January 24, 2020

First things first: The number of US soldiers injured in the Iranian attack on the Iraqi airbase was not zero, as the president told us. The numbered of injured has been confirmed today to be 34. Seventeen of them have returned to duty. Eight have been returned to the US for medical care; nine others remain in Germany for medical care. All of those still receiving medical treatment are currently outpatients.

Now, the rest: this morning, news dropped that there are tapes. Reporters for ABC News have reviewed a recording, apparently made by Lev Parnas’s partner Igor Fruman at a private dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on April 30, 2018, that has Trump saying about US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a prominent anti-corruption leader, “Get rid of her!... Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.”

The snippets of the tape that have been made public say little else, but even that much belies both the idea that Trump was not involved in the corruption around Yovanovitch’s firing and that he did not know Parnas and Fruman, who attended this private dinner. They also raise the very real question of why the president was making an order to “take out” a senior ambassador at a private dinner. He had every right to recall her, but if so, why not do it through normal State Department channels? The answer is likely that she was a very highly regarded senior official, and he would not be able to give a good reason to remove her. So he went to other channels. But what, exactly, did that imply about this plan… and thus about what they meant with regard to Yovanovitch?

Tonight, Lev Parnas’s lawyer went on the Rachel Maddow Show to say the entire tape is 1:24 minutes long and has been given to the House intelligence Committee.

This tape is important to the present moment even if there is nothing else on it. The tape matters because it exists. If Fruman and Parnas recorded this conversation at a private dinner—apparently on a cell phone left on a table, for almost an hour and a half—what else did they record? And if they recorded things, who else did? What we have seen and heard so far about the Ukraine Scandal has been breathtaking, and it has been pretty low-hanging fruit. When the harder-to-reach stuff comes out, as it will, Republicans defending Trump will be forced to defend more and more unthinkable actions.

For their part, Republicans are trying to pretend that the impeachment trial is so boring and unimportant that no one should bother watching. They are reading, chatting, playing with Fidget spinners. On Fox News Channel, Sean Hannity is assuring viewers he will protect them from the boring proceedings.

But it does not appear to be working. Americans are glued to the House managers’ telling of the Ukraine Scandal, which they have made a compelling story of intrigue and corruption at the highest levels of our government, calling Americans back to the higher meaning of American democracy. As of tonight, more than 6 million people had watched a single clip of Adam Schiff’s closing at last night’s session. Further, the Republicans’ strategy makes them seem disdainful not simply of the impeachment process, but of our government itself. It’s not playing well.

Today, the House impeachment managers wrapped up their case before the Senate. In his closing, Schiff appealed to senators to buck their party and call for witnesses and documents, giving America a fair trial in the case against Trump. Having made their story clear over the past two days, today the House managers focused on preempting what we can presume Trump’s defenders will say over the next several days. The House managers undercut the argument that aid to Ukraine was held up for policy reasons—it has been made abundantly clear that is false—and undercut the Republican argument that the process was rigged against Trump. They also warned that Republicans' attempts to drag the Bidens into their defense of Trump will simply do what the Ukraine Scandal was designed to do in the first place: smear a Democratic leader for advantage in the 2020 election.

The Republicans will start their defense of Trump tomorrow, but will present for only three hours, from 10:00 to 1:00. This is a poor time for viewership, which is frustrating the president, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the schedule and undoubtedly wants to make Trump's defense as quietly as possible. If the behavior of Trump’s team so far is any indication, they are badly underprepared and aiming mostly for Fox News Channel video clips. This will not play well to the public compared to the masterful presentation by the House managers.

McConnell still appears to have the votes to quash witnesses and documents, but senators are clearly feeling pressure, as 72% of Americans want those witnesses and documents. Senators have been starting to say they cannot ask for witnesses because the president would assert executive privilege. Schiff is keeping up the pressure. He undercut that argument today by noting to reporters that Chief Justice John Roberts was empowered by the Senate rules to decide issues of evidence and privilege immediately, and the Democrats were fine with that. "Unlike in the House, where the President could play rope a dope in the courts for years, that is not an option for the President's team here, and it gives no refuge to people who want to hide behind executive privilege to avoid the truth coming out," he said. Schiff has called their bluff. Executive privilege cannot be used to hide criminal activity, so it is a wild card what Roberts would actually permit the president to protect.

The White House is definitely feeling the heat. Today a BBC News story revealed that Rinaldo Nazzaro, the American founder of the neo-Nazi group The Base, which wants to destroy the US government, incite a race war, and create a white ethnostate, has been running the organization from Russia, a country with whom the president has been far too cozy and whose propaganda Giuliani and Trump supporters are echoing.

This evening, Trump read a statement in which he claimed he had always highly regarded the US Intelligence Community (this is not true; he has often attacked it and deferred to the intelligence agencies of Russia or Saudi Arabia), and said he accepted that Russia meddled in the 2016 election (although he claimed it did not affect his win). He then went off script to say other countries might have interfered, too, so the moment wasn’t perfect, but this was clearly an attempt to make it look as if the White House was backing off from the Russia-backed propaganda that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election rather than Russia. It was not a convincing performance on his part, I thought, and the fact he ended off script: “There was no collusion!” didn’t help.

Also today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo melted down at NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, insisting that he had defended Yovanovitch (he has not), and then after the interview cursing her, asking “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?,” and challenging her to find Ukraine on a map, going so far as actually getting aides to bring in an unlabeled map (on which she successfully identified Ukraine). “People will hear about this,” he told her.

And that’s the mounting problem for Trump’s GOP. Over the coming months, people will definitely hear about many, many things.

——

Notes

Injured:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2020/01/24/pentagon-says-34-us-troops-were-diagnosed-with-brain-injuries-after-iranian-missile-attack/

Recording: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/recording-appears-capture-trump-private-dinner-ukraine-ambassador/story?id=68506437

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/recording-appears-capture-trump-private-dinner-ukraine-ambassador/story?id=68506437&cid=social_twitter_abcnTrump

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show

Schiff’s clip:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/us/politics/adam-schiff-closing-remarks.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&fbclid=IwAR0BNpYTNqlz8SoKtB2VjeJ0nW78tjWQBn11OVt1S9gQiVmDGa8XC6DqyVA

GOP senators misbehaving:

Today: https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/24/politics/senate-impeachment-trial-day-4/index.html

Executive privilege:

https://www.lawfareblog.com/primer-executive-privilege-and-executive-branch-approach-congressional-oversight

Pompeo: https://www.npr.org/2020/01/24/798579754/transcript-nprs-full-interview-with-secretary-of-state-mike-pompeo

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/us/mike-pompeo-mary-louise-kelly-npr.html?fbclid=IwAR0q9A9hcKeDWl78SidE9cgX_6Z4-2kyoqq2chmERGKh8GBYAVl-w0OZ-js

The Base: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51236915?SThisFB&fbclid=IwAR2o4hnXnq4O4s5SqniAMIqiH5mW2g4d13al_VLa28jil3UVOWYo2G1cr6c

Trump statement: