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Impeachment Today Podcast: A Thanksgiving Cornucopia Of Conspiracy Theories

In today's episode: A guide to the weirdest impeachment conspiracies you might hear over the Thanksgiving table and beyond.

Posted on November 27, 2019, at 4:09 p.m. ET

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It's Wednesday, November 27th, 2019, 64 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Wednesday, November 27th, 2019. 64 days into the impeachment saga and this is Impeachment Today. Good morning, I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News. Happy day, you're probably stuck traveling to go home for Thanksgiving, also known as the most wonderful time of the year for podcasts. In fact, after you're done with this episode, you should probably go back and binge some more. Just a suggestion, just putting it out there for you. For now though, we are talking to Ryan Broderick about the conspiracy theories that came up during the impeachment hearings and how to respond to them if you can't just sit there and eat your food. But before we get to all that, let's catch up on what happened, yesterday.

House Democrats dropped the last two transcripts of their closed door depositions on Tuesday afternoon. Rounding out the collection were Phillip Reeker and Mark Sandy, who worked for the State Department and White House Office of Management And Budget respectively. Phillip Reeker is Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and most of his testimony dealt with the fallout after Trump abruptly withdrew the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine in the face of a smear campaign spread by Rudy Giuliani. Unlike some witnesses Reeker, said that, yeah, it was very clear that when Giuliani was talking about investigating a company called Burisma, what he meant was an investigation into the Bidens. Getting Ukraine to announce the investigation into Hunter Biden's work for Burisma was one of Giuliani's main goals this spring and summer. He has said he was doing so on the behalf of the President as his lawyer. Meanwhile, Sandy was the only OMB official to answer a subpoena from Congress.

He offered a crucial look into OMB's decision making process and gave us a few new important dates. On June 18th, Sandy said, he first learned that the President had seen a media article about U.S. military aid to Ukraine and began asking around about it. Sandy then was instructed in mid July to prepare a hold on that nearly $400 million for Ukraine. After some back and forth with OMB lawyers about whether that was even legal, Sandy signed the first official document freezing that money. The date he signed it, July 25th, the same day as Trump's now infamous phone call with Ukraine's president. A political appointee took over from Sandy after that first hold and he signed multiple renewals of the freeze between then and September 11th, when the hold was finally lifted. Sandy said that not only had he never seen a portfolio taken over from a career staffer like that, two people resigned over how weird the whole thing was.

As of September, Sandy still had not been given an official reason the aid was held. It was only then he was told that the freeze was about making sure other countries had contributed their share to Ukraine, which is a claim that hasn't been very well supported. And apparently the President was well aware that the aid holdup could be a problem when he eventually released it. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump himself was personally briefed by White House lawyers about a whistleblower's complaint in late August. That complaint heavily featured Trump's July phone call and the political favors Trump requested from Ukraine during it. Democrats have been investigating whether the aid freeze was linked to those favors, which included the investigation into the Bidens. And that timing explains why when his Ambassador to the EU called him on September 1st, Trump had his response ready, "there is no quid pro quo."

The President and his supporters have repeatedly pointed to that call as proof that Trump is innocent and this news is yet another reason that argument is wildly illogical. The President's lawyers will have their first chance to explain their side of the story in congress next week. The House Judiciary Committee announced that they are convening constitutional experts next Wednesday for a hearing on impeachment as it relates to Trump. It's Judiciary's first foray into the formal impeachment process. Once they receive reports summing up the inquiries results next week, it's up to them to draft any articles of impeachment. As Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler said in a letter to the White House, the President has until Sunday to decide whether he or his lawyers will attend the hearing. That's big considering how much Republicans have complained about the President being denied due process throughout the impeachment inquiry. That was the news, this was the noise. Impeachment may be moving forward, but tradition is tradition, which means Trump took to the Rose Garden to pardon a pair of turkeys named Bread and Butter. Being him, he popped off a few one liners about impeachment.

Donald Trump:

Thankfully Bread and Butter have been specially raised by the Jacksons to remain calm under any condition, which will be very important because they've already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff's basement on Thursday. But Bread and Butter, I should note that unlike previous witnesses, you and I have actually met, it's very unusual, very unusual.

Hayes Brown:

But don't worry even he didn't like the gags.

Donald Trump:

In any event, I expect this pardon will be a very popular one with the media. After all turkeys are closely related to vultures, I don't know if I like that line, but there is a little truth to it.

Hayes Brown:

Ha, ha? And now in our last reading of November, we turned to your friend and mine, our Nixometer.

On our scale zero is a normal day in a normal White House and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning, we're at a 7.4 still, but it feels justified when we have a whole new hearing and a whole new committee next week. And with more evidence that the foreign aid hold was part of the bribery case that Democrats are building against Trump, the only thing sleepy around here is you after eating your third plate tomorrow. Okay, after the break we talked to Ryan about the conspiracies you may face at the dinner table tomorrow. You'll want to hear this one.

