The president is probably going to be impeached.
So BuzzFeed News and iHeartRadio are teaming up to launch a daily podcast to help separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.
There’s a lot to keep up with already: phone calls, Ukrainians, and a bunch of Latin being thrown around.
But here’s the thing: This is a moment where things are changing fast — in ways that could shift history.
We’ve only done this whole impeachment thing twice before in the country's history — once when telegraphs were still basically magic and once when people were still using AOL to get online.
With a cast of characters that seems to be growing by the day, it’s a lot to sort through.
We manage, but it is literally our job to stay on top of this. And we still may have occasional moments like this:
I’ll be hosting because I was the one standing in our editor-in-chief’s line of vision when we realized this was going to be a thing.
Joining me every weekday will be other BuzzFeed News reporters who, like me, are following the impeachment saga beat by beat.
In just 10–15 minutes every weekday morning, we’re going to catch you up on what happened, figure out what it all means, and give you the context you need to understand WTF is really going on right now.
Listen to the first episode below, and subscribe to Impeachment Today on Apple Podcasts, the iHeartRadio app, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.
You can also read through a full transcript of our first episode now!
Hayes Brown: It's Thursday, October 24th, 2019, exactly one month since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Welcome to Impeachment Today. Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, a reporter and editor here at BuzzFeed News. Thanks for giving our brand-new podcast a listen.
We're hoping to use this 10 to 15 minutes a day to really cut through the noise, and the tweets, and figure out what matters as Congress prepares to vote on whether to impeach President Donald Trump. Much like the impeachment inquiry, will be figuring out a lot as we'd go over the next few months, and it's probably going to be months. So this is going to be a fun ride? I think fun is the right word.
Anyway, on to today's show. We're asking, has Rudy Giuliani always been this, well, shady? We've got editor-in-chief Ben Smith here to talk about it. But before we get to all of that, let's review what we know so far and catch up on the big news from yesterday. Here are the facts that we know for sure:
In a July phone call, Donald Trump asked the Ukrainian president for two favors: One, to help him get dirt on former vice president Biden ahead of the 2020 election. And two, help push a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. We know this because the White House released a transcript of the call, which if you read it, it says exactly that. What we don't know is whether Trump used military aid to Ukraine as a bargaining chip. That's what Congress is investigating.
So what did we learn yesterday? Wednesday's biggest news blew two new holes in the president's claim that there was no pressure on Ukraine to advance his domestic political goals. First, the associated press reported that way back in may, that then–president-elect of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky spent most of a three-hour meeting discussing how to avoid getting involved in US domestic politics after Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, made a number of requests to Ukrainian government officials. Second, the New York Times reported that within a week of the phone call between Trump and President Zelensky, Ukrainian officials discovered that $391 million in US military aid was being put on hold.
That's a problem for Trump and his supporters. They have argued that because the Ukrainians didn't know that the money was being withheld, Trump's request for political favors could not have been seen as connected to the payments. This new timeline though means that as Giuliani and several top Trump officials were pushing the Ukrainian president to announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election, Zelensky's government knew that its military aid was on hold. Sitting next to the US president in New York last month, Zelensky himself said this:
Volodymyr Zelensky: No, sure. We had, I think, good a phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. So I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed me.
HB: Trump immediately chimed in to say that there was no pressure. That claim seems to be falling apart. Okay. That was the news, now the noise. In an extremely sidebar moment, a group of Republican members of the house held something of a sit in inside a secure room where a senior defense official was being questioned. BuzzFeed News as Addy Baird was there as it all went down. She sent us a quick voice memo from outside the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known in DC speak as a SCIF, that was under temporary occupation. It was a scene.
Addy Baird: So I was just down outside the SCIF, and it was one of the craziest things I've ever seen. The SCIF is an area where members of Congress can review classified documents and where they hold private depositions like they've been doing as part of this impeachment inquiry for the last few weeks, and it's just total chaos down there. Basically, to make a very long story short, 20 to 30 Republicans stormed the SCIF, and they took their phones in with them, which you cannot do. It is a place to review classified information and talk about classified information, and you should not have your phones in there. But not only do they have their phones, they have pizza.
This all goes back to the fact that Republicans have been complaining that they've been cut out of the process of this impeachment inquiry. And that's not true. They have had equal members of the committees of jurisdiction from either party are able to sit in on these depositions and ask question. But they've really been pushing this process argument and today they really took it to another level.
