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Impeachment Today Podcast: The White House Has A Problem, And His Name Is Alexander Vindman

Things got extremely intense on Monday night as drama swirled around a serving member on Trump's National Security Council who is set to give damning testimony.

Posted on October 29, 2019, at 11:50 a.m. ET

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European affairs at the National Security Council, arrives at the US Capitol, Oct. 29.

It's Tuesday, October 29, 2019, 35 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: Things got extremely intense on Monday night! The White House has a big problem right now, his name is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and he's getting ready to drop some truly explosive testimony, just as Democrats prepare to vote on making the impeachment inquiry "official," whatever that means. And we've got BuzzFeed News' DC editor, Sarah Mimms, joining with a breakdown of how this impeachment thing will work for the coming months.

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


Hayes Brown:

Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, a reporter and editor here at BuzzFeed News, and today, we're asking: The fuck's an impeachment? We've got BuzzFeed News' DC editor, Sarah Mimms, joining with the best impeachment one-on-one breakdown in the history of this here country of ours, but before we dive in, let's review what we know so far and catch up on the news from yesterday.

Here are the facts as they stand. In a July phone call, Donald Trump asked the Ukrainian president for two favors, both related to US domestic politics. A White House transcript of the call says exactly that. Millions of dollars in US military aid to Ukraine had been put on hold by the Trump administration at the time of the call. A promised White House visit was also being dangled like bait on a hook. The chair of the Federal Election Commission has said pretty clearly that it's illegal to "solicit, accept, or receive anything from a foreign national in relation to a U.S. election." Whether the President's request to Ukraine count as anything is a big part of what Congress is trying to decide.

Okay. Now, here's what went down on Monday. Oh my God, you guys. Things managed to get super intense by Monday night. First, the White House has a big problem right now, and his name is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. He's the Director of European Affairs on the National Security Council, and he's got some tea for Congress. Vindman will tell House Democrat that he was on the call between Trump and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, and he had big concerns at the time. Huge. That's according to a copy of his opening statement published Monday evening.

Vindman wrote that he attempted to push those concerns up the chain of command twice, but he says that he's been frozen out of meetings and official trips since then. Vindman also said in his testimony that the President refused to sign a letter that he had drafted that would've gotten $391 million in aid to Ukraine flowing again. The White House's budget office held up that aid on Trump's orders this summer.

All of that adds up to a lot of new material for House investigators to work with, and that's on top of the previous testimony that Vindman had already confirmed before saying a word in front of the committee Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, the House will have a vote to make the impeachment inquiry official after all. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the shift in a letter yesterday afternoon. A resolution Democrats plan to pass later this week will affirm the current investigations that are ongoing and lay out how things will work moving forward.

Pelosi, in her letter, said that the vote would eliminate any doubt about whether the White House would be allowed to stonewall the investigation. Since Republicans have been pushing Pelosi for a vote to make things all super legit, you'd think they'd welcome this resolution. Well, White House Spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said that Pelosi was "finally admitting what the rest of America already knew, the Democrats were conducting an unauthorized impeachment proceeding," and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted that Republicans would "not legitimize the Schiff Pelosi sham impeachment." So, not so much with the welcoming, I guess.

That was the news. This was the noise. So, going back to Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, you'd think that as a current Army officer and Iraq war vet, he'd have a relatively easy time, being treated with respect after speaking out, but this is 2019. Vindman was born in Ukraine and immigrated to the US and Ukrainian officials reportedly turned to him for help, trying to figure out how to handle Rudy Giuliani while Giuliani was pushing Trump's favors in Ukraine. Fox News's Laura Ingraham used that fact to attack Vindman on her show.

Laura Ingraham:

Here, we have a US national security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the President's interest, and usually, they spoke in English.

Hayes Brown:

Her guest replied that that could sometimes count as "espionage" so this is going to go real great, and now, if you just want to know where today ranks in the grand scheme of things, we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale, zero, normal day, normal White House. 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning, people, we are at a 6.75 at minimum. Things got really real in the back half of Monday, and honestly, it's not really clear that the White House has a plan in place to be ready for the things that are coming their way. Okay. It's time for a quick break. We will be right back with more madness before you know it.

Welcome back. Every episode here on Impeachment Today, we take the time to dive into one aspect of the impeachment proceedings that really deserves our attention, a person, an event, an idea. Today, we're actually broadening that out during an edition of this fucking thing. It's been about six weeks since we first learned a whistleblower had sent a mysterious complaint to Congress and a little more than a month since the House launched an impeachment inquiry. So, we figured it might be useful to take a step back and talk about what it means when we ask, so is the president going to be impeached? Thankfully, we have Sarah Mimms to help.

