WE ARE NOW ON DAY THREE of the impeachment trial of President DONALD J. TRUMP. The House managers have presented the same detailed case that they laid out in their report and in their marathon hearings. Little of it is new, of course, because these events have been laid out for months and months, in hearings, in the press and in a nearly 300-page committee report.
YET THE MAIN OBSERVATION REPUBLICANS seem to have is that none of this is new. “Two-and-a-half hours and nothing new,” said Sen. JOHN BARRASSO (R-Wyo.), after Rep. ADAM SCHIFF’S (D-Calif.) stem-winder of an opening. Sen. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas) said: “So far we haven’t learned anything new.” Our to-be-sure clause: Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said he’s learned a lot, per NYT’s Nick Fandos … John Bresnahan on the “nothing new” thing
CORNYN — who spoke to us just outside the chamber in the mid-afternoon — was asked by CNN’S TED BARRETT, a Hill vet, if he was troubled by the president’s behavior. CORNYN responded: “That’s really not the question, Ted. I mean, the question is whether this is treason, bribery, or another high crime and misdemeanor. I mean, this is the nuclear option under our Constitution: to remove a duly elected president by the vote of the House and the Senate. This is something we should not do unless that constitutional standard is met, and I’m struggling to see how that is even close.”
THIS WAS, INDEED, the fear of many Democrats who slow-walked toward impeachment.
ABOUT SIX MONTHS AGO, a top Democrat who was resisting the growing calls to impeach TRUMP laid out his thinking. As special counsel ROBERT MUELLER’S findings reverberated in Washington, he said he was “wrestling” with two competing arguments.
“THE MOST ATTRACTIVE THING to me about impeaching this president is it’s the strongest form of censure we have,” this Democrat said. “Even if he’s acquitted, it puts a stain on his name in history. But as I mentioned, the flipside is terribly, tragically true, which is: An acquittal will be trumpeted as a vindication, and that sends its own message to history.”
HALF A YEAR LATER, that top Democrat, SCHIFF — a man who now has left his mark on a Capitol he once wandered without discernible impact — now confronts the exact scenario he once feared: The Senate is likely to put its stamp of approval on Trump’s solicitation of dirt on a campaign rival from a foreign government.
AS FAR AS WE KNOW, there are no plans to allow those Republicans who are troubled by Trump’s actions in Ukraine to express their disapproval in some formal way — be it a resolution or another official action. All they can do is go on the record with their concerns.
WHAT THIS MEANS is that unless the dynamics in the Senate change in the coming days, or something jolts the proceedings — JOHN BOLTON coming forward with shocking new information, for example — the U.S. Congress will soon say it’s OK to use the power of the presidency to conduct opposition research on an opponent.
PRECEDENT MATTERS in Washington. Just look at how BILL CLINTON’S Senate trial became the blueprint for TRUMP’S. The next president will now be able to argue that it’s no problem to lean on a foreign government for political help. After all, Congress said so.
AND SCHIFF saw it coming.
Good Thursday morning.
BURGESS EVERETT and JOHN BRESNAHAN: “Trump disrupts Republican trial strategy: But GOP senators rebuffed the president’s suggestion to bring in new witnesses”: “Senate Republicans have been publicly and privately maneuvering to give Trump as quick an acquittal as possible while still keeping 51 GOP senators on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has largely thrown cold water on the idea of hearing from new witnesses and many of his members are eager to end the trial, not extend it.”
NYT’S CHARLIE SAVAGE on the contrasting legal strategies: “In its opening days, the House managers have focused on the facts. They are trying to build a clear and coherent story around their theme that the president abused his power — delving into the details, putting up slides to summarize major points, and playing a well-organized selection of video clips of statements by Mr. Trump and by House witnesses.
