It’s pierogies in Pittsburgh and cheesesteak in Philly and in the middle of the state it’s all sweetness in Hershey, but this was not the evening for that:
President Donald Trump mocked the Democratic impeachment effort as he sought to rally supporters Tuesday in the key swing state of Pennsylvania, calling the process “impeachment lite” and promising it would lead to his reelection in 2020.
Trump’s visit to Pennsylvania followed a momentous day at the U.S. Capitol, where Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment and shortly thereafter signaled their support for the president’s long-sought United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats are trying to show they can pass legislation and pursue an impeachment inquiry at the same time, but Trump said, “It plays down the impeachment because they’re embarrassed by the impeachment.”
He insisted, “And our poll numbers have gone through the roof because of her stupid impeachment.”
There are no such poll numbers, but he feels that there ought to be such poll numbers right about now, so he will assume that there are such poll numbers, as will his base. What should be true probably is true. Life is like that, except when it isn’t like that:
Trump listed some of his achievements while in office, ticking off the killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a deal to create the Space Force and a strong economy.
Echoing a line he uses often, Trump said: “This country is so respected. And we were not respected four years ago. We were laughed at.”
Trump’s comments came less than a week after he made an early departure from a NATO meeting in London following the release of video of a handful of world leaders gossiping about him.
They were laughing at him. The year before, the UN General Assembly laughed at him, openly. But he will believe what he thinks ought to be true, perhaps because that’s comforting, but sometimes that just doesn’t work:
During the rally, Trump also addressed the long-awaited release of the Justice Department report into the 2016 Russia investigation. The inspector general found that the FBI was justified in opening its investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia and that the FBI did not act with political bias, despite “serious performance failures” up the bureau’s chain of command.
Trump claimed Tuesday that the inspector general’s report detailed “outrageous, scandalous and unprecedented abuses of power.” He said FBI agents had “destroyed the lives of people that are great people” and called them “scum.”
There was some bad behavior, but that didn’t change anything. The FBI was justified in opening its investigation. There was no evidence at all of political bias. That’s what the report said. Trump said that the report said the opposite. He was comfortable with that that. Truth is never comfortable, as he was angry and defensive:
Trump said Tuesday that not many leaders could withstand what he’s been through.
“A regular president would be under the table, thumb in mouth, saying: ‘Take me home, Mommy. This is enough for me.'”
But he can take it. He loves it. He’s wonderful. And someone has his back:
Attorney General William P. Barr on Tuesday dramatically intensified his attacks on the FBI’s 2016 investigation into the Trump campaign – asserting that the bureau opened the probe without good reason, pursued the case even after it had collapsed and might have acted in bad faith.
In two media interviews, the top U.S. law enforcement official launched a broadside against his predecessors who handled one of the most sensitive investigations in FBI history, rejecting an assessment from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog that the case was opened with appropriate cause, not out of political animus.
In short, his own FBI is full of traitors and everyone in his own FBI hates America and thus his FBI is totally useless, which was a problematic assertion:
His comments drew condemnations from some involved in the case, and those inside the Justice Department privately worried he might be undercutting faith in federal law enforcement to please the president. The remarks notably came after President Trump had criticized the FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, on Twitter…
“I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher A. Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”
Barr told NBC News he had confidence in the FBI director. But he seemed to stand at odds with Wray – disputing aspects of the report that were exonerating for the FBI, while emphasizing the malfeasance the Justice Department watchdog had uncovered.
Wray was proud of his people. They had done the right thing. Barr was saying that Wray should be ashamed of them, and ashamed of himself:
“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr told NBC News. “I think there were gross abuses and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”
Trump may have to abolish the FBI and contract their work out to Putin’s FSB – the successor to the KGB of course – but Barr didn’t go that far. He didn’t have to:
While Barr had long believed strongly in the power of the presidency, those inside the department hoped he would not be blindly loyal to Trump, who had made a habit of encroaching on the Justice Department’s historic independence inside the executive branch.
Barr, though, has proved to be one of the president’s most effective allies – to the surprise of many who thought he would force a return to tradition. Those inside the department say they privately worry his latest comments could have real consequences.
