• Donald Trump’s Own Justice Department Just Undermined His Impeachment Defense

    Television via AP)Senate Television/AP

    Donald Trump’s own Justice Department did something remarkable on Thursday: It managed to undermine the president’s legal defense in his impeachment trial.

    During an unrelated federal court hearing Thursday about House Democrats’ investigation of Trump’s failed efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, a federal judge asked DOJ lawyers what the House could do to enforce subpoenas that the administration has ignored. Justice Department lawyer James Burnham said that impeachment was an option, CNN reports. “The Justice Department has argued that the House can’t ask the courts to enforce subpoenas,” CNN noted.

    But during Trump’s impeachment trial, his lawyers have argued just the opposite in response to allegations that Trump obstructed Congress by defying subpoenas. They have claimed that a president cannot be impeached over a failure to comply with congressional subpoenas and that Democrats should have instead gone to court to force administration witnesses to provide testimony. Trump ordered multiple White House officials, including chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to ignore subpoenas during the House impeachment inquiry last year.

    According to CNN, Burnham acknowledged the hypocrisy of the administration’s position but insisted that House Democrats had also contradicted themselves on the issue. “They are hypocrites. We are hypocrites, I guess,” he reportedly said, to laughter.

    Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) brought up the contradiction during the impeachment trial Thursday. “You can’t make this stuff up,” he said. “The judge says, ‘If the Congress can’t enforce its subpoenas in court, then what remedy is there?’ And the Justice Department lawyer’s response is: ‘Impeachment.'”

    “I mean, what more evidence do we need of the bad faith of this effort to cover up?” he added.

    Watch the video of Schiff’s response below:

  • Trump’s Lawyers Threatened to Blow Up the Impeachment Trial. Watch Adam Schiff’s Response.

    Senate Television/AP

    In the second week of the Senate’s impeachment trial, John Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, has dominated much of the discourse—both in and out of the Senate chambers. The House impeachment managers, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), want to hear his testimony, especially in the wake of a bombshell New York Times report that Bolton wrote in a draft of his forthcoming book that Trump had linked military aid to Ukraine to his efforts to pressure that country to investigate the Bidens.

    But Donald Trump’s lawyers and GOP senators are doing whatever they can to prevent Bolton from testifying, arguing that if he does testify, they will have to call Hunter Biden to appear. And Joe Biden. And the whistleblower. And even Schiff himself. In other words, Trump’s legal team is warning, the trial will stretch on seemingly forever. But in a striking moment on Wednesday night, Schiff blew that argument out of the water: 

    Schiff made the case that demands for witness like the whistleblower, or even Trump himself, amount to “fantasy,” while a material witness like Bolton—who wants to testify—should be in the realm of reality. And Schiff suggested that Chief Justice John Roberts would likely agree with him. “We’re here to talk about people with pertinent and probative evidence,” Schiff said. “I trust the man behind me, sitting way up, who I can’t see right now. I trust him to make decisions whether a witness is material or not.” 

  • Mitt Romney Has Some Interesting Impeachment Questions

    Alex Wong/Getty

    As the Senate began the question-and-answer portion of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) revealed what he wanted to ask:

    Unlike most of his Republican colleagues, Romney has not decried Trump’s impeachment as a “sham,” but instead has promised to hear the arguments for and against removing the president from office with an “open mind.” Fittingly, these questions certainly don’t sound like they are coming from a Senator who has made made a decision about acquitting Trump. The Utah senator came under fire this week from Trump surrogates for being the first Republican to express interest in hearing testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton, whose forthcoming book’s manuscript suggests he has a lot to say about the president’s role in the Ukraine scandal.

    Notably, Romney’s fourth question, directed to the House impeachment managers, asks them to present evidence that “anyone was directed by President Trump to tell the Ukrainians that security assistance was being held upon the condition of an investigation into the Bidens,” which could be an opportunity for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to play back the infamous clip of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitting that Trump was pursuing just such a quid pro quo, or to raise the recent New York Timesbombshell report about Bolton’s manuscript. 

