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Impeachment Today Podcast: It's Closing Time

You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

Posted on February 4, 2020, at 7:09 p.m. ET

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Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa on January 30.

It's Tuesday, February 4, in the final week of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. 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 Tuesday, February 4th, 2020 and this is Impeachment Today. Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. We're in the home stretch now with both sides in the trial having presented their closing arguments, but we've said since this all began roughly several decades ago at this point, that we're going to keep updating you until it's all over and dadgummit, we stand by that, so we won't be going anywhere just yet, even after all the final votes are all cast. With that in mind today, we're taking you back to last December to refresh everyone on exactly what the articles of impeachment say ahead of the final vote on if the president is guilty or not guilty. But before we get to all that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

Yesterday marked the closing arguments in the Senate trial of president Donald Trump and from the sounds of it, you could really tell that folks were D-O-N-E done, but the House managers put on their game faces to try one last time to explain why the president needs to be removed from office and barred from holding future office. Here's lead manager Adam Schiff, reminding the senators that there are no take backsies on if they vote to acquit or convict the president.

Adam Schiff:

History will not be kind to Donald Trump. I think we all know that. Not because it will be written by never Trumpers, but because whenever we have departed from the values of our nation, we have come to regret it, and that regret is written all over the pages of our history. If you find that the House has proved its case and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history.

Hayes Brown:

Meanwhile, the president's defense continued to slouch its way to the victory line, emphasizing again that A, Democrats have wanted to impeach the president since he was elected, and B, that their arguments in defense of the president came solely from what was in the record that the House Democrats put together. Left unsaid was that the White House blocked senior administration staff from testifying and has turned over zero documents, and again, the Republicans in the Senate voted against having that new information even considered in the trial. And with that, the impeachment trial adjourned for the day to allow for senators to talk about how they feel about impeachment, because that's the one thing that's been missing from this process so far, some really political speeches. Like we've mentioned in our last episode, several Republican senators have said they think what the president did was wrong, but they still plan to vote not guilty on Wednesday. That list now officially includes Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who said as much on the Senate floor yesterday,

Lisa Murkowski:

I cannot vote to convict. The Constitution provides for impeachment, but does not demand it in all instances. An incremental first step to remind the president that, as Montesquieu said, political virtue is a renunciation of oneself and this requires a quote, continuous preference of the public's interest over one's own.

HB:

Yeah, I am sure that Trump will be pulling his copy of famed French political philosopher Montesquieu, the father of the concept of the separation of powers, right off the shelf any minute now. Any minute... Despite that book club assignment from Murkowski, Trump seems unlikely to repent. Even after everything we've learned White House counsel, Pat Cipollone in his closing remarks still says that the president did nothing freaking wrong.

Pat Cipollone:

And I urge you, on behalf of those Americans, of every American, on behalf of all of your constituents, to reject these articles of impeachment. It's the right thing for our country. The president has done nothing wrong and these types of impeachments must end. You will vindicate the right to vote, you will vindicate the constitution, you'll vindicate the rule of law by rejecting these articles. And I ask you to do that on a bipartisan basis this week and end the error of impeachment once and for all.

HB:

The split between the White House line that everything Trump did was perfect, and Senate Republicans who say "eh, not really," is interesting. But it might also wind up matching the energy of two of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats. Doug Jones of Alabama is up for reelection this year and says he's still undecided on whether he'll be voting to convict the president. So is West Virginia is Joe Manchin, but Manchin thinks he can see a path forward, an official censure of the president. Now, a censure, it's basically a resolution passed by both Houses of Congress saying, "Dude, the president really fucked up here." Congress passed one of those bad boys against Bill Clinton following his acquittal back in 1999. Senator Manchin says he thinks that such a resolution could wind up being bipartisan in the Senate, to which I am forced to wonder, did he watch the same trial-like event that I just did?

