Impeachment Today Podcast: The Last Day Of The Trial

In today's episode: the six biggest unanswered questions from Trump's impeachment trial.

It's Wednesday, February 5, 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 Wednesday February 5th, 2020, day 13 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. And this is it, the last day of the impeachment trial, somehow, without any witnesses, and an almost certain acquittal. So, that went well. With that in mind, today we're going to be running through the biggest unanswered questions we still have about what the fuck just happened in here on this day. But before we get to all that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

The impeachment trial hit timeout after Monday's closing arguments to give senators a chance to say for the record why they either think the president is guilty of abusing his power and obstructing Congress, or why he's the most awesome president ever, who's being bullied for being too great at being president. As an example, just to give you a taste, it's the flavor of how yesterday went, here's the end of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's, 10-minute speech.

Mitch McConnell:

We have indeed witnessed an abuse of power, a grave abuse of power by just the kind of house majority that the framers warned us about. So tomorrow, tomorrow, the Senate must do what we were created to do. We've done our duty, we considered all the arguments, we've studied the "mountain of evidence," and tomorrow we will vote. We must vote to reject the House abuse of power, vote to protect our institutions, vote to reject new precedents that would reduce the framers designed to rubble, vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic. I urge every one of our colleagues to cast the vote, the facts, the evidence, the constitution, and the common good clearly require, vote to acquit the president of these charges.

Hayes Brown:

Thanks Mitch for everything. Meanwhile, Susan Collins of Maine was one of just two Republicans that voted in favor of allowing witnesses in the trial. Yesterday she finally ended the suspense that's been gripping America and announced the final results of the Iowa caucus. Wait, shit, my bad, I misread that. She announced how she'd cast her vote on the articles of impeachment today. Drum roll, please. Apparently Susan Collins thinks that the president acted inappropriately, but is voting not guilty. Of course. That makes at least five Republicans who have said they'd acquit the president even though they think he really did try to get Ukraine to interfere in the upcoming election. Here's how Collins explained her decision to CBS, saying that she's pretty sure Trump has learned his lesson.

Susan Collins:

The president has been impeached. That's a pretty big lesson. I'm voting to acquit because I do not believe that the behavior alleged reaches the high bar in the constitution for overturning an election and removing a duly-elected president.


But the president says he did nothing wrong. Why do you think he learned something?

Susan Collins:

He was impeached and there has been criticism by both Republican and Democratic senators of his call. I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future.

Hayes Brown:

For the record, a bunch of news anchors went to a briefing with Trump yesterday and one of the questions he was asked was about Collins saying that he'd learned his lesson. Trump's response, "It was a perfect call." Lesson super fucking learned. Collins was also asked about whether she'd be willing to censure the president, which amounts to Congress voting to officially say, "No. No. Bad president, no biscuits." But Collins joined Iowa's Joni Ernst and confirming, "Yeah. No, that's not happening." Collins said she might have considered it if Democrats hadn't gone and jumped straight to impeachment.

Meanwhile, last night was the State of the Union. This is actually the second time in history that a president has given this speech in the middle of his impeachment trial. Back in 1999, Clinton said absolutely nothing about the whole awkward situation during his speech. And, in a shocking turn of events, the president managed to do the same, not one word about impeachment from Trump over the hour and a half. Now did I lose money betting on whether he'd bring it up or not? Well, I am sorry, that information is privileged and you're going to have to go to the courts to find out.

And now to place a firm number on today's hullabaloo, we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale, a zero is a normal day in a normal White House, 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. And this morning we're at a 5.1. It's almost certain that over half of the Senate will announce not guilty when asked today for their vote, that will include at least 52 Republicans and possibly as many as three Democrats from red or purple states. It's a pretty far cry from where things were just a week ago when it looked like the trial might be forced to keep going, but now we're just left with a lot of what-ifs and even more what-the-hell-just-happeneds.

Okay, after the break, we're listing out the biggest questions left hanging over us as the trial wraps up. Stick around.

All right, it's time for this fucking thing. It's where we zoom in on a person, place or thing that's shaping the impeachment. Today we're taking a look at some of the biggest unsolved mysteries in the impeachment trial. Like season eight of Game of Thrones, we're ending this impeachment saga with more loose ends just left untied out there than a rug woven by a precocious but not very talented five-year-old. And so let's take this old school BuzzFeed. Without further ado, these are the six biggest questions leftover after Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Number six: what the hell was Rick Perry up to in Ukraine? The now former secretary of energy was dubbed one of the three amigos on Ukraine by US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. But we know just as little today as we did in our December episode focused on Perry about what he was actually doing. Last night, the Department of Energy released a new set of emails related to Perry's Ukraine work to American Oversight, a nonprofit ethics group. The emails show top energy department officials writing back and forth with a Texas businessman who Perry reportedly recommended for a spot on the board of Ukraine's national gas company. But that's not exactly part of the plot that was going down as far as we know so far, so it's unclear how Perry's activities were related to the campaign of leaning on Ukraine to announced investigations like Trump wanted, if at all.