HB: Well, thanks, Addy. And yikes. The action will soon move out of secure rooms and into the public eye. Democrats are reportedly planning to hold hearings open to the press and that could push back the timeline. Instead of wrapping up before Thanksgiving, the investigation could continue until sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Festive?
And now, if you're a numbers person and just want to know where today ranked, we have today's reading from our Nixometer, patent pending.
On our scale, a 0 is a normal day in a normal White House, and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. That being said, Wednesday was a 6, a pretty solid 6 at that because things have not slowed down at all it feels like, not since the committees first began their investigations. So they're definitely at a heightened level of 'Wow, what the heck is going on?' And when you add in the absurdity of the sort of things we saw yesterday from house Republicans, many of whom actually could have been in the hearings and listened to the testimony, things probably aren't going to dial down anytime soon.
Every episode here on Impeachment Today, we're going to take the time to really dive into one aspect of the impeachment proceedings that deserves our attention. A person an event, an idea, you get the picture. So it's time for the segment we're calling “This Fucking Guy.” Today, it's Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and current lawyer working for Trump. Last year, based on multiple reports to the press and testimony in Congress, Giuliani went to Ukraine to vend the president's political goals. Earlier this month, two men Giuliani hired to assist them in Ukraine, were arrested in New York for alleged campaign finance violations. He's really, truly in the thick of everything we're talking about on this show.
I'm joined here in the studio by Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, who basically invented political blogging while covering city hall here in New York. Thank you so much for joining me, Ben.
Ben Smith: Thanks for having me on, Hayes.
HB: Giuliani has been this fascinating figure throughout the last few months stretching back like April, May when we first learned he was going to Ukraine and doing some kind of weird things, but he's taken on a prominent role in these proceedings. I really wanted to talk a little bit about how he got to the point that he is now, because I'm sure a lot of people out there listening remember him for very different things and being the guy who goes on TV and fights for Donald Trump.
BS: Yeah, I mean, Rudy Giuliani has been fascinating since the 1980s, but I think the thing that is now dawning on those of us who have always been obsessed with him is that he was really a prototype for Donald Trump. And when people look back at him through the lens of history, that's why he will be important.
HB: Okay. Say more. I'm curious about this point.
BS: And by the way, a prototype for Donald Trump whose hopes at one point were crushed by a guy named Joe Biden.
HB: The drama of it all.
BS: Amazing story. And Rudy's career, it has really four segments. He came into public attention as this kind of tough prosecutor who was hauling corrupt Wall Street bankers out in front of the cameras in handcuffs. Wall Street hated him because he was humiliating these bankers who really would've just given themselves up. Parlayed that kind of tough cop thing into taking over as mayor of New York in the early ’90s when crime was high. He beat the first black mayor, David Dinkins, in a campaign that was a lot about race. He sort of stood for the police. There was a police riot on his behalf at one point. And was for four years, a pretty successful mayor because crime was the biggest issue in New York. It was 10 times more of it than there is now and it went down.
HB: Wait. 10 times more? That's a lot of crime. I know I just moved here five years ago-ish at this point, and at most I feel a little threatened walking down some streets at night maybe, but 10 times?
BS: It was a totally different world, and it was the only story. And Rudy in his first term, crime went down, and for a lot of New Yorkers that was what they wanted. And so he was very successful, municipal, kind of liberal Republican figure who then in his second term turned into like Donald Trump on a very bad day.
HB: So stage three is not looking good for him.
BS: Stage two was insane. It was amazing for the tabloids. He had to be on the front page every day. Once he did it by firing his wife from her ceremonial role. They were separated at the time.
HB: Wait, firing? As in, 'You can no longer live in the mansion here'?
BS: I believe she learned from a press conference that she was no longer the hostess at Gracie Mansion. His personal life was incredibly messy. He picked unwise fights, including a Senate race against Hillary Clinton.
HB: I forgot about that. In 2000, right?
BS: And by the end was kind of a joke. And then phase four, he is the hero of 911. The planes hit the towers, George W. Bush, the president of the United States is in the air. And so Rudy is sort of the face of the American government response. He's incredibly, obviously, emotionally affected by it. In a way, not totally unlike Trump, although in a very different context, really bonded with the American people through the medium of television. And he rode this heroism of his fourth act to... He was going to be the president of the United States in 2008. He was the hero of 9/11, whatever that meant, which I think people hadn't really focused on, and he was the Republican frontrunner.