“He seems a lot more of a Kool-Aid drinker than I expected,” said one Justice Department employee, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer frank assessments of the attorney general. “Once you start eroding public confidence in the bureau, that’s got an impact on our ability to get convictions in our cases.”
Added another: “It’s this internal debate: ‘Am I violating my own principles by staying here and working under this set of conditions? Or am I somebody who should stay so when this nightmare is over, we can just start putting the pieces back together?'”
Do not expect that:
In rejecting Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s assessment about the adequate origins of the case, Barr said the final and more thoroughly considered word would be that of John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut whom he hand-selected to perform a similar review.
His inspector general gave him and gave Trump the wrong answers, even if they were good and true answers. Trump and Barr wanted something else, what ought to be true even if it wasn’t true, technically. And now everyone is waiting once again, for something or other, except for David Corn:
With his NBC interview, Barr demonstrated how far he will go to cast the FBI and its investigation in a nefarious light – and to dismiss the Russia scandal. He claimed that “in today’s world, presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreign persons.”
Not really. Not at all. And not in the way that the Trump campaign was. Most presidential campaigns are not led by money launderers who are in contact with Putin-friendly oligarchs and who are meeting secretly with former business partners suspected of working with Russian intelligence. Most campaigns do not seek to set up private communications with foreign adversaries while these countries are attacking the United States.
Barr also claimed “in most campaigns there are signs of illegal foreign money coming in.” No, that’s not true, either. But if it were, why is Barr’s Justice Department not on a crusade to root out this criminal activity?
Barr is a sophisticated player. He knows what he is doing. He’s telling whoppers to make it seem the FBI over-reacted, perhaps even criminally, and did so out of politically fueled malice. He’s flinging falsehoods to cover for Trump. And Barr has unleashed this other investigation led by Durham – who in a highly unusual move on Monday released a statement challenging the IG’s findings – to get the answers (or untruths) he wants. Two plus two must equal five.
The shocking thing is that there is nothing shocking in the Trump era about an attorney general massacring the truth in this most unabashed fashion. Barr has been distorting reality for Trump throughout his tenure as attorney general. Most notably, to defend Trump and support his phony no collusion/no obstruction mantra, Barr misrepresented the findings of Mueller’s report before the document was released. Proving loyalty to Trump is Barr’s top mission. And this week he’s earning his keep.
But that was a sideshow. There was the main event:
House Democratic leaders on Tuesday formally called for President Trump’s removal from office, asserting that he “ignored and injured the interests of the nation” in two articles of impeachment that charged him with abusing his power and obstructing Congress.
So they finally did it:
In nine short pages, the draft articles accused Mr. Trump of carrying out a scheme of “corruptly soliciting” election assistance from the government of Ukraine in the form of investigations that would smear his Democratic political rivals. To do so, Democrats charged, Mr. Trump used as leverage two “official acts”: the delivery of $391 million in security assistance and a White House meeting for Ukraine’s president.
“In all of this, President Trump abused the powers of the presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit,” according to a draft of the first article. “He has also betrayed the nation by abusing his office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.”
A second article charges that by ordering across-the-board defiance of House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to the Ukraine matter, the president engaged in “unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance” that harmed the House’s constitutional rights.
“In the history of the republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House to investigate ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,'” the obstruction article says.
And that was that, done to keep things simple:
Democrats made a careful political calculation intended to project unity and protect moderate lawmakers who face steep re-election challenges in conservative-leaning districts.
They left out an article that had been the subject of internal debate among Democrats in recent weeks. It would have charged Mr. Trump with obstruction of justice based on his attempts to thwart Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russian election interference in 2016.
Such an article had been championed by progressives – including Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee – but resisted by moderates who had long signaled they would not support impeaching Mr. Trump based on Mr. Mueller’s report.
Democrats also backed away from charging the president with bribery, one of only a few offenses listed in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment, and a term Democrats had increasingly been using to describe Mr. Trump’s conduct.
