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Impeachment Today Podcast: The Hearings Are Coming To Prime Time

In today's episode: A preview of how the public impeachment hearings, beginning next week, will play out on TV and online.

Posted on November 8, 2019, at 5:15 p.m. ET

BuzzFeed News

It's Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, 45 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 Government Accountability Office has opened its own investigation into why military aid to Ukraine was put on hold, and more testimony from State Department officials makes life difficult for the Trump administration. And what exactly will happen when the public impeachment hearings begin next week? We've got D.C. reporter Addy Baird on to talk about what you'll be seeing takeover the news.

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 8th, 2019. 45 days since the House of Representatives launched its impeachment inquiry, and this is Impeachment Today. Good morning, I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News. It's Friday. You made it. We made it. After today, rest up, because next week we've got some potential game changers coming at us. On that note, today we're talking to Addy Baird about what to expect when open impeachment hearings begin on Wednesday. But before we get to that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

George Kent was the latest official whose testimony house Democrats have made public. He's a deputy assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian affairs. Kent told Congress in no uncertain terms that president Trump's demand, that Ukraine quote, "initiate politically motivated prosecutions," as he put it, was damaging to US support for the rule of law. He also focused on the quote "campaign of lies" that Rudy Giuliani ran, targeting a former US ambassador to Ukraine. Kent is going to be one of the three officials scheduled to testify at public hearings next week. House investigators on Thursdays spoke to one of the last officials that will testify behind closed doors, Jennifer Williams, a State Department employee detailed to vice president Mike Pence. They would still love to hear from one more person before the next phase begins. Acting chief of staff and current head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney. Congress issued him a subpoena on Thursday night. He's probably going to say no.

Also, it turns out president Zelensky of Ukraine was this close to granting the favors that Trump asked of him during their July phone call. The New York Times reported on Thursday that Zelensky's government decided that getting US military aid released to them was more pressing than the risk to Ukraine's bipartisan support in the US. The Times says Zelensky was ready to announce investigations into a company tied to Joe Biden's son and supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election during a CNN interview. In the end, Zelensky was saved by a stroke of luck. After news of the hold leaked, Congress pushed the administration to lift the freeze. The aid was released just two days before the interview was scheduled to take place. So that was close.

Finally, there's a new investigation into whether the White House broke the law in freezing that aid. Look out folks, the Government Accountability Office is on the case. The GAO is the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress. They're looking into whether holding $391 million of aid from Ukraine violated appropriations law. Mulvaney, in his role as head of the Office of Management and Budget, ordered the hold in July. He did so at the order of the president, several administration officials said in testimony to Congress. That money would have vanished if the hold hadn't been lifted by the end of the fiscal year, which was September 30th.

The White House has insisted that everything was on up and up as far as telling Congress about any changes in the aid, since it was eventually delivered. But officials have testified that the release of the money was dependent on Ukraine granting Trump's personal political requests. Now, can the GAO do much if the executive branch stonewalls them? Well, no. But it's nice that they're trying. And now, bearing in mind that this scale is logarithmic, like how we measure earthquakes, we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale, a zero is a normal day in a normal White House, and 10 is president Richard M. Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. And this morning we're at a 6.95. Look, a lot happened this week. I went back and listened to the last few episodes and you really have to appreciate how quickly things are moving. We're not quite at a seven yet, but who knows. Time will tell.

After the break, we're talking to Addy Baird about what to expect during the next stage of impeachment watch 2019. Stick around.

All right, time for the segment we're calling This Fucking Thing, where we zoom in on one thing that's shaping the impeachment process. Today we're going a bit meta because we're talking about the hearings that are going to begin next week. This is the first time since 1998 any of us have gone through this, so we have Buzzfeed News's congressional correspondent Addy Baird joining us from DC to give us the deets. Thank you for joining us, Addy.

Addy Baird:

Oh, it's so good to be here, Hayes.

HB:

So let's start with this. It's been a little over a month and a half of closed door testimony. We're finally getting to hear people testify, live. Are you excited?

AB:

I'm so excited. I know I'm supposed to be a jaded DC reporter, but I think this is going to be fascinating and historic and I'm really looking forward to it.

HB:

Okay, so walk us through the process a little bit. So the witnesses show up on Capitol Hill, and then what?

