Six Democratic presidential candidates weill take part on debates at Tuesday. It is the last their face-to-face encounter before voters in the Midwestern state of Iowa start to pick a nominee to oppose Republicans in the November national presidential election.
With the party tightening its qualification standards for each successive debate, Tuesday’s event features the fewest candidates since the process began last June.
WATCH: Jim Malone’s video report on the debates
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Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer make up the field.
Iowa, with its mostly rural landscape and a predominantly white population of about 3 million, is hardly reflective of the United States as a whole. But once every four years it has an out-sized importance in the U.S. presidential race as the first state to vote in the months-long nominating process for both Republicans and Democrats. This time caucus voting takes place on the night of Feb. 3.
Trump’s incumbent status means Republicans are sure to nominate him to seek a second four-year term in the White House. But the Democratic race is highly unsettled.
Biden, now in his third race for the party’s presidential nomination, leads national polls of Democratic voters, but possibly trails his Democratic opponents in Iowa and some other states. Should he falter early in the nominating process, that could dent his key campaign argument that according to national polls he stands the best chance of defeating Trump.
Last weekend’s Iowa Poll shows Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described democratic socialist, surging to a narrow lead, with 20% support in the state. Progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is second at 17%, ahead of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has fashioned himself as a political centrist, at 16% and Biden, a left-of-center politician through nearly five decades in Washington, at 15%.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., smiles as he listens to a question from the audience during a campaign stop, Nov. 24, 2019, in Hillsboro, N.H.
“There’s no denying that this is a good poll for Bernie Sanders,” pollster Ann Selzer, told the Des Moines Register, which is sponsoring the debate along with television network CNN. “He leads, but it’s not an uncontested lead. He’s got a firmer grip on his supporters than the rest of his compatriots.”
But more than half of those polled said they could still decide to support a candidate other than the one they now prefer or have yet to make up their mind, a fluid state of political sentiment that likely increases the importance of Tuesday’s six-way debate.
A Monmouth University poll on Monday showed different results, with Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and wealthy entrepreneur Tom Steyer, both trail the four leaders in the pre-election Iowa polling, but qualified for the debate stage by meeting the polling and fundraising standards set by the national Democratic Party. Other Democratic candidates remain in a crowded field of presidential aspirants, but did not make the cut for the debate or have dropped out, including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey who left the race on Monday
Sanders and Warren are longtime friends who hold similar liberal viewpoints, such as their call, with some variations, for adoption of a government-run national health care system and an end to the country’s private insurance company system to pay health care bills. As such, they have mostly adhered to a non-aggression pact with each other in earlier debates leading up to Tuesday’s showdown ahead of the Iowa vote.
But over the weekend, Warren accused Sanders of sending his supporters in Iowa out to meet voters with specific talking points “to trash me.” The talking points claimed that Warren could not attract more Democratic voters in a race against Trump because she is elitist, “supported only by highly educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what.”
Sanders brushed off the criticism, saying, “We have over 500 people on our campaign. People do certain things. I’m sure that on Elizabeth’s campaign people do certain things as well.”
“But you’ve heard me for months,” Sanders added, “I have never said a negative word about Elizabeth Warren, who is a friend of mine. We have differences on issues. That’s what a campaign is about.”
Meanwhile, news reports Monday claim that in a private meeting in 2018, Sanders reportedy told Warren that he did not think a woman could win the presidency.
Warren subsequently told associates about Sanders’s comment, The New York Times reported, citing people with knowledge of her remarks.
In a statement, Sanders denied the report saying it was “ludicrous” to think he would have made such a comment. “Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by three million votes in 2016.”
Trump has also taken note of Sanders’s recent ascent in opinion polls, saying in a Twitter comment over the weekend, “Wow! Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls, looking very good against his opponents in the Do Nothing Party. So what does this all mean? Stay tuned!”
Wow! Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls, looking very good against his opponents in the Do Nothing Party. So what does this all mean? Stay tuned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2020
For months Trump had focused singularly on Biden, with occasional barbs against Warren and Buttigieg, as his mostly likely 2020 opponent, to the extent that his concern about Biden is at the center of the impeachment case against Trump. The president’s impeachment trial in the Senate trial is days away from opening, only the third such impeachment trial in two and a half centuries of American history.
Trump is accused of trying to benefit himself poltically by pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a late July phone call to launch an investigation of Biden, his son Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to undermine Trump’s campaign. His requests came at the same time he was temporarily withholding $391 million in military aid Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Trump eventually released the money in September without Zelenskiy launching the Biden investigations. That is proof, Republicans say, that Trump had not engaged in a reciprocal quid pro quo deal, the military aid in exchange for the Biden investigations.
Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Nov. 20, 2019.
