Trump thinks he's found a great way to deal with impeachment. Republican strategists think it's a very bad idea

The president has been saying he wants to print T-shirts with 'Read The Transcript' on them to fire up his base, and has even promised to read the transcript out on television. John McCain's ex-adviser isn't convinced

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Friday 01 November 2019 19:53
Trump impeachment vote: House chooses to formally move ahead with inquiry

On Thursday, the United States House of Representatives voted to formalize an impeachment inquiry into the president for the fourth time in American history.

Two hundred and thirty-two House members approved a resolution which laid the ground rules for the next phase of an investigation which has already seen a veritable parade of current and former Trump administration officials.

According to publicly available reports and accounts of those who've been in that secure room, those officials have largely told House investigators what amounts to a remarkably consistent story about Ukraine. And it’s not good news for the president.

While Donald Trump has attempted to cast the numerous witnesses who have painted a damning picture of his alleged misconduct as disgruntled "Never-Trumpers," Americans will soon be able to judge their credibility for themselves.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters earlier this week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer explained that the point of Thursday's vote would be to move the investigation from an "investigatory phase" into one that will feature public hearings: ”We are continuing the process of determining whether high crimes and misdemeanors have been committed by the President of the United States,” he said.

For now, the man in charge of that process is House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and he's moving forward full speed ahead.

According to a source familiar with Schiff's plans, the Intelligence Committee will soon begin to release transcripts of the interviews which members and staff have conducted over the last month. The first document dumps are due to come in as soon as next week, during the House's pre-Veterans' Day work period.

Both sides will inevitably seize on certain phrases and passages in the various witnesses' testimony to support their own sides' cases, but all the insults and attacks being slung back and forth over the process won't amount to a hill of beans when the House is gaveled back into session on November 12th. At that point, the Intelligence Committee will begin to bring some of its witnesses back for public hearings.

That's why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who earlier today told Bloomberg News that she expects impeachment hearings to begin this month, has chosen to entrust this task to Schiff, a former federal prosecutor whose rise to prominence began when he convicted an FBI agent of spying for the Soviet Union.

Pelosi and other top Democrats are hoping that the rules laid out in the resolution passed Thursday will prevent the hearings from being hijacked by Republican members looking to create a distracting circus.

Instead of the usual succession of questions from members alternating between each party, witnesses will first be questioned by either Schiff or a staff attorney, then by Ranking Member Devin Nunes or his designee. It's a process that recalls the Senate Watergate hearings, when the late Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, then counsel for Sen. Howard Baker, asked a Nixon aide, Colonel Alexander Butterfield, the question that would lead to Nixon's downfall: "Are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"

While the presence of another military officer and presidential aide named Alexander — Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman — on Democrats' witness list might give a more historically aware president cause for concern, it appears so far that Trump doesn't think the hearings will be a problem.

According to The Washington Examiner, Trump plans to push back against Democrats' hearings by focusing his defense on the previously released memorandum documenting his conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "At some point, I’m going to sit down, perhaps as a fireside chat on live television, and I will read the transcript of the call, because people have to hear it," he reportedly said. "When you read it, it’s a straight call.”

Additionally, Trump plans to turn "read the transcript" into a shorthand slogan for his defenders, in part by selling T-shirts with the phrase printed on them.

Of course, this ignores the fact that Vindman and a slew of other Trump administration officials have already testified that Trump withheld $391 million worth of military aid to Ukraine.

Steve Schmidt, a veteran GOP campaign operative who ran John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, told me that he thought Trump's plan to read the memorandum aloud "doesn't seem like it would be advisable."

"It's curious that the president thinks the language of the transcript exonerates him while most people see a quid-pro-quo, an abuse of power, and an incriminating statement,” he added.

Another Republican strategy graybeard, Everything Trump Touches Dies author Rick Wilson, was even less generous in his assessment of the merits of Trump's latest messaging plan.

"Donald Trump has engaged in a wide spectrum of dumbf**kery during his tenure, but this would truly be the Mount Everest of dumbf**kery,” Wilson said to me. "It is an astoundingly dumb idea."

When told about Trump's desire to sell “Read The Transcript" T-shirts to promote his latest defense, Wilson responded, "Of course he does, because he's a f**king moron."

"At some point, the conceit that Donald Trump is playing 37-dimensional chess and is a strategic genius was detonated by anybody who is paying attention,” he continued. “The political rule of 'holes' that says 'stop digging' [when one finds oneself in a hole] is one he clearly ignores and cannot internalize, so right now he's doing things in a way that is going to increase his exposure to a whole variety of sanctions and legal challenges.

"The famous Watergate line that 'these are not bright guys and it got out of hand,' we are seeing it again in the age of Trump — but they're even less bright.”

Asked whether he thinks Trump understands the gravity of what he appears to have done or the political peril in which he finds himself, Schmidt noted that he isn't a psychologist and “it's tough to read anybody's mind, but circumstantially, I'm not sure that he does.”

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