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National Govt & Politics
Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings
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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

The five days of historic impeachment hearings held by the House Intelligence Committee this month clearly demonstrated the sharp partisan divide over the question of whether President Donald Trump tried to use the reward of a White House meeting or the threat of withholding military aid to push the government of Ukraine to announce investigations which could benefit Mr. Trump politically.

As Democrats headed home for the Thanksgiving break, the final plans were still being worked out by lawmakers on what's next - which could culminate in a House vote just before Christmas on actual articles of impeachment against the President, leading to a trial before the full Senate at some point next year.

Regardless of whether you think the impeachment investigation is a sham, or should proceed to a vote in the full House, it was an interesting time to be in the room with a view of the proceedings.

Here's some of what I saw from my vantage point in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building.

1. Trump becomes part of the hearings in real time. Obviously, the impeachment hearings are about the President. While no one would expect any testimony by a President in this situation, Mr. Trump was able to use the social media tool of Twitter to impact the hearings in real time, sending out tweets ridiculing the diplomatic work of his former Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Democrats swiftly took those remarks and read them to Yovanovitch to get her reaction. As a reporter, it was a remarkable moment to sit in the room and see something happen outside - in real time - and have that become the major part of the story, upending whatever plans GOP lawmakers may have had that day to deal with the Ambassador's testimony.

2. GOP jawbones over real time news headlines. Just as the President electronically elbowed his way into the hearings in real time on Twitter - right along with the social media power exercised by the White House - the other change which was evident from these impeachment hearings was Republican lawmakers trying to fight the way news of the testimony was being reported in real time. When Kurt Volker testified, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) relayed a headline from The Daily Mail - a British newspaper which for some reason gets an out sized amount of attention from American media outlets - with Turner arguing the headline was false, with which Volker agreed. During testimony from Gordon Sondland, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) complained that media reports were citing "blockbuster testimony" from Sondland about "quid pro quo and new evidence." While Ratcliffe groused about that description, it was all over the internet as he spoke - and was the blaring morning headline in newspapers all over America the next day.

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

3. The Trump witnesses who may never talk. One of the main GOP complaints about the evidence provided by the impeachment hearing witnesses was a lack of firsthand accounts related to actions by President Trump. The main reason for that is pretty simple - those people with the largest amount of firsthand evidence are refusing to testify. Energy Secretary Rick Perry. The acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Officials in the White House budget office. And then there is Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York, who led the charge for President Trump with back channel efforts in Ukraine. Giuliani has defied subpoenas as well, and has made clear he won't testify before Congress. Their lack of public questioning raises big questions about what lawmakers can do in the investigation - if the key players refuse to cooperate.  Those refusals were especially interesting in the light of some of Giuliani's real time tweets about the impeachment hearings.

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

4. Kurt Volker proves it is a small world. One of the key players in the Ukraine story is Kurt Volker, who worked as a special U.S. envoy to Ukraine under President Trump. The name was instantly familiar to me, as over thirty years ago, I met Volker when he was going to graduate school in Washington, D.C., starting his trek into the diplomatic world. After a few years of fun in our twenties with a group of common friends, Volker headed overseas for the State Department. Before his public testimony, the last time I had seen Volker was at the U.S. Embassy in London, in November of 1988, just a month before I got my current job covering Congress. One can only imagine how much all of us would have laughed if we had predicted then, that almost 31 years later to the day, he would be testifying before impeachment hearings of an American President, with me watching and reporting from inside the same room. You can't make this stuff up.

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

5. A Return to Gucci Gulch. The House Intelligence Committee doesn't really have a public hearing room it calls home - because it works in secret for the most part, so the panel used the historic hearing room of the House Ways and Means Committee. It's extremely familiar to me, because I worked for the committee as an intern in the summer of 1982, which featured long hours as lawmakers forged agreement on a major tax bill, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act. The hallways outside are known as "Gucci Gulch," for the well-heeled tax lobbyists who plied the hallways in the 1980's, when the Ways and Means Committee churned out a series of major tax measures, culminating in the tax reforms of 1986. Don't be surprised if you see more impeachment action in that room - which still seems jarring to me.