“Eschewing props, the defense team has focused instead on the process. They have used their time to reinforce the House Republican theme that impeachment is a sham and unfair to Mr. Trump — urging the Senate to swiftly dispose of the case without subpoenaing any additional documents or testimony.” NYT
WHAT GORDON SONDLAND’S UP TO, via WaPo’s Michael Birnbaum, John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Aaron Davis: “Trump’s ambassador to the European Union held meetings with the E.U. official in charge of emergency management. He hosted the Korean ambassador at the U.S. mission. And, he sat with the E.U.’s Brexit negotiator. Sondland had hoped that by staying quiet and going about his business that he could stay ‘out of the spotlight’ of the impeachment drama unfolding at the U.S. Capitol, according to a close associate. …
“Trump has not spoken with Sondland in the two months since the explosive testimony, according to two senior U.S. officials. The two last saw each other at the White House on Oct. 2 for the Finnish president’s visit.” WaPo
OUCH! — “‘Where Is Kevin?’ McCarthy Finds His Voice as Trump’s Mouthpiece,” by NYT’s Elizabeth Williamson: “‘Congress no longer operates as an independent branch of government, but as an appendage of the executive branch,’ said Tom Davis, a former Republican House member from Virginia. ‘He is made for that role.’”
… AND GAETZ GETS FROZEN OUT … MELANIE ZANONA and MARIANNE LEVINE: “Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, suspects a senior White House aide pushed to keep him off the president’s impeachment defense team — weeks after the Florida Republican voted to rein in Trump’s war powers.
“Gaetz (R-Fla.) was in the mix to become one of Trump’s impeachment advisers, a group of House Republicans who are expected to assist the White House with messaging and strategy throughout the Senate impeachment trial. But Gaetz — a conservative firebrand who caught Trump’s eye through his feisty appearances and memorable soundbites on cable news — did not make the final list, which ultimately included eight other House Republicans.
“Gaetz said he wasn’t sure why he didn’t make the cut. But Gaetz said he heard from someone in the White House that legislative affairs director Eric Ueland was ‘responsible for the brush back.’ ‘I don’t know why it would serve someone in the White House to manufacture a divide between the president and one of his best communicators during impeachment,’ Gaetz said in an interview. …
“‘While the Trump administration was disappointed in Mr. Gaetz’s vote, the president’s successful policy to reduce Iranian terror and misbehavior proves the path laid out by the president is working,’ Ueland said in a statement. ‘We look forward to working with Mr. Gaetz in the future.’” POLITICO
PERFECT TIMING! … CNBC’S KAYLA TAUSCHE: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to visit Ukraine next week, sources say”: “Ukrainian officials are preparing for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit next week, according to two sources informed by Kyiv about the trip, which is now scheduled for Jan. 30-31.”
WSJ’S JOHN MCCORMICK in Cresco, Iowa: “What the Biggest Swing County in Iowa Says About 2020: Both Trump and Obama won big in Howard County. While the president is likely to win such small, rural places again, the size of his margins could be crucial”: “The rural county, located in northeast Iowa near the Minnesota border, is the only one of America’s more than 3,000 counties that voted by more than 20 percentage points for Mr. Obama in 2012 and by more than 20 percentage points for Mr. Trump in 2016. It swung 41 points, the second-biggest flip in the nation.
“Recent interviews with dozens of voters here suggest that most of Mr. Trump’s 2016 supporters … plan to stick with him, even though some said they have grown weary of his personal behavior and trade fights. Among those who previously voted for Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, many said they are reserving judgment until they see who wins the Democratic nomination.” WSJ
ALEX ISENSTADT: “Club for Growth works to defeat House GOP incumbent”: “The prominent conservative group Club for Growth is throwing its weight behind a primary challenge to veteran Rep. Kay Granger of Texas — a move that is likely to anger Republican leaders who’ve rushed to her aid.
“The anti-tax organization is expected this week to launch a seven-figure advertising offensive targeting Granger, a 12-term congresswoman who serves as the ranking Republican member of the influential Appropriations committee. The Club for Growth, which has long warred with senior Republicans, is preparing a TV, digital and mail assault going after the congresswoman’s record on spending issues ahead of the March 3 contest.
“‘We anticipate some people not liking what we’re doing but we think it’s the right thing to do,’ said former GOP Rep. David McIntosh, the Club’s president.” POLITICO
LINE OF THE DAY, via NYT’s Simon Romero in Santa Fe, N.M.: “When Valerie Plame declared her run for Congress by boasting of her past as a C.I.A. agent, money poured into her campaign from donors around the country charmed by her vow to take on President Trump. But now, the view that Ms. Plame is a shoo-in to win the coveted seat in northern New Mexico seems based on faulty intelligence.” NYT
LAURA BARRÓN-LÓPEZ in Greenville, S.C.: “Why Biden’s rivals can’t break his lock on black voters”: “Julius Stephens is 74, black, and calls himself a liberal. Standing outside Big Rod’s Barber Shop in North Augusta after watching Joe Biden surrogates rally on behalf of the vice president last week, Stephens gushed about a different candidate: Elizabeth Warren. The Army veteran cited her health care plan and said he ‘like(s) a lot of the things Warren is saying.’ He also praised Bernie Sanders’ policies.
