/Analysis | Power Up: House Republican protest against Trump impeachment probe centers on tactics not substance

Analysis | Power Up: House Republican protest against Trump impeachment probe centers on tactics not substance

Good morning, Power people. Here’s that Nats content you crave. Tips, comments, recipes — you know the drill! Thanks for waking up with us. 

The Investigations

BROOKS BROTHERS RIOT, PART TWO: House Republicans ran the impeachment inquiry off the rails yesterday — at least for a few hours. And it was fresh evidence that Trump’s fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill are going all in on the process of combating the impeachment probe rather than the substance of the whistleblower’s charges.

Like a pack of potential new members rushing a fraternity, around 30 Republican lawmakers stormed the Capitol basement to show their support for President Trump, some allegedly wielding cellphones to document their protest inside the secure conference room known as a SCIF where depositions in the impeachment inquiry are taking place. Some referred to the protest as Brooks Brothers Riot 2.0. 

  • Bizarre: It was “one of the most bizarre and theatrical days of the probe to date, full of partisan fury, genuine security violations, unclaimed pizza and several TV appearances likely to please the president,” our colleagues Elise Viebeck, Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis and Kayla Epstein report. 
  • Nope: “Several of the protesting members entered the room with their cellphones, a major security breach, and started using them,” report my colleagues.

 

It was the latest frenetic effort by Republicans to discredit the probe into Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine, which became even harder to defend yesterday after the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, delivered a sober and eyebrow-raising deposition undermining Trump’s claims he never pressured Ukrainian officials in a “quid pro quo.” 

Republican lawmakers defended the intrusion, which caused the testimony of a Pentagon official set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee to be delayed for five hours. Ardent Trump defender and Fox News regular Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), among others, slammed the closed-door depositions taking place in the probe, even though members of three House committees — including Republicans — are allowed to participate, and Democrats are following precedent in other sensitive probes.

  • A big but: “But none of the 13 Republicans who spoke defended Trump on the central allegation that he had pushed Ukraine to investigate Democrats while blocking military aid that had been approved for Kyiv,” our colleagues Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey, and Mike DeBonis report.

Gloves off: The fevered tactics are bound to escalate as Trump complains Republicans are not coming to his defense forcefully enough — and as the walls cave in on an increasingly desperate White House starting to see prominent Republican allies go quiet. Or say something out of step with the GOP message. 

  • 🚨: “The picture coming out of it, based on the reporting that we’ve seen, I would say is not a good one,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, according to NBC News’s Frank Thorp. “But I would say also that until we have a process that allows for everybody to see this in full transparency, it’s pretty hard to draw any hard and fast conclusions.”
  • “ … some Republicans concede privately that it is difficult to mount an effective defense of Mr. Trump when much of the testimony and evidence available paints an unfavorable picture of the president, and there are few witnesses they could call who could credibly refute the accounts of a stream of administration officials who have testified,” the New York Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos write. 

The Trump stamp of approval: The push to discredit the inquiry and go to war against the “deep state” will only continue as more witnesses (and career officials) come forward, unafraid of the White House efforts to silence them. 

  • The protest was carried out “with the blessing” of Trump, scooped by Bloomberg’s Billy House, Evan Sully, and Saleha Mohsin. 
  • A coordinated effort: “The two dozen or so GOP House members are among some of Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress, and at least some of them met with the president Tuesday where they outlined a plan to crash the hearing, according to several people familiar with the matter. Trump supported the action, saying he wanted the transcripts of the hearings released because they will exonerate him, the people said.”
  • What’s next? Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) may not have stormed the SCIF where Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense, eventually testified. But he did come up with an equally creative solution to stopping the impeachment inquiry: “Here’s the point of the resolution: Any impeachment vote based on this process, to me, is illegitimate, is unconstitutional, and should be dismissed in the Senate without a trial,” Graham told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. (Constitutionally, it’s unlikely that Graham’s plan holds any water, according to two historians with whom Power Up spoke). 
  • Defund the inquiry?: A former Rand Paul staffer, Brian Darling, penned an op-ed calling for Senate Republicans to shut down the government over impeachment. “So, in the face of all this, what should Senate conservatives do? Simple: the Senate should defund impeachment,” he writes. “The smart move would be to stop funding the government until the Democrats end impeachment and get back to legislating. Republicans should make voting to fund the government a proxy vote to fund the Democrats’ impeachment of President Trump.”