Three of the leading Democratic challengers – Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar – could be directly affected by Trump’s impeachment trial since they will be among the 100 members of the Senate deciding Trump’s fate, keeping them in Washington six days a week while the trial is going on, and importantly for them, off the campaign trail in Iowa to meet voters.
With a Republican majority in the Senate, Trump is all assured of being acquitted and allowed to remain in office to face voters in November. But a full-blown trial, if witnesses are called to testify as Democrats and some Republicans want, could infuse unexpected new information about Trump and perhaps Biden into the last weeks of the Iowa contest.
In some states there are party primary elections, but in Iowa, Democrats will have caucuses throughout the state, with the candidates pushing their supporters to rally at firehouses, schools, churches and other voting places on the night of Feb. 3.
Many of the state’s voters are likely to closely watch Tuesday as the candidates tangle over health care policies, national security, Trump’s drone strike killing a top Iranian general and an array of other issues.
Other state nominating contests follow quickly after and the importance of the Iowa vote will soon be eclipsed. But until then, its quadrennial centrality to the American presidential political scene cannot be denied.
A federal judge put on hold a bid by a U.S. House of Representatives committee to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns, saying on Tuesday that he would wait for a much-anticipated appeals court decision relating to congressional subpoenas before issuing a ruling.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington issued a stay in a case the House Ways and Means Committee brought in July that sought to force the Treasury Department to hand over years of Trump’s individual and business federal tax returns.
In a brief written order that followed a phone call with lawyers, McFadden said he was awaiting a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on whether former White House lawyer Don McGahn must testify to Congress as part of the impeachment effort against Trump. Judges in that case are considering whether the courts should resolve disputes between Congress and the White House over documents and witnesses. A ruling could come by the end of the month.
The Ways and Means Committee’s lawsuit is just one of a handful of legal efforts to get access to Trump’s tax returns. Before Trump, modern U.S. presidential candidates had voluntarily disclosed their income tax returns.
The U.S. Supreme Court this year will consider a separate case, brought by New York prosecutors as part of a criminal investigation, seeking to force Trump’s longtime accounting firm to hand over eight years of his tax returns.
The Ways and Means Committee filed the lawsuit after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defied a congressional subpoena seeking the returns, despite a federal law that says the department “shall furnish” such records upon request.
The Justice Department said in an advisory legal opinion in June that the committee lacked a “legitimate legislative purpose” in seeking Trump’s tax returns, and that Mnuchin therefore did not violate the law by refusing to provide them.
White House aide Stephen Miller is a white supremacist, as his own writings continue to confirm. An ongoing examination of his nearly 1,000 leaked emails by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch finds that Miller echoed paranoid, white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory in communications that included attacks on undocumented immigrant youth and the popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“In emails to Breitbart News leaked to Hatewatch, Miller said DACA recipients would contribute to altering the country’s demographics by replacing Americans born in the United States,” the report found. Specifically white U.S.-born Americans, of course. “White nationalists often promote the idea of the ‘great replacement’ in their propaganda. Manifestos linked to terror suspects have cited this idea to justify acts of violence.”
“Demanding DREAMers be given citizenship because they ‘know no other home.’ That principle is an endorsement of perpetual birthright citizenship for the foreign-born,” Miller hissed. In another email with the subject line “The Immigration Surge,” he complained of a growing “foreign-born share” of workers, Hatewatch reported. Sent in the midst of the 2016 Republican presidential primary (and when he worked for another racist, then-U.S. Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III), Miller’s ire was also directed at then-candidate Jeb Bush, complaining the former Florida governor wanted to use “immigration to replace existing demographics.”
This paranoid, white supremacist belief was also “steeped” in the manifesto of the terrorist who murdered dozens of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand last year, Hatewatch said at the time. In emails examined last year by Hatewatch, Miller promoted the work of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Tanton network anti-immigrant hate group with ties to anti-Semites and other deplorables. This man shouldn’t be able to step one foot in the White House, yet he remains to help craft some of the most harmful anti-immigrant policy in modern U.S. history, including a Muslim ban and the forcible separation of migrant families at the southern border.
Democrats have been forceful in demanding Miller’s removal. “The recently released emails show Stephen Miller trafficking the views of white supremacist hate groups that espouse a repugnant and extreme anti-immigrant agenda,” Jewish House Democrats wrote in a letter last month. “These hateful views have no place in our government, much less just steps from the Oval Office. At this time of rising antisemitism, xenophobia, racism and white supremacy, we must forcefully call out and refuse to accept intolerance or hate anywhere within our government.” Miller needs to go.
The attorney representing indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas turned over a new trove of evidence to Congress on Monday.
Attorney Joseph Bondy successfully petitioned a federal judge to modify a protective order to allow digital copies of two iPhones and one Samsun phone to be turned over.
