Dispatch November 1, 2019

A Big Week for Impeachment, and Where to Look Next


President Donald Trump’s impeachment defenses continue to break down. After another week of testimony from top administration officials, the president’s alleged criminal behavior is becoming clearer than ever—and a historic vote in the House means the public will soon be learning all about it.

More White House officials confirmed that Trump abused his power by extorting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for personal political gain.

  • Alexander Vindman, a decorated Army officer serving on the National Security Council (NSC), became the first administration official who actually listened in on Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky to confirm that the president pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to announce an investigation into his political opponents.
  • Tim Morrison, the NSC’s top Russia expert, confirmed the shakedown as well, corroborating last week’s major testimony from Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine.
  • That means that at least six current or former administration officials—Vindman, Morrison, Taylor, former NSC staffer Fiona Hill, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and Office of Management and Budget Director and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney—have said that there was a quid pro quo. (Mulvaney has since tried to walk back his admission.)
  • On top of that, John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state who’s Trump’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Russia, confirmed that Trump pushed out his ambassador to Ukraine in part because of a “smear campaign” led by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

New information this week showed just how desperate the administration was to cover up Trump’s wrongdoing.

  • Vindman reportedly testified that immediately after the July 25 phone call, he went to a top White House lawyer with concerns about Trump’s behavior. According to reports of Vindman’s testimony, instead of addressing his concerns, the lawyer decided to bury the records of the call on a secret, highly classified server—then told Vindman not to tell anybody what he’d heard.
  • On top of that, Vindman told Congress that the White House selectively edited the record of Trump’s call with Zelensky, leaving out key passages in which the president repeatedly pressed his Ukrainian counterpart about investigating the Bidens. That may explain the ellipses in key parts of the released transcript.

Impeachment is set to move into a new, more public phase, leaving Trump’s defenders without a leg to stand on.

  • With the facts obviously against them, congressional Republicans have spent weeks launching bad-faith arguments (and inappropriate stunts) to attack the process of the impeachment investigation, complaining that it’s been held in secret.
  • The complaints are bogus—there’s a long history of closed-door depositions in the House, and numerous Republicans have been participating in the hearings—but Thursday’s historic vote puts the nail in the coffin for their argument. The new phase will include open hearings and full transcripts of closed-door depositions.
  • Some of the most damning witnesses so far, including Taylor and Vindman, have reportedly already expressed their willingness to testify about the president’s abuse of power in public.

What’s next?

  • The dam is beginning to break. Already, witnesses have defied Trump’s efforts to block them from testifying, and more are likely to follow as the House exercises its subpoena power.
  • Investigators have called John Eisenberg, the White House lawyer who hid the records of Trump’s call with Zelensky, to testify on Monday, with former national security adviser John Bolton scheduled for Wednesday.
  • Tuesday promises more bad news for the president as the trial of Roger Stone, who allegedly lied to investigators about his role in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016, begins. (Stone has pleaded not guilty.)
  • Trump’s defenses are becoming increasingly desperate and nonsensical. He’s floating the idea of publicly reading the partial transcript of his July 25 call with Zelensky, which he seems to believe is exculpatory rather than incriminating.

Moving into the next phase of impeachment, the public is set to learn all about President Trump’s alleged criminal behavior and how he abused the power of his office to extort a foreign leader for his personal political gain.