So this was intended to be simple and doable. And these were drafts of the two articles ahead of a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, where there will be screaming, not that it matters. The committee will vote to recommend them to the full House for final approval. And then it’s time to vote, for impeachment and then onward:
If the House follows through and impeaches the president next week, Mr. Trump would stand trial in the Senate early in the coming year, Senator Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. The president has said he wants to see a robust defense of his actions in the Republican-controlled chamber, but Mr. McConnell has said the length of a trial is still subject to negotiation with Democrats.
“We are obligated under the Constitution to turn to it when it comes over, and we will,” Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, told reporters.
McConnell wants to slow this down. Trump doesn’t and the Democrats don’t:
Democrats argued that the political calendar made their endeavor even more urgent, given the nature of the charges against the president. They said he had engaged in a troubling pattern of behavior that began when Mr. Trump welcomed Russia’s help in the 2016 election and would continue into 2020 if they did not stop it.
“The argument ‘Why don’t you just wait’ amounts to this: ‘Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election?'” Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee who oversaw the House’s Ukraine investigation, said at a news conference. “Why not let him have foreign help just one more time?”
No, that won’t do at all:
Speaking earlier Tuesday morning from a wood-paneled reception room just off the floor of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and leaders of six key committees said that Mr. Trump’s actions toward Ukraine, and his efforts to block Congress’s attempt to investigate, had left them no choice but to pursue one of the Constitution’s gravest remedies.
Fine, but CNN reports a dispute about how solemn any of this should be:
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are both looking ahead to the Senate impeachment trial, but there is a growing divide between the two over what that trial should look like, CNN has learned.
In conversations with the White House, the Kentucky Republican has made clear he hopes to end the trial as soon as he can, an effort to both get impeachment off his lap and protect his conference from potentially damaging votes should the process break out into partisan warfare. That will include a continuous whip count until McConnell feels he has the votes to acquit the President and end the show.
McConnell just wants this to be over before things get awkward and out of control, but of course Trump wants a show:
He’s made clear to advisers privately that rather than end the trial as quickly as possible, he is hoping for a dramatic event, according to two people familiar with his thinking. He wants Hunter Biden, Rep. Adam Schiff and the whistleblower to testify. He wants the witnesses to be live, not clips of taped depositions. And he’s hoping to turn it into a spectacle, which he thinks is his best chance to hurt Democrats in the election.
People close to the President say this is because he has been sitting back and watching as current and former aides testified for hours before lawmakers about his behavior that they described as inappropriate, problematic and potentially dangerous.
Infuriated, Trump has been told he will have his day to defend himself soon, one person said.
Maybe he’ll show up himself to sneer at everyone, and McConnell seems to want to put that off:
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, McConnell said he did not foresee the Senate taking up the impeachment matter before the holidays – meaning the trial is likely to begin early next year. He said a decision on hearing from witnesses live, as opposed to on taped depositions, would come after hearing the opening argument in the matter.
McConnell is also planning to meet with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer at some point soon to see if a bipartisan resolution laying out the rules of the road – akin to what was agreed to during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial – is possible. Such a resolution might address many of the elements that remain clear unknowns at the moment.
Trump’s position is the opposite of what some Republican senators, including some of Trump’s closest allies on the Capitol Hill, are advising at this point. In closed-door meetings and phone calls over the course of the last month, several Republican senators have warned Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, not to “turn the Senate into a circus,” according to one Republican senator.
That’s the only battle being fought at the moment. Everything else is now set and Thomas Friedman frames the next battle this way:
Generally speaking, I believe presidents should be elected and removed by the voters at the polls. But when I hear Trump defenders scream, “Impeachment subverts the will of the people,” I say: “Really? What the hell do you think Trump was doing in Ukraine?” He was subverting the will of the people by scheming to use our tax dollars to knock out his most feared opponent in the coming election – rather than trusting voters to do that.
The only reason the plot was aborted was that a whistle-blower from the intelligence community drew attention to the president’s plan, forcing him to release the money to Ukraine – moments before his shakedown exploded into public view. Trump was like a bank robber with a gun to a teller’s head, who suddenly heard the police sirens approaching and ran off before he could stash the money in his bag.