Democrats who witnessed the stunt were not impressed and believe it only made Democrats’ inquiry look even more professional: 

  • “The Republicans — 25 or 30 white men — all walked into the room in unison,” a lawmaker described to Power Up of Wednesday morning’s scene. “They were yelling and disrupting the deposition. It looked like a lunch counter mob from the 1960s.” 
  • “It’s just lame, ineffective, childish, stupid, beneath the office … just pick a bad adjective and it fits,” said another senior Democratic aide “People will forget about it unless Gaetz lights himself on fire tomorrow to keep it going.” 
  • One aide argued the antics legitimized Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-Wash.) leadership, according to the aide: “Compare it to the [Corey] Lewandowski hearing — [Schiff] got the Sergeant-at-Arms involved pretty quickly.”

Beyond the antics there are some basic — and important — facts to keep in mind: Per our colleague Amber Phillips, Republicans DO have access to these closed=door hearings and in the past, they have run such private sessions. 

  • “All Republicans on the three committees involved in this inquiry (Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight) are allowed into the hearings,” Amber writes. 
  • “These hearings are taking place behind closed doors because lawmakers think things will be more productive that way.”
  • The private ones always produce better results,” former congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who conducted the Benghazi investigation into Hillary Clinton, once said, pushing back against criticism that most of the hearings were in private. 

Going public: Anyway, House Democrats “are preparing to move their largely private impeachment inquiry onto a more public stage as soon as mid-November and are already grappling with how best to present the complex Ukraine saga to the American people,” according to our colleagues Rachael Bade and Karoun Demirjian.

  • The roster: “Among the witnesses Democrats hope to question in open session are the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., and his predecessor, former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Both are seasoned diplomats who, in earlier House testimony, effectively conveyed outrage over a White House plan to withhold much-needed military aid from Ukraine, a long-standing ally battling pro-Russian separatists.”
  • “Another top priority for many Democrats is John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, who made known around the White House his visceral opposition to the campaign to pressure [Ukranian President Volodomyr] Zelensky, a campaign directed in part by Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.” 
  • The why: “It’s going to be the difference between reading a dry transcript and actually hearing the story from the people who were in the room,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). “I think the story needs to be told, you know, the story of the abuse of power … People like the various ambassadors who have come to testify need to come tell it.”

Looking ahead: Sensitive records and communications at the heart of the impeachment inquiry might be available to the public in the next 30 days. “A federal judge Wednesday gave the State Department 30 days to release Ukraine-related records, including communications between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani,” scooped CNN’s Zachary Cohen. 

  • “In response to an emergency motion from the watchdog group American Oversight, Judge Christopher Cooper ordered lawyers for the group and the State Department to come together to narrow the scope of the documents in the request — eliminating those that would likely be exempt from release — and produce documents in the next 30 days. Cooper said that he could not think of a third party exemption that would prevent the release of correspondence between Giuliani and top State Department officials regarding Ukraine.”

A new potential witness to keep in mind: Kashyap Patel, an aide to the House Intelligence Committee in the first years of the Trump administration, per the New York Times’s Julian Barnes, Adam Goldman, and Nick Fandos.

  • Patel “played a key role in helping Republicans try to undermine the Russia investigation, writing a memo that accused law enforcement officials of abusing their power … Colleagues grew alarmed after hearing that Mr. Trump had referred to Mr. Patel as one of his top Ukraine policy specialists and that the president wanted to discuss related documents with him, according to people briefed on the matter.” 

What’s next on the docket? Per CNN’s Congressional correspondent: 

 

On The Hill

ZUCK’S LASHING: Lawmakers grilled Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee yesterday in which members of both parties took issue with mostly every aspect of the tech giant’s business. 