HB: Right, for a good second there at least.
BS: Yeah. And the end of that sort of last chapter of his career, the hero of 911, and this is to me the sort of central irony if this was it was delivered in October of 2007 by a guy named Joe Biden. Who, again, maybe it's easy to forget, he was even in the mix then. He was running as a Democrat for president. The only memorable thing he did was when Giuliani was riding high and Giuliani was the Republican front runner, Biden was asked about Giuliani during a debate and said, "The only thing that guy needs to make a sentence is a noun, a verb and 911," really opened the door to people just being like, hey, wait, who was he again, on 9/10? And that was in some ways, what kind of put that crack in his facade.
HB: So yeah, throughout the Trump presidency, Rudy has just been this kind of force on television defending Trump no matter what. And it seemed like every single newsroom had at least one person with his number to get in touch with him.
BS: Yeah, I mean, the great thing about Rudy is he'll talk to anybody. And we've been texting him, and when we have an interesting question, he'll respond or he'll give it the little thumbs up emoji. And I mean, we even had this freelancer from Austin who, the guy had not done a lot of journalism in his life who, just called Rudy up and got him on the phone for a couple of hours, and they talked a lot, lots and lots of detail about Ukraine. Yeah, that's Rudy.
HB: That's Rudy. But he seems to have been a bit quieter lately as things have gotten a lot weirder for him. He's had two of his associates who he had working for him in Ukraine were arrested on alleged campaign finance violations. Did you think anyone's actually telling him to quiet a little for now?
BS: I mean this is a guy who represents himself in court, right? I mean, he's his own best lawyer.
HB: But is he his own best defendant? That's the trickier question.
BS: Remains to be seen.
HB: Remains to be seen. So let's jump forward a year. It is 2020, we are just outside of the election. What do you think Rudy is up to at this point in October 2020?
BS: I mean, I'll give you the full range. Maybe he's vice president of the United States, maybe he's in jail.
HB: That is like the entire spectrum of possibility. You have tapped into every single multiverse out there for Rudy Giuliani to exist in with that answer. I'm sure one of them has to be right though.
Okay. Last thing. We have a bit that we are calling "The Kicker," where we ask our guests to grab a quote, a tweet, a something, that to them just really sums up where we are in this moment. Ben, what do you got?
BS: I have a tweet from Jonah Goldberg who's the editor of the Dispatch, a new kind of Trump skeptical conservative publication who wrote that, "Today is the day of the transition from no quid pro quo, to yeah, quid pro quo. So begins in earnest."
HB: That feels extremely accurate in fact.
BS: You may have remembered that there was a brief moment where people had a little bit of shame and now we're back to being totally shameless.
HB: What a way to end this all. All right, Ben, thank you so much for taking the time today and talking us through this.
BS: Congrats on getting this thing off the ground.
HB: All right. Up next we have a segment that I have insisted that we call "Testify," because I had a vision of gospel music playing in the background in a congressional hearing room.
So here it is. Testify, the segment where we talk about who's testifying next and what the hell to expect. We've actually got a bit of a pause coming up in terms of testimony. Members of the three committees running the investigation are going to be out attending events, memorializing Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chair of the oversight committee who passed last week. Testimony will start back up on Saturday.
So for now, we're going to quickly look at one of the people who was asked to testify this week and said, no thank you. Russ Vought served as the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget, also known as OMB. It's current official head, by the way, is Mick Mulvaney who is acting chief of staff in the White House.
Vought tweeted out earlier this week that, "Contrary to fake news out there, he would not be taking part in the inquiry, #sham process," which is actually the literal hashtag that he used on his tweet. But Vought potentially has a lot to say about this whole mystery. We already know that the aid to Ukraine was quietly held up by OMB, which has been running for the last eight months. We also know that the instruction to hold that aid came from Mulvaney at the order of the president. Congress still has the option of holding Vought in contempt if he doesn't show up, which would be a real escalation in the fight between the House and the White House.
Okay. That's the best we've got for now. We'll have more of whatever hellscape awaits us for you tomorrow. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, the iHeartRadio app, or wherever you're listening to this. Plus leave a rating and review and tell your friends to give a listen as we figure this out together.