Bondy posted a picture of President Donald Trump with his client on Twitter, noting the evidence turned over to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) included “WhatsApp messages, text messages and images.”
He cryptically said the documents detail “interactions with a number of individuals relevant to the impeachment inquiry” — but did not name names.
After our trip to DC, we worked through the night providing a trove of Lev Parnas’ WhatsApp messages, text messages & images—not under protective order—to #HPSCI, detailing interactions with a number of individuals relevant to the impeachment inquiry. #LetLevSpeak #LevRemembers pic.twitter.com/HdHaCyZXIm
— Joseph A. Bondy (@josephabondy) January 13, 2020
On Monday evening, The Wall Street Journal attempted to fill in some of the blanks.
“Among the messages Mr. Parnas’s lawyer has turned over to the committee are exchanges he had with Mr. Giuliani, former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Hill columnist John Solomon,” The Journal reported, citing “people familiar with the matter.”
“21 Saudi military trainees have been deported from the U.S. following a probe into a deadly shooting at a Florida Naval base that was carried out by a Saudi pilot,” – attorney General William Barr says.
He said in investigation has found that 17 of them made jihadi or anti-American comments on social media. Barr said 15 of them had some contact with child pornography though prosecutors they could not be prosecuted under U.S. law.
“This was an act of terror,” Barr said about the attack on the base in Pensacola last month that killed three people.
The FBI officially identified the shooter who killed three people as Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force who was a student naval flight officer at the Naval Aviation Schools Command at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
FILE – The main gate at Naval Air Station Pensacola is seen on Navy Boulevard in Pensacola, Florida, March 16, 2016.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has enough support from his fellow Republicans to begin the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump even though lawmakers have yet to agree whether to call witnesses.
The framework supported by Republican senators, which McConnell has described as a “phase one” deal, would postpone the decision on whether to have witnesses testify during the trial — mirroring the process used during former Democratic President Bill Clinton’s five-week impeachment trial in 1999.
The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump in December on charges he pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The following explains what the Republican-supported resolution on trial rules is expected to look like.
What will be covered by the Republican-backed “phase one” plan?
McConnell has not yet published a draft of the resolution but he said it would be “very similar” to one adopted in January 1999 during the Clinton trial.
That resolution set deadlines for the prosecution and defense to submit “trial briefs” that laid out their cases in writing. The resolution also allocated 24 hours for representatives of each side to make oral arguments and set aside 16 hours for senators to ask them questions.
It allowed senators to seek dismissal of the charges against Clinton in the middle of the trial, which would have effectively ended the process. A senator sympathetic to Clinton filed such a motion, but it was voted down.
Crucially, the resolution, which passed 100-0, did not resolve whether witnesses would be called — one of the most contentious questions in any impeachment trial. A follow-up resolution allowing for three witnesses to testify in videotaped depositions passed 2-1/2 weeks later along a party-line vote, backed by 54 Republicans and opposed by 44 Democrats.
The type of resolution described by McConnell would supplement, rather than replace, a set of detailed impeachment trial rules dating back to 1868 known as the “standing rules,” said Donald Wolfensberger, a congressional scholar in Washington.
The “standing rules” specify speeches different individuals must recite and the times of day when events must occur, among other items.
How many votes does McConnell need for his “phase one” plan?
The answer to this question depends on whether U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi transmits the articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate, said Wolfensberger.
Once that happens, the Senate can open the trial and only a simple majority of senators would be needed to decide on the sort of initial rules McConnell has described, Wolfensberger said.
That vote would not occur until after Pelosi sends over the impeachment package, McConnell has said. Pelosi has held onto the papers in hopes of pressuring the Republican-controlled Senate into agreeing to hear testimony during the trial.
Frustrated with Pelosi’s delay, Republican Senator Josh Hawley on Jan. 5 introduced a resolution that would allow the Senate to dismiss the impeachment articles before the House transmits them. It would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate to pass, making that outcome unlikely.
Could there still be witnesses in the Senate trial?
It is possible congressional Democrats will succeed in their push to hear from witnesses during the trial.
The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. That means four Republicans would need to cross party lines and join Democrats in requesting witness testimony.
Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said on Jan. 5 he would testify before the Senate if issued a subpoena, a surprise development that could potentially strengthen the case that Trump should be removed from office.
U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer now is pressuring Republican lawmakers to vote to allow witnesses and documents. Democrats hope to hear from Bolton and three current White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Republicans could conceivably try to call witnesses of their own, like Biden or the government whistleblower whose complaint ultimately led to the impeachment inquiry.
Trump is unlikely to be removed from office, however, because under the U.S. Constitution that would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate.
According to a report in the Daily Beast, major donors who contributed to Donald Trump’s inauguration not only want no part of the president now, but are also contributing to possible Democratic presidential contenders.
