The Editors Podcast Transcript: Impeachment Whodunits

The Editors Podcast Transcript: Impeachment Whodunits


Adam Schiff joins Nancy Pelosi to speak about Democratic legislative priorities and impeachment inquiry plans during her weekly news conference in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Michael, and Luke discuss impeachment proceedings.

The following is an excerpt from episode 179 of The Editors.

Rich: Nancy Pelosi announces Trump’s impending impeachment. The NATO summit dissolves into junior-high-school acrimony. And Kamala goes away. We’ll discuss all this and more on this week’s edition of The Editors. I’m Rich Lowry, and I’m joined as always, or most of the time, by the Right Honorable Charles C. W. Cooke; the Notorious MBD, Michael Brendan Dougherty; and the smartest political consultant we know, Luke Thompson.

So, all right, Luke, it’s happening. Nancy Pelosi’s 9 a.m. statement this morning as we’re recording, confirming that she is way over the Rubicon, and they’re going to be voting on articles of impeachment soon here within a week or two. And I have to say, I’ve never gotten to the full Luke Thompson place on the propriety question. But just reading the Schiff report, there’s a couple things: One, there’s no nod to the possibility that Trump might, as I believe he did, sincerely have thought the Bidens were corrupt.

Now, of course, he has focused on the Bidens because Joe might run against him in the general, but there is, I think . . . was sincerity there. And also, the level of interference in our election they’re talking about . . . if this announcement of an investigation of Burisma that had been investigated over time by the Ukrainians, its effect would have been basically zero on our elections. And Nancy Pelosi, in her statement this morning, is very notable; she is talking about foreign interference in a different sense when she was talking about the Founders and what they feared. She was talking about a foreign government controlling our president, which sort of goes at . . . they’re still undergirding this, is kind of Russia still, and the Russia collusion theory, and their inability to give that up.

But what this was was President Trump trying to control a foreign power and get a foreign president what he wanted, not the other way around.

Luke: I have to start by admitting that I was wrong. I did not think that the Democrats, out of a fit of fear of their own primary voters and peak unconstitutional nihilism, would commit an act of political self-harm in this manner.

Rich: You’re just so naïve, Luke.

Luke: I believed the old saw that politicians like to get reelected, and thus, I did not think that all of the moderate Democrat freshmen would walk the plank for such a flimsy, asinine, and stupid case as this.

Michael: They did in 2010 for Obamacare. Same thing.

Luke: Yeah, well, they got something out of that. There was policy there. I mean . . . and it didn’t work, but they got something. You could hang your hat on it. And I think, genuinely, in 2010, they all believed that Nancy Pelosi’s lying, which is, “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it, which you’ll actually wind up liking.”

So, it is different. They know he’s not going to be removed from office. By now, they know that . . . I mean, they know exactly as I said, that political opinion has moved against impeachment, and continues to move against impeachment, and will continue to move against impeachment over time.

Rich: So, what’s the indication of that, because I hit the FiveThirtyEight tracker pretty much every day, and it seems fairly static, you know? It’s like 2 percent or less pro, just impeachment removal. It’s consistently around 48, 46.

Luke: It bounces.

Rich: 46, 44.

Luke: It bounces a little, but have a look at where the independents are. The minute it’s upside down with independents is the minute that this is a losing proposition, and we know all the relevant and pertinent facts. You know, they can trot out a million Noah Feldmans. There are plenty of intellectually shallow, coiffed partisan hacks in this country who love Islamists and think the Muslim Brotherhood should have run Egypt unencumbered . . . sorry, I got off topic there.

They can trot out the entire institutional credibility of the managerial academic bureaucratic class. It will not change the fact that the only possible crime committed here is a temporary Anti-Impoundment Act passed in the wake of Nixon’s abuse of the impoundment power in the early 1970s, shortly before his resignation. There is no crime, and the fact that there’s no crime means that there is no cause to impeach. Yes, as a constitutional matter, impeachment can be about anything. It’s a political question. You can impeach somebody for having halitosis if you want and if the political will is there. But good luck going to the American people and saying, “Well, it’s an abuse of office and violation of his oath, but we can’t actually name a crime.”

Rich: MBD!

Michael: Woo! That’s an impossible act to follow.

I think Luke’s right that there is evidence in the polls that the impeachment question if moving back to a level of support in the public that it had before the Ukraine scandal erupted, that this is just a kind of constant in our politics. I do think, though, that this has vindicated our friend Yuval Levin’s prediction that once the train gets rolling out of the station, it tends to move much faster than even the people who let it loose understand. I mean, we are moving quickly now.

