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Impeachment Today Podcast: Taking Out The Ambassador

In today's episode: Democrats close their case against Trump, and a new recording emerges of the president talking with his Ukraine fixers.

Posted on January 26, 2020, at 12:11 a.m. ET

Nicholas Kamm / Getty Images

Former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifying as part of the impeachment inquiry.

It's Saturday, January 24. Day 6 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 Saturday, January 25th, 2020. Day six 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. It's Saturday morning, so thanks for spending part of your weekend with us. Hopefully you got yourself a nice donut or something ahead of this morning's roundup trialing. Today's the day that the president's defense takes the floor, but first let's get caught up on how the house manager spent their Friday night.

The House managers had 24 hours to make their case against the president, and the clock ran out on Friday night. Lead manager Adam Schiff started off the day with a summation of the national security threat that Trump poses if he's allowed to remain in office.

Adam Schiff:

An emboldened Russia is a threat to the United States and global security around the world. The president's willingness to put himself over country undercut our European allies' confidence in America's commitment to deterring Russian aggression. And its signal to adversaries and friends alike that the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, our commander in chief, could be influenced by manipulating his perception of what was best for his personal interests. Now, I have no doubt that the Russians, and probably every other nation that has the capacity, does a psychological profile of the president of the United States, as we profile other leaders. If a president can be so easily manipulated to disbelieve his own intelligence agencies, to accept the propaganda of the Kremlin, that is a threat to our national security.

Hayes Brown:

The White House later Friday afternoon tweeted out a clip they said showed Trump, "Unequivocally denounce foreign interference in our elections, and accepted the conclusions of the intelligence community," Hmm, well, let's take a listen to what Trump said in the video attached to that tweet.

Donald Trump:

And I've said this many times, I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion.

HB:

Yeah, I don't think that's what unequivocal means. Schiff rounded out the abuse of power case by asking the Senator to look deep, deep inside, and ask themselves, "Do you all really think that Donald Trump won't be on you all asses if it helps him?" Okay, that was paraphrasing. Here's what he actually said.

Adam Schiff:

It shouldn't matter that it was Marie Yovanovitch. It shouldn't matter that was Joe Biden. Because I'll tell you something, the next time it just may be you. It just may be you. Do you think for a moment that any of you, no matter what your relationship with this president, no matter how close you are to this president, do you think for a moment that if he felt it was in his interest, he wouldn't ask you to be investigate? Do you think for a moment that he wouldn't? And if somewhere deep down below you realize that he would, you cannot leave a man like that in office when he has violated the constitution. It shouldn't matter it was Joe Biden, it could have been any of us. It may be any of us. It shouldn't matter that it was Marie Yovanovitch. It'll be some other diplomat tomorrow for some other pernicious reason. Goes to what Mr Jeffrey said. It goes to character.

HB:

The Democrats then pivoted to the second article of impeachment, which charged President Trump with obstruction of Congress. It's a charge that the House Judiciary Committee passed against Nixon back in 1974. And as several house managers pointed out, Nixon was like a dream to work with in comparison to Trump, who unlike Nixon, ordered that all documents and testimony be withheld from the house. And house manager Jerry Nadler put possibly the sharpest point possible on what it means for Trump to deny Congress's authority over impeachment.

Jerry Nadler:

... has engaged in obstruction and several of his predecessors have expressly said is forbidden, and that led to an article of impeachment against Nixon. President Trump is an outlier. He's the first and only president ever to declare himself unaccountable, and to ignore subpoenas backed by the Constitution's impeachment power. If he is not removed from office, if he is permitted to defy the Congress entirely, categorically, to say that subpoenas from Congress in an impeachment inquiry are nonsense, then we will have lost, the House will have lost, the Senate certainly will have lost all power to hold any president accountable. This is a determination by President Trump that he wants to be all powerful. He does not have to respect the Congress. He does not have to respect the representatives of the people. Only his will goes. He is a dictator. This must not stand. And that is why another reason he must be removed from office.

HB:

All right, I'm going to let that one sink into your brain pans for a second. All right, next up. House manager Val Demings reminded the senatorial jury about Trump's attempts to bully witnesses out of testifying before Congress. During the impeachment hearings, Trump actually tweeted about former US ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch as she was about to speak. Here's what Yovanovitch said to Schiff at the time.

Adam Schiff:

Ambassador, you've shown the courage to come forward today and testify. Not withstanding the fact you were urged by the White House or State Department not to. Not withstanding the fact of that as you testified earlier the President implicitly threatened you in that call record. And now the president realtime is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?

Marie Yovanovitch:

Well, it's very intimidating.

Adam Schiff:

Designed to intimidate, is it not?

Marie Yovanovitch:

I mean, I can't speak to what the president trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.

Adam Schiff:

Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.

