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Impeachment Today Podcast: It's In The Public Interest For Me To Win The Election

In today's episode: Senators discover a wild new argument in defense of Trump's Ukrainian follies.

Posted on January 31, 2020, at 12:05 a.m. ET

Tom Brenner / Getty Images

It's Thursday, January 30. Day 10 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.

Hayes Brown:

It's Thursday, January 30th, 2020. Day 10 of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. We've got a lot to cover for you after the first of two days where the Senate finally got the chance to ask some illuminating questions about the case against the president. So let's just dive right in.

The Senate had an eight-hour Q & A session on Wednesday, submitting questions in writing for either the House managers or the defense to answer, or both. It's a bit of a loophole to get around the fact that senators have to remain silent during the trial and it keeps them from spending the whole time making speeches, which thank goodness since as we all know, senators effing love hearing themselves talk. The potential was there for a bunch of back and forth and sharp interrogating of the cases the House managers and D team were making. But instead, most of the questions were softballs directed from the Democrats to the House managers, and from Republicans to the president's lawyers. But three of the most likely GOP senators to vote in favor of witnesses in Friday's key vote, Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski got the first question of the day submitted for Chief Justice John Roberts to read out and it was a doozy.

The three asked the president's council if President Trump had more than one motive for the alleged conduct in the first article of impeachment such as pursuit of political advantage, rooting out corruption, what have you, then how should the Senate considered these multiple motives?

White House deputy counsel, Patrick Philbin quenched the bulk of the questions directed at the defense suggested in his answer that as long as there was maybe a public interest in the president's actions, you can't impeach and remove him. Later in the day, Philbin said in response to a question from Democrat, Chris Coons, that accepting information about a political opponent during the election is absolutely legit, by the way. Says it doesn't count as foreign interference, which wow, not according to US election laws.

Harvard professor and Trump defense team member Alan Dershowitz went even further in his answer, all but saying that anything a president does when running for election is because it's for the good of the country.

Alan Dershowitz:

Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest and mostly you're right, your election is in the public interest and if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.

Hayes Brown:

That is absolutely wild. The idea that anything that Trump does between now and the election with the aim of winning is automatically in the national interest is bonkers and given that President Trump clearly attempted to hide his actions both by using proxies and refusing to turn over documents to Congress, he did not want the people to know what he was theoretically doing for their benefit. House manager, Adam Schiff, was quick to point out how absurd Dershowitz's argument was in an absolutely brutal dunk.

Adam Schiff:

So can you rely on a false exculpatory? You can't with this president any more than you can with any other accused and probably given the presidents track record, a lot less than other accused. But at the end of the day, we have people with firsthand knowledge. You don't have to rely on his false exculpatory. You don't have to rely on Mick Mulvaney's recounting what you all saw so graphically on TV. How does someone who say, without a doubt, this was a factor? This is why he did it. And by the way, Alan Dershowitz lost a criminal case in which he argued that if a corrupt motive was only part of the motive, you can't convict. And the court said, "Oh yes you can." If a corrupt motive is any part of it, you can convict. So he's lost that argument before he makes that argument again before this court. It shouldn't be any more availing here than it was there.

Hayes Brown:

As the kids say, the president's team struggled at times to provide answers to some of the questions being asked by the more skeptical GOP senators, including, is there any evidence that shows Trump was interested in Hunter Biden and potential corruption Ukraine from before Biden announced he was running for president last year? Here's what Philbin said in response.

Patrick Philbin:

I think it's important at the outset to frame the answer by bearing in mind I'm limited to what's in the record and what's in the records is determined by what the House of Representatives sought. It was their a proceeding? They were the ones who ran it. They were the ones who called the witnesses.

So part of the question refers to conversations between President Trump and other cabinet members and others like that. There's not something in the record on that. It wasn't thoroughly pursued in the record, so I can't point to something in the record that shows President Trump at an earlier time mentioning specifically something related to Joe or Hunter Biden.

Hayes Brown:

That's not encouraging if I'm, the president also has claimed that they had to stick to the house record, not the case. The White House blocked all documents and witnesses the house requested in the impeachment inquiry. The defense on the other hand, as the president himself has pointed out, has access to basically any record that the White House has and can put it forward as evidence; weird that they aren't, huh? Senator Romney also asked the president's team exactly when the president decided to withhold nearly $400 million in military to Ukraine last year and if he explained to anyone his reasoning at the time. Philbin's response basically boils down to, well, see what happened was...

