What stood out to you as the biggest development of a crazy week?
Natasha Bertrand, national security reporter: Definitely that two associates of Rudy Giuliani who are in many ways at the heart of this Ukraine scandal — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — were indicted on campaign finance charges. The indictment could shed more light on the pair’s campaign, alongside Giuliani, to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden and remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Masha Yovanovitch. It also signals an intensifying crackdown on illicit campaign contributions, at a moment when Trump’s inaugural committee is under criminal investigation for potentially receiving donations from illegal foreign sources. Parnas and Fruman, born outside the U.S., are alleged to have funneled up to a million dollars in foreign cash into political action committees and campaigns, including Trump’s.
Darren Samuelsohn, senior White House reporter: The news about the Giuliani associates was definitely big. But I’ll throw a curveball here and go with someone we hadn’t been thinking much about of late: Robert Mueller. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s questions and commentary during a hearing Tuesday suggested she’s leaning toward ordering the release of the special counsel’s grand jury materials. If that happens, she’d be handing House Democrats a bounty of new information in their impeachment inquiry — the kind of stuff that would become ammunition in an expanding probe beyond Ukraine. The Justice Department would also be all but certain to appeal a ruling from Howell that goes against them, thereby setting up a much bigger fight that seems headed to the Supreme Court.
Andrew Desiderio, congressional reporter: The biggest development of the week, in my book, came at the tail end when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld House Democrats’ subpoena for eight years of Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm, Mazars. It’s a huge loss for the president, after having lost a bid to quash the subpoena in a lower court. Trump has done everything he possibly can to avoid his financial records and tax returns from getting into the hands of his political enemies — and he may have no further recourse this time. But even beyond this specific battle, Friday’s ruling from a three-judge panel gives a big boost to congressional oversight authority. “Contrary to the president’s arguments, the committee possesses authority under both the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena,” one of the judges wrote.
Kyle Cheney, congressional reporter: In a week of big developments, the one I think will be most consequential is former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s decision to defy the State Department to testify in the House’s impeachment investigation. With her decision, she set a template for other witnesses to come forward even if they’ve been ordered not to — and already a second State Department ambassador, Gordon Sondland, is preparing to follow suit. Yovanovitch’s testimony itself was significant, too. She obliterated some of the conspiracy theories that led Trump to oust her and revealed that she was given a word of support from John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, even as Trump pulled her from her post in Ukraine.
Josh Gerstein, legal affairs reporter: I’m going to go off the board (is that allowed?) and say that the most significant impeachment development of the week was Trump’s decision to have U.S. troops stand aside as Turkey invades Syria. Of course, it has nothing directly to do with the current grounds Democrats have asserted for impeachment, but the move shook many of Trump’s key supporters to their core.
People who have stridently defended Trump at some cost to their own reputations, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), were caught completely off guard by the president’s decision to abandon the Kurds — longtime U.S. allies. Other Trump backers even popped up in unexpected places like MSNBC to denounce the move. Why anyone in the political fight of his life would piss off his closest friends is hard to fathom. The impulsive, widely criticized move and the scramble to clean it up also undercuts arguments from Trump that that his unorthodox telephone diplomacy is as consistently “perfect” as he maintains.
Democrats aren’t giving any kind of official timeline yet for their plans. Is there really any clock here they need to be worried about?
Natasha: I think some Democrats are wary of the inquiry going too deep into an election year, and forcing an impeachment battle into the middle of the presidential primary contests. It also risks creating sympathy for Trump if it drags on too long. On the other hand, an impeachment inquiry and an election year have never coincided before, so the consequences are tough to predict.
Darren: It sure feels like the unofficial schedule that’s been kicking around — House impeachment vote around Thanksgiving and Senate trial circa Christmas — is a tad bit unrealistic. That would suggest the House will do all its investigating, questioning and document gathering over the course of the next five weeks before the Turkey Day break. Sure, that’s possible. But Trump and company are also putting up plenty of roadblocks to slow things down. While their obstinance could just be another impeachment article, it would seem like Democrats may try to do even more due diligence to make sure they’ve got what they need. And that’s especially the case if they think there’s any kind of realistic chance of convincing House Republicans to come along on an impeachment vote, let alone find the 20 Republicans for conviction. I’d also just say that the Democrats at this point are all-in on impeachment and they’re probably calculating that it won’t hurt them on the turnout front once Iowa, New Hampshire and other states start voting in the primaries and caucuses next year.
Andrew: Before the Ukraine scandal blew up, senior Democrats were saying they wanted to reach a decision by the end of the calendar year on whether to recommend articles of impeachment. But with Ukraine now the central focus of their inquiry — and the near-certainty that Democrats will draw up articles — that timeline is very much in flux. Moderate and swing-district Democrats have indicated that they don’t want to rush the process, in part so that they could obtain as much evidence as possible to convince both the public and Republicans. They are very wary of the perception that this is a partisan process; and the more evidence they have, the more likely it is that they can convince holdouts to support them. These lawmakers will have 2020 on their minds the entire way, even if they won’t say it publicly.