HB:

Speaking of your Yovanovitch, there's audio out there of Trump apparently demanding that she had to go while having dinner with the alleged fixers who eventually ran an operation to get her fired. In the audio from 2018, which was first reported by ABC, Trump can be heard to say, "Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it." That was his response to Lev Parnas telling Trump that the ambassador had been bad mouthing him and saying he'd be impeached which, well, irony.

Parnas would go on to become one of two men that Giuliani used to help him dig up dirt in Ukraine and spread lies about Joe Biden and Yovanovitch. The recording apparently came from Igor Fruman, Parnas's partner in affair. A lawyer of Parnas said that Parnas found a copy of the audio in his iCloud account yesterday. That tape is a big deal because it draws a direct line between Giuliani's activities in Ukraine and the president in a way that even the text messages that Parnas had turned over had not before. Trump however said to Fox that the whole sitch was not a big deal, and whatever new audio there was didn't say anything important.

Speaker:

Were you relying on Lev Parnas to get rid of your ambassador?

Donald Trump:

No no. No, but I have a lot of people, and he's somebody that, I guess, based on pictures that I see, he goes to fundraisers, but I am not a fan of that ambassador.

Speaker:

But were you telling Parnas to get rid of her? I mean you have a State Department.

Donald Trump:

Well, I wouldn't have been saying that. I probably would've said it was Rudy there or somebody, but I'd make no bones about it. I want to have ambassadors. I have every right, I want ambassadors that are chosen by me. I have a right to hire and fire ambassadors.

HB:

Reminder, Rudy is not, and has never been part, of the State Department. Schiff used the last of the house manager's time to appeal to the senators present, that they need to accept that Trump is a danger to the country and act accordingly. But he apparently managed to piss off some key Republicans with this speech. Schiff mentioned a press report that the White House had warned senators that a vote against Trump would result in their, "head on a pike," and apparently that was not phrasing that the GOP's members liked having put out on blast like that. Whoops. And now a special Saturday reading from the Nixometer.

On our scale to zero is a normal day in a normal White House, and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning we're at a 7.3. If that seems low, it's because Democrats are really unsure about how things are looking as far as removal goes. It was always going to be near impossible to get 20 Republicans to vote for kicking Trump out of office. But the hope was that a few of them could help pry loose witnesses and documents to make an impressive case completely air tight. And with the hopes of that vote going the way house managers want fading, that Nix-ometer is creeping down in response.

Okay. After the break, we dive into some of the weird ish in and out of the courtroom yesterday. Stick around.

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 trial. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo got some heat yesterday for how he handled an NPR reporter's questions about the Ukraine affair. Mary Louise Kelly asked him about his unwillingness to defend Marie Yovanovitch, and he got testy.

Mary Louise Kelly:

People who work for you and your department, people who have resigned from this department under your leadership saying you should stand up for the diplomats who work here.

Mike Pompeo:

What? I don't know who these unnamed sources are you're referring to. I can tell you this. When I talk to my people-

Mary Louise Kelly:

These are not unnamed sources. This is your senior advisor Michael McKinley, a career Foreign Service Officer with four decades experience who testified under oath that he resigned in part due to the failure of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry on Ukraine.

MP:

Yeah, I'm not going to comment on things that Mr McKinley may have said. I'll say only this: I have defended every state department official. We've built a great team. The team that works here is doing amazing work around the world.

Mary Louise Kelly:

Sir respectfully where have you defended Marie Yovanovitch?

MB:

I've defended every single person on this team. I've done what's right for every single person on this team.

Mary Louise Kelly:

Can you point me towards your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?

MP:

I've said all I'm going to say today. Thank you.

HB:

That snippy attitude from Pompeo continued after the interview ended according to Kelly. She said Pompeo called her back to his private living room at the State Department and yelled at her for as long as the interview had lasted. He dropped the word fuck more than we do on this show according to Kelly, with him saying that Americans don't fucking care about Ukraine. Pompeo then asked Kelly if she could find Ukraine on a map. And she was like, "Yes." He had someone bring in an unlabeled world map and had her point to Ukraine. When she did with no problem, he told her that, "People would hear about this." Let us remind you that Pompeo was speaking with Rudy Giuliani right around the time he was smearing Yovanovitch. Pompeo also assigned his BFF from West Point to handle Yovanovitch's case, then did not stick up for her when she got removed from her post. He also was on Trump's call with Ukraine's president in July, but dodged the question when first asked about it in September. So yeah, totally a guy you don't want to hear from in a trial.

Speaking of Rudy, my dude finally launched his podcast. Let's take a listen.