The report starts off by noting, “15 such donors who collectively gave more than $700,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee but who have since contributed to the presidential campaigns of Democratic candidates including Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper, Eric Swalwell, and John Delaney.”
While many wealthy political campaign contributors are known to give money to both Democrats and Republicans as a way of hedging their bets and keeping the door open for access, many of the Trump donors are rock-ribbed Republicans who have tired of the president.
According to Pritzker, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, her change of heart stemmed from the administration’s stance on trans rights.
“I’ve grown frustrated as I watch this Republican administration push to ban transgender military service. Anti-transgender platforms are causing me to evaluate my party support,” Pritzker wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “I have hoped the Republican Party would reform from within and end its assault on the LGBTQ community. Yet, the party continues to champion policies that marginalize me out of existence, define me as an eccentric character and persecute me for using the public restrooms that correspond to my gender identity.”
The report notes that Pritzker has previously not only contributed to Trump , but also to Republicans Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.
“It had only been a couple years since [Jennifer] Pritzker, the world’s only known trans billionaire and a Republican mega-donor, had chipped in a whopping $250,000 to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee,” the report states. “But three months after publicly objecting to the GOP’s stance on trans issues, she gave $1,000 to Democrat Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign.”
“Chrysa Tsakopoulos Demos, the chief executive of California land development company AKT Investments, is a longtime Republican donor who backed Sen. Ted Cruz’s bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. She donated $5,000 to the Trump inaugural, and continued donating to Republicans through 2018, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Great America Committee, Vice President Mike Pence’s political group,” the G Beast report, before adding, “But Demos’ only federal political contribution so far in the 2020 cycle is the $2,800 she donated last year to Biden’s presidential campaign.”
The report states that Greg Maffei, the chief executive of the Colorado-based media company Liberty Media, was a “$250,000 donor to the Trump inaugural who is backing Democrats in 2020.”
“This time around, though, Maffei has supported the two Democratic presidential candidates from his home state. In March 2019, he gave the per-election maximum of $2,800 to Hickenlooper, the former Colorado governor,” the Beast reports. “Two months later, after a max-out donation to Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, Maffei donated $100,000 to a super PAC supporting Hickenlooper. After Hickenlooper withdrew from the race, Maffei donated the legal maximum to Bennet’s presidential campaign.”
You can read about more high dollar contributors bailing on Trump here.
Trump meets all the requirements the Framers laid out to impeach president. A historian asks: will it matter?
In my last article, I wrote that there is something wholly different about Donald Trump’s actions than those of other presidents who have exceeded their power. Why? Unlike other presidents, Trump’s actions meet each of the requirements that the Framer’s laid out to impeach a president. Ironically, just as impeachment is needed most, the partisan tenor of the times may make it impossible to accomplish.
The Framers of the Constitution had included the power of impeachment for instances of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors committed by executive branch officials and the president. They had rejected policy disputes as a basis for impeachment. When George Mason proposed adding maladministration as an impeachable offense, Madison responded that “so vague a term will be equivalent to tenure during pleasure of the Senate.” It was at this point that “high crimes and misdemeanors” were added. While the first two are clear, the third sounds vague to us today. Yet, the Framers had a clear idea of what this meant. As I wrote previously for the History News Network, the Framers “thought that the power of impeachment should be reserved for abuses of power, especially those that involved elections, the role of foreign interference, and actions that place personal interest above the public good” which fall within the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors. Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, said that for the Framers “the essential definition of high crimes and misdemeanors is the abuse of office” by a president, of using “the power of his office to gain personal advantage.” Trump’s actions with Ukraine checks each of these boxes.
Presidents and Congress have often found themselves in conflict, dating back to the earliest days of our Republic. Part of this is inevitable, built into a constitutional system of separation of powers with overlapping functions between the two branches. Only Congress can pass laws, but presidents can veto them. Presidents can negotiate treaties but must obtain the advice and consent of the Senate. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. observed, checks and balances also make our political system subject to inertia. The system only really works “in response to vigorous presidential leadership,” Schlesinger wrote in The Imperial Presidency. But sometimes presidents grasp for powers that fall outside of the normal types of Constitutional disputes. This is where impeachment enters the picture.
In the early Republic, disputes between presidents and Congress revolved around the veto power. Andrew Jackson was censured by the Senate over his veto of bank legislation and his subsequent removal of federal deposits from the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson’s actions showed a willingness to grab power and to ignore the law and the system of checks and balances when it suited his purposes. While the censure motion passed, it did not have the force of law. It was also unlikely that impeachment would have been successful, since the dispute was over policy. While the president had violated the law, not all illegal acts are impeachable. As Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz have noted, “nearly every president has used power in illegal ways.” Impeachment is meant to be limited to those actions, like treason and bribery, “that risk grave injury to the nation.”
