Analysis | Power Up: The five most important things that happened this week in the impeachment inquiry

Analysis | Power Up: The five most important things that happened this week in the impeachment inquiry

PowerPost Analysis

Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events

Thousands of pages of transcripts later, we made it. Happy Friday. Tips, comments, recipes? Reach out, sign up & go crazy. See you on Monday 😎 

Bright red signs at the entrance to the House SCIF, the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, beneath the Capitol where witnesses and lawmakers have been holding closed interviews in the impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Investigations

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Another whirlwind week is closing on the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump. 

Reporters spent the week scouring thousands of pages worth of interviews with U.S. officials conducted over the course of the month-long closed door sessions. The transcripts of depositions of Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker, Marie Yovanovitch, George Kent, Michael McKinley, and Bill Taylor paint a picture of a sketchy shadow diplomacy that hampered the work of career diplomats in favor of advancing Trump’s domestic political objectives. 

Vice President Pence’s special adviser for Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams, closed out the week as possibly the last witness in the first phase of the impeachment inquiry. Next week, Democrats will make their case against Trump to the public.

There’s a lot to follow — trust us, we know — so we’re sticking with here’s what you need to know again this Friday: 

1. Trump pushed for Ukraine to open political investigations: U.S. officials, each in their own words, described Trump’s demands for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his Democratic political opponents. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent’s transcript released yesterday provided perhaps the starkest description yet of Trump’s demands. 

  • Trump “wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to a microphone and say investigations, Biden and Clinton,” Kent told impeachment investigators, per our colleagues Greg Jaffe and Mike DeBonis.
  • Kent call the president’s push for investigations “injurious to the rule of law”: “There is an outstanding issue about people in office in those countries using selectively politically motivated prosecutions to go after their opponents,” Kent said, per the New York Times’s Michael Shear and Nicholas Fandos. “And that’s wrong for the rule of law regardless of what country that happens.”
  • ‘Clinton’: “In his testimony, Mr. Kent offered a new detail that appeared to underscore that political motivation was at the heart of Mr. Trump’s demand for investigations by Ukraine, saying that he was told that the president wanted to hear the country’s leader say the name ‘Clinton’ in connection with potential wrongdoing,” Shear and Fandos note. “But Mr. Kent acknowledged during his testimony that his account of the conversation was not firsthand, and other witnesses have not mentioned it.” 

A quid pro quo confirmed — again:  E.U. Ambasador Sondland amended his testimony to show he told a Ukrainian official that U.S. aid to Ukraine would only be released if Kyiv opened investigations requested by Trump into Joe and Hunter Biden. The admission directly contradicted the testimony he provided to investigators last month. 

  • Key: In a “supplemental declaration” provided to the House impeachment inquiry Monday, Sondland wrote, “I now recall speaking individually” with a Ukrainian official and in that conversation saying “that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” our colleagues Shane Harris and Aaron C. Davis report. 

  • “I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anticorruption statement,” Sondland added. 

More corroboration: Taylor had this to say about his conversation with Sondland:

  •  🚨: “During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukraine interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” Taylor testified. “He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky in a box by making a public statement about ordering such investigation.”

I am a trained lawyer and I am tired of witness transcripts

I would like to read for pleasure again one day

— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) November 7, 2019

2. The White House and GOP still lack a robust impeachment strategy: So far, the president is running point on the White House’s response to the impeachment inquiry. Primarily through Twitter. 

Delay, delay:  Politico’s Nancy Cook reports the White House legal strategy is to “keep top officials from testifying in impeachment proceedings” by “exploiting the slow pace of the legal system,” while continuing to assert executive privilege. 

The fall guys: But House Republicans, left to their own devices, have come up with a plan to shield Trump by claiming that three of Trump’s deputies “Could have acted on their own to influence Ukraine policy,” our Karoun Demirjian and Rachael Bade report. 

  • Sondland, Mick Mulvaney and Rudolph W. Giuliani: “All three occupy a special place in the Ukraine narrative as the people in most direct contact with Trump. As Republicans argue that most of the testimony against Trump is based on faulty secondhand information, they are sowing doubts about whether Sondland, Giuliani and Mulvaney were actually representing the president or freelancing to pursue their own agendas. The GOP is effectively offering up the three to be fall guys.” 

  • Hold the line: “There is no direct linkage to the president of the United States,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters this week, contending that while lawyers normally coordinate with their clients, Giuliani is a special case. “There are a whole lot of things that he does that he doesn’t apprise anybody of.”

The White House has, however, made two key hires: “Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Treasury Department official Tony Sayegh are expected to join the White House communications team to work on proactive impeachment messaging and other special projects as they arise, according to a senior administration official,” CBS News first reported. 

