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Impeachment Today Podcast: The Return Of The Mueller Report

In today's episode: Marie Yovanovitch, former US ambassador to Ukraine, was told to leave the country immediately in a bizarre late-night phone call.

Posted on November 5, 2019, at 12:57 p.m. ET

BuzzFeed News

It's Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, 42 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

In today's episode: Democrats have begun releasing transcripts of the depositions conducted during the impeachment inquiry. Yesterday we got some pretty fascinating details from Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, who was told she needed to get out of the country immediately in a bizarre late-night phone call. And we've got courts reporter Zoe Tillman here to talk about the Mueller report, and how it's going to play into the impeachment story.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Tuesday, November 5th, 2019, 42 days into the impeachment inquiry, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, a reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News. Thanks for listening. Today we're talking to Buzzfeed News courts reporter Zoe Tillman about the Mueller report, the document Trump says totally vindicated him while also being the biggest fraud against the American people and how it could play into the impeachment saga. If you tuned in today to hear us wax poetic about the wily and whiskered warmonger John Bolton like I said on yesterday's episode, well, things change. That's going to be some time in the near future, but don't blame me. Blame the news. Okay. Speaking of the news, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

Happy transcript week. So anyway, yesterday House Democrats published the first two transcripts of the dozen or so closed door deposition that they've held. Up first were former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch and ambassador Michael McKinley, a former top advisor to secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. A few things jumped out. Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in Ukraine in late April. We've since then learned she was the target of a multi-front pressure campaign to get her out of office. Yovanovitch's full testimony fleshed out that story with some pretty wild details. Among them were that she was told to, "Get on the soonest plane home at 1:00 AM for her own safety." She only learned later that she wasn't returning to Kiev. Why? Because apparently some of the state department were worried that if you weren't physically out of Ukraine after Trump ordered her removal that he would tweet about it.

McKinley's testimony mostly focused on the plummeting morale around the state department as news about the Ukraine call came out in September. He also told house investigators that he resigned because of Pompeo's refusal to stick up for Yovanovitch. in both transcripts, the line of questioning from the GOP members of the committees were interesting. I don't have time to go through all of them today, but there were some conspiracy theories casually thrown around, oh, and a lot of angry statements about the secret process that were clearly said, knowing they'd be in the transcripts when they came out.

Meanwhile, this is juicy, Lev Parnas worked with Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine, but he does not appear ready to go to jail for Rudy Giuliani. Parnas is a Ukrainian American from Florida who worked to connect Rudy Giuliani with people in Ukraine. He's also been indicted for alleged campaign finance violations, donating money from overseas to GOP campaigns. On Monday, Parnas's lawyer said that his client is ready to cooperate with impeachment investigators. His lawyer says Parnas was, "very upset by President Trump's plainly false statement that he did not know him". There are pictures of Parnas and Trump together all over Parnas's private Instagram, so that stings. Given Parnas's role though, as Rudy's right hand man in all things Ukraine, this is a huge shift into just how deep into this off the books effort investigators can now gaze.

Okay, that was the news. This is the noise. Last night, Rand Paul demanded that the press print the whistle blower's name. Here's what the Senator said, screamed at a Trump rally in Kentucky.

Rand Paul:

We also now know the name of the whistleblower. The whistleblower needs to come before Congress as a material witness because he worked for Joe Biden at the same time Hunter Biden was getting money from corrupt oligarchs. I say tonight to the media, do your job and print his name.

Hayes Brown:

Now what's interesting is that Paul knows that he can't say the whistle blowers name, even if he wanted to, because federal whistleblower laws grant this person anonymity to keep them safe from retribution. So Paul is telling the crowd, "The press knows who it is, so it's their fault you can't know this whistle blower's name," and in turn demanding that we in the press do the thing that he can't. I mean, I for one love it when a Senator tells me to commit crimes on their behalf. What other crimes do you want me to commit? Jaywalking, burglary, hot wire a car? I am open to suggestions.

And now for those of you who just need a number for all of this, 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. And this morning we are at a 6.5. I mean we have Parnas flipping, Rand Paul tripping, more depositions drip dripping out. Jesus, it is a wild one out there folks. All right after the break we talked to ZT about the Mueller report. Stick around.