Patrick Philbin:

I don't think that there is evidence in the record of a specific date, the specific date, but there is testimony in the record that individuals at OMB and elsewhere were aware of a hold as of July 3rd, and there is evidence in the record of the president's rationales from even earlier than that time. There is an email from June 24th, that has been publicly released. It was publicly released in response to a foyer request that is from one DOD staffer up to the Chief of Staff and DOD, excuse me, sorry from the Chief of Staff down to a staffer and DOD, relating on the subject line, POTUS followup. It's followup from a meeting with POTUS, President United States, explaining questions that had been asked about the Ukraine assistance, which were specifically, what was the funding used for IE? Did it go to US firms? Who funded it and what do other NATO members spend to support Ukraine?

Hayes Brown:

Yeah. Okay. A bunch of Wednesdays questions centered around witnesses and whether they're needed or not. The president's lawyers warned yet again that if Democrats tried to call in people like former national security advisor, John Bolton, then the process would be held up for basically ever, and do you all really want to be holding this trial until the heat death of the universe. Manager Schiff in response pledged at the house would be totally chill with basically any ruling from Chief Justice John Roberts if the trial were to move forward. A little bit later, Schiff answered a question asking why would be that an impeachment trial to remove a federal judge would have 26 witnesses, but a presidential impeachment trial should have none and in the process, Schiff felt the need to flex on him one time.

Adam Schiff:

She's just a Senator. As you know, I'm quite familiar with the POTUS impeachment. Someone asked me the last time I tried a case. The answer is probably 30 years, ago except for the impeachment of Thomas Porteous, but when I last spent some quality time with you, there is no difference in terms of the Constitution. I would say that the need for witnesses in the impeachment trial of a president of the United States is a far more compelling circumstance than the impeachment of a judge.

Now, you might say, well, in the impeachment of a judge, how is it possible that the time of the Senate could be occupied by calling witnesses that that is precious as your time is, we would occupy your time calling dozens of witnesses, but in the impeachment of a president, it's not worth the time. It's too much of an imposition.

Hayes Brown:

The runner up for the favorite topic of the day, Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter's job in Ukraine. The Republicans in question after question up to Robert on the topic. So several Democrats decided send up a question to House managers to try to even things out.

Speaker:

The president's council has argued that Hunter Biden's involvement with Burisma created a conflict of interest for his father, Joe Biden. President Trump, the Trump Organization and his family, including those who serve in the White House, maintained significant business interests in foreign countries and benefit from foreign payments and investments. By the standard the president's council has applied to Hunter Biden should Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump's conflicts of interest with foreign governments also come under investigation.

Hayes Brown:

House manager Val Demings don't refuse to go there in her response.

Val Demings:

The president of the United States tried to cheat and then try to get this foreign power, this newly elected president, to spread a false narrative that we know is untrue about interference in our election. That's why we are here and it really would help, I believe the situation, if the attorney general, perhaps the Department of Justice who's been pretty silent, would issue a rule in or an opinion about any person of authority, especially the president of the United States, using or abusing that authority to invite other powers into interfering in our election.

So, Mr. Chief Justice, I will just close my remarks as I began them. Let us stay focused. This doesn't have anything to do with president's children or the Biden's children. This is about the president's wrongdoing.

Hayes Brown:

Then in the literal next question, the president's lawyers got asked about Hunter Biden's time on the board of Ukrainian gas company and whether investigating that period of time was in the national interest.

The defense, of course, showed the exact same deference that Val Demings just did. The absolutely did not do that but the presidents team did indirectly make a very good point when answering that question.

They never once said that Hunter's business activities were under investigation in the United States, in the years between 2014 and 2019, when he was on the board. This despite it supposedly being in the national interest to do so and the GOP controlling Congress until last year and the White House since 2017. How very strange.

By the time 11:00 PM rolled around and the Senate adjourned, everyone was pretty dang tired and given that many, if not most of the 93 questions asked, were hand written on little index cards, the hand cramps had to have been intense. They better get to icing them though. We're doing this all over again tomorrow.

Now today's reading from the Nixometer. On our scale is zero as a normal day in a normal White House and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away and Marine One. This morning we're at a 7.9.

The first day of questioning by senators got some revealing answers out there, but the drama over whether Senate Republicans are becoming more or less likely to reject witnesses in Friday's vote is killing me. This is like the will they won't. They have every sitcom romance ever but with the added factor of maybe the president did crimes and that's cool.

