Ben Smith Impeachment Today Podcast: What Will The Trial Actually Look Like?

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It’s Friday, January 3rd, 2020, 101 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, theImpeachment Todaypodcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

You can listen to today’s episode below, or check it out on on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It’s Friday, January 3rd, 2020, 101 days since the House began its impeachment inquiry, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning. I’m Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. Yesterday may have felt like a Monday, but it is already almost a weekend. There may not be a trial date set yet, so we’ve got that going for us at least, which is nice.

Okay, today we’re talking to BuzzFeed News congressional correspondent, Paul McLeod, for Senate trial 101, going through what we know and very much don’t know about the next phase of impeachment. But before we get to all that, let’s catch up on what happened yesterday.

Defense Department officials were really concerned that they were breaking the law when military aid to Ukraine was held up this summer, and they said so in several emails. A heavily redacted version of those emails was released last week, but friend of the show, Kate Brannen, the editorial director at the website, Just Security, got to look see at the clean versions. And according to her report, there’s a lot of important stuff under those black lines.

Here’s the best example. Mike Duffy, a top official at the White House Office of Management and Budget told the Pentagon on August 30th not to distribute nearly $400 million in aid, because of a quote, clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold. That’s a few days after the hold on that military aid first became public, thanks to an article in Politico.

The Pentagon senior budget official in these emails repeatedly told both her leadership and OMB that if the holds continued, there would be problems. See, Congress approves the money and so not spending it like the DOD already said it would could be considered breaking the law, which is bad. And so DOD asked OMB if they should start planning for what happens if the money did not get out the door before it went poof at the end of September.

But Duffy just basically said, “It’ll be fine.” That is until September finally arrived and he tried to pin the whole thing on the Pentagon. In an email that copied in OMB and DOD’s lawyers, Duffy told the Pentagon that if the money didn’t wind up spent once the hold was eventually lifted, it would be the Defense Department’s fault, not the White House. The response from the Pentagon was and I quote, you have to be kidding. I’m speechless, end quote.

Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which led the impeachment inquiry said in a statement that the emails and the major redactions that blocked out the most damning information leaves people asking what else is the president hiding? As reminder, the White House refused to turn over those and other emails related to Ukraine to the House during the impeachment inquiry.

That stonewalling eventually became the second articles of impeachment against Trump, charging him with obstruction of Congress. The first article, abuse of power related to holding up the military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations that would help Trump in his 2020 reelection campaign.

Meanwhile, the Senate is back from their holiday recess today. Good for them. That means that hopefully there’ll be some progress soon on setting up Trump’s trial. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi is still refusing to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate to kickstart that trial until she knows better how things will work.

Senate Democrats are insisting that witnesses be called during the trial, and they want that decision made before anything starts, especially in light of the new reporting that’s been published about the internal chaos over the Ukraine aid. But that’s something that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said can wait until later. And several Republicans, including Marco Rubio have said outright that there’s no need for witnesses at the trial, period.

One Senator though has gone even farther and decided that if that’s the way Pelosi wants to play, no trial for anyone. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri tweeted that on Monday he’ll be introducing a motion to dismiss the case for lack of prosecution, which is a new one by my account.

In a followup tweet Hawley said that this would come in the form of a proposal to amend the Senate’s rules on impeachment, but he’s unlikely to find a ton of support. Members of his own caucus, likely to face a challenging reelection campaign, have pushed for there to at least be enough of a trial to be able to say they did the thing. Dismissing the case now would do nothing to support that claim.

Oh, and by the way, fun fact, one of the four witnesses, the Democrats say should definitely be called, our friend Mike Duffy, the senior OMB staffer from earlier in this segment. I don’t know, it seems like he might have some things to say. And now at only three days into the new year, we face impeachment and a major foreign policy crisis at the same damn time, it is time for us to turn today’s reading from our Nixometer.

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