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Impeachment Today Podcast: A Fireside Chat With President Trump, And Other Christmas Miracles

The impeachment enquiry goes official after a House vote, and President Trump says he may need a fireside chat with the American people.

Posted on November 1, 2019, at 4:16 p.m. ET

BuzzFeed News

It's Friday, November 1, 2019, 37 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.

In today's episode, the impeachment enquiry goes official after a House vote, and President Trump says he may need to recite the entire transcript of his call with Ukraine's president in a fireside chat with the American people. And we chat with Ryan Broderick about the incredible backstory to the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory, which made its way from the bowels of the internet to a presidential phone call.

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

It's Friday, November 1st, 2019, 38 days into the impeachment saga, and this is Impeachment Today. Good morning, I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. Happy Friday. We did it! Another week down.

Today we've got a bonkers story to take you into the weekend. We're talking to BuzzFeed newser, Ryan Broderick about the Crowdstrike Conspiracy theory that Trump brought up in his infamous phone call that kicked off the impeachment inquiry. But before we get to all that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

First up, House Democrats passed a bill that laid the groundwork for how the impeachment inquiry is going to work moving forward. BuzzFeed News congressional correspondent Kadia Goba was on Capitol Hill and sent us a voice memo describing what went down.

Kadia Goba:

So, the House voted to create more rules in the impeachment inquiry. These new rules should make the hearings more transparent and extend some power to Republicans. The Judiciary Committee gets back in the game, they are the designated committee to bring impeachment recommendations to the House floor now. Also, Republicans can now request witnesses and documents. Republicans can also authorize committees to release interview transcripts, and now White House Council and the president's council may be able to sit in on hearings and depositions.

All of these changes are happening because Republicans repeatedly criticize how Democrats were handling the process. But it doesn't seem to have made them happy because, I mean, no matter how many privileges they get, all of this means that Congress is still moving forward with the process. Right?

It got really ugly on the floor this morning before votes. At one point rep Steve Scalise called the entire process Soviet-style and meanwhile brought out a poster board with a photo of the Kremlin on it. Not to be upstaged by rep Devin Nunez who called Democrats a cult and said that they were loyally following their leader. I don't need to say that not a single Republican voted in favor of these new rules.

Hayes Brown:

Like Kadia said, no Republicans supported the bill, making the vote 232 to 196. Representative Adam Schiff said that transcripts of some of the depositions done in the last month could be released as soon as next week, but the inquiry itself may take longer than expected. Federal judges will hear arguments next month in a case that could decide just who can be forced to testify before Congress.

A former White House staffer sued the White House and Congress last week to get a ruling on if he had to obey a subpoena from house Democrats. But we have to wait until at least December 10th to hear how this one plays out. That's only two days before the house is scheduled to wrap up and go home for the year. Democratic leadership has said before that they wanted to wrap things up in the inquiry and possibly vote on articles of impeachment before Christmas.

So the choice facing investigators is whether they wait for a court decision extending the process in the House into the New Year or say, "Fuck it, we're doing it live," and press on even without some witnesses. The biggest short-term effect will be on whether former national security advisor, John Bolton testifies next week. His lawyer said he wouldn't do so voluntarily, so Congress is considering a subpoena, but plot twist, Bolton's lawyer is also lawyer to the guy who filed the case in the first place.

Okay, that was the news. This is the noise. President Trump now says he might read out his call with the president of Ukraine in a fireside chat with America. That's what he told the Washington Examiner in an Oval Office interview. Trump has been pushing hard on the idea that if people just read the transcript, they'll see he did nothing wrong. He even said they were considering printing T-shirts with that slogan.

That's basically the opposite of congressional Republican strategy, which has been more process-based than a full throated defense of the call's contents. Now, Trump says a lot of things, so huge grain of salt, but I for one I'm looking forward to hearing Trump read out the words, "I would like you to do us a favor though," on live TV.

And now if you're a numbers person and just want to know where today ranks, we have today's reading from our Nixometer, patent pending. On our scale, a zero is a normal day in a normal White House, and 10 is president Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. And this morning, we're at a five. It feels like the drum beat towards impeachment is pretty steady at this point. Now that the rules have been laid down firmly in the house taking away an argument from Republicans about the process, things seem like they're on a path that is going to wind up with articles of impeachment. Things could still change obviously, but the pressure's not going down anytime soon.

Okay. After the break we're talking to RB about the CrowdStrike Conspiracy. Hold onto your butts people, this one's wild.

