December 1, 2019

I hope you all enjoyed the quiet of the holiday weekend… because it’s over.

This morning, on Meet the Press, Trump supporter John Kennedy (R-LA) defended the idea that Ukraine had interfered in our 2016 election, an allegation which has no basis in fact (that is, it’s a lie). This is significant because, for all his “aw shucks, I’m just a country boy” demeanor, Kennedy is actually a smart man, educated at Vanderbilt for his undergraduate degree, then the University of Virginia School of Law, then University of Oxford. Lawmakers have been briefed on the Intelligence Community’s findings that the idea that Ukraine attacked our elections is actually being pushed by Russians. Chuck Todd called him out on his disinformation, pointing out that he was doing exactly what Fiona Hill warned about: spreading Russian propaganda. But when he asked Kennedy if he had heard the briefings on Russian interference, Kennedy said he had not gone to them. And then he went on to say that former Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko had been actively working for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. This is lunacy and, again, its chief proponent is Russian president Vladimir Putin.

It was pretty clear that Kennedy was simply echoing what Republicans were doing during the public hearings over the past few weeks: salting phrases and ideas into the public conversation so that they could pull them into a narrative for their base. But here’s what is pulling me up short with Kennedy: his performance was lunacy that comes directly from Russian propaganda. Kennedy is a smart man. Why is he doing this?

Also interesting in this exchange was that Todd was pushing back against lies, rather than simply providing a platform for disinformation. It continues to feel as if the tide is turning, and Trump’s supporters are being called out.

Tonight, the Daily Beast dropped a piece by Molly Jong-Fast about Lisa Page, the former FBI agent whom Trump continually references, along with Peter Strzok, as his proof that the FBI was working against him. Page has been silent until now, but apparently Trump’s obscene imitation of Page and Strzok having sex convinced her that there was no point in staying silent and hoping she would fade into obscurity. Her interview with Jong-Fast details the effects of Trump’s attacks on a woman who was simply doing her job for the country, and who suddenly found herself at the mercy of Trump’s vicious tweets.

Perhaps even more interesting in her interview was that the FBI did not consider her affair with Strzok to be material to the question of her approach to her work, and had kept it from reports. It was Sarah Flores, spokesperson for Trump’s Department of Justice, who detailed that story to reporters, even as she insisted they must not identify where they had gotten that information. As early as 2017, then, as soon as Trump took office, the Justice Department was politicized, attacking private citizens perceived to be Trump’s enemies.

This afternoon, as I guessed would happen, Trump’s lawyers declined to take part in the impeachment hearings beginning Wednesday in the House Committee on the Judiciary, although they left open the option that they might participate in the future. His lawyer’s letter continued to lay out their complaints about the impeachment process in the House, calling the “purported ‘impeachment inquiry’” “baseless” and “highly partisan.” The argument that they have not had access to the process so they will refuse to participate in the process is… interesting. It suggests that they have little to offer by way of actual defense, and so are continuing to rail against the process.

Their weakness was evident today, as Judge Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News Channel’s senior judicial analyst. said that so far as he can see, the House Intelligence Committee turned up plenty of evidence to impeach Trump on charges of bribery, violation of federal election law, obstruction of justice, and tampering with a witness. Napolitano said: “He hasn’t presented a defense and I don’t know if he plans to. The evidence of his impeachable behavior at this point, in my view, is overwhelming.”

So far, the only new thing in all this is the degree to which people are starting to push back against Trump and his people. But a reader (hi Cathy!) pointed out to me this afternoon Robert Reich’s argument today in The Guardian, saying that, if the House votes to impeach Trump, he cannot be pardoned. This argument is based on Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the president the power to pardon anyone convicted of crimes against the United States, “except in cases of impeachment.” While most scholars believe that Trump cannot pardon himself, Reich’s interpretation would mean that, once the House votes to impeach Trump, he cannot be pardoned by a successor either.

I am not a constitutional lawyer, but Reich’s article is intriguing. Few people realize that Richard Nixon was never actually impeached by the House. In his case, the Judiciary Committee approved various articles of impeachment, but the vote never went to the full House. I have always thought that lack of a House vote was because everyone knew the House would vote to impeach, and all eyes were on the Senate. But Reich’s interpretation makes me wonder if perhaps Nixon really did cut a deal to resign while he could still get a pardon from his replacement, Gerald Ford. That thought makes me note just how frantic Trump has been to avoid impeachment, a stance which has always stumped me. Why should he care about that particular slap when he has seemed impervious to everything else?

Until constitutional lawyers weigh in, I will be an agnostic on Reich’s argument. But I will note that the pressure of this moment increases dramatically if Trump loses the chance for a pardon if the House votes to impeach him.

It looks like it’s going to be quite a week, folks. Buckle up.