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

6. Working inside the impeachment hearings. For those who don't know, I'm a radio reporter. But because of a mystery ailment, I have lost the ability to speak properly. I am still on the radio because of a computer generated voice created from my audio archives. So, I'm the only person who is "broadcasting" from inside the impeachment hearing room. I have the hearing audio in my left ear from my tape recorder. I have a second earplug in my right ear from my laptop, where I am creating my text-to-speech stories, and going through audio from the hearing. Plus I'm tweeting and updating my blog. Over and over. Hour after hour. And then I have to be ready to post a full blog story once the hearing ends - right away - so I'm writing that at the same time. It's fun stuff. One ironic note is that, if I were still able to speak, I would have been back in my broadcast booths in the Capitol for the most part to file my stories - not in the hearing room.

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

7. The still photographers. Among the busiest people in the hearings were the legion of photographers who send out pictures for major newspapers across America and the world. The major papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post have multiple people at these hearings, with remote cameras which wirelessly send pictures to their phones and computers, editors who are determining which photos are filed, as they juggle who gets assigned to what task. As a one-man band in radio, it is always fun to watch how others do their work. You will see a picture below which is standard for a number of the photographers, as they have used Velcro to attach a variety of gadgets, for power, the internet, and more, to their laptops. When the hearing is in recess, the photographers also leave their cameras - their very expensive cameras - sitting on the floor, to stake their claim to a spot for a money-shot photo.

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

8. C-SPAN does the basics for every TV network. When I arrived on Capitol Hill as a reporter in 1986, C-SPAN was still a relative newcomer to Congress. At that time, the major TV networks frowned on the cable TV creation, with little cooperation. At big hearings, C-SPAN would set up their own microphones and cameras, and so would the networks. Things were so regimented that I remember network TV technicians pulling my cable out of the audio box at a hearing, because I was a lowly independent radio reporter. So, C-SPAN became my friend and ally on Capitol Hill, and at events around the country. But over the years, things have changed, as the networks relaxed their union rules and mellowed. C-SPAN is now regularly in charge of televising major events, as their cameras fed the televised coverage to every network, whether it was Fox News, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, or anything else. All of official proceedings at the hearings was filmed by C-SPAN. A tip of the cap to them.

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

9. What was it like inside? The questions I got asked the most by friends, readers, and listeners were along the lines of: What was it like to be in there? Was the room tense? Who was the best witness? I have to say I find those hard to answer, simply because I am doing so much work while the hearing is going on in front of me.  If I had to pick the biggest day of impeachment testimony - I would say that was Gordon Sondland. To me, the room felt on edge at times, especially as Republicans jabbed at him. What was my view of the proceedings? Well, unfortunately, there was a giant TV screen sitting in front me. But I could still see the witnesses, and it was a treat to be on hand.

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Five days inside the Trump Impeachment hearings

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  • Already facing significant opposition back home from within his own party for refusing to support the impeachment of President Donald Trump, freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) is reportedly ready to switch to the Republican Party with the backing of the President, a politically embarrassing development for Democrats in advance of this week's House impeachment vote. 'Wow, that would be big,' President Trump tweeted over the weekend about news reports on Van Drew's future. 'Always heard Jeff is very smart!' As of Sunday evening, Van Drew had not publicly confirmed his plans, as the reported move enraged Democrats on Capitol Hill and back in the Garden State. 'Betraying our party by siding with Donald Trump is the final straw,' said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who made clear his disappointment in Van Drew in a series of weekend tweets, calling the switch 'cynical and desperate.' The five staffers who resigned from Van Drew's office on Sunday included two Deputy Chiefs of Staff, his Communications Director, Legislative Director, and Legislative Assistant. An experienced former state lawmaker in New Jersey who won a GOP House seat in 2018, Van Drew set himself apart from fellow Democrats repeatedly over the past year, opposing Nancy Pelosi's election as Speaker, voting against starting an impeachment inquiry, and opposing a resolution to hold the Attorney General and Secretary of Commerce in Contempt of Congress. 'I'm always true to my word,' Van Drew told reporters in mid November of 2018, as he explained why he would vote against Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Less than a year later, Van Drew - who served sixteen years in the New Jersey state House and Senate as a Democrat - is evidently ready to switch to the GOP. Democrats said the real story was that Van Drew - because of his opposition to an impeachment investigation - was in danger of being defeated in the 2020 Democratic primary, as they quickly leaked recent polling showing exactly that outcome. The possibility of a party switch left questions for Republicans as well. In a story in the Press of Atlantic City newspaper on Sunday, one GOP candidate who had already announced a bid to run against Van Drew called the lawmaker, an 'absolute weasel,' as even former Vice President Joe Biden piled on. 'The leading Democrat opposed to impeachment is switching parties to protect Trump,' Biden tweeted, using the Van Drew story as part of a fundraising effort. The current Congress has already seen one party switch, in part because of the impeachment inquiry, as Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan switched from the GOP to Independent. President Trump is holding a campaign rally in Amash's district on Wednesday evening, likely just after the House votes on two impeachment charges.
  • A New Jersey town council approved a resolution last week that proclaimed it a “sanctuary township” for law-abiding gun owners. Lawmakers in West Milford passed a non-binding resolution that “opposes further interference with, or abridging of, the rights of lawful gun owners,” NJ.com reported. Pete McGuinness, council president in the rural town of 26,000 people, said the resolution was approved by a 5-0 vote Dec. 4, the website reported. “We’re just letting the community know we are a gun-friendly, Second Amendment-positive township,” McGuinness told NJ.com. The resolution declares West Milford a “Second Amendment/lawful gun owner sanctuary township' and criticizes “red flag laws” that have been adopted by at least 17 states, including New Jersey, rthe website reported. Adoption of the resolution came six days before a shooting in Jersey City that killed four people, including a police officer, NJ.com reported.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear arguments on an effort by President Donald Trump to prevent Congress and investigators in New York from using subpoenas to access his tax, banking, and other financial records, items which the President has fought to keep from being released. Lower courts had ordered Mazar's, the President's accounting firm, and two major banks, Deutche Bank and Capital One, to turn over financial records - those orders will stay on hold until the cases are resolved before the High Court. Attorneys for the President have lost at every level in state and federal court in all three cases, making the argument that Congress does not need Mr. Trump's financial information for any legitimate legislative purpose, casting it as a fishing expedition. The subpoenas were not to sent to the President - but rather to Mazar's, Deutche Bank, and Capital One - making the case somewhat different than a simple subpoena to Mr. Trump. 'Having considered the weighty interests at stake in this case, we conclude that the subpoena issued by the Committee to Mazars is valid and enforceable,' a three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals wrote earlier this year in the Mazars case.  'We affirm the district court’s judgment in favor of the Oversight Committee and against the Trump Plaintiffs,' the judges added. With the arguments in March of 2020, that timing would suggest that a final decision could be one of the biggest cases to be decided in the 2019-2020 term - possibly being saved for late June, when the Court ends its work before a summer break. That would put the results squarely into the midst of the 2020 campaign for the White House. As for why the U.S. Supreme Court intervened, a number of legal experts said the Justices could have done that as a favor to President Trump - not necessarily indicating that Mr. Trump is going to prevail. 'These cases involve the President and his tax returns, and they may have felt no choice but to take the cases and decide them on the merits given their political importance,' said Aswin Phatak, a lawyer with the Constitutional Accountability Center.
  • Forecasts are still showing a chance for a wintry mix Sunday night into Monday morning. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service say a light wintry mix will be possible along the I-44 corridor later Sunday night. Temperatures may cool enough to support all snow near the Kansas border.  They don’t expect much accumulation, although some issues could develop along elevated surfaces such as bridges and overpasses.  The FOX23 and KRMG Severe Weather Team will be keeping a close eye on the data.

Washington Insider

  • Already facing significant opposition back home from within his own party for refusing to support the impeachment of President Donald Trump, freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) is reportedly ready to switch to the Republican Party with the backing of the President, a politically embarrassing development for Democrats in advance of this week's House impeachment vote. 'Wow, that would be big,' President Trump tweeted over the weekend about news reports on Van Drew's future. 'Always heard Jeff is very smart!' As of Sunday evening, Van Drew had not publicly confirmed his plans, as the reported move enraged Democrats on Capitol Hill and back in the Garden State. 'Betraying our party by siding with Donald Trump is the final straw,' said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who made clear his disappointment in Van Drew in a series of weekend tweets, calling the switch 'cynical and desperate.' The five staffers who resigned from Van Drew's office on Sunday included two Deputy Chiefs of Staff, his Communications Director, Legislative Director, and Legislative Assistant. An experienced former state lawmaker in New Jersey who won a GOP House seat in 2018, Van Drew set himself apart from fellow Democrats repeatedly over the past year, opposing Nancy Pelosi's election as Speaker, voting against starting an impeachment inquiry, and opposing a resolution to hold the Attorney General and Secretary of Commerce in Contempt of Congress. 'I'm always true to my word,' Van Drew told reporters in mid November of 2018, as he explained why he would vote against Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Less than a year later, Van Drew - who served sixteen years in the New Jersey state House and Senate as a Democrat - is evidently ready to switch to the GOP. Democrats said the real story was that Van Drew - because of his opposition to an impeachment investigation - was in danger of being defeated in the 2020 Democratic primary, as they quickly leaked recent polling showing exactly that outcome. The possibility of a party switch left questions for Republicans as well. In a story in the Press of Atlantic City newspaper on Sunday, one GOP candidate who had already announced a bid to run against Van Drew called the lawmaker, an 'absolute weasel,' as even former Vice President Joe Biden piled on. 'The leading Democrat opposed to impeachment is switching parties to protect Trump,' Biden tweeted, using the Van Drew story as part of a fundraising effort. The current Congress has already seen one party switch, in part because of the impeachment inquiry, as Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan switched from the GOP to Independent. President Trump is holding a campaign rally in Amash's district on Wednesday evening, likely just after the House votes on two impeachment charges.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear arguments on an effort by President Donald Trump to prevent Congress and investigators in New York from using subpoenas to access his tax, banking, and other financial records, items which the President has fought to keep from being released. Lower courts had ordered Mazar's, the President's accounting firm, and two major banks, Deutche Bank and Capital One, to turn over financial records - those orders will stay on hold until the cases are resolved before the High Court. Attorneys for the President have lost at every level in state and federal court in all three cases, making the argument that Congress does not need Mr. Trump's financial information for any legitimate legislative purpose, casting it as a fishing expedition. The subpoenas were not to sent to the President - but rather to Mazar's, Deutche Bank, and Capital One - making the case somewhat different than a simple subpoena to Mr. Trump. 'Having considered the weighty interests at stake in this case, we conclude that the subpoena issued by the Committee to Mazars is valid and enforceable,' a three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals wrote earlier this year in the Mazars case.  'We affirm the district court’s judgment in favor of the Oversight Committee and against the Trump Plaintiffs,' the judges added. With the arguments in March of 2020, that timing would suggest that a final decision could be one of the biggest cases to be decided in the 2019-2020 term - possibly being saved for late June, when the Court ends its work before a summer break. That would put the results squarely into the midst of the 2020 campaign for the White House. As for why the U.S. Supreme Court intervened, a number of legal experts said the Justices could have done that as a favor to President Trump - not necessarily indicating that Mr. Trump is going to prevail. 'These cases involve the President and his tax returns, and they may have felt no choice but to take the cases and decide them on the merits given their political importance,' said Aswin Phatak, a lawyer with the Constitutional Accountability Center.