All right, time for the segment we're calling, This Fucking Thing. It's where we zoom in on a person, place, or thing that's shaping the impeachment story. Today, it's the Mueller report, the literary doorstop that earlier this year overtook War and Peace for the title of, Book the Most People in America Lie About Having Read. Joining us from DC to discuss the report and why impeachment has us talking about it months later, is Buzzfeed News courts reporters, Zoe Tillman. Thank you so much for joining us Zoe.

Zoe Tillman:

I am very happy to be here.

Hayes Brown:

So let's start with this. What's the number one thing in the Mueller report that people need to go back and read to help get a grasp on the impeachment saga?

ZT:

Well I guess the first thing is just remembering who Robert Mueller is, because that feels like a very long time ago.

HB:

Literally a million years, yes.

ZT:

I think about a million years ago. So there was that whole investigation into Russia and the campaign and it culminated in this huge report that basically said, "Yes, Russia absolutely interfered in the election." And as for whether Trump tried to obstruct that investigation, well it looked like he did, but we're not going to say for sure whether or not because it would involve making a prosecutorial decision and we don't want to do that. There are all these questions about whether the president can be prosecuted. It's a whole thing and it left everyone going, "Well, okay, now what?"

HB:

Well, now what?

ZT:

Yes. And the now what was sort of nothing. It didn't really go very far. So we saw Democrats trying to do some investigating on their own, picking up on some of these threads, but it petered out. There weren't any new charges. The Attorney General said, "Nope, no crimes, nothing to see here."

HB:

"Goodbye everyone. Thank you Mr. Mueller for your service. You testify to Congress and now you're done here." Or, so we thought.

ZT:

Dum, dum, dum.

HB:

So it's wild though, that there's really not any smoking gun within the report itself. Just the report itself basically said, "Well the president is willing to do all of these shady things. I just can't charge him for it right now."

ZT:

Right. And I think the overarching thing that did get us to this point is that from the very beginning, Trump was saying, "This is illegitimate, and I'm going to do everything I can to try and stop it and undermine it." And that's what got us to the July phone call with the Ukrainian president where Trump asks him to do the favor of looking into this Ukraine thing and he references a server. And all of that goes back to all the effort that Trump and his supporters put in to trying to shift focus away from Russia, this idea that Russia tried to interfere, they say is not supported. It's what the favor was that Trump was asking for was to continue helping him try to undermine the legitimacy of what Mueller was doing even though that investigation ended months ago.

HB:

One of the things that's been crystal clear from the jump, once we started learning about the whistleblower and all of this, and especially once the transcript ish was released was, how much of what Giuliani was doing was about discrediting the Mueller report? But the rabbit holes he went down just seemed kind of cuckoo bananas and just don't really make sense, especially when you consider that the president said the report totally exonerated him. What was their thinking in trying to push these alternative narratives?

ZT:

The big alternate narrative was that it was Ukraine, not Russia. So Giuliani was traveling to Ukraine, trying to set up meetings with Ukrainians to get proof that, in fact it was the Ukrainians or the previous Ukrainian regime, not the current Ukrainian regime, not the new one that Trump was engaging with this year, that they were trying to interfere in the election on behalf of Hillary Clinton, or at least to help Hillary and trying to smear Trump by making it look like he was in bed with the Russians. And that's what Giuliani was traveling around the world trying to get at, at least in part.

HB:

So over the weekend, a bunch of new documents dropped, thanks to you and other Buzzfeed News colleagues about the Mueller report and some of the workings behind it. We got a lot of descriptions about the interviews that Mueller and his team were collecting. What are some of the new things that we've learned, especially as they play into this whole impeachment inquiry?

ZT:

One thing that was super interesting was we saw that as soon as news broke, that the DNC had been hacked, that WikiLeaks had these emails, that within the Trump campaign back in 2016, people like Paul Manafort who was running the campaign at the time, people like Michael Flynn, who was advising the president and would go on to be his first very short lived national security advisor, that they were already saying, "Not Russia, Ukraine." That they were the ones pushing this narrative, putting the bug in people's ears, that there was potentially this alternative explanation, at the time even I think everyone was saying, "It's probably Russia," and later we had the US intelligence community saying, "Yes, it was Russia."

