Things can shift in just one day, and they just did:
The House delivered two articles of impeachment to the Senate on Wednesday, laying the groundwork for President Trump’s trial as Republicans rallied behind the idea of parity between the two parties in possibly calling witnesses.
That was the talk. If the Democrats want to call John Bolton as a witness, Trump’s perpetually grumpy former national security director who thinks that Rudy Giuliani is a dangerous fool, then they can call Hunter Biden and show the world that the former vice president’s son is a miserable human being, and a thief and a crook, and a fool, just like his father, which will assure Trump’s reelection in a landslide. Even if the Democrats nominate Andrew Yang or young Mayor Pete or old Mayor Bloomberg, the Republicans can chant Hunter Biden’s name over and over, louder and louder. The base will get it. Trump wins.
That seems to be the theory, but there will be that pesky trial, which will be a hot mess:
The impeachment managers’ brief ceremonial journey across the Capitol – a month after the House voted to impeach Trump – relinquished Democratic control over a process that is expected to end in the president’s election-year acquittal by the Republican-led Senate. The procession, which solemnly set in motion the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, capped a rancorous day of partisan conflict and heightened the pressure on Senate moderates, whose views on seeking additional evidence after unmitigated stonewalling by the White House will define the scope of Trump’s trial.
Okay, there are, still, a very few moderate Republicans in the Senate. Will they vote to consider new evidence? There is some:
As tensions increased across the Capitol, new evidence of Trump’s pressure campaign toward Ukraine for his political benefit, added urgency to Democrats’ push for more witness testimony and documents during the trial phase.
Records from Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, showed Ukraine’s top prosecutor offering damaging information related to former vice president Joe Biden if the Trump administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. They also revealed claims from a Republican congressional candidate that he had the then-ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, under physical and electronic surveillance.
The left-over Putin guy in Ukraine hated our ambassador. She had said he was corrupt (everyone did) and he wanted her crushed. He told Rudy. Rudy told all of Team Trump. She had to go. And if Team Trump got rid of her, then the left-over Putin guy would announce that Biden and his father had murdered Abraham Lincoln and were the ones who attacked Pearl Harbor long ago or whatever Trump wanted. That odd Republican congressional candidate hinted that one his people now in her security detail might just bump her off to get things rolling again. But she had to go.
She was gone soon enough, but Trump was still impeached, and things were getting darker:
Pelosi argued that the revelations proved the wisdom of her decision to withhold the articles for a month – a gambit that did not fulfill her primary goals of ensuring witness testimony or forcing McConnell to outline terms for the trial.
“Time has been our friend in all of this, because it has yielded incriminating evidence, more truth into the public domain,” the speaker said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the moderates whose views on further evidence could shape the trial, held a different view.
“Doesn’t that suggest that the House did an incomplete job, then?” she said.
That was odd. No one knew what she was getting at, but Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick sees this:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t much care about fairness or process. He cares about winning. But he likes to win by citing fairness and process. He thinks that’s clever. He assumes, not incorrectly, having suffered no repercussions for blocking Merrick Garland from a hearing or a vote for the 2016 vacancy at the Supreme Court, that most Americans don’t have the bandwidth or attention span for arcane Senate processes and procedures. And he suspects, not incorrectly, that so long as he razzle-dazzles them with senatorial process bullshit, concerns about justice will naturally rinse out with the next news cycle. He simply says, “They started it,” and nobody bothers to find out if that’s true.
In short, the man knows what works. Americans have short attention spans. Americans are easily bored. Americans are not inquisitive in the slightest. He wins, but for this:
McConnell committed a rare unforced error before Christmas: He proclaimed that Senate Republicans would “be working through this process hopefully in a fairly short period of time, in total coordination with the White House counsel’s office and the people who are representing the president.” This essentially amounts to a confession he’d be rigging up a show trial to acquit the president without hearing any material evidence – not exactly what that whole “trial” mechanism is meant to do, legally speaking.