  • The U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines on Friday morning in support of two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, sending the issue to the House floor for a historic vote next week. After Democrats had recessed the hearing late on Thursday night, lawmakers reconvened for two quick votes on impeachment articles dealing with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. “Mr. Chairman, there are 23 ayes and 17 noes,” the committee clerk said twice, as Democrats moved in rapid fire fashion to report the impeachment articles to the full House. Republicans denounced the outcome. You don't get to remove a President because you don't like him,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA).    “They did not produce a scintilla of evidence to support a charge of impeachment.” “This is really a travesty for America and it’s really tearing America apart,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), who called the effort a 'railroad job.' “It was a witch hunt,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). The President used his office for his private benefit. He jeopardized our national security, and elections. He covered it up. Democrats said the case for action was simple. “The President used his office for his private benefit. He jeopardized our national security, and elections. He covered it up,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). “Today is a solemn and said day,” said House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).  “The House will act expeditiously.” The committee vote sends the issue to the full House, where a vote is expected next week. If the House votes to impeach, the Senate would be required to hold a historic impeachment trial, which is expected to start in January. President Trump would be the third President subjected to such a trial under the Constitution, joining Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. As for the President, his Press Secretary joined GOP lawmakers in ridiculing the impeachment effort. “This desperate charade of an impeachment inquiry in the House Judiciary Committee has reached its shameful end,” Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a written statement. “The President looks forward to receiving in the Senate the fair treatment and due process which continues to be disgracefully denied to him by the House,” she added. A Senate impeachment trial is expected to start in January.
  • After over 14 hours of debate, Democrats surprised Republicans by holding off a final vote in the House Judiciary Committee until Friday morning on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, as Democrats charged the President was clearly trying to get Ukraine to announce investigations which would benefit Mr. Trump's 2020 re-election bid. 'President Trump used his office to serve himself,' said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), as Democrats said the evidence was clear that President Trump was trying to get foreign help for 2020. 'The President is an imminent threat,' said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX). 'We have to take action, we must impeach the President.'  'One of my colleagues said that we are lowering the bar on impeachment,' said Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA). 'I believe we are lowering the bar on the Presidency.' Republicans denounced the impeachment effort as a political vendetta by a party which was still upset about losing the 2016 election. 'This impeachment is going to fail, and the Democrats are justly going to pay a heavy political price for it,' said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA). 'This is a day that will live in infamy for the Judiciary Committee,' said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). 'It's a focus group impeachment,' said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), as Republicans decried the lack of detail in the articles of impeachment. The delay in the committee vote until Friday left Republicans spitting mad, as GOP lawmakers were caught completely off guard. “Stalinesque,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). Republicans had prolonged debate until after 11 pm - and the immediate thought on Capitol Hill was that Democrats did not want to be accused of voting on impeachment 'in the middle of the night' - so they delayed action until Friday. The panel will meet at 10 am ET.
  • Already over two months behind schedule, key lawmakers in Congress said Thursday they had reached a tentative agreement which would hopefully bring $1.3 trillion in funding bills to a vote next week in the House and Senate, avoiding a government shutdown deadline of December 20. 'There's a meeting of the minds,' said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, as lawmakers scrambled to wrap up a dozen unfinished funding bills for the federal government - work which should have been finished by October 1. With no details readily available - and House leaders talking about holding a vote by Tuesday on a single giant bill, or maybe a pair of funding plans - the familiar year-end rush caused furrowed brows for some in the Congress. 'Two minibuses = an omnibus,' tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), using the familiar name for large funding measures, in which up to a dozen spending bills are jammed into one catch-all funding plan. Congress is supposed to be finished with the 12 different funding bills for the federal government by September 30 of each year - as the new fiscal year begins October 1. But over the past 45 years, it has become standard procedure for lawmakers in both parties to use temporary funding measures - known as 'continuing resolutions' - to fund operations of the government while final spending deals are worked out by the House and Senate. Only four times since a big change in Congressional budget rules in 1974 has the Congress finished the funding work on time - in 1976, 1988, 1994, and 1996.