Congress considered impeaching John Tyler in 1842 over policy disputes for which he too used the veto power. Tyler is sometimes referred to as the accidental president since he assumed the presidency when William Henry Harrison died in office one month after he was sworn in. Tyler had previously been a Democrat and state’s-rights champion who had joined the Whig Party over disagreements with Jackson’s use of presidential power. Yet he preceded to use the powers of the presidency to advance his own policy views, and not those of his newly adopted Whig Party, vetoing major bills favored by the Whigs, which led to an impeachment inquiry. A House Committee led by John Quincy Adams issued a report that found the President had engaged in “offenses of the gravest nature” but did not recommend that Tyler be impeached.
Even Andrew’s Johnson’s impeachment largely revolved around policy disputes, albeit extremely important ones. Johnson was a pro-Union southerner who was selected by Lincoln to aid in his reelection effort in 1864. Johnson was clearly a racist, a member of the lowest rung of southern white society, those that felt their social position was threatened by the advancement of blacks, a view that shaped Johnson’s policies on Reconstruction. While the Civil War ended slavery, it did not end the discussion of race and who can be an American. Johnson, much like Trump, represented those who believed that America was a typical nation, made up of one racial group. “I am for a white man’s government in America,” he said during the war. On the other hand, the Radical Republicans believed that America was essentially a nation dedicated to liberty and equality, and they set out to fulfill the promise of the American Creed for all American men, black as well as white. This was the underlying tension during the period of Reconstruction. “Johnson preferred what he called Restoration to Reconstruction, welcoming the white citizenry in the South back into the Union at the expense of the freed blacks,” Joseph Ellis writes.
But Johnson was ultimately impeached on false pretenses, not for his policy disputes with Congress, but due to his violation of the Tenure of Office Act, which some have characterized as an impeachment trap. The act denied the president the power to fire executive branch officials until a Senate confirmed appointment had been made. While the House impeached Johnson, he escaped removal by one vote in the Senate. Johnson’s sin was egregious; he had violated one of the core tenants of the American Creed, that all are created equal. Yet this did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense that warranted the removal of a president. It was a policy dispute, one that went to the core of who we are as Americans, but it was not a high crime or misdemeanor.
It would be over one hundred years before impeachment would be considered again, this time in the case of Richard Nixon. Like Trump, Nixon abused the power of his office to advance his own reelection. Both men shared a sense that the president has unlimited power. Nixon famously told David Frost that “when the president does it, that means its not illegal,” while Trump has claimed that under Article II “I have the right to do whatever I want. But Nixon, unlike Trump, did not elicit foreign interference in his reelection effort. The two men also shared certain personality traits that led to the problems they experienced in office. As the political scientist James David Barber wrote in his book The Presidential Character, Richard Nixon was an active-negative president, one who had “a persistent problem in managing his aggressive feelings” and who attempted to “achieve and hold power” at any cost. Trump too fits this pattern, sharing with Nixon a predilection toward “singlehanded decision making,” a leader who thrives on conflict.
Indeed, Nixon would likely have gotten away with Watergate except for the tapes that documented in detail his role in covering up the “third rate burglary” that occurred of the Democratic Party headquarters on June 17, 1972. Paranoid about possibly losing another election, Nixon had directed his staff to use “a dirty tricks campaign linked to his reelection bid in 1972,” presidential historian Timothy Naftali has written. When the break in was discovered, Nixon then engaged in a systematic cover-up, going so far as to tell the CIA to get the FBI to back off the investigation of the break in on bogus national security grounds.
Much like Trump, Nixon stonewalled the various investigations into his actions, what Naftali calls “deceptive cooperation.” He had the Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox, fired in October 1973 in order to conceal the tapes, knowing his presidency was over once they were revealed. In the aftermath of Cox’s firing during the so-called Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon refused to release the tapes to the House’s impeachment inquiry. Instead, he provided a transcript he had personally edited that was highly misleading. The final brick in Nixon’s wall of obstruction was removed when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in July 1974 that Nixon had to release the tapes, which he complied with. One wonders if Trump would do the same.
One difference with the Trump case is that there was a degree of bipartisanship during the Nixon impeachment process. By the early summer of 1974, cracks had begun to appear in the Republicans support for Nixon. Unlike today, there were still moderate Republicans who were appalled by Nixon’s actions and had become convinced that the president had engineered a cover-up. Peter Rodino, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary, had bent over backwards to appeal to the moderate Republicans and to Southern Democrats, where Nixon was popular. Despite strong pressure from the leadership of the GOP in the House, it was this group that ultimately drew up the articles of impeachment.
