We saw two weeks of fact witnesses, mostly civil servants — many of whom have worked for Presidents of both parties, and who are currently or were recently serving proudly under President Donald Trump — confirm the basic storyline laid out in August by the whistleblower. It is this: Trump tried to thwart the will of Congress and use taxpayer dollars as leverage to get a foreign leader to hurt a political rival.
The hours of testimony were best summed up by British-born Russia expert Fiona Hill, who said Thursday that the President replaced national security foreign policy with a “domestic political errand” — a move that has left the US exposed to further Russian interference in its democratic process.
There have been 12 public witnesses. Here’s the key element each one offered:
People I’d still like to hear testify
Democrats were only able to present half the story. The White House made the decision not to cooperate, so we haven’t seen key documents and we haven’t heard key testimony. We likely won’t hear Trump’s side until or unless Trump is impeached and this moves to a full trial in the Senate.
Here are some people we should probably hear from but who aren’t talking:
- Vice President Mike Pence — What did he say when he met Zelensky on September 1 and Zelensky asked for the military aid? How did Pence justify the holdup?
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — He’s the boss of many of the witnesses who testified. He was on the call between Trump and Zelensky. Sondland says he was in the know. He got a first-person plea from Bill Taylor to act. But he’s stayed quiet. Now Trump is suggesting he should go home to Kansas and run for Senate.
- John Bolton — He said Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy was like a “drug deal.” He met with Trump regarding Ukraine. He offered his resignation on the day this all blew up. More on him later.
- Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — He’s already said there were conditions on Ukraine before they could get funding. Tell us more and do it under oath. When did Trump decide to hold the aid and how was that transmitted to the Ukrainians?
- Acting OMB Director Russell Vought — He can tell us more about exactly how and when the money Congress allocated for Ukraine got held up.
- Attorney General William Barr — What, if any, were his directions from Trump regarding Burisma and the Bidens?
- John Eisenberg — The NSC attorney who fielded complaints from Hill and Vindman can also explain why he took the unusual step of putting the July 25 call transcript in an extra-secure server.
- Sen. Ron Johnson — He talked to Trump about the Ukraine aid and he met with Zelensky during the critical period.
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry — The only one of the so-called “Three Amigos” — Perry, Sondland and Volker — who has not testified. He met with Zelensky and gave hm an approved list of natural gas advisers.
- Rudy Giuliani — He’s almost unnecessary since he’s talked so much about all of this, but he needs to be put on the record and under oath.
- The whistleblower — Yes, the whistleblower has a right under the law to anonymity. But at this point, so many other people have come forward publicly. It would complete the puzzle to hear the missing account of how the whispers in West Wing became a formal complaint.
Two big GOP theories take a hit
Two: One of Trump’s frequent claims about the Russia investigation is that his campaign was spied on by the Obama administration. Finally, a long-awaited report into the origins of that investigation is nigh, and it’s not expected to give back up Trump’s position.
The Department of Justice Inspector General’s report on the start of FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election will say the probe was properly launched but lower-level employees made a series of mistakes.
The investigation on the effort to obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, is expected to conclude that the FBI’s so-called “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation — which became the Russia investigation — was properly predicated, and that there were a series of mistakes and improper handling of the Page FISA application by lower-level employees.
The New York Times was first to report on the expected conclusion of the report.
Trump’s reply: There are Trumpers and there are ‘never-Trumpers.’ That’s it.
One quote in particular struck me, since he seemed to imply that anyone in government before he took office is a “never Trumper.” This is a patently ridiculous allegation, but it was a window into his paranoia about the loyalty of the people serving in the government he leads.
It’s not about Republicans or Democrats for the President. It’s about Trumpers and never Trumpers.
“Again I don’t even know these people,” he said. “You know I come to Washington, so you’ve had Bush and you have never-Trumpers and you have Bush, you have Clinton, you have Obama. So you have 24 years of people in positions, right? Then I come in with no experience, which is the good thing but I know life and I come in and I end up with thousands of people that are never-Trumpers.”
This is a new GOP
“As I have argued before, President Trump did not change the Republican Party. He is a product of a new GOP. But what the President exposes is how much the GOP has changed: how the pursuit of partisan power now overwhelms almost any concern for norms, governance and, to some extent, national security.”
“… Rather than having a debate about whether the President’s actions were impeachable, Republicans instead treated the nation to a week of wild-eyed accusations that simply pushed aside the alarming reality that credible witnesses — public servants all — laid before them.”
Just talk already, John Bolton
Everyone else is thinking about impeaching the President of the United States and John Bolton is playing games on Twitter. Gain some perspective, sir.
Nothing with John Bolton is ever simple. But this is a new level of manufactured drama.
Great. Everyone wants to know what he has to say about Trump and Ukraine. After all, he claims to have offered to resign on the very day everything blew up — when the inspector general for the intelligence community told Congress about the whistleblower and when Bill Taylor was warning against holding up Ukrainian aid in exchange for investigations.
Late Friday, CNN reporters caught Bolton as he arrived at Union Station from New York. When asked whether the White House was blocking him from testifying in the impeachment inquiry, Bolton said, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the White House.” He was also asked whether is was in conversations with the House. “I have no comment on any of that,” he replied.
Just spill the freakin’ beans already. It’s only the future of the country we’re talking about here.
Biden weighs in — to defend his son
What’s next: A working holiday
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats want to impeach him for it. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.