Our colleague Cat Zakrzewski, who writes the Tech 202 newsletter (subscribe HERE!), covered the six-hour hearing and passed along some of her insights to Power Up after a very long day:  

“Yesterday’s House hearing on the Facebook’s plans to launch a digital currency underscored just how strained Facebook’s relationship with Washington lawmakers is these days. More than 50 lawmakers from both parties tore into [Zuckerberg] for more than six hours, with broad critiques on the company’s controversial plans to push into financial services as well as the company’s handling of privacy, misinformation, diversity and election security,” Cat reports. “Though lawmakers’ issues with the company were all over the map, the common theme throughout them was a lack of trust in the company after years of scandals.”

  • “Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) assailed Zuckerberg for the social network’s role as an ‘accelerant in many of the destructive’ political challenges around the world.”
  • “Facebook has been systemically found at the scene of the crime,” Meeks began. “Do you think that’s just a coincidence?”

Outside of their election concerns: “Several lawmakers raised concerns about Facebook trying to open a new line of business as it struggles with so many challenges with its existing products. Zuckerberg’s defenses of Facebook’s planned digital currency, Libra, did little to assuage their worries. Democrats tore into his argument that the company was trying to build a payments system that would help people around the world who do not have access to banking,” Cat writes. 

  • Yikes: “For the richest person in the world to come here and hide behind the poorest people in the world and say that’s who you are trying to help,” accused Rep. Brad Sherman (R-Calif.). “You are trying to help terrorists, drug dealers, and tax evaders.”
  • Facebook’s D.C. headaches aren’t likely to disappear: “Zuckerberg promised lawmakers Facebook wouldn’t launch the currency anywhere in the world without proper approvals from the appropriate U.S. regulators. Yet he provided little guidance on which U.S. financial regulations he believed Libra should be subject to.”

For more on the details of the Facebook CEO’s appearance, read Cat’s newsletter coming out shortly on Zuckerberg’s failure to answer basic questions on Facebook’s ongoing civil-rights audit. 

Another exchange worth watching: 

 

The People

REST IN POWER, REP. CUMMINGS:  “Former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton will speak Friday at the funeral of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who died last week at 68,” our colleague Jenna Portnoy reports. 

“Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are also among those scheduled to speak, according to Cummings’s office. The funeral will be held at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore where the late congressman worshiped for decades.”

  • “At the request of Mrs. (Maya) Rockeymoore-Cummings, he will deliver remarks about the remarkable life and legacy of one of this country’s finest public servants,” Obama spokeswoman Katie Hill said in a statement late Wednesday.
  • Obama praised Cummings in a statement earlier this week: “Steely yet compassionate, principled yet open to new perspectives, Chairman Cummings remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation,” he said. “It’s a tribute to his native Baltimore that one of its own brought such character, tact, and resolve into the halls of power every day. And true to the giants of progress he followed into public service, Chairman Cummings stood tallest and most resolute when our country needed him the most.”

Pelosi remembered her brother in Baltimore yesterday — the late Thomas D’Alesandro III: “From Election Day mornings when he and his father would scale the roof of their Little Italy rowhouse to check the traffic, to his own days as a mayor who embraced the Jesuit ideals of justice and service, there was little daylight between family, faith and politics for the late Thomas D’Alesandro III, according to his sister, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” the Baltimore Sun’s Jean Marbella reports. 

  • “As we were growing up, Mommy and Daddy raised our family … to be devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, grounded by Italian American heritage and staunchly Democratic,” said Pelosi, eulogizing her brother who was a mayor and a congressman at a funeral Mass.

In the Media

LET’S GO: NBC News announced yesterday that “the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate in Georgia will have four moderators, MSNBC announced on Wednesday — and all of them are women,” NBC News’s Dareh Gregorian reports. 

That list of women includes our very own White House reporter, Ashley Parker!: “Moderating the Nov. 20 event, which is being co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, will be Rachel Maddow, host of ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ on MSNBC; Andrea Mitchell, host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC and NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent; Kristen Welker, NBC News’ White House correspondent; and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for The Washington Post.” 

Viral