Perhaps as a result of that unfortunate admission, McConnell now has to contend with at least a handful of vulnerable Republicans in the Senate who are not perfectly cool with the “we’re coordinating with Trump to get him acquitted super-fast” situation. And as such, we enter this historic week of Senate impeachment with at least the wisp of a hope that there might be a fairer trial ahead than anyone could have anticipated.
There is this faint wisp of hope:
Chief Justice John Roberts has some institutional interests in avoiding a kangaroo trial, the fact that the American public has shown some bipartisan interest in hearing actual testimony from actual witnesses, and the fact that the president appears to continue to conflate his personal political ambitions with the national interest, even after being impeached for precisely that conduct in the House.
Newly released documents from Rudy Giuliani’s indicted Ukraine-gate confederate, Lev Parnas, again confirm that the rough contours of the aid-for-oppo research scheme. But they go even further: The new documents (with more to come) add elements of actual threats to the welfare of a sitting U.S. ambassador, directed by the associates of Trump’s associates, which has implications for Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer.
Senate Republicans will need to explain why none of this matters and why they want to know nothing more about the back deals and thuggery that, it is now clearer than ever, were conducted under the president’s directive. That means that there is at least a smidgen of hope wafting off senators like Mitt Romney of Utah, who says he’d like to hear testimony from John Bolton, and Susan Collins of Maine, who says she is possibly open to impeachment witnesses and documents, all of which makes it trickier for McConnell to magic up his dream trial of opening statements leading to closing statements leading to a brisk victory lap-slash-acquittal.
Susan Collins, however, is no longer open to impeachment witnesses:
Susan Collins, confronted with the possibility that the president’s lawyer was deeply implicated, in his capacity as a personal campaign attorney, in a scheme to hijack foreign policy to screw over Joe Biden, now sniffs out a half-formed process argument:
It’s too late to investigate Parnas’ new evidence, she contends. Democrats should have put it into the record before the Senate trial (i.e., before they had it). Sorry folks, we just want a fair process, and witnesses and evidence revealing the truth would seriously impede that inquiry. Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio recently tweeted that the “testimony & evidence” considered in a Senate impeachment trial should be the same testimony & evidence the House relied upon when they passed the Articles of Impeachment.
That’s incorrect as a matter of plain text, long- standing constitutional history and also, um, basic logic. It’s also an effort to use numbing process to bore us out of having to consider known and discoverable facts.
And that’s a plan:
Quinta Jurecic and Ben Wittes argue persuasively at the Atlantic that in fact nothing about the impeachment trial in the Senate will be interesting, precisely because it’s not in anyone’s interest to be interesting, and also because everything Trump does around impeachment is now rote and predictable and boring. It’s useful to remind ourselves that “process is boring” is the enemy here – that as soon as one opens the door to “boring” or her snoozy cousin “Senate procedures,” you can be certain that the real outrages will buried in rules and footnotes and claims about what’s happened in prior arcane Senate processes, even as we try to process breaking news about the United States president possibly permitting a thug to intimidate his own ambassador.
And now add some darkness, as Dana Milbank does here:
As the long-delayed transfer of the impeachment articles finally got underway, President Trump’s allies in the Senate announced extraordinary new restrictions on press coverage of the upcoming trial, shielding senators in unprecedented ways from the prying eyes of the American public.
When House managers arrived with the impeachment articles in a ceremonial procession Tuesday evening, Senate Republican leadership had already decreed that their arrival would be filmed only by a single, shared TV camera (partially obstructed, it turned out) at the doors of the chamber in which the mostly empty desks of Republican senators also could not be seen.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his team – the Senate sergeant-at-arms and Rules Committee make the decisions, but McConnell (R-Ky.) is the driving force behind the restrictions, people involved tell me – further decreed that journalists would be confined during the entire trial to roped-off pens, forbidden from approaching senators in Capitol corridors.
They also required journalists to clear a newly installed metal detector before entering the media seats above the chamber.