Sarah is an editor in our D.C. bureau and is spending her every waking moment these days wrangling our reporters, covering impeachment on Capitol Hill. Thanks for taking the time today, Mimms.

Sarah Mimms:

Oh, just so thrilled to be here and not dealing with impeachment right now but also dealing with it on this podcast.

Hayes Brown:

I mean of reprieve in one way is also more work in another. So, I, again, really appreciate it. We're going to go in deeper on some of these topics in later episodes. For now, let's just schoolhouse rock the shit out of this for people out there who need a refresher. So, Mimms, I'm going to ask a favor of you as our President once did to the President of Ukraine. In 30 seconds or less, what is impeachment?

SM:

Oh, okay. Well, the House committees are currently investigating impeachment. They're going to write up articles of impeachment, which are like the charges against the precedent. Those are going to focus on Ukraine and probably also the White House obstructing the investigation. That then goes to the full House where half of the members need to vote to impeach the President, which they'll have because there are plenty of Democrats on board.

SM:

Then, it goes to the Senate for a trial. So, it's the President's lawyers versus the Democrats' lawyers with the chief justice of the Supreme court residing. The Senate needs two-thirds of members to vote to actually take Trump out of office. That means every Democrat plus another 20 Senate Republicans, which looks really unlikely right now, but who knows? So, Trump is impeached and probably stays in office.

HB:

Eh, over 30 seconds, but that was a really good explanation.

SM:

Damn it.

HB:

So, you know what? No, we like it. We love it, Mimms. You did it well within the expected parameters for me personally, so we're going to go with it. That was a really good explanation. So, here's something that has been, I'm sure, on a lot of people's minds. The founders made sure to put this thing into the constitution, impeachment, but appeared to have been kind of a bunch of dicks about it and made it not very clear about what triggers impeachment. So, how's that dynamic been playing out during the saga?

SM:

It's been so fun, honestly, in like the most legal deep divey, nerdy way. Yeah. I mean, they did not give us really explicit rules, and so what's happening now is you have Republicans and particularly the White House making all of these precedent arguments, but like this has only happened three times before in our country's history. Nixon didn't even go all the way through an actual impeachment. So, we're not going all the way back to Andrew Johnson. Really, the only thing that we have to look at is the Bill Clinton impeachment trial, which started out so differently and is so different, and it's just not an apples to apples comparison. So, everyone's just kind of making this up as they go.

HB:

Which I think is something that a lot of people really need to hear, that this is all kind of loosey-goosey. Everything's made up, and the rules don't matter, but they really do because the constitution says high crimes and misdemeanors shall be impeachable. We just don't really know what that is yet.

SM:

Yeah, and Congress has basically historically decided that that can be whatever they want it to be. Congress has decided the Ukraine stuff is bad. It's bad, and also, they have a much better case to make probably around some of the obstruction stuff. If you could impeach Bill Clinton for lying to Congress, why can't you impeach President Trump for preventing his entire administration from speaking to Congress?

HB:

So, you mentioned the fact that a lot of what we're looking at is the Bill Clinton impeachment precedent. How have those arguments been playing out in terms of like the Republicans trying to make the case that, "No, this isn't real. We're not even really talking impeachment right now. I don't know what you guys are doing"?

SM:

Yeah, it's been really interesting. I mean, republicans are trying to make this all about the process. As a political reporter, Paul McLeod, wrote about last week, the more they make this about process, the more boring it is, the more confusing it is to the average American who doesn't give a fuck about congressional procedure. So, that's really been the tactic that they've been taking. What's been interesting is they keep making this argument that there's no impeachment until the full House votes to start an impeachment investigation, which may or may not be true like I said. We only really have one historical example of this, but what's interesting is a judge ... I think it was on Friday.

HB:

It was Friday.

SM:

So, a judge actually wrote in an opinion that's only tangentially related to this, and I won't get into it, but she wrote the House is in the middle of an impeachment inquiry, which means as far as the courts are concerned, like the court precedent right now is that they didn't have to vote. They have already started the investigation. So, that line is kind of taken away from Republicans, but they could certainly bring more court arguments on this. We'll just have to see.

HB:

So, yeah, there's this court case plus Nancy Pelosi on Monday afternoon announced that, yeah, the full House is going to take a vote launching an official impeachment inquiry. So, all just a moot point, dead in the water entirely at this point. So, what's the timeline look like these days in the House? It's been a bit of a moving target as far as when we're actually going to wrap all this up and move on to probably a Senate trial. So, what's the latest as far as when the House will actually have a real vote?

SM:

So, originally, the schedule that Nancy Pelosi laid out was, we're going to vote to impeach the president before Thanksgiving, which was like a crazy timeline.

HB:

So fast.