Welcome back. So each episode here on Impeachment Today, we take the time to dive into one aspect of the impeachment proceedings that just really deserves our attention. A person, an event, an idea, hopefully you get it at this point. Today we are bringing you an addition of This Fucking Thing, CrowdStrike Conspiracy edition. Joining us to break it down is BuzzFeed News senior reporter, Ryan Broderick. Thank you for joining us, Ryan.

Ryan Broderick:

Hello.

Hayes Brown:

So let's jump back to 2016. A cybersecurity company had said that Russia is behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails, which were then later spread across the internet. So help me out here, how do we get from there to the point where the president is asking if that company stashed a mysterious server in Ukraine?

RB:

Ah, so the CrowdStrike Conspiracy is like the little squid in the primordial ooze that eventually becomes the human being a billion years later, you know?

HB:

Okay, I see you.

RB:

It evolves and conspiracy theories are constantly changing. To understand every crazy thing that all of the old people in the White House believe thanks to the internet, you have to start with CrowdStrike in 2016.

HB:

Right. Walk me through, I guess, what are the various steps in the chain that gets up there? And then we'll talk about what the theory actually is.

RB:

Sure, sure. So, it starts in 2016 with the release of a report made by a cybersecurity firm that was hired by the DNC, that firm is called CrowdStrike. The far right, Russia, every other state-sponsored troll army in the world all had some issues with this report because the report made it very clear that it wasn't a lone hacker, Guccifer 2.0, as that hacker was thought to be known as, but actually probably Russian state sponsored hackers.

RB:

And once that report was circulated, it made its way onto Facebook, onto Twitter, on the Fortune, every dark corner of the internet and has been the old Testament of all of the subsequent crazy nonsense. So everything that is believed by FOX News anchors, or Gateway Pundit writers, or people like Mike Cernovich-

HB:

All the way up to the president of the United States at this point.

RB:

... all the way up to the president. They're all starting with CrowdStrike as their source and then building on top of that.

HB:

So we know what the actual facts are now. But what's this weird theory that people are actually trying to say is the real truth here?

RB:

Right. So disclaimer, none of this has been proven to be true.

HB:

Correct. But please.

RB:

Even though many people working for the president and possibly the president himself believe this, we have no proof that this is true.

HB:

Okay. Hit me though.

RB:

Which is that CrowdStrike was hired by the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to cover up the fact that Ukrainian nationals working with the DNC hacked their own servers to frame the Trump campaign for colluding with Russia to hack the DNC's servers.

RB:

And that CrowdStrike's report saying that the DNC was hacked by Russian hackers is a smokescreen covering up the Democrats' own collusion with Ukraine.

HB:

That makes absolutely no goddamn sense. And that's, I think, one of the things that is so true about so many conspiracy theories that when you actually listen to them and try and work through the logic inside of them, it just leaves you with a headache.

RB:

Yes. This idea that CrowdStrike is in on it features in QAnon staff, it shows up in Podesta email, Pizzagate.

HB:

Oh God.

RB:

FanFic. It shows up in Dan Bongino's Spygate concept. It shows up everywhere. And the only reason that I can tell, after several weeks of doing research about how this happened is that CrowdStrike's owner is a Russian-American man.

HB:

Okay, wait. A Russian-American man though.

RB:

Yeah, yeah. Bear with me here because this is going to get even wackier.

HB:

Oh no.

RB:

The firm's owner who is Russian-American once worked for a think tank called the Atlantic Council, and the Atlantic Council has a board where a Ukrainian oligarch once was attached to. So the fact that this Russian-American man was connected in some vague way to a Ukrainian oligarch, that in the fever swamps of Fortune and Reddit and Facebook means that CrowdStrike has been compromised by Ukrainian oligarchs that are possibly working to cover up an international pedophile ring run by Hillary Clinton.

HB:

Okay. This is wild. Jesus. Balls. Okay. So the Atlantic Council, well-respected think tank known for their anti-Russia stance, which is, I guess, why they're a prime target for all of this. They're also a think tank related to NATO.

RB:

They are Russian misinformation's favorite boogeyman. Basically, if you start to think like, "Am I reading a Russian sigh up?" If they start just like really angerly going on about the Atlantic Council and the Atlantic Council's reporting on the Baltics, you'll probably falling for a Russian sigh up.

HB:

Ah, yikes. What a world we live in right now. So, all of this non sensory has somehow made it into the White House. What I would love to know is who first saw this online and put it into the brains of, especially Rudy Giuliani?