Still, a large number of Republicans in the House continued to stick with the president until the tapes were finally released. It was at this point that even die-hard Nixon supporters deserted him when it became apparent that Nixon had been lying all along and had committed a crime. Nixon’s case shows both the importance of bipartisanship in the impeachments process, but also how difficult it is for members of the president’s party to turn on him. In August of 1974, Nixon resigned when confronted by a group of Senators and House members, led by conservative Senator Barry Goldwater.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton is the anomaly, since it was not about policy (as in Johnson’s case) or the abuse of power (in Nixon’s case). Rather it emerged in part due to a character flaw. Clinton could not restrain himself when it came to women.
The facts of the case are well known. While president, Clinton had an illicit sexual encounter with Monica Lewinski in the Oval Office. He then proceeded to lie about it, both to the country and also during a deposition in the Paula Jones case, and attempted to cover up the affair. Kenneth Starr, who had been appointed as Independent Counsel to investigate the Whitewater matter, a failed land deal in which the Clinton’s lost money but did not nothing wrong, then turned his investigation to the president’s actions with Lewinski and recommended that the House of Representative consider impeachment proceedings for perjury and obstruction of justice.
By this point, Clinton had admitted he had lied to the country and apologized for his actions. The House had the opportunity to censure Clinton, but Tom Delay, one of the Republican leaders, buried that attempt, even in the aftermath of the midterm elections when Democrats gained seats, clearly pointing to public opposition to impeachment of the president, whose approval rating were going up. While the House voted for impeachment largely along partisan lines, the Senate easily acquitted Clinton on a bi-partisan basis. Clinton’s actions, while “indefensible, outrageous, unforgiveable, shameless,” as his own attorney described them, did not rise to the level the Framers’ had established for impeachment.
Clinton’s impeachment in the House was largely a product of partisan politics that were out of control. As Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz have written, “starting in the mid-1990’s and continuing through the present, we’ve seen the creeping emergence of a permanent impeachment campaign.” Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama faced impeachment movements during their terms in office over issues that in the past no one would have considered impeachable. During the 2016 election, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump lobbed accusations that the other would face impeachment if elected. The current toxic political environment raises the issue of whether a bipartisan impeachment effort has any chance at all, especially when the two sides cannot even agree over basic facts. Nancy Pelosi was right to hold off the movement to impeach Trump prior to the Ukrainian matter, but now that we have such a clear abuse of power, what is the alternative? At this moment, when the tool of impeachment is most needed for a president who meets all of the criteria laid out by the Framers, the process itself has become captive to extreme partisanship by the Republicans.
The ball is now in the Senate’s court, where the trial will soon occur. While conviction and removal from office is highly unlikely short of additional corroborating evidence (which Mitch McConnell has been attempting to squelch), perhaps the Senate can find the will to issue a bipartisan censure motion that condemns the president and issues a warning that another similar abuse of power will result in removal. Ultimately, the voters will likely decide Trump’s fate come November. We can only hope they choose correctly.
Donald J. Fraser has spent a lifetime working in a variety of capacities in government. Fraser holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public policy and administration and currently teaches history through US Davis’s Osher Center. In 2016 he released The Emergence of One American Nation. His new book, The Growth and Collapse of One American Nation, will be published in early 2020 and cover the period from the 1790’s to the outbreak of the Civil War.
For weeks, President Trump’s advisers have been preparing for the eventuality of an impeachment trial in the Senate, a process that could begin as soon as Wednesday.
Some aspects of how Mr. Trump’s team will approach the trial have yet to be determined, including whether it will seek witnesses and how much time it will ask for to argue its case. But the basic configuration of the team defending the television-savvy president in a made-for-TV congressional event has been established.
The two constants will be Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Jay Sekulow, who has been Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer since 2017. Both are expected to have speaking roles during the trial.
“The truth is, we’ve been prepared to proceed as soon as the articles were adopted,” Mr. Sekulow said on Sunday. “We’ve been prepared, we are prepared and we will be prepared for any contingencies.”
This will be the first outing by Mr. Trump’s team during the impeachment process after the White House chose not to mount a traditional defense during the House proceedings.
For Mr. Cipollone, the trial will be a high-profile appearance for the typically low-profile lawyer, who has stayed well below the radar during more than a year in the job. Mr. Sekulow, who hosts a daily radio show and is a frequent television commentator, is more accustomed to being in the public eye.
There will be other lawyers involved, primarily Mr. Cipollone’s two top deputies, Patrick F. Philbin and Michael M. Purpura, two people familiar with the plans said. Neither was authorized to speak publicly about the formation of the president’s defense.
Others may have discreet roles with the team, including the famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz, whose appearances on television have impressed Mr. Trump, and other members of the White House counsel’s staff.
It remains undetermined whether three of Mr. Trump’s closest allies among House Republicans — Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Doug Collins of Georgia and John Ratcliffe of Texas — will play a role. They had been expected to, at Mr. Trump’s urging, until the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, advised against it, according to people close to the president.