SM:

I mean, that's so, so, so fast. It's looking more like end of the year that the House will finish up and then I don't know if that means that the Senate tries to start something before New Year's or if they start at some point in January, but part of the problem is so many members of the administration have refused to testify. So, that's really slowing down a lot of the investigation, and they keep finding new people that they want to talk to. So, this could drag out a bit longer, but I expect it'll be done before Christmas, at least in the House. Fingers crossed.

HB:

Fingers crossed, indeed. It's going to be a very, very fun Christmas, sitting there, trying to figure out the legal strategy in the Senate, which is, like you said, the next step. So, when we probably get there, what should we expect, or is it too soon to really make a bunch of predictions about how that's going to go?

SM:

So, the Senate, the way that they've talked about it so far is that they will have to take up the articles of impeachment immediately, which hopefully does not ruin Christmas for all of us. My family is really going to love that. Assuming that the Senate has already left for Christmas, it'll start when they get back. So, the articles will come over, and they will have to start a trial immediately. It will start at 12:30 every day, six days a week. They're not doing Sunday, but they will be there on Saturday.

HB:

We'll see how that affects this filming of this podcast.

SM:

Yeah, it's going to be super fun taping this at 8:00 at night with you, but yeah, so they're going to do hours of testimony every day. It is possible that they will vote at some point in there. Republicans could bring up a motion to dismiss, which is actually not that complicated. It's just like in any trial when you ask to dismiss the whole case. What's interesting about that is you only need half of the Senate to vote for that. So, Republicans have those votes on their own if they don't lose three people. So, that will be really interesting to watch. A lot of Republicans have said they don't want to do that. They would actually rather have the Senate acquit the President than to just dismiss the case and not have it be resolved, but yeah, so that should be really interesting to watch especially if the trial starts going badly for Trump's lawyers, if it becomes really embarrassing-

HB:

Right.

SM:

... if there is that motion to dismiss in there.

HB:

Well, I know I'm looking forward to it, question mark. I am in the sense that it's going to be historical and really fascinating and like you said, a deep dive for nerds in policy, but on the other hand, oh wow, I'm already tired.

SM:

Oh, exhausted, but you're right. I mean like this is history regardless of what happens, and I think as much as it's been sort of fun and will continue to be in somewhat, in some sick way, fun, there's so much gravity to the situation as well. It's really difficult to kind of deal with those emotions as we're watching this all play out, but it'll definitely be interesting.

HB:

Okay, so we're going to time warp really quickly. It's a year in the future just before the 2020 election. We look back on the impeachment saga and the nation as a whole feels, in your opinion, blank. Fill in the blank.

SM:

Oh God. Existential dread?

HB:

Then, as now, the existential dread will come for us all. All right, Sarah. We have time for one more quick thing with you, which is the segment we're calling the Kicker. We ask our guest to bring with them a tweet, a quote, a something that really sums up the moment we're living through. So, Mimms, what do you got?

SM:

All right. I'm going to read this quote to you from this morning, and I'm going to let you guess just based on the phrasing of it, who said this.

HB:

Okay.

SM:

"Process is good, but I think you ought to look at the case, and the case is very simple. It's quick. It's so quick. I had a great conversation with the Ukrainian President." Ugh, I gave it away at the end there.

HB:

I'm going to guess it was Donald Trump.

SM:

It was Donald Trump. What's so funny about this is like Republicans keep talking about the process because it's boring and it's confusing, and they don't want to talk about the President's call with Volodymyr Zelensky. They don't want to have that conversation. It doesn't look good. It's difficult to defend. The President hasn't given them really any guidance on how to defend it. So, they've been talking about this process stuff, and then he comes out this morning and says, "Stop talking about the process. Start talking about my call." You can just see every Republican just putting their head in their hands.

HB:

Ah, the President himself is bored by the boredom strategy, which I guess is a sign it's working.

SM:

Absolutely.

HB:

All right. Thank you so much for joining, Sarah, and giving us that quick rundown. Really appreciate it.

SM:

Thank you.

Hayes Brown:

Up next, we have Testify, the segment where we talk about who's testifying in Congress and what the hell to expect. Wednesday, we'll have the Pentagon's Kathryn Wheelbarger appearing behind closed doors. She's the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs. Now, Wheelbarger would have been deeply involved in discussions during the summer about a package of aid to Ukraine that the White House ordered to be held. The Defense department was reportedly in the dark while the aid was blocked. The Pentagon even made clear that they had no concerns that would require a review before the money was eventually released in September. Wheelbarger should be key in making sense of what the White House was telling the rest of the government during that crucial two-month period.

Okay. That's what I've got for today. We'll be back with more of the news and noise that awaits us tomorrow. Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, the iHeartRadio app, Spotify or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Again, I don't have a good quid pro quo to offer, but leave a rating or a review, and tell your friends as we figure this all out together.

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