AB:

Last week the house passed a resolution that laid out what the next steps of their impeachment inquiry are going to look like, and that included laying out how public hearings are going to work. So right now you have these closed door depositions, like I'm sure your listeners know if they're listening to you. And in those depositions you have three committees. You've got oversight, foreign affairs, and intelligence. It is going to be all intelligence doing the public hearings, which is really interesting because Trump's biggest defenders in Congress... This is really a kind of genius brain move by the Democrats, because Trump's biggest defenders in Congress, the biggest defenders in those rooms, are not on Intel. They're on oversight and foreign affairs. So this cuts out people like Jim Jordan. This cuts out Mark Meadows, and Lee Zeldin, and you are just going to have the intelligence committee handling these public hearings, and it will be about 45 minutes for each side to ask questions of these witnesses. The witnesses are up to the Democratic side's decision, basically. Republicans can request certain people to come testify, but Democratic side has veto power.

HB:

I saw that Jim Jordan said that the Republicans are going apparently request that the whistleblower be subpoenaed, but that's not going to happen. Once this all kicks off though, we already know the names of several people who will be testifying next week. That includes Bill Taylor, currently the acting ambassador to Ukraine, George Kent, who's at the State Department and Marie Yovanovitch, who was the US ambassador to Ukraine and was recalled. They all testified behind closed doors. We've seen their testimony now. Should we be expecting anything new from them?

AB:

No, we shouldn't necessarily be expecting anything new, but that's not quite the point of these public hearings. The idea is really to get the American public to see what congressional investigators have seen, and they are calling witnesses who they feel gave important, valuable, enlightening testimony, and they want them to give basically that same testimony, tell those same stories, live on television for the American people.

HB:

That is going to be so fascinating to watch-

AB:

Isn't it?

HB:

Especially since I know that next Wednesday we have a twofer. We have Bill Taylor and George Kent speaking on the same day on Wednesday. What's the timing of this supposed to look like? Are we expecting this to go all day with the two of them or what is that going to look like? Do we know yet?

AB:

We know that they're going to start at 10:00 AM and I am not totally sure what to expect. If I was a betting woman, I would put money on these being very long days, especially when you have two different witnesses testifying. The depositions behind closed doors, some of them have been about 10 hours long. I think that there's a good chance we could get public hearings that go for an entire day, 10:00 to 6:00 or 10:00 to 7:00 PM.

HB:

I remember seeing in your piece laying out how this process was working behind closed doors as they were attempting to figure out how these hearings would work, that some members of the democratic party wanted these to be in primetime, so it sounds like they might get their wish just by nature of how long this will go.

AB:

Absolutely. I think that this idea to do it in primetime isn't actually feasible, because like we're saying, these could be very long testimonies. So if you're starting at like 9:00 PM you've got impeachment hearings in the middle of the night. But I absolutely think that we could see these going into the evenings when people are getting home, turning on their televisions, and what will be in primetime is all sorts of recaps of the day.

HB:

Okay. So who in your opinion is the most and least excited for this stage of the process?

AB:

It's really interesting. I would say Democrats are most excited. Republicans have been saying for weeks and weeks that the closed door depositions are Soviet style inquiry, that it's Adam Schiff's chamber of secrets and that they've been really pushing for-

HB:

What a terrible Harry Potter sequel that would be. Adam Schiff and the Chamber of Secrets. Do not want.

AB:

Oh man. The ways that they've described this are hilarious. They recently sent out an email saying that Schiff had been coronated the Witchhunt King, which honestly sounds rad. I say all of this because they've really been making a process argument, that these need to be public hearings, and that we need to have public transcripts, that the closed door depositions are not proper. So in theory Republicans should also be very excited to move into the public stage. I think that because Democrats have veto power over witnesses, they will find all sorts of new process arguments and they're not going to be like, "Thank you so much. This is exactly what we wanted and now we love impeachment."

HB:

Is there any divide between how House and Senate Republicans seem to be feeling about this?

AB:

A little bit? It's a little hard to say because the Senate trial wouldn't happen until the House officially impeaches president Trump. Senate Republicans are maybe a little bit more open or... In some ways they almost are able to just talk about it a little less. You have Lindsey Graham really leading the charge that the way that House Democrats have handled the inquiry is improper, and a lot of Senate Republicans have echoed that argument. I think the three Senate Republicans to watch are Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney. They are the three who, if you were waiting for one or two Senate Republicans to potentially vote to impeach president Trump, it's going to be one of those three. If it's any of them at all.