And there’s this:
The GOP leadership rejected a request from the Standing Committee of Correspondents to allow journalists to bring laptops or silenced phones into the chamber so they could write (the House allows this) or to allow cameras in to capture the history of the moment (the House allowed this during the impeachment process).
McConnell’s team also decided to claw back seats typically reserved for the general public, to “augment” seating for their own friends and family; they’ll have at least 134 such seats. They offered no such augmentation for the media, which has 107 seats, only about 20 of which provide a full view of the Senate floor.
Nor can the senators be observed outside the chamber. At a private luncheon of Republican senators this week, Blunt showed where the media would be penned in and reportedly “joked” that the senators could now avoid reporters.
It’s a curious attempt at fortress-building after House Republicans noisily objected to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) taking depositions in his “basement bunker.”
Sure, but now the Republicans really need protection:
Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani who has been implicated in an alleged attempt to pressure the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, says, “President Trump knew exactly what was going on.”
“He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials,” Parnas, who faces campaign finance charges, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview that aired Wednesday night.
“I mean, they have no reason to speak to me. Why would President Zelenskiy’s inner circle or Minister Avakov or all these people or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I? They were told to meet with me. And that’s the secret that they’re trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work,” Parnas said.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected president in April, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Arsen Avakov is Ukraine’s interior minister.
But don’t worry about the names. This was a mess for the president:
Parnas and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, have been charged with making $325,000 in illegal straw donations to a super PAC supporting President Donald Trump, as well as with giving $15,000 to a second committee, among a flurry of political donations to help them advance the interests of a Ukrainian government official and a Russian national seeking to break into the cannabis industry.
On Tuesday, House Democrats released records as part of the evidence that attorneys for Parnas turned over to House impeachment investigators, which show that Giuliani requested a private meeting with Zelenskiy, then the president-elect, with Trump’s “knowledge and consent.”
The evidence appears to bolster Democrats’ argument that Giuliani was doing Trump’s bidding by trying to dig up dirt on Biden and the Democratic National Committee.
That is what was happening:
Asked whether Trump specifically was aware that he and Giuliani were working on the effort in Ukraine specifically to hurt Joe Biden, Parnas said yes. Biden is among several candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
“Yeah, it was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and also Rudy had a personal thing with the Manafort stuff. The black ledger,” Parnas said.
That would be this black ledger:
When a Virginia court convicted Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, on charges of tax and bank fraud and concealing foreign bank accounts, a certain Ukrainian politician felt a surge of vindication. Serhiy Leshchenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and a former journalist, revealed the existence in 2016 of the so-called “black ledger” – a list of secret payments made by Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions to Manafort and others. The list detailed the vast sums Manafort earned as a political consultant abroad, some of which he concealed from U.S. authorities.
So, now, the guys who exposed and ruined Paul Manafort are in charge over there. That pisses off Trump, and thus that pisses off Giuliani, and karma is a bitch:
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, is serving a 7½-year prison sentence for tax evasion and violating federal lobbying laws after having been charged by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
“And that was another thing that they were looking into, but it was never about corruption. It was never – it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden,” Parnas said.
And it wasn’t just Trump:
Parnas also said Vice President Mike Pence’s planned trip to attend Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May was canceled because the Ukrainians did not agree to the demand for an investigation of the Bidens. “Oh, I know 100 percent. It was 100 percent,” he said.
Asked whether Pence was aware of a “quid pro quo” around the visit, Parnas replied by quoting Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who said during the House impeachment inquiry: “Everybody was in the loop.”
Now add this:
Trump has denied knowing Parnas or Fruman. Photos that Parnas posted to Facebook in 2018 show him and Fruman with Trump and with the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. President Trump said “it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody.”
Asked about Trump’s denial that he knows them, Parnas said, “He lied.”
And add this:
Parnas also said he met several times with U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., one of Trump’s top defenders and ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, which investigated the Ukraine allegations.