All right. Time for a very special holiday edition of this fucking thing. The impeachment hearings were like a weird Rorschach test in a way, where what you took away from them depended a lot on where you watch them. And people took away some extremely interesting things. Here to help us figure out just what sort of weird shit might come up at Thanksgiving and at the end of the segment, game out some possible responses, is Buzzfeed News tech reporter, Ryan Broderick.

Ryan Broderick:

Hello.

Hayes Brown:

Okay Ryan, so we just got through two weeks of impeachment hearings and one of the things that you wrote on Buzzfeednews.com, the internet website, was how there are basically two different impeachment hearings happening for a lot of people in this country. Can you unpack that a little bit?

RB:

Yeah, I'm going to try my best here. So for a good chunk of the country, they watched the impeachment hearing and they waded in, sort of got a sense that maybe there was some presidential malfeasance happening and they could kind of follow along. For anyone that's consuming right wing media, they were watching a very different impeachment hearing. They're all going after a very different reality, which is based around one central conspiracy theory that it wasn't Russia that meddled in the 2016 election, it was the Democrats colluding with Ukraine. And because of that very core crazy nonsense thing, every single thing that right wing media has reported off the back of that exists in an alternate reality essentially.

HB:

That's absolutely horrifying because we had you on before to talk about the CrowdStrike server theory, which as part of this greater Ukraine conspiracy cinematic universe that you were just mentioning. So even though we've had debunk after debunk, including Fiona Hill at her testimony saying this is all a Russian plot, its reach is still growing. Like just yesterday, we had the Secretary of State Give this non-answer in a press appearance.

So I'll take the second question first. Anytime there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right but a duty to make sure we chase that down.

HB:

So why do you think this thing in particular will not die?

RB:

Well, it's been interesting because I follow a lot of journalists on Twitter. I read a lot of mainstream news, but I've spent all of the impeachment following it through Facebook groups, through right-wing media. I'll tell you, not a single thing that happened during the impeachment will affect anyone who reads that understanding of it. The Yovonovich testimony, which was very emotional for a lot of people, nothing. The Vindman testimony, nothing. Fiona Hill was considered like a huckster or a liar.

HB:

Wait, what?

RB:

Not a single thing that you're talking about has made any dent and based on Facebook traffic doesn't actually exist.

HB:

So all these two weeks of hearings, I mean, that-

RB:

Nothing, nothing.

HB:

That would make sense given the fact that polls hadn't really moved in October. So you're saying that in these like battle lines, these trenches, just none of the facts are getting down in there. The artillery fire of facts are just kind of bouncing off and even the fact shrapnel is not hitting them.

RB:

So it's been very interesting because you know there's all these blue checks on Twitter who are like, "Yes, Queen, go off, tell that truth!" And it's like, according to every metric I can figure out, the rest of the country feels the exact opposite way.

HB:

My face is very concerned right now for people listening out there. So is this a strategy at this point from the Republicans, especially those who are on the Intelligence Committee during those hearings, can we say that officially? Or is it just like the fever swamp out there doing their thing and no one can really control it?

RB:

I am always very hesitant to think that people are smart enough to do some sort of like psyop.

HB:

Yeah, nothing like that, nothing like that.

RB:

I have an easier time believing that a bunch of old people's brains have been broken by the internet and they actually believe this stuff. But also I think it's sort of like the end of that documentary Wild, Wild Country, where people in the cult can't admit that it's a cult because if they do, all of a sudden it all unravels and they have like a psychotic break. I think that's where Devin Nunes is right now. He's like last days of the Jim Jones compound.

HB:

Wow!

RB:

Because imagine you've spent three years making huge decisions and publicly standing for stuff that is complete nonsense. And you might suspect maybe this doesn't sound right, but if you were to admit that that's a shocking truth. I think it's really destabilizing for these people. So it's much easier to just spend six hours a day at impeachment hearings, prattling off crazy nonsense with the hope that your friends at Fox News will clip it down for you and make you look like a hero.

HB:

Right, so we saw that with the questioning from Nunes especially. I remember during the first couple of hearings, not really getting what he was doing. He was listing off all of these things like, "Couldn't it possibly have been Ukraine? Doesn't the President have within his right to go after any election malfeasance? And doesn't it make sense that the Ukrainians didn't like the President before the election? So he has a grudge against them." And it wasn't until like a couple days in like you said that it all clicked like, oh, he's not even talking to me right now, he's not talking to the witnesses right now. He's talking to everyone else.

RB:

Yes, the minute you're put in front of a camera in this country, you can become content for Fox, which is why the anonymous whistleblower is in such a powerful position, and it's why it's making them so angry. Because if you have a face and you have a name, all of a sudden you can be doxxed, you can be smeared, you can be Googled into a conspiracy theory, But as long as that person, that whistleblower's anonymous, they can't be fed into the Fox machine.