“But then Stephens added that the country ‘would never vote for a woman and a liberal that’s been branded a socialist.’ So he’s planning to vote for Biden.
“Voters like Stephens will determine the Feb. 29 contest in South Carolina, the first primary with a large population of black voters. He also represents the dilemma of the three Democrats trailing Biden nationally: After rolling out endorsements from black activists and elected officials, and releasing policies that explicitly address systemic inequality among African Americans, Sanders, Warren and Pete Buttigieg have little to show for it in South Carolina.” POLITICO
TRUMP’S THURSDAY — THE PRESIDENT will leave the White House at 2: 45 p.m. for Andrews, where he will fly to Miami to speak at the RNC Winter Meeting at the Trump National Doral. At 7: 15 p.m., he’ll leave for the airport, where he’ll fly back to D.C. He’s expected at Andrews at 9: 40 p.m., and at the White House by 10 p.m.
HMM … “Kushner’s FBI interviews to be held for review, Justice Department says,” by CNN’s Katelyn Polantz: “The Justice Department did not hand over the FBI’s summary of Jared Kushner’s interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller last week — despite a judge’s order to do so — because ‘a member of the intelligence community’ needs to ensure the material has been properly redacted, a department attorney said Wednesday.
“DOJ lawyer Courtney Enlow informed CNN as part of an ongoing lawsuit that Kushner’s memo, also known as a 302, ‘will be released with the appropriate redactions’ after the intelligence agency has finished its review. Enlow did not say which intelligence agency is working on the document’s release or how long that review would take.” CNN
POSTCARD FROM DAVOS — BLOOMBERG’S @SalehaMohsin: “Mnuchin in response to a question on the economics of climate change that @GretaThunberg has spoken about: ‘After she goes and studies growth and economics in college she can come back and explain that to us.’”
VALLEY TALK … WITH A ROBBY MOOK CAMEO! — “Tech Companies Volunteer to Beef Up Presidential Campaigns’ Cybersecurity,” by WSJ’s Alexa Corse: “Nearly a dozen technology companies said they will provide free or reduced-cost cybersecurity services to presidential campaigns, which experts and intelligence officials have warned are ripe targets for intrusion and disinformation.
“They join a growing number of firms offering protection on a nonpartisan basis, a trend that has gained steam in the past 18 months or so, since federal regulators eased rules to make such offers permissible under campaign-finance laws. The Federal Election Commission made policy changes after urging from nonprofits and technology companies, including Microsoft Corp. …
“The partnerships between campaigns and cybersecurity companies, which include Microsoft and Cloudflare Inc., are being encouraged by a months-old nonprofit called Defending Digital Campaigns, which is helping the firms comply with campaign-finance regulations. The nonprofit is led in part by [former Mitt Romney campaign manager Matt] Rhoades and Robby Mook, campaign manager for Hillary Clinton in 2016.” WSJ … Defending Digital Campaigns
NOTABLE … NATIONAL REVIEW EDITORIAL: “Impeachment Doesn’t Require a Crime”: “Senate Republicans, by and large, have reached an unspoken consensus about President Trump and Ukraine. He should not have put a temporary freeze on congressionally authorized aid to Ukraine, should not have dabbled with using the aid to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden or a nutty theory about Ukrainian hacking during the 2016 election, and should not have kept defending his ‘perfect call’ as such. At the same time, his conduct does not merit his removal from office — especially since voters will get to pass judgment on that conduct in a few months.