Rudy Giuliani:

Welcome to the first episode of Rudy Giuliani's-

HB:

Actually, you know what? Nope, nevermind. We do not need that in our lives right now. Apparently Giuliani was overheard at JFK Airport on Friday yelling into his phone about how nobody could find his podcast, which is a shame that it's not as easy as to find and subscribe to Impeachment today on the iHeart Radio app, Apple podcasts, or wherever you go for podcasts. Whoa, that was like a reflex at this point. Jesus.

He's not the only one who has a new podcast. Senator Ted Cruz apparently spun one up too. I have to confess that I've heard literally zero of it, but I can only assume that it is a totally unbiased, nonpartisan analysis of the evidence presented that only a former Texas Solicitor General with a deep appreciation of the law could provide.

Anyway, no idea how much longer we'll be doing this podcast, but happy to have either Ted or Rudy join us. Come on, gents, it'll be a fun time.

And finally, let's turn to BuzzFeed congressional correspondents Paul McLeod and Kadia Goba with a vibe check from Capitol Hill. I actually haven't listened to this audio yet, so I am as excited as you guys are to hear what it was like there last night.

Paul McLeod:

Hey Hayes, this is Paul and Kadia coming to you here-

Kadia Goba:

Hey.

Paul McLeod:

From the Hills of the Capitol. We're going to wrap up Friday, but we actually outsourced this one because we're feeling pretty lazy. So we brought in a freelancer. Want to introduce yourself?

Sen. Coons:

Hi, I'm Senator Chris Coons from Delaware.

Paul McLeod:

Senator Chris Coons from Delaware, what was it like in the room for Adam Schiff's closing closing statements?

Sen. Coons:

I thought Chairman Schiff gave a particularly powerful closing tonight. His final line, "Give America a fair trial, she deserves it," was an emotional appeal to the senators in the chamber to vote for the witnesses and the evidence that would allow us to actually get to the bottom of the truth of the alleged scheme by President Trump to use the power of his office to use $400 million in aid to dangle in front of a vulnerable ally facing Russian aggression for the president's own political benefit.

The house manager certainly laid out a thorough and a compelling case, and if the president hopes to be exonerated, his advocates are going to have to bring a very strong counter argument.

Paul McLeod:

We've had three days now of laying out the case against President Trump.

Sen. Coons:

Yep.

Paul McLeod:

Do you see any signs over your Republican colleagues being swayed?

Sen. Coons:

Look, at certain points during the arguments over the last three days, looking at their faces, some of them I think were troubled or puzzled. Some, just from what I've heard them saying on other news channels, I think aren't moved at all. Look, the real question is what are the American people going to demand? What are the American people saying when they're calling other offices? Because at the end of the day, popular opinion is what's going to move the needle.

Paul McLeod:

Okay. Thank you Senator. Your freelance check is in the mail. All right, Hayes, back to you. Cheers.

Hayes Brown:

Holy shit. Well, thanks Paul, Kadia, and Senator Coons. Look at us. We're a real podcast now.

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. After three days from the house managers, today is the first day for the president's defense to make their case. And based on a preview from Trump's private counsel Jay Sekulow given to reporters yesterday, shit's going to be wild you guys. Here's an excerpt from that talk where Sekulow was going on about Hillary Clinton and her supposed election meddling in the 2016 election, or something. This is all direct quotes mind you. "I want you to think about this, where did that foreign intelligence, foreign information come from? It came from connection from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the number three, whose wife happened to work for Fusion GPS, who happened to be hired by the DNC, to happen to do an investigation on Donald Trump. And by the way, she didn't just do it with the Steele Dossier, she was also involved with guess what? Ukraine."

Nom nom nom, delicious conspiracy theories. This will make for the perfect Saturday brunch when things kick off at 10:00 AM Eastern Standard Time today. This'll be a short one. Today's session is only going until about 1:00 PM. That'll give senators time to go home over the weekend, and lets Trump's team save the bulk of their time for Monday when more people will be watching. That's important for the president, who yesterday complained on Twitter that the defense will be starting up in the, "Death Valley of TV." And that's it for today's edition of Trial Watch 2020.

Okay, that is all for this very long first week of this trial. We'll be back at you Monday morning to break down whatever went down in the trial on Saturday. Until then, I think we could all use a fucking nap. Our show is produced by Dan Bauza, Alan Haberchak, and Jacopo Penzo. With editorial assistance from Tom Gara, and recording help from Veronica [Doolan 00:16:40] who's been holding it down since we started the show, delivering all of the reporters voices from our DC Bureau. Thank you so much Veronica. Editing is by Josh Fisher, Taylor Hosking and Ryan Kyla. Julian Weller is our supervising producer. Special thanks to Mangesh Hatecador, Nikki Itor, Samantha Henig, Maggie Schultz, and Ben Smith. Lastly, if you haven't already, make sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you frequent to hear my disembodied voice. Also, tell your friends about the show, as we figure out how this impeachment saga finally ends together.

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