    At a minimum, Romney’s queries for the House impeachment managers are noteworthy because he was reportedly asked not to ask them any questions at all:


  • Trump Lawyer Says Bolton Bombshell, Even If True, Isn’t an Impeachable Offense

    Alan Dershowitz

    Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz speaks at the Senate impeachment trial.Senate Television via AP

    President Donald Trump’s lawyers spent most of Monday avoiding the topic of John Bolton’s leaked manuscript, which reportedly alleges Trump’s direct involvement in improperly holding up aid to Ukraine to pressure that country’s leaders into digging up dirt on Joe Biden. Alan Dershowitz, the celebrity lawyer who recently joined the president’s defense team, changed that this evening with one definitive statement on the floor of the Senate.

    Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz said

    The Bolton revelations strike at the heart of Trump’s impeachment defense. For months, Trump’s allies have maintained that his focus on corruption in Ukraine was genuine. Bolton’s book apparently undercuts that premise. In a conversation described in the manuscript, Trump told Bolton that “he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens,” the New York Times reported

    Trump dismissed Bolton’s account as “false” on Monday, but Dershowitz insisted hours later that Trump should be in the clear even if the version of events in the manuscript is accurate. That’s because Dershowitz believes “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress,” the two articles of impeachment approved by House Democrats against Trrump, do not rise to the level of impeachable conduct under the Constitution because only criminal offenses merit removal form office. Most historians and legal experts disagree with Dershowitz’s view. Even Jonathan Turley, the law professor called by House Republicans as their witness before the House Judiciary Committee, said he “seriously” disagreed with Dershowitz’s view.

    The remark did not even cohere with Dershowitz’s previous statements about presidential impeachments. In 1998, Dershowitz said, “If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime.”

    That apparent contradiction did not seem to unsettle Dershowitz, who wrapped up his remarks by noting that his views on impeachment may not be widely shared.  

    “I do my own thinking,” he said. “I have never bowed to the majority.” 

  • Fox News Is Losing Its Mind Over John Bolton

    For hours upon hours on Monday, Donald Trump’s lawyers presented their case against removing the president from office over the Ukraine scandal. In doing so, they have danced around a major new revelation—that, in a draft of a forthcoming book, former national security adviser John Bolton reportedly wrote that Trump told him he wanted to withhold vital military aid from Ukraine until that country helped investigate Trump’s political rivals, including the Bidens.

    But over at Fox, host Lou Dobbs was more blunt. He explained to his audience how Bolton—yes, that John Bolton—had become a “tool for the Left.”

    You can watch part of the surreal segment below:

    As my colleague Dan Friedman pointed out, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow noted during his arguments before the Senate that “not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance.” That’s a central part of Trump’s defense, and it looks like it might collapse entirely if Bolton is subpoenaed to testify. No wonder Dobbs is upset.

  • Former Trump Official Begs Bolton to Withdraw Manuscript Until “After the Election”

    Serg Glovny/Zuma

    Leaked details from John Bolton’s unpublished manuscript have sent President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense into chaos—and at least one Bolton’s acolyte is not happy about that at all.

    “It was crushing to read weekend press reports that my friend and former boss John Bolton plans to publish a tell-all book on his time as President Trump’s National Security Adviser,” Fred Fleitz, who served as Bolton’s chief of staff on the National Security Council, wrote in a Fox News opinion piece Monday. “Given the importance of protecting a president’s confidential discussions with his senior advisers, I strongly disagree with Bolton’s decision to release the book before the November presidential election and call on him to withdraw it from the publisher immediately.” 

    Bolton’s forthcoming book, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, is scheduled to be released by Simon & Schuster in March. The New York Times reported last night that the book includes “dozens of pages” about the Ukraine scandal, including details from a private conversation in August, in which Trump told Bolton that “he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” 

    The eleventh-hour revelation has renewed calls from Democrats for Bolton to testify before the Senate. He declined to participate in the House’s investigation, citing the White House directive barring testimony from senior officials, but he said earlier this month that he would testify in the Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed. Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to issue such a subpoena last week, but some Republicans have suggested they may vote to approve a subpoena later in the trial.

    Trump has said Bolton should not testify due to national security concerns. In his piece, Fleitz echoed that argument, but seemed more concerned with the effect Bolton’s book could have on Trump’s reelection chances. “If a manuscript of this sensitivity was to be published at all, this should happen after the election, not in the spring of 2020,” Fleitz wrote. “I don’t understand the need for a former National Security Adviser to publish a tell-all book critical of a president he served, especially during a presidential reelection campaign that will determine the fate of the country.  There will be a time for Bolton to speak out without appearing to try to tip a presidential election.”

    A longtime Bolton associate who has defended Trump frequently on Fox News programs, Fleitz said on Twitter that he wrote the piece criticizing his boss “with a very heavy heart.” 

  • Trump Says Schiff “Has Not Paid the Price, Yet.” That’s Even More Terrifying Than You Thought.

    Donald Trump

    Alex Brandon/AP

    President Donald Trump took his war on Rep. Adam Schiff to new heights Sunday morning, tweeting that the Democrats’ lead impeachment manager had not “paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

    Trump’s tweet drew immediate outrage, with many suggesting it might incite violence against Schiff. “What do you say to somebody who says, ‘President Trump is saying that Adam Schiff needs to pay a price—this is in the midst of Adam Schiff getting death threats,'” asked CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview with GOP Sen. James Lankford (Okla.).

    “I just don’t think it’s a death threat,” Lankford responded. “I don’t think he’s encouraging a death threat.”

    “People who are supporters of the president have heard his rhetoric and then actually tried to bomb and kill politicians and the media,” Tapper shot back—a reference to Cesar Sayoc, a Trump supporter who last year pleaded guilty to mailing pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN in 2018.

    There’s little question that Trump’s past rhetoric has inspired death threats against his enemies. But Lankford is probably correct that the president’s purpose in sending Sunday’s tweet wasn’t to provoke violence. Rather, Trump’s intention was likely to do something that is horrifying in a different way—he was trying to build the case that Schiff should be prosecuted for daring to oppose him.

    Look again at that tweet. Trump called Schiff a “CORRUPT POLITICIAN.” He didn’t mean this in a broad, figurative sense—my enemies are part of a corrupt Washington culture. No, he meant this literally. (And seriously.)

    For months, Trump has been arguing that Schiff somehow broke the law when, during a congressional hearing, Schiff loosely paraphrased “the essence” of Trump’s words from the infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president. (Republicans claimed that Schiff had intentionally misled viewers by deviating from Trump’s precise wording. Schiff countered that “everyone understood” that he was merely “mocking the president’s conduct.”) At the time, Trump claimed that Schiff “fraudulently and illegally inserted his made up & twisted words into my call.”

    In October, Trump tweeted that his attorneys “should sue the Democrats and Shifty Adam Schiff for fraud.” The following month, Trump took the matter further, making clear that he had more than just a civil lawsuit in mind. He tweeted that Schiff—along with the Ukraine whistleblower and the whistleblower’s lawyer—”should be investigared [sic] for fraud!” Investigated by whom? He didn’t say. But as I wrote at the time, Trump has a long history of demanding that the FBI, the DOJ, and even foreign governments open investigations into his political foes—everyone from Hillary Clinton, to Joe Biden, to James Comey.

    Which brings us back to today. Trump didn’t just call Schiff “corrupt.” He called him a “conman” who made a “fraudulent statement to Congress.” And Trump once again accused Schiff of “illegally making up my phone call.”

    Trump’s accusations are entirely meritless. Even if they weren’t, it’s incredibly unlikely that he’d succeed in suing, let along criminally prosecuting, Schiff—members of Congress enjoy broad legal immunity for what they say in committee hearings. But that doesn’t mean Trump won’t try. And that’s terrifying.

  • The Video of Donald Trump Telling Associates to “Get Rid of” Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Has Been Released

    On Friday, ABC reported that a recording by Lev Parnas from April 2018 captured President Donald Trump telling associates that he wanted to “get rid” of the United States Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. On Saturday, a lawyer for Parnas released the full video.

    The video, which according to BuzzFeed was released by Joseph Bondy, a lawyer for Parnas, is over an hour long.

    (The video is not actually in the tweet below. It’s a still with a play button added to it. The full video is at the bottom of this post.)

    In its report about the video, PBS describes one of the key moments:

    About 42 minutes into the video, Parnas appears to say, “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start, is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She’s still left over from the Clinton administration.”
    Trump then appears to say, “Where? The ambassador to Ukraine?”
    Parnas replies, “Yes. She’s basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.’”
    A few seconds later, Trump appears to say, “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”
    Bondy said Parnas attended the dinner along with Igor Fruman, another of Giuliani’s business associates. Both Parnas and Fruman have been indicted on federal charges, including violating campaign finance laws.