HB:

Right. But you need way more than that to actually remove him from office, is the thing. I don't know, what's your take? Is moving into open hearings going to be a game changer or are people hyping this part of the process too much? Can these hearings actually change any GOP senators' minds in your opinion?

AB:

I don't know. It's really hard for me to... I am from Utah and my superpower is living in Mitt Romney's brain. But really it's not. I can't get into their minds. What I will say is that it has been very, very important to the Democratic party for the American public to be on their side as they move forward with this impeachment inquiry. I think it is less about convincing Republicans in Congress and more about just convincing the American people that what they're doing is right, and that I think it could be a game changer. You and I spend all day, every day thinking about this. My family doesn't. My friends even in New York don't. I think that it's going to be an opportunity to really bring the public into this process and help them understand what we're seeing every day.

HB:

All right, Addy, thank you so much for helping unpack that. Before we let you go though, you know what time it is, it is time for the kicker, where we ask our guests to bring in a tweet, a quote, a something that really sums up to them where we are in this moment. Okay, Addy, what do you got this time?

AB:

So earlier this week, Donald Trump Jr tweeted out the name of someone that the right wing believes is the whistleblower. There's no evidence of that, but yesterday Trump Jr and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle were on The View, and his girlfriend got asked if she had advised him against outing the alleged whistleblower and she said she was in the bathroom and then said this.

Kimberly Guilfoyle:

I did advise him that it was a federal crime, but I did come out of the bathroom and say, "I left you alone for 10 minutes. What happened when mamacita's gone?"

HB:

Oh, that's so much cringe. Addy, I'm impressed and horrified that you brought this to us today. Thank you so much.

AB:

Literally what else was I going to bring?

HB:

Best option. Addy, I appreciate you. I appreciate this. Thank you so much for taking the time today to do this.

AB:

Thank you Hayes, it was a pleasure.

Hayes Brown:

Okay, at the risk of repeating myself, it's been a hell of a week, so to paraphrase a poet of our age, Friday, Friday, got to recap on Friday. Okay, real quick, here's what happened this week. One, House Democrats published six transcripts of the closed door testimony they've taken so far. Together, the current and former administration officials painted a clear picture of an unofficial team advancing Trump's personal interests in Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani as its leader. Two, a key witness said "Yes, there was a quid pro quo." US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland entered a revision to his testimony. Sondland now says that he had told Ukrainians that the release of military aid depended on the president of Ukraine announcing two investigations that would benefit Trump politically. Three, a close associate of Rudy Giuliani's now says that he is willing to work with the impeachment inquiry. Lev Parnas, who helped connect Giuliani with several prominent people in Ukraine, was arrested in New York last month for alleged campaign finance violations. He said he was willing to work with Congress after Trump declared he didn't know Parnas.

Four, the president wanted the attorney general to declare his Ukraine call crime free. Attorney general Bill Barr did not go through with the press conference Trump wanted, to Trump's report a disappointment. The president launched a tirade against the Washington Post for publishing the story. Five, Republicans insisted the whistleblower's name be revealed. The whistleblower was granted anonymity under federal law to keep him safe from retaliation. But Senator Rand Paul and president Trump alike have said the person's name has to come out. Donald Trump Jr went as far as to tweet out who he thinks the whistleblower is. Yeah, it's been a real intense one, so if you'd managed to forget some of this happened, you're not alone, I promise.

Okay, that's all for this week. Be sure to come back Monday as we learn more and impeachment really ripens. I already regret that phrasing. Also, we want to keep hearing from y'all. This week you've been sending us the things about impeachment that leave you confused, and we've loved your responses, so keep on sharing. What are your questions? What doesn't make sense? Please, open the voice memo app on your phone, tell us your question and email it to impeachment@buzzfeed.com. We'll be including some of your responses on a future episode, so tell us your name and where you are in the world.

Impeachment Today is a joint production between Buzzfeed News and iHeartRadio, with new episodes dropping every weekday morning. Our show is produced by Dan Bauza, Alan Haburchak, and Jacopo Penzo, with editorial assistance from Tom Garah and Jessica Weisberg. Editing by Josh Fisher and Ryan Kyla. Julian Weller is our supervising producer. Special thanks to Mangesh Hatecador, Nikki Itor, Samantha Henig, Maggie Schultz, and Ben Smith. Be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. If you could toss us a rating and review, we'd be happier than a Congress person in front of a camera. Also, tell your friends about the show, as we all figure this out together.

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