So while the founders wanted to reserve removal of a president for elections by the people, they understood that there could be situations when removing a president might be necessary to protect and preserve our very framework for holding free and fair elections. That framework is the Constitution and the rule of law – and this is one of those situations.
And this must be done:
If we say, as Republicans do, that what Trump did is not an impeachable offense, we are telling ourselves and every future president that – in direct contradiction of what the founders wrote in the Constitution – it is okay to enlist a foreign power to tilt the election your way. Can you imagine how much money candidates could raise from Saudi Arabia or China to tilt a future election their way, or how many cyber-warriors they could enlist from Russia or Iran to create fake news, suppress voting or spur outrage?
The integrity of our elections would be shattered, and we would never again have a legitimate president – a president, who, whether or not you liked him or her, was at least seen as legitimately elected. That would be a prescription for permanent political chaos, as no future presidents’ authority would be respected if they were elected on the basis of foreign interference.
But that is what Republicans are courting by blindly defending Trump’s indefensible enlistment of Ukraine’s help to take down Biden and by echoing Trump’s conspiracy theory – originated by Russian agents – that it was Ukraine that hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails in 2016, not Russia.
That may be what is at stake, but Kathleen Parker sees nothing good happening now:
Trump abuses power with the frequency of Florida showers. And he did ignore House committee subpoenas for documents and witnesses, which sort of seems like obstruction. On the other hand, the White House considers the impeachment process a sham and, therefore, posits that the administration needn’t comply.
The reasons for the Senate’s likely resistance, meanwhile, are timeless – survival and power. No matter how much some Republicans may disagree with Trump’s methods, his style and his atrocious rhetoric – a daily slaughter of the English language heretofore confined to kindergartens and saloons – the GOP’s base is unbudgeable.
My grudging suspicion is that, thanks to the Democrats, that base will expand.
This is what she has been hearing:
My daily life in the South involves what Beltway people refer to as “everyday Americans” – that is, folks who don’t regularly hop the Acela between Washington and New York or call themselves political junkies.
From self-identified Republicans, I hear: They’re wasting their time, speaking of impeachment. And from Democrats: He’s going to win in a landslide, isn’t he?
From such conversations, I’ve gleaned that, though some Republicans don’t like the cut of Trump’s jib, they long ago surrendered any hope of being reminded of George H. W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. Elegance, apparently, can be sacrificed for a strong economy, record-low unemployment, briskly moving business, a tough immigration policy and, not least, a president who finally stands up to China.
It is the economy, but Parker sees this too:
At a certain point during an impeachment proceeding, there’s no one left to like. Inevitably, the least likable person isn’t the target of impeachment but those who lead the effort. After slogging through the vile details of Bill Clinton’s affairs, it didn’t take long for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to be viewed as the villain for making us look. That was his job, of course, but I well remember the night in my kitchen when my husband, who was not a Clinton supporter, commented upon hearing the latest lurid development, “I’m beginning to feel sorry for Clinton.” Ultimately, Clinton was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate – and probably would have been reelected were third terms allowed.
Impeaching Trump could have a similar effect. When people examine the lineup of the president’s congressional prosecutors – Mother Superior Nancy Pelosi, the prim and pursed-lipped Adam Schiff and grumpy scold-meister Jerrold Nadler – it’s easy to imagine why some might rather take their chances with a player like Trump.
Remember, life is a continuation of high school, and Congress is just one big gymnasium.
And that means he wins this time:
For reasons as much psychological as political, Trump is going to survive impeachment – and he’ll be stronger for it.
The Donald is many things, but he’s plainly not smart enough to pull off a proper conspiracy. What kind of self-respecting villain asks a foreign leader for an investigation into his political opponent and then says, okay, just pretend and announce that you’re investigating?
The president is smart enough, however, to flip this impeachment against the Democrats as yet another witch hunt by a bunch of scoundrels, liars and thieves. All Trump needs is a fresh slogan and a new cap – and we can be sure they’re coming.
And that means there really is nothing good happening now, except for Hershey’s Kisses. Trump flew back to Washington but they still make those there in Hershey. Not everything good will end.