HB:

It's so wild because Paul Manafort has been at the center of a lot of this, I remember seeing in the New York Times recently that Manafort, even though he was fired by the campaign, was still working with them and was suggesting very heavily, even through the transition period that this was Ukraine, even though Manafort's one of the only people who's gone to jail over the things we've learned from the Mueller report. So there's a lot of self interest in pushing back on this narrative.

ZT:

Right. And somewhat, I don't know if irony would be the right word, but he's in jail because of all the money he took from Ukrainian oligarchs to do work on their behalf and then hid that money from the IRS. So everything comes full circle.

HB:

Everything comes full circle. Speaking of which though, so one of the things that Mueller basically hinted at very strongly in his report was, "I can't prosecute the president, but someone, Congress, you can do something about this." So what's your read at this point? Do we get an article of impeachment based on the report?

ZT:

It's hard to say. I think the momentum is so strongly now among Democrats in pushing the more recent events as the reason why Trump should be impeached. It really was hard for them to gain traction after the report came out in terms of getting the American people to continue to care about 2016 and what Mueller found with respect to that, it was wishy washy on whether Trump actually committed any crimes or did anything wrong. And absent a clear statement like that, it seemed like it had died down and that it was this new communication with Ukraine that got everyone really excited and then if they're going to get the American people behind them in pushing impeachment, that it needs to be this new thing and not this thing that everyone was just exhausted by.

HB:

And yet despite that house, Democrats are still pushing to get all the rest of the information underlying the report. That could still change, right?

ZT:

Yeah. I mean we're still in court talking about Mueller, which is fascinating. Court can move so slowly that things that happened years ago suddenly pop up and become important. So Democrats are still in court trying to get Mueller's grand jury materials, some of which is what Buzzfeed was able to get through our FOYA case this weekend. They're still trying to get it and they're arguing that it's still part of the impeachment inquiry because all of these different investigations into Trump, they all still fall under the impeachment umbrella. That's what speaker Nancy Pelosi said. It's not just Ukraine, it's everything they're doing up till now, going forward is all about what could be impeachable. So they're saying it's relevant.

HB:

Wow. So, okay, let's fast forward. It's a year in the future. We've time warped to just before the 2020 election. Have people finally read the Mueller report by then?

ZT:

I think if you were going to read it, you would've read it. But maybe college students to come in the future, maybe have to read it for class, but I feel like if you were going to do it, you would have done it and now it's just going to sit, gathering dust on your shelf.

HB:

Again, much like War and Peace. Thank you Zoe for the that. Okay, but before we let you go, it is time for the kicker where we ask our guests to bring in a tweet, a quote, something that really sums up to them where we are in this moment. So Zoe, what do you got?

ZT:

So I have a tweet from a fantastic journalist, Emily Tamkin, a former Buzzfeeder and beloved colleague of ours. She tweeted on October 17th, "I just feel like if you're going to play "What the framers would have wanted," you must first articulate how you personally would explain to the framers... Gestures broadly."

HB:

I for one, would love to go back and try to explain to Thomas Jefferson what the fuck is happening right now. Thank you, Zoe, for bringing that extremely perfect tweet to our attention.

All right. It's time to testify, the segment where we look at who's testifying next and what to expect. And today, okay, I got to say it's really up in the air right now. House investigators have said they want a slew of Trump officials to speak to them before the process moves on to open hearings. But they are not only refusing to speak voluntarily, they're now refusing to answer subpoenas, that includes several members of the White House staff, including the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget, but they aren't budging... Sorry.

Among those Democrats we'd love to hear from, but may not, includes two key national security figures, NSC lawyer, John Eisenberg and former national security advisor, John Bolton, both of them have been asked to appear before the house, but Eisenberg blew off his subpoena on Monday. Things could change, but don't be surprised if the next person we know will testify does so in front of cameras.

Okay, that's it for today. Come back tomorrow for more as we press on undaunted through the tides of faith that seek to overtake us with so Goddamn many tweets. Also, since as always, we want to hear from you, all this week please send us the impeachment things you're most curious about. What are your questions? What doesn't make sense? Open up the voice memo app on your phone. Tell us your questions and email it to impeachment@buzzfeed.com. We'll be including some of the responses on a future episode. So tell us your name and where you are in the world. Be sure to subscribe on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts β€” and maybe leave a rating and a review. Also, tell your friends about the show as we figure this all out together.

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