3. John Bolton is waiting in the wings: Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton might testify — making him the most high-profile witness for Democrats with a direct line to Trump. 

  • Our colleagues Carol Leonnig and Tom Hamburger scooped that Bolton “is willing to defy the White House and testify in the House impeachment inquiry about his alarm at the Ukraine pressure campaign if a federal court clears the way, according to people familiar with his views.” 
  • “Bolton could be a powerful witness for Democrats: Top State Department and national security officials already have testified that he was deeply concerned about efforts by Trump and his allies to push Ukraine to open investigations into a political rival of the president’s while the Trump administration held up military aid to that country.” 
  • More confirmation from a hard-liner Republican: “The former national security adviser, who abruptly left his post in September, is expected to confirm those witnesses’ statements and describe his conversations with Trump, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry.”

Reminder: One of Bolton’s top aides at the NSC, Fiona Hill, testified last month that “Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony,” the Times’s Peter Baker and Nick Fandos reported. 

  • “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton told Hill to tell White House lawyers, per two people at the deposition. 

4. Efforts to out the whistleblower intensified: Trump has repeated bashed the unnamed author of the whistleblower complaint that set this whole thing in motion in motion. His allies and supporters continued those efforts with some, including Donald Trump Jr., going so far as to publicly name a possible suspect.

Trump’s allies have taken the cause online: “During one 24-hour period last week, the CIA officer’s name was mentioned in more than 150,000 tweets,” our colleagues Isaac Stanley-Becker and Craig Timberg report.

  • There were even ads on Facebook: “The same officer has also been the subject of an advertising campaign on Facebook, financed by, among others, a North Carolina businessman whose Facebook page is aimed at Christian users,” our colleagues write. “The ads, in which the supposed name of the whistleblower appeared, were viewed several hundred thousand times before Facebook removed them Wednesday in response to a query from The Post.”
  • Lawmakers also banged the drums: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) publicly bashed journalists for not naming the whistleblower at a rally in Kentucky with Trump standing right beside him. Paul previously tweeted a link to a story purporting to identify the individual.

Most news organizations have refused to publish the name: The Post, Times and other news organizations have refused to identify the officer, our colleague Paul Farhi reported.

The whistleblower’s attorneys are now going after the White House: A lawyer for the officer “sent a letter to the White House warning the President to ‘cease and desist”’ attacking his client,” CNN’s Paul LeBlanc reports.

  • “I am writing to respectfully request that you counsel your client on the legal and ethical peril in which he is placing himself should anyone be physically harmed as a result of his, or his surrogates’, behavior,” Andrew Bakaj wrote to White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

Next week, the House Intelligence Committee will hold its first open hearings as part of the impeachment inquiry.

On Wednesday, November 13, 2019, we will hear from William Taylor and George Kent.

On Friday, November 15, 2019, we will hear from Marie Yovanovitch.

More to come.

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) November 6, 2019

5. The public phase of the impeachment inquiry starts next week: Three State Department witnesses will appear in televised public hearings next Wednesday and Friday before the House Intelligence Committee.

  • 11/13:  Taylor and Kent will publicly testify
  • “The testimony of Taylor a career envoy and war veteran with 50 years of service to the U.S., is what Democrats want Americans to hear first,” the Associated Press’s Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro and Eric Tucker report. 
  • 11/15: Marie Yovanovitch is scheduled.

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Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The Campaign

BLOOMBERG NEARS POSSIBLE RUN: The former New York mayor “is actively preparing to enter the Democratic presidential primary and is expected to file paperwork this week designating himself as a candidate in at least one state with an early filing deadline,” the New York Times’s Alexander Burns scooped before Bloomberg’s adviser confirmed the news.

  • Sweet home, Alabama?: ” … In the first sign that he is seriously moving toward a campaign, [Bloomberg] has dispatched staffers to Alabama to gather signatures to qualify for the primary there,” the Times reports. “Though Alabama does not hold an early primary, it has a Friday deadline for candidates to formally enter the race.”
  • Why now?: “One of the driving reasons Bloomberg decided against joining the race earlier this year — he announced his decision seven weeks before Biden entered — was his view that Biden was too formidable a contender,” our colleagues Matt Viser and Michael Scherer report. “But in the months since, Biden has been underwhelming, remaining among the race’s leaders but halting in his debate performances and stumbling over raising the tens of millions necessary to mount a strong campaign.”

What this means for the field of 17 candidates already running: “Bloomberg, 77, has been outspoken in his opposition to [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren’s and [Sen. Bernie] Sanders’s intentions to raise taxes on the extremely wealthy like himself …,” our colleagues write.