I think we might be moving quickly because dragging it out is calculated to do more damage to Democrats than Republicans at this point, and this is just something that they have to do to satisfy the base. I don’t the case for impeachment has been improved much by the hearings, and I think the case was entirely there once the rough transcript was released. And it has been interesting, though, to see . . . what’s her name, who’s now at the Washington Post; she used to be the editor at the New York Times; Margaret Sullivan?

Rich: Yeah, I think that’s right.

Michael: She wrote a column today saying basically, to journalists, “Hey, wall to wall coverage of impeachment isn’t moving the needle. Here’s instructions on how to find and . . . persuadable Republicans and start persuading them,” which is an astonishing column to write, basically saying that the job description of the media should be the same as the job description of the communications operation of the Democratic party.

So, yeah, I think we haven’t learned anything at all. I’m not sure it’s going to be the disaster that Luke anticipates for Democrats, because I just think so much of this is priced in.

Luke: That’s probably true. I hope it is. They deserve it.

Michael: I just feel like the public is almost bored by it, except for the hardcore news junkies.

And on the Russia thing . . . by the way, that came up even . . . the legal scholars that they brought in yesterday to testify were pronouncing on grand strategy, saying ridiculous stuff like, “Well, we have to give this aid to the Ukraine, because they’re fighting them there so we’re not fighting them here,” as if Russia was planning a land invasion of the North American continent.

Rich: Yeah, and where were they four years ago, right?

Michael: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s all over. I mean, obviously . . . I mean, I’m not for arming Ukraine, but that is an insane statement for a legal scholar to be making, and it bolsters your point, Rich, that there is kind of paranoia about Russia that is still leaked all over this, and it’s not . . . the Democrats are unable to confine themselves to what is arguably the impeachable offense here.

Rich: So, Charlie, what do you make of Jonathan Turley’s position, which I basically agree with, that this was improper, it was wrong, he shouldn’t have done it. But he argues that if you’re going to impeach him over it, one, it’s very narrow, the offense; and two, you have an incomplete factual record, because you haven’t talked to any of the firsthand witnesses. Gordon Sondland had some firsthand information, but wasn’t an insider the way Mulvaney or, obviously, Giuliani or John Bolton . . . and why are you rushing this and not pausing, if this is such a grave process, to try to secure the testimony of those folks?

But then, the critics of Turley’s position, and I think there’s some force to this, will say, “Well, that’s pretextual, because what are you going to do? If the Democrats wait until June, are you going to support impeachment then because it’s a complete factual record, even though we’re much closer to the election? And it’s the White House that yes, might have some legitimate privileged claims that should be adjudicated, but the White House that’s resisting and making it much harder to get a complete factual record.”

Charlie: I thought yesterday’s testimony was interesting because it was the first time that the Democrats have been as openly partisan and revolting as the Republicans have. Some of the Republican behavior thus far has been ridiculous: The blanket support of President Trump’s position, advanced by people who know full well that he did this, even if they don’t think it’s impeachable; the echoing of the “perfect” line; the whitewashing of the report. It’s been intolerable.

Yesterday, though, we saw the Democrats doing the same thing with their academic witnesses — people who added nothing, and whose partisan bias was obvious and revolting. I never again in my life want to see an Obama donor and potential Democratic Supreme Court pick complaining about kings; somebody who thinks that Barack Obama was a great president; somebody who thinks he did nothing wrong; somebody who flits between believing that America must be perfect in its application of the Constitution, and that we must think of the children when the Constitution doesn’t fit her preferences.

And I never again want to hear from somebody who is an expert in his field — or supposed to be an expert in his field — that what President Trump did here . . . which he did do . . . is the worst thing any president has ever done, is the most impeachable conduct we’ve ever seen from a chief executive. There’s an odd, odd incongruity at the moment in the Left’s rhetoric. On the one hand, we’re told that the country was founded in bigotry, was founded to preserve slavery, that the original principles of the United States were rotten to the core, that they were not liberty and equality and reason, but bondage and racism; and then on the other hand, we’re told that Trump’s sordid little adventure in Ukraine is the worst thing any American president has ever done. American presidents, remember, have owned other human beings.

So, I thought the spectacle yesterday was—

Rich: You should post that, Charlie. It’s a good point.

Charlie: Yeah. I thought it was a grotesque spectacle. And I thought that the only person who was interesting was Jonathan Turley. And it was nice to see, actually, somebody who was not a partisan; who is not a partisan; who is not a conservative; who is not a Republican, as far as I know; who certainly didn’t vote for Trump, and indeed, voted against him; but somebody who has proven himself to be intellectually honest, who has complained about the way things are done, even when he agrees with the outcome.

If you look back to Barack Obama’s unilateral immigration policy, Jonathan Turley sided with Congress, because he believed that its prerogatives and its powers were being usurped, even as he admired the end to which the Obama administration was working.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything Jonathan Turley said, but the one thing he said that made me consider my position, and the one thing he said — and indeed, that anybody said in the whole day — that really made me think, was that the Founders explicitly rejected a “maladministration” standard for impeachment because they thought that it would essentially permit the president only to serve if the Senate wished him to serve.

Now, in practice, that is, of course, how it works. I’ve said over and over again . . . I have perhaps overstated this . . . that impeachment is whatever Congress decides it is, and it can be no other way. I don’t think that Alan Dershowitz is correct when he says impeachment is justiciable; that if Chief Justice Roberts believes that the grounds for impeachment are unfair, that he can step in and void the process.

Luke: Yeah, where did Dersh get that argument, because that’s just bananas.

Charlie: I don’t know.

Luke: Yeah, that’s crackers. I don’t get that.

Charlie: But I do think we have an obligation nevertheless to proceed according to the original public meaning of the documents. And if Jonathan Turley is right — and I’ve done no research on this outside of listening to him yesterday — but if he is right in arguing that the grounds for impeachment were deliberately, consciously, explicitly narrowed by the founders, away from maladministration, and into a much, much smaller tunnel . . . then I do think that matters, and it will affect the way I think about this going forward. That, I thought, was the most interesting part of Turley’s presentation, and indeed, of any presentation.

Rich: So, MBD, what do you make of the argument that some of the slightly more sophisticated, pro-impeachment people make that the reason why you can’t have an election with Trump running in it is because he wanted to interfere in the election? So, that’s disqualifying.

Michael: So, it’s tough, because I’m dealing with my own standards of conduct that I would like to hold public officials to, and the standards that I think are generally accepted by the American people, and those are quite divergent at this point.

I don’t think that that is a good argument, because one, the opposing campaign, of course, can publicize anything they want to about the sitting president, right? I mean, they can say, “This person tried to interfere in our election. He may try to do so again.” You can make that charge. There’s no automatic disqualification for it, especially the fact that that case will be harder to make when . . . you know, you just point out Ukraine got the money; Trump didn’t get the investigation. So, it didn’t even happen. There was no break-in, essentially. There was no criminal act.

So, I don’t think that that is . . . I just don’t think that that will fly with anyone.

Rich: So, Luke, what would you like to see a Senate trial to look like? And also, by the conventional wisdom among some folks that a censure vote would have been the much shrewder play . . . to kind of have the hearings and establish the facts, and then pull back and say, “Okay, we’re going to censure him and try to get” . . . I don’t know, you get some House Republicans for that. You’ll probably get the majority of the Senate for it.

Luke: Well, I’m ecstatic for this Senate trial because the senators have to sit there six days a week and they’re not allowed to talk, and other business can’t proceed; so, they just have to sit there en banc, listen to it, not say a word; shift around in their seats. Mitch McConnell, I am led to believe, is very excited by this prospect as well, especially since at least a few of them are still running for president, technically . . . one fewer, which we’ll get to later.

No, a censure vote wouldn’t work politically. The reason we’re in this mess is because Adam Schiff essentially . . . who is an idiot . . . decided to try to reanimate the Russia conspiracy theory.

Rich: The harshness level of this podcast goes up several orders of magnitude when you’re on, Luke.

Charlie: We haven’t even mentioned Marco Rubio!

Rich: I know!

Luke: So, look, Schiff is basically a political dead man walking. He’ll be safe in his district forever, but he’s never going to attain statewide office in California. He won’t be appointed to anything. So if he wants to become a statewide officeholder, he needs to expand his profile, and he put it all on the Russia-collusion theory, and the roulette wheel turned up the other way.

So, he tried to reanimate this with this whistleblower, who it seems pretty clearly worked with his office to concoct this operation, and he boxed Nancy Pelosi in. Nancy Pelosi, one day, did not want impeachment, and woke up the next day with basically no meaningfully meaningful facts and decided she changed her mind after a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, which previously had also not wanted impeachment, and then all of a sudden did because they were afraid of primary challenges.

Once that cat was out of the bag, there was no alternative to impeachment for them. And frankly, once she got all the moderates to walk the plank on voting for the impeachment investigation, it was over.

Michael: Yeah, it was over.

Rich: Do you think any more that . . . we discussed this last week, and I realized, actually, it might have been too optimistic . . . do you think any moderates besides the two who didn’t vote for the inquiry are going to flake off on the articles?

Luke: I don’t know. It will be interesting. It will depend . . . probably not. I think at this point, because the filing deadlines to primary these people have passed, it’s very unlikely that they’re going to move. I mean, who would do it? Dan Lipinski, maybe, but Lipinski’s got a very serious primary challenger in Marie Newman, who he barely beat two years ago. I don’t see who’s going to defect. You may get one or two, more in sorrow than in anger, saying, “I would support censure, but not impeachment.” But I think it’s . . . it’s Van Drew, and who is the other one? Eh, it doesn’t matter.

Rich: MBD, next question to you. If Trump is reelected, will he be the first president to be impeached twice? Yes or no?

Michael: Yes. I think that’s absolutely going to happen. If it doesn’t happen in the first two years, it’ll happen after the midterms, and he’ll be impeached literally on his way out the door. This is 100 percent going to happen again . . . because he’ll be emboldened. Here’s a couple of reasons: One, he’ll be emboldened after surviving the first one; two, the White House staff will continue to rot and crumble, as it’s been crumbling for each week he’s been in office, so there’s going to be more weird incompetence, more weird miscommunication . . . something will happen, and he’ll be impeached again.

Rich: I was talking to Charlie about this offline the other day. All second terms go bad and deteriorate, so what’s that going to look like?

Michael: I am 100 percent convinced at this point that Trump will be impeached twice.

Rich: Charlie, if reelected, will Trump be impeached twice? Yes or no?

Charlie: Well, is the assumption underlying this question that Trump will do something that will prompt impeachment, or that the Democrats will be so keen to do it again that they’ll try anyway?

Michael: It’s either. It’s either.

Rich: It’s up to you to decide, yeah.

Luke: Both!

Charlie: Well, I don’t think the Democrats will try and impeach him unless there’s a case.

Luke: Are you sure?

rharlie: Yeah, because I don’t think that they would have tried to impeach him over the Mueller Report once it fizzled. I think this . . .

Luke: But that’s what we’re looking at; this is the Mueller impeachment.

Charlie: Well, you and I don’t agree on that, Luke. I think that he did this. Now, I am still undecided as to whether it’s an impeachable offense, whether it is good or bad that we’re in this process, whether I would vote to convict or not, whether it’s appropriate in an election year; I’m undecided on all of this, but I think there’s a “there there,” to quote another impeached president, and I think that there is a reason that the Democrats didn’t do this over Mueller and are doing it here. So, I think it depends on what Trump does.

Charlie: So, if the question is, is Trump going to do something else if he wins a second term that could be construed as impeachable, then the answer is probably yes.

Rich: Luke Thompson.

Luke: So, I mean . . . hell, he might get impeached thrice, who knows?

Looking at the political dynamics leading to impeachment, I think the Democrats will lose seats in the House. I don’t think they’ll lose their majority. That will mean that the wild-eyed fringe will have even more influence in their caucus in two years than it has now. I don’t see their grassroots getting calmer if he gets reelected, and so, the political dynamics that drove this one will only be exacerbated.

Luke: So, yeah . . . I mean, hell, they’ll probably impeach him every month.

Michael: Can I just jump in and say, it is weird that this is what impeachment is over. Like, when you think back before Trump was elected, or even in the early —

Luke: There’s so much material.

Michael: Even in the early parts of his office . . . like, it is weird, right? If there are people looking at the transcripts of all his calls and examining them for potential offenses, it is shocking that there isn’t something about his hotels, his business . . . something so direct, it is this bizarre, weird conspiracy theory that he’s peddling about the next election, that it . . . it’s just weird that it’s come to this.

Rich: This is where I kind of tilt Charlie’s way when he was going back and forth with you, Luke. I think there’s something wrong here, he did something wrong here, and the backdrop is just a key part of it. Yes, I think it’s sort of ridiculous that they haven’t given up the Russia-collusion theory, but the backdrop of it is all these things that have been appropriate, but none of them impeachable on their own. So, they finally reached kind of a tipping point; “We got him, and we could actually muster our majority to do this, so we’re doing it on this.”

Michael: Right. I mean, I agree that there’s a there there, I agree it was improper. I don’t know if impeachment was the right remedy.

Charlie: One of the things that temper me on this is the conviction that it would, from 30,000 feet, be peculiar if this was what led to the first American president being convicted. That’s not to say I have made my mind up either way, but the context intrigues me here because although I think that this is real, and although I think that one can make an argument that it is impeachable, I do wonder about the precedent that it would set, especially in relation to and relative to all of the other things that presidents have done for 200-plus years.

Rich: So, my answer, by the way, on the double impeachment is also yes.





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