Here’s what happened this week in impeachment.
Over the weekend
“Hold off” on giving congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. That’s what top White House budget staffer Michael Duffey said in an email to the Defense Department, less than two hours after Trump called Ukraine’s president in July and asked him to investigate the Bidens.
The Trump administration was forced to release the email this weekend after a request for documents by the nonprofit news organization Center for Public Integrity.
It adds to a damaging timeline that appears to connect Trump’s holdup of military aid to Ukraine to his stated desire for Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. Democrats impeached him for abuse of power on this issue.
Keeping a promise she made minutes after Trump was impeached, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) still hasn’t released articles of impeachment to the Senate or named House lawmakers to prosecute the case, two things Senate Republicans need to start the requisite trial. She has maintained she wants the Senate to commit to holding a fair trial before she sends over the articles.
So what is a fair trial? Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) sends a letter to all other senators outlining Democrats’ demands: documents related to the decision to hold up military aid and an Oval Office meeting, and four witnesses. “Fair means documents and witnesses,” Schumer says Monday from New York.
Democrats want to hear from three White House officials (acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and his senior adviser as well as top budget official Duffey, who sent that July 25 email about stopping Ukraine aid). Democrats also want former national security adviser John Bolton, who allegedly called the Ukraine scheme a “drug deal,” to testify.
House Democrats also wanted many of these people to talk but decided not to wait months for the courts to rule on the validity of Trump’s refusal. (Instead, Democrats impeached Trump for obstruction of Congress.)
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) goes on “Fox and Friends” and says he wants to listen to the arguments, have senators ask questions (via written statements handed to the chief justice) “and then decide whether we have witnesses or not.” Translation: He doesn’t want any witnesses.
“Let’s quit the charade. This is a political exercise,” he says in response to Schumer.
“When I heard that, I was disturbed.” That’s GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), a possible swing vote on Trump’s impeachment trial, reacting to McConnell saying he’s in “total coordination” with the White House on the trial.
Her comment to Anchorage’s KTUU cements her status as one of about three Senate Republicans who could vote with Democrats to convict Trump. (Murkowski has an independent streak: she voted against putting Brett M. Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court in 2018.)
She and a handful of others could pressure McConnell to hold a trial with testimony from people close to Trump’s inner circle on Ukraine testify who could potentially present new evidence.
But for Trump to be removed from office, 20 Senate Republicans would need to join all 47 Democrats.
The other Alaska senator, Republican Dan Sullivan, is more representative of where Senate Republicans seem to be at. Even as he says he wants to a “full and fair trial,” he doesn’t sound like he thinks Trump’s actions are impeachable. “What is the standard to actually overturn an election?” he told KTUU in the days after Trump was impeached.
Trump, meanwhile, talks to reporters from his resort in Florida and indirectly pushes McConnell to hold a trial that best fits his personal interests. “But they treated us very unfairly,” he says of House Democrats, “and now they want fair — fairness in the Senate."
“Together, we must strive to foster a culture of deeper understanding and respect — traits that exemplify the teachings of Christ.” That’s Trump in a Christmas Day message to the nation.
“Why should Crazy Nancy Pelosi, just because she has a slight majority in the House, be allowed to Impeach the President of the United States?” That’s Trump in a tweet at 10 p.m. on Christmas Day, boomeranging right back to name calling and political attacks after the sun goes down.
The Washington Post publishes a story underscoring the crisis the national security community is facing under Trump.
“For decades, the GOP cast itself as the champion of the FBI, CIA, Pentagon and other national security institutions. But over the past three years, Republicans have repeatedly turned on those agencies when necessary to protect Trump’s presidency,” write Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, after interviewing more than 20 current and former officials in and around impeachment.
Through the morning until well after the sun goes down, Trump appears to be watching Fox News and broadcasting what his conservative defenders say about him to his Twitter feed. His message, as in much of his commentary this week, has been focused on trying to undermine Pelosi. He’s encouraging Democrats in California to oust her in next year’s election. (There is no party-specific primary in California, nor any real effort to run against her.)
The week ends much the way it began: With Trump tweeting consistently about impeachment and Pelosi, and with no apparent agreement on how or when a Senate trial to acquit or convict him will run.
Pelosi responds indirectly to Trump with a tweet Friday featuring a slickly produced video set to dramatic music of all the evidence impeachment investigators uncovered about Trump’s pressure campaign in Ukraine. “The facts aren’t contested. Only whether Republicans will do their duty and stand up,” the video ends.
Congress has another week off before returning to work in early January.