HB:

And finally, yesterday was the Iowa caucuses. Oh yeah. We don't have any updates on that or how Biden did after his name was in everyone's mouth these last few weeks. The results came in way later in the night than when we recorded this episode, just mentioning it. And now to sum up all of this with a number, 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 Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. Today we are at a 6.0. Look, the arguments in the case from the House managers was extremely convincing, even several Senate Republicans said so. But as the arguments have closed, it appears like very few, if any Republican senators, will be willing to vote for the conviction of president Donald Trump under these articles of impeachment, which means coming nowhere near the two thirds vote, the president will be acquitted. And that has kind of sucked the life out of the drive of the House managers, the Senate Democrats, and a lot of people, it seems like. Okay, when we come back we will be reminding you of just exactly what the president was charged with when the House passed the articles of impeachment last December. Stick around.

All right friends, the impeachment trial is taking a break today in favor of finally, finally allowing the members of the Senate to talk. At long last their national nightmare's over. Plus there's the State of the Union tonight, so that's going to be a whole thing. Then, tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 PM Eastern standard time, the Senate will be voting on the articles of impeachment. With that all in mind, we thought that with the trial all but over, it would be useful right about now to have a refresher on exactly what the articles of impeachment say, and more importantly what they mean. So here's our rundown from our December 11th episode, No, Mr Trump, I Expect You to Be Impeached. I'll catch up with you guys on the other side.

All right. Time for This Fucking Thing, Articles of Impeachment Edition. Usually we have a guest give us their perspective on some part of the impeachment saga, but today we're going direct to the source, the articles of impeachment themselves. What do they say? What don't they say? And what do they actually mean in plain English? Okay, quick reminder, these are still a draft. The judiciary committee will have a final review of these before they vote on them, but they're not likely to change much. Now, like most things that come out of Congress, the articles are written in total lawyer language, so we're going to go through and pull out some of the most important bits and translate them into normal people talk. So open them up in a browser and follow along if you can. One more thing. As we all know from every prestige movie and TV show from the last forever, everything sounds fancier and more important with a British accent, so we a bribed my boss, Buzzfeed News world editor Paul Hamilos, a Londoner by birth, to read out the text of the articles. Thank you, Paul. All right. There's two articles in total and they both start with the same preamble at the top.

Paul Hamilos:

Resolved that Donald J. Trump, president of the United States is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate. Articles of impeachment exhibited by the House of Representatives of the United States of America in the name of itself, and of the people of the United States of America against Donald J. Trump, president of the United States of America in maintenance and support of its impeachment against him for high crimes and misdemeanors.

HB:

A classic. A banger. Basically the same way Nixon and Clinton's impeachment articles began too. All right, article one is focused on abuse of power, and here as well, both articles share a lot of the same texts at the very top, reminding everyone of Congress's constitutional power to impeach. We then dive into what allegedly did to warrant the abuse of power charge.

PH:

Using the powers of his high office, president Trump's solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States presidential election. He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States presidential election to his advantage.

HB:

In short, this is saying Trump used the powers of the president to try to get Ukraine to give them a boost in the 2020 election, and having foreign countries mix it up in our elections is something that Constitution's writers were super frowny face about.

PH:

President Trump also sought to pressure the government of Ukraine to take these steps by conditioning official United States government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations. President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit.

HB:

So we heard a lot about bribery the last few weeks and how that's a crime under the Constitution that is impeachable. Though that word doesn't appear in these articles, that's basically what they just accused him of. Also, importantly, the articles make clear that this wasn't normal president business. It was done for corrupt purposes.

PH:

In so doing, president Trump used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States' democratic process. He thus ignored and injured the interests of the nation.

HB:

This is the Democrats saying that this Ukraine scheme wasn't just a little thing. He really fucked over the country. You, me, all of us. The article then has three sub clauses. The first goes into the asks or favors that Trump made of Ukraine, announcing the investigations and the Bidens and supposed Ukranian interference in the 2016 election. It also has this phrase.

PH:

President Trump, acting both directly and through his agents within and outside the United States government.

HB:

That's important, because it makes clear that, yeah, this wasn't just the president, but the people around him, both in the government, Mick Mulvaney and outside, Rudy Giuliani... Oh, excuse me. The second sub clause explains what he did to get those favors, holding out on a White House visit for Ukraine's president and freezing nearly $400 million in military aid that Congress had approved. The third makes clear that even though he released the aid when he got caught, Trump has continued to make the same ask of Ukraine and China now, like in these moments, talking to reporters on the White House lawn.

Donald Trump:

China just started an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine. So I would say that president Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens.

HB:

The first article then has this interesting phrase.

PH:

These actions were consistent with president Trump's previous invitations or foreign interference in the United States elections.

HB:

That's a bit of a sideways reference to the Mueller investigation and Trump's infamous ask during the campaign.

PH:

Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

HB:

As special counsel Robert Muller detailed, hours after that request, Russian operatives did start intensely probing the Clinton campaigns emails. One of the few good times to use the word probe.

PH:

In all of this, president Trump abused the powers of the presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.

HB:

TLDR, this was messed up as hell and he did it all to get something for himself at the expense of the country and our elections. Okay, let's move on to the second article, obstruction of Congress. Not obstruction of justice, mind you, that's when someone interferes in a criminal investigation. Nope, this is about impeachment, a power only the House has, and how Trump has tried to block the investigation. That framing mirrors one of the articles that the Judiciary Committee passed before Nixon resigned. All right, let's see, blah, blah, blah, constitution stuff again. Okay, here we go. The article notes that the House opened an impeachment inquiry and sent out subpoenas, but then...

PH:

In response, without lawful cause or excuse, president Trump directed executive branch agencies, offices, and officials not to comply with those subpoenas. President Trump thus interposed the powers of the presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, and assumed to himself functions and judgements necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.

HB:

AKA, he tried to say that the power of impeachment was his to determine, when it counts and when it doesn't, which it is not, and tried to fuck up the inquiry, which is bad. The article lists the several departments and senior officials who have refused to turn over documents or show up for testimony, which again is a bad look. And Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warned that this would happen back at the start of the inquiry. The second article also has this phrase in there.

PH:

These actions were consistent with president Trump's previous efforts to undermine United States government's investigations into foreign interference in United States elections.

HB:

And there's how Democrats slipped in the hints from the Mueller report that Trump had committed obstruction of justice, the actual criminal kind, during the Russia investigation. But it doesn't become an article of its own, which makes sense given the focus on Ukraine and this whole scheme, but it is sure to disappoint some people. Then they have this absolute bop of a paragraph noting how historically wild trumps stonewalling has been over the last 78 days of the impeachment process.

PH:

In the history of the Republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate high crimes and misdemeanors. This abuse of office served to cover up the president's own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment, and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.

HB:

Both articles end with this crucial clause.

PH:

Wherefore president Trump by such conduct has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance, and the rule of law, president Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

HB:

A threat to the constitution. And you'll note that the draft articles have suggested sentencing there that fits the alleged crimes. Removal from office and disqualification from holding other offices or profiting from the US. So if, and that's such a huge if right now, Trump were convicted and removed, he'd be barred from running for a second term, which would be total chaos for the Republican party, as it has to figure out how to promote now president Pence in the 2020 election. And that's the articles. You'll note that they don't list any of the proposed charges about Trump's general Trumpiness, what with the racism, the accusations of sexual assault, the alleged campaign finance violations, et cetera, et cetera.

HB:

They also didn't mention the way he's profited off of foreign governments spending money at his hotels during his term in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. But this is the case Democrats are making meaning, meaning those other things cannot come up in his eventual trial. That was all a lot, and we'll see if these articles change up at all when the Judiciary Committee has its hearing later this week to mark up the bill, AKA add in any possible edits. Probably not, but hey, it's a really fucking weird time we live in y'all.

Okay, that's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have all the deets for you out of the State of the Union ,going to go out on a limb and predict the Trump says it's strong. And we'll also take a look at what we still don't know, even as this whole trial thing wraps up. Thanks to all of you out there who have subscribed to the show. If you're listening for the first time, wow, you chose a hell of a moment to do so, but welcome, and please do subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you go to hear my disembodied voice. You're going to want to stick around to catch what will probably be our final episodes, where we all figure out how this all ends together.

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