Some close to Mr. Trump say that having Mr. Ratcliffe involved would be particularly helpful. The congressman helped lead the Republican defense in the House and has told people he is familiar with all the evidence that was presented.
Last week, Mr. Trump’s lawyers met at the White House with Stephen R. Castor, who served as the Republican counsel in the House impeachment hearings, according to people briefed on the discussions.
Mr. Castor was also at the White House before the final impeachment hearings, along with Republican members of the House, the people briefed on the discussions said. He did not meet privately with the president, but Mr. Trump wanted to thank him for his role in the hearings, they said.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers may also decide to expand the team, depending on how the trial unfolds.
The shaping of Mr. Trump’s defense team is playing out against a backdrop of contradicting signals from the president. On Sunday, Mr. Trump suggested that instead of holding a trial, the Senate should dismiss the House’s articles of impeachment that charge him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, ‘no pressure’ Impeachment Hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have,” the president wrote on Twitter. “I agree!”
Hours earlier he seemed to endorse a trial, tweeting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat and Intelligence Committee chairman who led the impeachment inquiry, should be called as witnesses.
Indeed, for Mr. Trump, who is eager to be cleared and is angered by the fact that the impeachment vote ever happened, there is still a desire to see witnesses called, according to people close to him.
But he has also told advisers that he would follow Mr. McConnell’s advice on the best way to proceed. Mr. McConnell has told colleagues that witnesses can only complicate matters, and that they open up an avenue of uncertainty.
Senator Chuck Schumer had a pointed warning when John R. Bolton declared himself willing to testify in President Trump’s impeachment trial: Republicans who refused Democrats’ demands for witnesses and documents would be “participating in a cover-up.”
For Mr. Schumer, the voluble New York Democrat and minority leader, the resurfacing of Mr. Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, as a potential witness was a way to squeeze vulnerable Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine to cross party lines and effectively give him control of the floor during a historic trial over whether to remove Mr. Trump. But Ms. Collins, who is a top Democratic target facing a tough re-election in November, quickly made it known she did not find Mr. Schumer’s tactics persuasive.
“I don’t think Chuck Schumer is very interested in my opinion,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “I don’t think he’s really very interested in doing anything but trying to defeat me by telling lies to the people of Maine. And you can quote me on that.”
Ms. Collins’s sharp retort illustrates Mr. Schumer’s core challenge as the Senate, likely this week, convenes only the third impeachment trial of a sitting president in American history. As leader of the opposition, he must hold together Senate Democrats (including five who are running for president) while securing the cooperation of some of the very same Republicans he is working to defeat.
For Mr. Schumer, who has spent three years as the Senate’s top Democrat in the shadow of his House counterpart, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump is both an opportunity and a risk.
It is no secret in the capital that the job Mr. Schumer really wants is that of Senate majority leader — a post he thought would be his with Hillary Clinton in the White House, before Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory unleashed a political earthquake. A schmoozer and a deal-maker, he is more suited to the politics of getting things done than to the partisan knife-fighting culture of Mr. Trump’s Washington.
“I think it’s very hard for him to be the leader of a resistance,” said Rebecca Kirszner Katz, a progressive strategist and aide for Mr. Schumer’s predecessor, Harry Reid. “The weekend that millions of women took to the streets to protest Trump, Schumer went to the Women’s March, and the next day had a press conference on the size of overhead bins on airplanes. The world was falling apart, but Chuck Schumer was still doing his Sunday press conferences.”
Over the past few weeks, as Ms. Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, engaged in a bitter standoff in recent weeks over the shape of the trial — the speaker refused to send the articles, while Mr. McConnell refused to commit to hearing any new evidence in the Senate — Mr. Schumer was still pushing daily for a deal with Republicans to hear from witnesses and secure more documents.
Mr. Schumer lost that round, when Mr. McConnell announced last week that he had the votes lined up to move ahead with the trial without committing to either. Now, the Democratic leader faces a more consequential set of tests once the trial gets underway. Mr. Schumer said he plans to force a series of votes on calling witnesses and hearing new evidence, pressuring Republicans to join the call for more information or be tagged as complicit in what Democrats have branded presidential obstruction.
There is some evidence the strategy is working: On Friday, Ms. Collins said she was working with a “fairly small group of Republicans” to ensure that witnesses could be called.
The Senate math is not in Mr. Schumer’s favor. With 47 senators caucusing with the Democrats (including two independents who routinely vote with them), he is still four shy of the 51 votes he would need to force subpoenas for witnesses and documents. While it appears that Ms. Collins and two other Republicans — Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — might be persuaded to go along in voting to hear from Mr. Bolton and others, Mr. Schumer was hard pressed to name a fourth vote.
