidence” and statements from the former Ukrainian officials who have accused the Bidens of wrongdoing — in an attempt to validate the foreign work he’s now reportedly under investigation for.
Melanie Zanona, Congress reporter: Both Giuliani and Trump have tried to defend their actions by attempting to normalize their behavior — like Trump calling on China to investigate the Bidens after the Ukraine scandal broke. But even Trump allies have grown exasperated with the president’s personal lawyer: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told CNN that it’s “weird” Giuliani is in Ukraine and said he wasn’t even going to try to defend him. While the president might not be willing to throw Giuliani under the bus, you get that sense that Republicans sure want him to.
Darren: Barring his own indictment, Rudy’s travels this week tell me he’s not about to exit the political scene anytime soon. And even if he is indicted he’d likely keep on talking unless and until a federal judge gags him with a threat of jail. Certain segments of the Republican Party might welcome that gag order, too.
Kyle: Rudy’s trip to Ukraine is about as clear a signal as any that the impeachment inquiry isn’t a particularly useful deterrent, if Democrats thought it would moderate either the president or his associates’ behavior. Trump could call him off but hasn’t, and Giuliani is pushing the exact same lines that got the impeachment inquiry launched in the first place. The toughest questions Democrats might face is what to do if he — with Trump’s explicit or implicit blessing — continues to encourage the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rivals.
Why is Trump not participating in the House hearings?
Natasha: The White House doesn’t want to be seen as validating a “sham” process, but at the same time has not closed the door entirely on participating in any future hearings the House may hold (which is far from a sure thing itself). The irony is that Trump has complained about not being afforded due process and being treated unfairly, but at the time declined to send someone to represent him during the hearings. That is likely to change, though, once the impeachment trial begins in the Senate.
Melanie: The White House has raised a valid point: how they can properly prepare for the hearings when they don’t know what they’re preparing for? Trump and the GOP have been kept in the dark on key details about the impeachment hearings until the last minute, which makes it harder for them strategize. That being said … I’m not entirely sure Trump would participate even if he was given ample notice about things like the format of the hearing or the charges being brought against him.
Andrew: At this point, the official White House line is straight from Trump’s Twitter feed: Just get on with it. That was the message from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone on Friday when he indicated that Trump would not participate in any of the impeachment hearings. The one-page letter was very Trumpian on its own, but Cipollone even quoted one of the president’s tweets from earlier this week: “If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our country can get back to business.” This is the clearest sign yet that both Trump and his senior advisers have resigned themselves to the fact that Trump will, in fact, become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached — regardless of whether they participate in the House’s proceedings.