  • Sanders chimed in after the news broke: “The billionaire class is scared and they should be scared,” he wrote on Twitter.
  • While Warren went for a direct jab:

Welcome to the race, @MikeBloomberg! If you’re looking for policy plans that will make a huge difference for working people and which are very popular, start here:

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 7, 2019

  • Haven’t we’ve seen this before?: “Bloomberg has prepared to enter presidential races before, in 2016 and then earlier this year, only to pull back in the end,” the Times reports. “Yet in those flirtations with the presidency, [he] has never taken the step of filing to put his name on a state ballot.”
  • What a run could mean in terms of Trump?  Perhaps, more comparisons like this:

Trump will extremely not like this graphic

— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) November 7, 2019

The White House. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post)

The People

THE POST OBTAINED THE ‘ANONYMOUS’ BOOK: “Senior Trump administration officials considered resigning en masse last year in a ‘midnight self-massacre,’ to sound a public alarm about President Trump’s conduct, but rejected the idea because they believed it would further destabilize an already teetering government, according to a new book by an unnamed author,” our colleague Philip Rucker scoops of the book that he says “paints a chilling portrait of the president as cruel, inept and a danger to the nation he was elected to lead.”

  • How the author describes Trump: “The author — who first captured attention in 2018 as the unidentified author of a New York Times opinion column — describes Trump careening from one self-inflicted crisis to the next, ‘like a twelve-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport,'” our colleague writes.
  • The author defends their decision to remain unnamed: “I have decided to publish this anonymously because this debate is not about me,’ the author writes. ‘It is about us. It is about how we want the presidency to reflect our country, and that is where the discussion should center. Some will call this ‘cowardice.’ My feelings are not hurt by the accusation.”
  • … But hints one day they may go public: “Nor am I unprepared to attach my name to criticism of President Trump. I may do so, in due course,” the author writes.

Other highlights:

  • This description of a day in the White House: “It’s like showing up at the nursing home at daybreak to find your elderly uncle running pantsless across the courtyard and cursing loudly about the cafeteria food, as worried attendants tried to catch him,” the author writes. “You’re stunned, amused, and embarrassed all at the same time. Only your uncle probably wouldn’t do it every single day, his words aren’t broadcast to the public, and he doesn’t have to lead the US government once he puts his pants on.”
  • Alleged sexist and racist comments: “He comments on makeup. He makes jokes about weight. He critiques clothing. He questions the toughness of women in and around his orbit. He uses words like ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ to address accomplished professionals. This is precisely the way a boss shouldn’t act in the work environment.”

Needless to say: The White House is not pleased. The Justice Department has also warned the book’s publisher and the author’s agents that “anonymous” might be violating a NDA.

  • “The coward who wrote this book didn’t put their name on it because it is nothing but lies,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham wrote in an email to our colleague. “Real authors reach out to their subjects to get things fact checked — but this person is in hiding, making that very basic part of being a real writer impossible. Reporters who choose to write about this farce should have the journalistic integrity to cover the book as what it is — a work of fiction.”

Outside the Beltway

TRUMP ORDERED TO PAY $2 MILLION OVER FOUNDATION MISUSE: “A New York judge ordered [Trump] to pay $2 million in damages for misusing funds from a tax-exempt charity — taking the charity’s money to pay debts for his for-profit businesses, to boost his 2016 campaign and to buy a painting of himself, according to court documents,” our colleagues David A. Fahrenthold and Joshua Partlow report.

  • Key graf: “It marked an extraordinary moment: The president of the United States acknowledged in a court filing that he had failed to follow basic laws about how charities should be governed, ” our colleagues write. “Previously, Trump had insisted the charity was run properly and the suit was a partisan sham.”
  • Trump tried to play down the settlement: “All they found was incredibly effective philanthropy and some small technical violations, such as not keeping board minutes,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter.
  • How this all got started: The lawsuit “from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) was based largely on information first uncovered by The Washington Post,” our colleagues write. “It alleged ‘persistently illegal conduct’ at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, where Trump served as president since 1987.

The details: ” … Trump also agreed to disburse the $1.8 million remaining in the foundation to a set of charities, and to shutter it for good,” our colleagues write. “In a statement signed by Trump’s attorney, the president admitted to poor oversight of the charity.”

  • A litany of requirements on future charitable activities by Trump: “If Trump does ever join a charity board — or starts a new charity of his own — the charity must fill a majority of board seats with people who have no relationship to Trump. It also must hire a qualified attorney, submit to audits and agree never to pay Trump or his company for any services.”
  • Striking: “That’s a pretty significant statement about a lack of trust of the president’s capabilities,” Philip Hackney, a former IRS lawyer who now teaches charity law at the University of Pittsburgh told our colleagues, given that Trump is — in most other respects — one of the most powerful people on Earth. “It’s truly astounding.”

In the Media


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