“There are people vulnerable politically. There are people who have a conscience,” he said in an interview. “There are people who are retiring. There are people who might have some beef. Who knows? I will tell you this: I talk to Republicans all the time, and they’re upset by this president.”
In the end, Mr. Schumer knows there is almost no chance the Republican-led Senate will convict Mr. Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, a move that would take two-thirds of senators, or 67. But the focus on what constitutes a fair trial, he argued, will either succeed in unearthing new information about Mr. Trump, or at least help Democrats pick up seats in 2020.
“It’s a win-win,” he said, describing his strategy, though he quickly corrected himself, settling on “no lose” as a better frame. If Republicans block new evidence, Democrats will deem the trial “illegitimate and a sham,” he said, adding, “Pursuing witnesses and documents makes us better off, no matter the outcome.”
The position is at odds with the one Mr. Schumer took almost exactly 21 years ago, when he opposed calling witnesses during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. (Mr. Schumer likes to recount his status as, in his own words, a “historical footnote”: the only member of Congress to have voted three times against Mr. Clinton’s impeachment — twice as a House member in 1998, first in the Judiciary Committee and then on the floor, and again after winning election to the Senate.)
Mr. Schumer argued that there was no contradiction. Unlike the witnesses he is seeking against Mr. Trump — including Mr. Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff — the Clinton witnesses had already testified, so there was not necessarily anything new to be learned from them. By contrast, Mr. Trump directed a blanket stonewall of the House impeachment inquiry, refusing to provide any documents or allow White House officials to testify.
Republicans, however, howl that he is being hypocritical. They say Mr. Schumer is engaged in a transparent bid to play politics with the most sacred of senatorial duties. As to whether he will get four Republicans on board on key questions of how the trial should unfold, Senator John Kennedy, the Louisiana Republican known for his folksy quips, said: “When donkeys fly.”
But Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, said Mr. Schumer had “played the hand he has very well.”
“There’s a reason President Trump and Mitch McConnell are deathly afraid of having key witnesses, because it can change the dynamics of a trial,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “And the flip side of that is that if Republicans vote to block key witnesses and evidence, it will expose the trial as a fraud.”
At 69, Mr. Schumer has spent his entire adult life in politics. The son of a Brooklyn exterminator and a homemaker, he caught the politics bug in 1968 as a Harvard undergraduate campaigning for Eugene McCarthy, and disappointed his parents by running for the New York State Assembly at 23, fresh out of Harvard Law. (At his mother’s insistence, he took the bar exam, but he never practiced.)
He won that race and every race since, winning election to the House in 1980, the Senate in 1998 after a hard-fought campaign in which his opponent, the incumbent Republican senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, memorably called him “a putzhead” — a Yiddish insult that was a bridge too far for New York voters.
With his familiar Brooklyn accent and half-moon glasses perched on the downslope of his nose, Mr. Schumer has long been an upbeat, if publicity-hungry, figure in the Capitol, giving rise to the well-worn joke that there is no place in Washington more dangerous than between him and a camera.
Naturally gregarious, Mr. Schumer loves legislating — he once briefly contemplated running for governor but decided against it — and retail politics. He visits each of New York’s 62 counties once a year, can tick off Long Island high schools by name and knows the best place in Buffalo for a “beef on weck” sandwich.
There is a little bit of Senator Pothole in him. His political modus operandi is as follows: Fix someone’s problem (any problem, doesn’t matter what, so long as it helps the middle class), and then hold a Sunday morning news conference in New York to talk about it. He has done all this while raising millions of dollars from his hometown industry — Wall Street — prompting criticism that he is a corporate politician, out of step with the rising Democratic left.
To say he is a hands-on leader would be an understatement; when his 96-year-old father was rushed to the hospital with an acute attack of gallstones a few Saturdays ago, Mr. Schumer was dialing up colleagues on his flip phone to give them advice about Sunday morning talk show appearances. But his close friends say he never had a grand plan to rise up the ranks.
“There was no long term strategy: I’m going to wait X years in the House and then I’m going to the Senate,” said Carol Kellermann, who has known Mr. Schumer for 50 years, since their days at Harvard, and later was his chief of staff. Still, she added, “I think he wishes that he would be the majority leader. That would be a capstone of all the legislative work he has done.”
Mr. Trump’s election in 2016 left the ordinarily cheery Mr. Schumer moping around his Brooklyn apartment. But the New York senator, who is Jewish, said he soon had “an epiphany, a message from the heavens, if you will, because I believe in God.”
“Chuck, stop moping,” he said he told himself. “Had Hillary been president and you in the majority, the job would have been easier, more fun, and you would have gotten good things done, which is why you’re here. But with Trump as president and you as minority leader, your job is much more important.”