Parnas said he was later referred to a Nunes aide, who was aware of what Parnas and Giuliani were doing. Parnas said the referral came because of something to do with an ethics committee, and Nunes “couldn’t be in the spotlight.” Parnas said he was shocked to see Nunes and the aide during the impeachment hearings because “they were involved in getting all this stuff.”
And add this:
Documents and text messages released by House Democrats on Wednesday evening show how Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, used the extensive entree he had to President Trump’s world to help put in motion Giuliani’s shadow Ukraine campaign.
Hundreds of pages of photos, messages and calendar entries show Parnas enlisting a top official at the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action to assist in promoting media coverage he helped arrange and attending functions with Republican congressmen and Trump family members. A calendar entry released as part of the cache shows Parnas had a scheduled breakfast with Trump in New York on Sept. 26 – after the public revelation of a whistleblower complaint about a call the president had with his Ukrainian counterpart.
The new materials made public by the House Intelligence Committee follow an initial trove released Tuesday night that showed Parnas directly involved with efforts to get the Ukrainian president to announce investigations related to former vice president Joe Biden.
That’s the second wave of this stuff, and it’s nasty:
The materials also shed light on a far-reaching effort to dislodge then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from her post.
The documents include a May 9, 2018, letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from then-Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) calling for Yovanovitch to be removed. “I have received notice of concrete evidence from close companions that Ambassador Yovanovitch has spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current administration,” Sessions wrote.
In February 2019, lawyer Victoria Toensing, a longtime Giuliani ally involved in his Ukraine efforts, asked the former New York mayor in a message, “Is there absolute commitment for HER to be gone this week?”
Giuliani responded, “Yes, not sure how absolute. Will get a reading in morning and call you. Pompeii [sic] is now aware of it. Talked to him on Friday.”
But there’s even more:
The new materials released by House Democrats also include months of messages between Parnas and then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko in which the Ukrainian official provided Giuliani’s team with interviews and information in exchange for a pledge that Yovanovitch would be removed from her post…
The relationship between Parnas and Lutsenko turned hot and cold over the months of text messages in Russian. At one point in March, Lutsenko appeared to have grown impatient that he was holding up his end of the bargain – while Parnas was failing to come through with the ambassador’s removal and other requests that would benefit Lutsenko or his boss, then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
In short, if you want Biden, then get rid of that goody-two shoes ambassador. Go tell your boss, Giuliani, to tell his boss, Trump, to eliminate her. She goes or you people get nothing on Biden and Biden.
That went up the chain of command here. And then she was gone. And then it all fell apart. The Trump impeachment trial begins in a few days.
But there was some good news:
A Republican congressional candidate and former Marine who suggested last year that he was tracking a U.S. ambassador who had fallen out of favor with President Trump was once involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital after an incident at one of the president’s resorts and is the subject of a restraining order obtained by a political consultant, police and court records show.
On Tuesday, Robert F. Hyde became the latest figure to emerge in the drama surrounding the Trump administration’s recall last year of Marie Yovanovitch as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine when his 2019 messages were made public on the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial. His exchanges with an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, had been turned over to House Democrats in response to a subpoena.
In the messages to Lev Parnas, Hyde claimed to be in contact with a “private security” team near the embassy in Kyiv and suggested that he had the ambassador under physical and electronic surveillance. “It’s confirmed we have a person inside,” he wrote in March.
He made it all up. Those mysterious voices in his head were doing all the talking. So there was this:
In an MSNBC interview Wednesday with Rachel Maddow, Parnas described Hyde as a “weird” person who frequented the bar at the Trump hotel in Washington and who insinuated himself into the Ukraine business. Parnas called Hyde’s messages about Yovanovitch disturbing, but he said he did not take them seriously…
And then he apologized to Marie Yovanovitch. He was part of what ruined her. And he will have nothing to do with such nastiness ever again.
And that’s the last apology anyone can expect. The Trial of Donald Trump begins soon. And he never apologizes for anything. That would a sign off weakness. This will be painful.