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Impeachment Today Podcast: Ken Starr Is Back?

In today's episode: The man who led the charge against Bill Clinton returns to the senate with a warning that actually, impeachment is bad.

Posted on January 28, 2020, at 11:40 p.m. ET

Luke Frazza / Getty Images

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr is sworn in to testify before the House Judiciary Committee impeachment inquiry in November, 1998.

It's Tuesday, January 28. Day eight 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, January 28, 2020, day eight 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.

Boy, that sure was some words at the trial yesterday, huh? Lot of words there. Okay, let's do this.

So the trailer that Trump's lawyers gave on Saturday was meant to preview their arguments in defense of the president. Let's just say that Saturday was like watching a trailer for a Michael Bay movie, yet today's arguments though were like watching the legal version of The Room. Things ticked off with some lawyer named Ken Starr giving a lecture to the Senate about why impeachment is bad and how you need a crime under the US Criminal Code for impeachment to count.

Ken Starr:

The articles charged crimes. What about article two and Nixon, which is sometimes referred to as abuse of power. Was that the abusive power article? The precursor to article one that is before this court? Not at all. When one returns to article two in Nixon approved by a by-partisan house judiciary committee, article two of Nixon sets forth a deeply troubling story of numerous crimes. Not one, not two, numerous crimes, carried out at the direction of the president himself.

Hayes Brown:

That's so weird because the lawyer who investigated Bill Clinton and recommended that Congress impeach him was also named Ken Starr. That Ken Starr said this in the audio book version of contempt, a memoir of the Clinton investigation.

KS:

Sam and I had strongly agreed on count 11, presidential abuse of power. That would be largely set aside during the house's deliberative process. The reaction to the abuse of power skeptics, including Republican members of the house surprised me. This wasn't an obscure legal doctrine. This is what had brought Nixon down. The president employed his power and prerogatives to further an enterprise aimed at shielding himself from the rule of law.

HB:

What a bizarre coincidence that they're both... Wait a second.

They are the same person?

Wow, a twist. Now before the cognitive dissonance could finish settling in, it was off to the races for the defense who put on a surprisingly strong case for why the presidents actions don't merit removal. No I'm just messing with you. That shit was crazy pants. Let's start off with the least agro of the lawyers. Deputy white house counsel, Patrick Philbin took on the house manager's constitutional arguments in a lecture on why the house really should have gone to court to work this whole thing out.

Patrick Philbin:

Impeachment under the constitution is the thermo nuclear weapon of inter branch friction, and where there is something like a rifle or a bazooka at the house's disposal to address some friction with the executive branch. That is the next step. It is incrementalism in the constitution, not jumping straight to impeachment. That is the solution. If the house could jump straight to impeachment, that would alter the relationship between the branches. It would suggest that the house could make it so superior over the executive, dangle the threat of impeachment over any demand for information made to the executive. That's contrary to the framers plan.

HB:

We had a few new faces besides Starr at yesterday's proceedings. Private lawyer Jane Raskin tried to paint Rudy Giuliani as just a lovable scamp who is doing his best to defend his client against the mean old Mueller investigation.

Jane Raskin:

Fact is in the end, after a two years siege on the presidency, two inspector general reports and a $32 million special counsel investigation, turns out Rudy was spot on. Seems to me if we're keeping score on who got it right on allegations of Pfizer abuse, egregious misconduct at the highest level of the FBI, alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and supposed obstruction of justice in connection with the special counsel investigation, the score is Mayor Giuliani for Mr. Schiff, zero.

But in this trial, in this moment, Mr Giuliani is just a minor player, that shiny object designed to distract you. Senators, I urge you most respectfully, do not be distracted.

HB:

Speaking of Biden though, the defense hinted last weekend that it would be going after Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine as a pillar of its case, that the president had every right to have the Bidens investigated. And boy did they deliver. Former Florida attorney general and longtime Trump ally, Pam Bondi had the honor of delivering that attack.

Pam Bondi:

What he didn't say on that video, according to the New York times, this was the prosecutor investigating Burisma Shogun. What he also didn't say on the video was that his son was being paid significant amounts by the oligarch owner of Burisma to sit on that board. Only then does Hunter Biden leave the board, he stays on the board until April, 2019.

HB:

Okay look, as we have said, Hunter's deal in Ukraine was weird and sketchy in a very DC kind of way, but there's no evidence of any sort of plot with his dad to do anything Bondi accused the Biden's of doing. And again, Joe Biden was operating within the state of US foreign policy in cooperation with other countries and institutions when he pushed for the prosecutor general in Ukraine to resign. The prosecutor who, again, was not actually looking into Biden or the company he worked for when he was fired. And as the house managers made clear in their case, president Trump showed zero interest in corruption Ukraine until it became clear that Joe Biden could be hurt politically if his son is being investigated.

Iowa Senator, Joni Ernst kind of said the quiet part out loud when speaking to the press during a break in the proceedings.

Joni Ernst:

She was on Joe Biden.

Pam Bondi:

Iowa caucuses folks, Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening, and I'm really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those democratic caucus goers. Will they be supporting vice president Biden at this point?

HB:

It's almost as if she thinks this narrative that the president was pushing in an effort to knee cap Joe Biden might end up kneecapping Joe Biden after being repeated on the Senate floor. The defense itself seemed to go back and forth on whether the president actually did the thing the president is accused of doing, holding up a white house visit and $391 million in military to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into the Bidens and prove that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the 2016 US election.

You know who could set that story straight? John Bolton. News broke on Sunday night that the former national security advisor says in his upcoming book that the president told him aid to Ukraine would be frozen until Ukraine officials turned over information on the Bidens and Ukraine conspiring with Hillary Clinton in 2016, which would be impossible since it didn't happen, but whatever. The bombshell report totally scrambled predictions on whether the Senate would actually vote to allow for witnesses later this week.

Some Republicans like Mitt Romney who said for a minute now that he wants Bolton to speak his peace, seemed to think there was a greater chance than ever that witnesses will be called in the trial. That's doubly true with Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey, using about a one for one swap with Democrats who were witnesses after contentious GOP Senate lunch. But here comes Delaware Democrat, Chris Coons, pouring some cold water on that idea on MSNBC.

Lawrence O’Donnell:

It's Lawrence O'Donnell, has there been any discussion among the Democrats of participating in any kind of deal that would bring in both John Bolton and Hunter Biden as witnesses?

Chris Coons:

No, in fact, I'll give Sheldon Whitehouse credit for saying in the cloak room, why on earth would we engage in that kind of a crazy quid pro quo where we trade a relevant witness for an irrelevant witness in the middle of a quid pro quo trial. To the extent there was any discussion of it, it was just a uniform passion about rejecting that as any kind of a reasonable path forward.

HB:

I guess we'll just have to wait until later on this week to see how this all ends? And now we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale, a zero is a normal day in a normal white house and 10, president Richard Nixon resigns and flies off a Marine One. This morning we're at an 8.1. The president's defense has been lacking something, a certain... what should I call it? Evidence. They're saying a lot of things very loudly, but none of it is really refuting the case that the house managers actually made. That being said, with being more in play than they have been for weeks, it is going to be down to the wire at the end of this week to figure out just how long this trial will go on. The longer the trial lasts, the more chances the damaging information about the president comes out, leaving GOP senators in more of a bind.

Okay. After the break, we'll be back to talk to you about some of the weirdest and wildest stuff that happened during the trial yesterday and believe me, we haven't covered all of it yet. Be right back.

Welcome back. It's time for our newest segment, What The Fuck Was That? It's where we take a look at some of the weird and wild things that happened both in and out of the Senate chamber during the impeachment trial.

So we covered a lot of the arguments from the president's defense today earlier in the show, but we saved the really, Excuse me, What!?" Moments for now, like how you leave the best center bite of the waffle for last. First, y'all remember the New York times 1619 project, yeah? The series of essays that explained how racism has been interwoven into the American fabric since the first enslaved people were brought over 400 years ago. That one. Well, defense attorney Robert Ray took time from his argument to attack the 1619 project in defense of president Andrew Johnson.

Robert Ray:

In a historical slight of hand worthy only of the New York times recent 1619 series, a series by the way, roundly criticized by two of my Princeton civil war and reconstruction history professors as inaccurate, house managers now claim that president Johnson's removal of Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, without Congress's permission in violation of a congressional statute, later found to be unconstitutional, is best understood with the benefit of revisionist hindsight to be motivated not by his desire to violate the statute, but on his illegitimate use of power to undermine reconstruction and subordinate African-Americans following the civil war.

HB:

That is absolutely why Johnson was and should have been impeached. The dude was clearly a white supremacist who tried to unravel reconstruction laws passed by Congress. But you don't have to take it from me, go back to our December 16th episode. Feels like the very first time to hear historian Brenda Wineapple tell you all about it.

HB:

Next, there was this moment when one of Trump's lawyers revealed the real villain in the story, the real person who hated Ukraine and was soft to Russia, the real person who had a quid pro quo in place, Barrack Obama.

Robert Ray:

Case against president Obama would have been far stronger than the allegations against president Trump. President Obama's abuse of power to benefit his own political interests was there and is here now for everyone to hear. It was a direct unquestionable quid pro quo. No mind reading was needed there. Where were the house managers then?

HB:

Yeah, so that thing he was just talking about, it was a quote from 2012 were Obama on a hot mic, told Russia's then prime minister that he'd have more flexibility to negotiate on missile defense after the election, which would be his last. The prime minister says he'll let Putin know and that was it. I've given myself at least three headaches trying to figure out what Obama would get in the supposedly quid pro quo, so I don't recommend trying for yourself.

Meanwhile, secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Ukraine sparked feud with NPR hit a new level on Monday. To recap, an NPR reporter called Pompeo out for not supporting ambassador Marie Yovanovitch when she was under attack. When the reporter got yelled at by Pompeo after the interview, she spilled all the tea. Pompeo sent out a statement calling her a liar, and seemed to imply that the reporter somehow confused Bangladesh for Ukraine in his weird IRL sparkle quiz moment, where he challenged her to point out the former Soviet country on an unlabeled world map.

While on Monday, Pompeo decided to kick a different NPR reporter off of his upcoming international trip. The state department press association says it's retaliation for NPRs reporting. But you know what's truly wild here, a major stop on that trip, Ukraine.

And finally, we have a vibe check from the Hill to get the feeling of how things were going during today's presentations.

Rudy Giuliani:

Welcome to the first episode of Rudy Giuliani's comment.

HB:

Sorry. That was Rudy Giuliani's podcast, which... You know what? I'll take it. Officially saying, The Vibe on The Hill is chaos.

Okay. It's time for the latest edition of our segment, Trial Watch 2020. It's where we run down what's happening next in the Senate impeachment trial.

Today is the last date that the Trump team has available to present their defense of the president. According to the Washington post, the legal team has started planning for what happens though if witnesses are actually called and how best to discredit John Bolton. But first, we have to get through whatever free flow jazz word association fire the mixmasters spit today. Given the trajectory of their argument and the lack of evidence presented, this may wind up being a short day.

This concludes Trial Watch 2020.

All right, that's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have all the best of whatever today throws at us. God speed's until then, y'all. Thanks to all of you out there who have subscribed to the show so far. If you're listening to the first time or just haven't gotten around to it, please be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you go to hear my disembodied voice, and be sure to stick around as we all figure out how this all ends together.

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