This week’s public hearings were absolutely bonkers, and the fallout created was no better. The next few weeks are likely to be a wild ride that requires our careful attention–I’ll keep folks posted to the extent that I’m able. And for readers who want to go over the news with a fine-toothed comb, the Impeachment Inquiry page on the WTFJHT forum remains a great resource.
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m mostly summarizing the news within my area of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise–I’m a lawyer, not an ethics probe!–but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. And, of course, for the things that are within my lane, I’m offering context that shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corner:
Somehow, Whistleblowing Ukraine Biden Bingo news was even more bombastic than last week, with a similarly full hearing schedule and some truly game-changing testimony. It’s a lot, so bear with me:
- Tuesday: Fourteen Hours Thus.* Tuesday was a very full day, with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Vice Presidential adviser Jennifer Williams, former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and former NSC official Tim Morrison all on the roster. There were some important moments of testimony–in particular, Volker changed his testimony to say there was quid pro quo and he now sees that the Burisma Holdings investigations were really looking into Hunter Biden, which feels like foreshadowing for the rest of the week. Similarly, Vindman provided important information despite some pretty personalized antagonism.
- Wednesday: Thrown Under the Bus.* Early testimony was quickly overshadowed on Wednesday when U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland shoved half the Trump administration into the path of the oncoming Impeach Express. Most notably, Sondland added Vice President Mike Pence to the list of public officials that were “in the loop” about an intentional quid pro quo campaign–and that will likely have lasting inquiry implications. Wednesday afternoon also saw testimony from Defense Department official Laura Cooper and State Department official David Hale; though less sensational, the testimony confirmed more about the timing of Ukraine receiving the quid pro quo request.
- Thursday: Ukraine’s Not After Us.* On Thursday, NSC member Fiona Hill and State Department official David Holmes testified. Hill in particular took no prisoners, taking the GOP to task for advancing Russian narratives and portraying Ukraine as an enemy. Additionally, both witnesses further clarified the timeline of events and provided more evidence that Trump was in on the entire thing. Less urgently, Thursday also featured an amusing live C-SPAN call that isn’t breaking news but is worth watching anyway.
- It’s Friday, Drafting Slog.* At the end of the week, the impeachment inquiry had crystallized into an extremely strong case for severalimpeachable offenses, and the Intelligence panel has chosen to move forward with drafting the final report despite stonewalling from several would-be witnesses. Once the Intelligence Committee findings have been summarized, the resulting report will go to the House Judiciary Committee, which will begin drafting articles of impeachment. (Intelligence Committee head Adam Schiff has indicated he expects this to happen shortly after Thanksgiving.) Meanwhile, chaos abounds as everybody tries to prep for the inevitable articles–in the Senate, both sides of the aisle are thinking about how to plan the trial, which has the White House weirdly jazzed because they hope to turn it into a kangaroo court and make Joe Biden testify.
Unsurprisingly, this week’s Disregard of Governing Norms has a lot of ties to the impeachment circus itself, but there was at least one big, unrelated story that should really be getting more press. Here’s what I have for you:
- Administrative Anger Response. There were a number of eye-raising activities from the Trump camp as the week wore on, but some particular lowlights stood out: 1) Lindsey Graham appears to have launched a probe into the Bidens, presumably at Team Trump’s request; 2) Trump entertained the two moderate Republicans most likely to waver at the White House (though at least it wasn’t Camp David); 3) Trump held a scattered press conference with his new bestest bud Magic Marker Notes, prompting this Internet Ramones video and a lot of raised eyebrows; and 4) News trickled out about Pompeo’s plan to run for the Senate, which is particularly wild given the news below.
- Nunes News and Pompeo Press. Giuliani associate and all-around sketchball Lev Parnas flipped to the side of impeachment this week. In the process, he disclosed that ranking Intelligence Committee member Devin Nunes was apparently involved in the Ukraine scandal his committee’s been investigating–so that was a quick trip to an ethics investigation. As one Twitter user put it, “So through weeks of hearings, while Rep Nunes sat there getting increasingly sullen and cranky and sad sack in his public statements he in fact was part of the effort the committee was investigating.” Meanwhile, an ethics group released documents further implicating Mike Pompeo, who apparently had repeated direct contact with Rudy Giuliani during the whole affair.
- War Crime Pardon Party (cont). Trump’s sketchy war crimes pardon party from last week continues to pay miserable dividends, with Trump insisting that the Navy cannot remove SEAL qualification from one of the men who was pardoned. Since the Navy isn’t especially noted for being chill about pictures with corpses, and they’re also supposed to be in charge of their own qualification system, they did not take kindly to this interference. Eventually this standoff culminated in Secretary of Defense Mark Esper firing his own Navy Secretary because the man wouldn’t cede the call to Trump.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- 2020 Election Chaos. Well, 2020 election news remains chaotic and strange, but at least it makes good SNL fodder. Wednesday’s debate came and went, with no obvious upsets afterwards (though of course that could change at any time). In other predictable news, Mike Bloomberg finally announced his candidacy, giving people from New York yet another embarrassing politician on the national stage.
- Stopgap Shuffle. Congress passed another stopgap bill via CR this week, funding our federal systems and staving off a government shutdown for now. Since Trump signed the bill on Friday, that’s November sorted. Unfortunately, the bill only lasts until 12/20, so we’ll be back here again this time next month. If this year goes anything like last year, we’re not out of the woods just yet; I’ll keep folks posted on what happens when the next deadline rolls around.
- Corruption in the Middle East.Current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement this week saying that Israeli settlements in the West Bank somehow don’t violate international law, which reverses over four decades of official U.S. policy. Several outlets are referring to this statement as “a gift to Netanyahu,” which is both accurate and particularly galling when Netanyahu became the first sitting Prime Minister to be indicted for corruption in the same week. So essentially, we have a guy under investigation for corruption reversing four decades of established policy to give another guy under investigation for corruption the green light to continue violating an international peace treaty. Regardless of your opinion of Palestinian occupation, this type of lawlessness erodes our institutions on a very fundamental level, and it’s not okay.
- Recent Court Resilience. We had some awesome court cases this week, I’m happy to report. The retrial of Scott Warren, who faced criminal charges for giving food and water to migrants at the southern border, ended in another not guilty verdict–gosh, can’t imagine why juries keep refusing to convict this guy for his humanitarian aid. And just today, a federal judge issued an emphatic opinion that White House attorney Don McGahn must be compelled to testify, noting that “absolute immunity . . . simply does not exist” and “Presidents are not Kings.” (She also compared the administration’s logic to that in the George Orwell book Animal Farm, which tells you how Extremely Done this district court judge was.) And on the subpoena end, Rudy Giuliani’s firm is being investigated as part of a much broader corruption probe in Manhattan.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can all agree that it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve these foxes chillaxin‘ and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) news, and I hope you will be back as well–but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me reprieve from the cruelty of linear time!