HB:

Couldn't this false narrative machine that is out there suddenly pivot and come against the people who have been pushing it?

RB:

Well, I mean there's two versions of this, right? There's like the end of the post-apocalyptic movie where they overthrow the robot overlords and they all see the truth like the end of The Matrix or something.

HB:

Yeah, yeah.

RB:

Although the end of that, they're actually all wearing rags and in a horrible world, but still you get the idea.

HB:

The point stands.

RB:

Or you have something like the Soviet Union or China, where the media machine just continues. There's a great documentary by this guy, Adam Curtis called HyperNormalisation and it's all about the idea where you can create an alternate reality out of things that aren't true and people just have to believe you because like it's too exhausting to debunk it. I mean, we're trying to have a very basic conversation about an impeachment inquiry and it's built on so many fabrications and like outright conspiracy theories that it's almost impossible to talk about with each other. And I imagine people at the dinner table this week are going to have a similar issue when they can't even decide which thing to like talk about first.

HB:

Ugh. With all that depression seeping into my bones, let's do some role play really quickly.

RB:

Sure.

HB:

Let me set the scene. It's Thanksgiving, the turkey's been sliced, grace has been said. We're about halfway through the first round of plates. I'm your boomer uncle. I'm loving Facebook. I'm loving the memes I'm getting sent. So I'm going to hit you with some things I may have gleaned from Fox and those memes. I just want to see how you would react and you would talk them down. Is that okay?

RB:

Okay, let's do this.

HB:

All right, it's training, think of it that way. So now the server, they still have that in Ukraine where the FBI can't get it. Why can't the FBI get that server?

RB:

Ugh. Okay, so it's not a physical server, there is no server in Ukraine. The FBI took the findings from the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which was hired by the Democrats in 2016. It was all done according to Department of Justice manual on how to do a digital investigation like that. Every single person who has heard about this was like, "yeah, that sounds pretty by the books."

HB:

So next up, Schiff and all these cronies held these hearings in a dungeon in the basement where nobody else could see them.

RB:

Oh, for God sakes. Yeah, yeah, okay. So the reason that they did them in the basement and in private is because of rules that were set up by John Boehner when he was the speaker of the house during the Republican majority in 2015 and they are actually following the Republican's rules to the letter. You collect depositions in private to see if those people are worthy of testifying and then you submit that evidence publicly like a normal trial, which is just what happened, Uncle Steve.

HB:

Well, dang it, okay. Well, but that Democrat woman, what's her name Andrea Gordito or whatever. She's the one who Soros paid to do all the real colluding with Ukraine.

RB:

Yes, so if you are talking about George Soros, Uncle Steve, it means you are absolutely an anti-Semite because that is where that comes from. And you're talking about Alexandra Chalupa, who was a DNC operative. There is one guy in the world who believes that she tried to get the Ukrainian embassy to collude with the Democrats and every other person says that did not happen. But that one guy is on conservative T.V. a lot and that's where that comes from.

HB:

For those of you who cannot see Ryan right now, which is all of you, he's very red in the face. His hands are up over his eyes.

RB:

I'm shaking, I'm getting like pre-PTSD for this conversation that I'm going to have in like three days with my own family.

HB:

Okay, so one more, one more.

RB:

Pre-PTSD.

HB:

One more, good call.

RB:

Thanks.

HB:

Write up the medical journals for that one.

RB:

Thank you, thank you.

HB:

Okay, one more and this is like a really big one. Trump did nothing wrong and this is all just a massive frame up by the Democrats to try and get him out of office, which they had been doing since day one. It's all garbage. And we've broken Ryan, sorry everyone out there, there is no good answer for that one it seems.

RB:

Okay, wait, hold on. Okay. What you could say is like, look, if that's true then you have nothing to worry about with the impeachment and they're going to find him totally innocent of everything. You fucking asshole, get out of my face and eat some stuffing and leave me alone.

HB:

Well Ryan, thank you. I for one feel much more prepared for the next few days. Thank you for helping us out at the cost of your brain and very soul.

RB:

Happy to help, yeah.

HB:

Happy Thanksgiving.

RB:

Happy to help, yeah.

HB:

Okay, that is it for today and the week. We'll be back with you on Monday. But before we go, we're still curious to hear your strategies for dealing with any impeachment talk that might come up tomorrow, so send them in. Also, if things at the dinner table do get weird, please let us know about that too. You are absolutely allowed to change the names of any family members you might be incriminating in your voice memo. Open up the voice memo app on your phone, record your message and email it to impeachment@buzzfeed.com or just send me a direct message on Twitter. I'm @hayesbrown, my DMS always open. Be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen - and a rating or a review would be ever so kind. And if you're feeling like a splurge on Black Friday, there is Impeachment Today merch up on shop.buzzfeed.com. Use the code peachpod30 for 30% off. Also, tell your friends and family about the show as we all figure this out together.

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