    When ABC News first reported the news on Friday, Dan Friedman described the same exchange:

    “[A]n intimate April 2018 dinner at Trump’s Washington hotel that included, among others, the president and Lev Parnas, the since-indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani. According to the news outlet, a voice that sounds like Trump states during the recording: “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.” Trump said this, according to ABC, after Parnas told him that Yovanovitch was a “problem” and was “basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached. Just wait.’” It’s not clear exactly who Trump was instructing to “get rid of her.”

    You can watch the full video below.

  • The Trump Legal Team’s Entire Defense Is Just Recycled Fox News Talking Points

    Watching the impeachment trial today, I was struck by how old the arguments Trump’s defense put forward were. It was the same nonsense we’ve been hearing for months. Literally. And there’s a very good reason for that: All of these arguments have indeed been on Fox for months.

    My colleague Dan Friedman catalogued and debunked the “blizzard of lies” that Trump’s legal team unleashed in the Senate today.

    They noted that “security assistance flowed” to Ukraine in September without Zelensky announcing the investigations Trump wanted. The release of the aid, of course, only came after a whistleblower complaint drew intense media scrutiny. As House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of Democrats’ impeachment managers, memorably put it: The Trump administration released the aid because “they got caught.” Trump’s lawyers simply pretended the release of the aid came without public pressure. Purpura also argued that Trump had increased lethal US support for Ukraine, an argument that overlooks the president’s alleged subverting of that very policy to benefit his presidential campaign.

    All of these arguments made the rounds in conservative media for months. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the messaging aligns, since the White House sent out talking points to right wingers in September, mere weeks after the scandal erupted, which were subsequently (no surprise here) parroted throughout the echo chamber.

    In November, Trump himself delivered the talking points in A Very Special Episode of Fox & Friends. In December, House Republicans released a 123-page “report” on the impeachment investigation that Media Matters described as just a “recitation of Fox talking points.”

    These cats have had months to come up with something—anything—that might constitute a remotely credible, even reasonable, defense. And they failed. The defense strategy at this trial was never to convince Senators that Trump didn’t do anything wrong. It was and is to convince them that the waters are sufficiently muddy they can get away with exonerating the president of any wrongdoing.

    On The Practice and other courtroom shows, there’s an episode once or twice a season when the defense attorneys decide they can’t win on the merits, and then someone, struck with a moment of brilliance, says, “What if we go for jury nullification?” And then someone else responds, “That never works. But dammit, it’s our only shot.” The only difference between that scene in The Practice and the impeachment trial is that in the Senate, there was no doubt it would work. Because even though the jury in a fictional courtroom drama might surprise during sweeps, Republican lawmakers in the Trump era never do.

  • Mike Pompeo Freaked Out at an NPR Reporter Friday. He Just Released a Statement That Is…Not Good.

    Michael Candelori/ZUMA

    On Friday, NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly revealed a loony interaction she had with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following an interview in which she had the temerity to ask about the scandal at the heart of the President’s current impeachment trial, one in which Pompeo himself has been implicated.

    “He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing,” she said. “I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, ‘People will hear about this.'”

    I have some questions about this: How long did it take the aides to find a map of the world with no words on it? Did they print it out? Do they have it handy? Is this a quick quiz Pompeo often imposes on visitors? Separately, and most importantly, does Trump’s Secretary of State think this is appropriate behavior? 

    On Saturday, Pompeo released a statement that didn’t explain the provenance of the wordless map but does shed light on his views about professionalism. It…isn’t good.

    A bunch of Trumpian nonsense about the media being the real villain is not surprising with this administration, but the last line is what makes this really blow my mind.

    “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.”

    Pompeo is saying that Mary Louise Kelly, who graduated from Harvard with degrees in French and European Studies, has a masters from Cambridge in European Studies, and served as NPR national security correspondent for years, didn’t know where Ukraine was. He’s also saying she lied in her statement yesterday. There is no reason on earth to believe Mary Louise Kelly does not know where Ukraine is. It’s even more preposterous that she confused it with Bangladesh! There is also no reason to doubt her account of the event. But these details naturally do not impede Pompeo from doubling down and attacking her.

    A man after Trump’s heart!

    Here is the interview that set Pompeo off. The least he deserves is that you give it a listen.