RB:

So this is the crazy thing. I was flabbergasted when I saw the transcript of the phone call with the president of Ukraine where Trump says CrowdStrike. Trump is reported to have literally uttered the words CrowdStrike, which is crazy bananas because that is so obscure that I had to spend a week remembering exactly what it was. Best I can tell, the way it seems to have worked is that Rudy Giuliani...

HB:

Who is a private lawyer for Trump the person, not the president.

RB:

Yes. And this former secret service member, current right wing radio host Dan Bongino appear to have talked about this theory enough with the president that it worked his way into his crazy old man brain. And much like your grandfather sending you an email forward, this just appeared out of nowhere.

HB:

Jeez, and like a virus, it spread. Here's quick audio of acting chief-of-staff, Mick Mulvaney mentioning this whole thing as part of the reason why funds to Ukraine were held up, which is again what Congress is investigating.

Mick Mulvaney:

He also mentioned to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server. Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it and that's why we held up the money. Now there was a report...

HB:

And now it's also being repeated by Republicans and Congress, it seems like, during the closed door testimony on the Hill. So Ryan, I guess how do we cure this disease at this point? How do we erase this from the narrative?

RB:

I mean, have you ever gotten into a fight about politics at Thanksgiving with your older relatives?

HB:

Sadly.

RB:

Did that change their mind?

HB:

Not quite.

RB:

I think this is the same thing, but the old person we're talking about is the president. So here is the deal, once these things do work their way into your head, it's really hard to let go because if you were to... Let's imagine Trump could say to himself, "I need to really rethink what I think about the world."

HB:

Oh.

RB:

You know, imagine some introspective moments of the president here. If he were to go like, "You know what guys, actually, there is no proof that Ukraine did anything. And maybe I was actually the center of my own meddling with a foreign agent and I just got to let this go." The foundation of so much of what he's done over the last year appears to be based on this idea. That is a terrifying concept for anybody, let alone someone at the center of the world right now.

HB:

Oh, that's horrifying. So let's time warp though. A year into the future, it's just before the 2020 election. And Ryan, have we found the server?

RB:

Oh man, we didn't even talk about this. There isn't a server.

HB:

I know.

RB:

That's a courageous thing. So, in the transcript, if you're not familiar, Donald Trump says, I'm paraphrasing, oh, oh, look for the server. Ukrainian nationals got the CrowdStrike server blah blah. He seems to think that a Ukrainian man came into D.C. and stole a physical server from D.C.

HB:

An actual black box?

RB:

A box, yeah. The DNC were using a hundred and forty cloud-based servers. There are no physical servers and they were turned off in the summer during the investigation. So, you don't need to steal a server, it's 2019. You could just go into one and download it. It's not a thing. So no, I don't think we're ever going to find it. My deep fear is that this is just going to go on for like the rest of our lives.

HB:

Wow, that's lovely.

RB:

There'll be crazy people out front of Capitol Hill with a sign being "where's the server" 50 years from now.

HB:

Okay. Well Ryan, with that bit of doom and gloom in our minds it is time for the kicker where we have our guests bringing in a thing that sums up where we are right now. So Ryan, what do you got?

RB:

So the RNC emailed out a really good email with a really good subject line today.

HB:

Okay. What do you got?

RB:

But I want to read it as if I was the lead singer of a metal band.

HB:

Okay, continue.

RB:

RNC Statement on Adam Schiff's coronation as the witch-hunt king.

Pretty good, right?

HB:

That was pretty great, actually. I would not pay to hear that band. I absolutely would not though, I'm sorry.

RB:

I mean, there are so many good band names in there. Coronation, witch-hunt king, coronation as witch-hunt king, if you're going to be like a post-hardcore like emoviolence band. Yeah, there's so much good stuff there, witch-hunt king rules.

HB:

Well Ryan, thank you so much for taking the time and at least trying to help us figure out what the heck is going on in these people's minds.

RB:

Just trying to do... like being John Malkovich or Giuliani, it's horrible.

Hayes Brown:

Thanks Ryan. All right, yesterday we asked you to tell us about your nightmare scenarios and concerns when it comes to Trump's impeachment. And thanks to everyone who responded. We still very much want to hear from you though. So please, tell us what you're most worried about. Open up the Voice Memo app on your phone, tell us what you think, then email it to impeachment@BuzzFeed.com or find me on Twitter @HayesBrown. My DMs are open.

Okay, that's it for today. Come back Monday as we gear up for another week of nonstop thrills on the Hill. We'll laugh, we'll cry. We'll learn more damaging information about the White House's actions. Be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. And maybe leave a rating and a review. Also, tell your friends about the show as we all figure this out together.

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