“It’s a reasonable position, and it’s the case that Republicans ought to make in public. They are inhibited from doing so by the president’s obstinacy. Instead of sticking to the most defensible case for a Senate acquittal of Trump, Republicans from the president on down are making arguments that range from the implausible to the embarrassing.” National Review
THE TALK OF EUROPE — “The man at the center of Brussels spy probe,” by POLITICO Europe’s Matthew Karnitschnig
QUOTE DU JOUR, from WHO official Gauden Galea on the Beijing government’s draconian efforts to shut down a virus outbreak in Wuhan, China: “To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science.” AP … The latest on the coronavirus outbreak
BOOK CLUB — NYT Middle East correspondent Ben Hubbard has a well-timed hardback coming out March 10 entitled “MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman.” … @NYTBen: “Among its revelations: It wasn’t just @JeffBezos. One month after his reported hack, operators linked to Saudi Arabia tried to hack my phone too.” Pre-order for $28 on Amazon
MEDIAWATCH — THE TIMES BUYING SERIAL? … WSJ’S BENJAMIN MULLIN: “The company behind the hit true-crime podcast ‘Serial’ is exploring a sale, according to a person familiar with the matter, putting one of digital audio’s biggest brands on the market as the medium becomes increasingly popular. Serial Productions is best known for producing ‘Serial,’ a podcast that tells a new multipart series every season. Its first season garnered more than 300 million downloads.
“Among the potential buyers for Serial Productions is New York Times Co., the person said.” WSJ
— WAPO’S MARGARET SULLIVAN: “Senate press restrictions have an ugly goal: Putting distance between the public and Trump’s impeachment trial”
— The AP announced a series of changes in its Washington bureau this week. Ken Guggenheim is now national security editor. Ben Fox is now a senior writer covering DHS. Colleen Long is now acting news editor for the Supreme Court and federal law enforcement.
Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at [email protected].
SPOTTED: Kellyanne Conway on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte to DCA on Wednesday evening. Pic
TRANSITIONS — Reggie McCrimmon and Trenton Kennedy are joining Twitter’s D.C. office. McCrimmon is now a senior public policy associate and previously was a managing director and senior adviser at Impact Strategies. Kennedy is on the policy communications team and previously was deputy press secretary for Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). … Kenneth Mendelson is now a senior managing director at Guidepost Solutions. He previously operated his own consulting firm.
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is 73. A fun fact about him: “I have a 2001 Chrysler Town and Country minivan that I bought the year I stepped down as governor. We just hit over 522,000 miles this week. My wife thinks I need a new minivan, but I tell her this one is almost paid for, so why would I do that!” Playbook Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: POLITICO is 13 … Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) is 56 … Norah O’Donnell … Christina LoNigro (h/ts Ben Chang)… John Heilemann is 54 … POLITICO’s Scott Mahaskey, Annie Snider and Joe Anuta … Mercury co-chairman Antonio Villaraigosa is 67 … Rolling Stone’s Patrick Reis … Annie Shuppy … Brian Cooke, a DOD program officer at the Institute of International Education … OMB’s Bryn Woollacott … Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri is 37 … HUD’s Barbara Gruson … Isabella Ulloa of Urban Alliance … former Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) is 88 … former Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) is 73 … Eric Koch, managing principal at Precision Strategies … Mike Gallagher, CEO of Intrepidity … Adweek’s Kelsey Sutton … Vox’s Alex Ward is 3-0 … Heidi Zhou-Castro … Jordyn Pair … Mark Boal … Erika Gudmundson, deputy communications director for Mike Bloomberg’s campaign … Matt Simeon, principal at Locust Street Group … Sarah West …
… Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council (h/t Will Boyington) … Bruce Ratner is 75 … Missy Foxman, senior director of federal government affairs at the Entertainment Software Association … Aaron Pellish, CNN political futures editor (h/t Kevin Bohn) … Gavin Barwell is 48 … Aretae Wyler … Erik Olson … Laura Keiter, communications director for Media Matters for America … Matthew Hoppler is 3-0 … Mark Tullis … Harvard Institute of Politics’ Amy Howell … Jessica Vandenberg … Lily Johnson (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Alexander Castellanos … Aliyah Frumin … Seth Wickersham, senior writer at ESPN … Lesa Dietrick of Ice Miller … Michelle Cangelosi … Aida Cipriani … Katherine Grainger … Marygrace Galston … Suzanne Kennedy … Adam Parker … Peter Rosenstein … Edelman’s Daniel Workman … Common Cause’s Jay Riestenberg … Jessica Binzoni … Hayden Pruett Wilson … Marty Russo is 76