Number five: when did Ukraine's President Zelensky really know that $391 million in military aid was being linked to the investigations Trump wanted? Because we've heard a few different answers by now. The earliest we think the Ukrainians may have had a clue was on July 25th, the same day that Trump spoke with Zelensky in the perfect call that sparked the impeachment inquiry. That same day, an email sent to the Pentagon suggested that the Ukrainian embassy in the US may have caught wind of the hold on the aid. But Ukraine has been cagey since the impeachment saga first began. Officially, they've been completely silent on the matter. Just ahead of the impeachment inquiries launch, President Zelensky had his first face-to-face meeting with Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Zelensky said this at a press conference with the two of them at the time.

Volodymyr Zelensky:

No, you sure that we had I think good phone call. It was normal, we spoke about many things. And so I think and you read it that nobody pushed me. Yes.

Donald Trump:

In other words, no pressure.

Hayes Brown:

And Trump has never let us forget it. But as the House manager said, "Ukraine is still dependent on US aid and so would want to play it cool," which means it may be awhile before we get to the bottom of just what Zelensky knew and when.

Number four: how deep in the shit was Mick Mulvaney? Yes, we're all curious about what else former National Security Advisor John Bolton has to say, but he's got a book coming out. Mulvaney on the other hand went out in front of press cameras and admitted repeatedly that the military aid was being tied to investigations. That included him saying this when asked if the aid was being held up to push an investigation into the bonkers theory that the DNC worked with Ukraine to hack its own damn self in 2016.

Mick Mulvaney:

I was involved with the process by which the money was held up temporarily, okay? Three issues for that. The corruption in the country, whether or not other countries were participating in the support of the Ukraine, and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That's completely legitimate.

Hayes Brown:

It's still amazing that he tried to walk that one back. Now, Mulvaney is the one witnesses say issued the hold on the aid to Ukraine sometime in early July, and he did so on the president's orders. He reportedly was searching for a reason to give for the aid being held weeks later, and Mulvaney was reportedly in the room when Trump ordered Bolton to call up President Zelensky and tell him to meet with Rudy Giuliani. Mulvaney refused to answer the House's subpoena during the inquiry and he was considered one of the four witnesses that Democrats insisted should be part of the trial. Unfortunately, clearly that didn't go so well.

Number three: who was paying Rudy? Rudy Giuliani has said he was working for Trump as his personal lawyer in Ukraine. A letter with Rudy's signature that he wrote to President Zelensky said as much. Text messages show how he helped push US officials to get Ukraine to announce the investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election. But who the hell was paying him? We have no idea. Giuliani was in the middle of a tangled web of legal fees that he was both collecting and paying out, including getting half a million dollars from Lev Parnas while also paying Parnas for his work in Ukraine that he was doing for Giuliani. But he said that he's working the president's case for free. So where did the money come from?

Number two: why did Mike Pompeo talk to Rudy Giuliani right before Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch got pulled from Ukraine? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to dodge when he first was asked about Trump's phone call with Zelensky, but he was later revealed to have been listening in on the call as it happened. We still don't know a lot about what Pompeo was up to as the president's Ukraine B team was at work. Pompeo was apparently trying to get the president to release the military aid in August, even as Trump was digging in his heels. But we also know Pompeo put his BFF from college, T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, in charge of managing the Yovanovitch versus Rudy situation last spring. And from the impeachment hearings in the House, we know that Pompeo blocked the State Department from issuing a statement supporting Yovanovitch as she was under attack in the press from Giuliani and his crew, and that Pompeo spoke with Giuliani on the phone twice, just before Yovanovitch was recalled to the US. So just what Pompeo knew and when is a big old question mark that I for one would love to have answered.

And the number one biggest unresolved question in this saga: what is in those 24 White House emails about Ukraine that the Justice Department says are privileged? Hours after the Senate voted to close the trials evidentiary case last week, the Department of Justice set in a court filing that they were aware of two dozen emails that related to the president's thinking on Ukraine.

Those emails, the administration said, could not be unredacted and released because they "reflect communications by either the president, the vice president, or the president's immediate advisors regarding presidential decision making about the scope, duration and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine," which sounds pretty damn important, especially when one of the main arguments Trump's defense made was that the House managers were pretending to be psychic by guessing at Trump's motives. Those emails exist and speak directly to that point. And yet, if the White House has its way, we'll never get the answers that they hold. Though I will say, maybe it's a bit misleading to include that last question on the list. We kind of do already have the answer to what those emails say. We know that by how this all has played out.

Okay. It's time for the final addition of our segment Trial Watch 2020. It's where we run down what's happening next in the Senate impeachment trial. Well, friends, it's the final countdown. The Senate will hear the last few speeches from their members today before reconvening the impeachment of Donald J. Trump one last time. At 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, all 100 members of the Senate will be asked to decide whether on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress President Donald J. Trump is guilty or not guilty. Two thirds of the Senate voting guilty on either charge would remove the president from office and bar him from holding any other high office in the future. We know that won't happen at this point, but just reminding you what's at stake here. This concludes Trial Watch 2020.

Okay, that's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have the final vote count for you, after the Senate does what is apparently it's thing and shows Trump once and for all who's in charge. Thank you so much to all of you out there who have subscribed to the show over the last three months. If you're listening for the first time, you chose a hell of a time to do so, but thank you and 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 perhaps be our final few episodes, where we all figure out how this all ends together.

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