After the break we've got another round of what is unquestionably America's new favorite game show, can I Get a Witness? Sorry. I wish I could provide proof of that claim but it's not in the house record. Be right back.

Welcome back. Today we have another round for you of a game that I am calling, Can I get a Witness? Here's how this works. In each side's arguments on a specific part of the impeachment case, we'll look at what evidence exists and which witness or documents can clear things up further.

As a reminder upfront, the Senate will be voting tomorrow on whether to call witnesses. Four Republican votes are probably needed to join the Democrats to make a majority of 51, in order to have that motion pass. There are arguments out there about whether Chief Justice John Roberts can either break a 50/50 tie or just go ahead and call witnesses himself, but for now, let's focus on the sure fire way to keep the trial going.

Okay. First up, the House managers claim that the president used his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, help him bully Ukraine into announcing two investigations, both of which would boost Trump in this year's election.

The defense says Giuliani is just a distraction and that he was acting well within his role as the president's defense lawyer in the Mueller probe. His time in Ukraine, they say, was just about following leads to show his client was innocent of colluding with Russia in the 2016 election.

Now, the best person to call as a witness for this question is not Giuliani, though, that would be fun as hell if I'm being honest. No, instead, Mick Mulvaney is the man for the job here. Trump's acting Chief of Staff, Mulvaney has been a key potential witness since the day he stood in front of reporters in September and said that hundreds of millions in military aid to Ukraine was held up to get Ukraine to cooperate in the investigations Trump wanted. He later tried to walk that confession back.

Now a metric shit ton of text messages have already been turned over to Congress by the former US Envoy to Ukraine. They showed that US officials were working with Rudy during the summer in pursuit of the investigations announcement. Mulvaney's lawyer has claimed that he always stepped out of the room when President Trump was speaking with Giuliani, but according to the New York Times in his new book, John Bolton claims that Mulvaney was present for at least one phone call between Giuliani and the president talking about Ukraine. Having Mulvaney come forward with more information would be choice.

Next up, the House manager said that Giuliani led us smear campaign against the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch to get her removed as part of the president's scheme. The defense argues that the president has every right to fire an ambassador for whatever reason so you can't be mad at him for that. Yeah? Yeah. Now who can sort out this dispute? Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Marie Yovanovitch testified that she was never told exactly why she was pushed out of her role, but text between Giuliani and his cohorts and other documents show that her removal was a condition for assistance from a Ukrainian official with a grudge against her. That official had offered to hand over information about Hunter Biden, son of former VP Joe Biden, in return.

Pompeo ordered his BFF from West Point, T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, to handle the Yovanovitch situation when she first complained about the campaign against her but nothing apparently ever happened in that case and state department records show that Giuliani had at least two phone calls with Pompeo right around the time you Yovanovitch was recalled to the US.

Pompeo's testimony would be pretty helpful here. Also helpful, the document that the state department hasn't turned over to Congress. Who knows, maybe there is a records trail showing Brechbuhl was really trying to stop Giuliani but I guess we won't know without those documents.

All right. Thanks so much for playing our game, friends. Your prize for playing along, this clip of North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, realizing he just made a great case for John Bolton testifying.

Thom Tillis:

You know, I think it's a hypothetical because I don't know what he said.

Speaker:

Well you could find out.

Thom Tillis:

Well I, I, and I would hope.

Hayes Brown:

Okay, it's time for the latest edition of Trial Watch 2020.

It's where we run down what's happening next in the Senate impeachment trial. Good news. We've got another day of Q and A session between the senators and the parties and the trial. Yay.

So another eight hours of senators submitting questions in writing, eight hours of John Roberts reading them out and at least two hours of complete silence while people shuffle to and from the podium. This may actually wind up being the last substantive part of the trial if Republicans have their way.

After the Q and A period ends, the next thing on the agenda according to if the rules pass and the start of the trial will be a vote on if witnesses or documents will be subpoenaed at all and if that vote fails, it's time to wrap this up and vote on the articles. So savor this while you can friends. It could all be gone in a heartbeat.

This concludes Trial Watch 2020

That's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have more softball questions from senators and more softball answers. JK. Hopefully it's a bit more than that, but have to listen to find out.

Be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever You go to hear my disembodied voice while you still can. Thank you to everyone who has done so, so far. Maybe leave us a rating and review, say we've been doing so far. Also, tell your friends about the show as we figure out how this is all going to end together.

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