Kyle: The plan right now is there is no plan. House Democrats are operating with the wind at their back for the first time — polls show their impeachment inquiry is gaining public support and they’re actually generating new information for the first time all year and getting witnesses to testify about substantive episodes that could feed the articles of impeachment they eventually craft. Though some Democrats say they want to turn this momentum into articles as quickly as possible — perhaps even by early November — there are more cautious lawmakers who want to make sure they have beefed up their case against Trump enough to maintain public support all the way through the process.
Josh: The bombastic Tuesday letter from the White House declaring plans to stonewall the House impeachment probe and the unexpected arrests of the two Giuliani associates contributes to the growing momentum for impeachment in the House.
The timeline for impeachment and for the slew of court fights involving the White House will ultimately diverge. Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders hailed key legal victories this week, they seemed to be treating Trump’s continuing resistance as an admission of guilt that leaves the door wide open to voting on impeachment without final resolution from the courts. More information could be useful to Democrats in the impeachment process, but it doesn’t seem essential at this point to a process that appears to be moving to an inexorable conclusion — at least in the House.
Are we any closer to a Trump conviction in the Senate?
Natasha: Republicans still expect the impeachment process to play out along entirely partisan lines — i.e., House Democrats vote to impeach, and Senate R’s decline to convict and remove. But as my colleagues Darren Samuelsohn and Burgess Everett wrote on Friday, the political landscape could change quickly depending on what is revealed over the course of the inquiry. Several Republican governors have already come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry, and while they can’t participate directly in the process, it’s at least a signal that GOP support for Trump might not be impenetrable.
Darren: Maybe a tiny bit. Someone I’d always been watching — Mitt Romney — is now on the record criticizing the president for pressing both the Ukraine and China to help his 2020 reelection bid. Pretty much everyone else is keeping their powder dry, save an occasional comment from the likes of Ben Sasse or Susan Collins. That’s just about to be expected given we still don’t know what the House will even send over on articles of impeachment. They’ve got no incentive to change that — for now. And yeah, as Natasha said, I’d definitely recommend our story on this from Friday, which teed up the idea that Trump world is starting to feel a bit nervous even as the president does his best to appear confident the Senate will save him.
Andrew: Ever since Democrats have been contemplating moving forward with impeachment, I’ve thought that Republicans would only break with the president under one condition: if the public turns against Trump so forcefully and overwhelmingly that it’s no longer politically tenable for Republicans to stick with him. Will we reach that moment? Probably not; the president will always have his base voter bloc that will stick with him no matter what. But with public support for impeachment rising steadily in recent weeks, I wouldn’t completely close the door on a Senate conviction. That being said, I would not put money on it.
Kyle: Conviction is still a pipe dream in the current political climate. A handful of Senate Republicans are openly critical of Trump, but nowhere close to 20 — and even the small number who think Trump’s actions are worthy of scrutiny have stopped far short of calling for impeachment proceedings and trial. Politics can change quickly, and Trump picked a strange time to infuriate his allies by rescinding support for Kurds in Syria, but it’ll take several seismic unforeseeable events for the dynamic to change.
Josh: I’m still not seeing overt signs of a collapse in Trump’s Senate support, but it’s worth keeping in mind that when these things happen they tend to happen quickly. Everything looks hunky-dory until the moment that it doesn’t. There’s very little incentive for a GOP senator to go wobbly right now. But the list of prominent GOP officials endorsing an impeachment probe grew a bit longer this week as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he believes some House investigation of Trump’s Ukraine diplomacy is necessary. Every Republican who makes a comment like that makes it easier for the next one to follow, which has to worry the White House.
Can Rudy go on as Trump’s lawyer?
Natasha: He’ll probably try — but there’s a good chance Trump will try to distance himself from him given the indictment of Parnas and Fruman. Giuliani also doesn’t have many allies among congressional Republicans, who have soured on him recently.
Giuliani may also have some legal exposure himself. For example, his dealings with Ukraine may have been a violation of the Logan Act, which aims to prevent private citizens from conducting foreign diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. He could also be vulnerable if he conspired with the president to extort the Ukrainians. Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, argued in a recent op-ed that DOJ now “has more than enough basis to open a federal criminal investigation into the former New York mayor.”
Darren: Rudy’s lawyer, Jon Sale, told me on Friday that Giuliani is indeed still representing the president. I do think the relationship may be a bit strained right now. And it’s possible we’ll be seeing less of Giuliani on cable TV in the coming weeks — one would think, right? — as the feds circle him via the indictments against his associates. But Trump and Giuliani do go way, way, way back — “My Rudy” is the president’s nickname for his lawyer — and it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t still be talking and strategizing in private.
Andrew: Republicans on Capitol Hill have been privately fuming over Giuliani’s involvement and his penchant to make things worse for the president. There has also been some reporting in recent weeks that even members of Trump’s inner circle within the administration are also frustrated with Giuliani. I’m going to slightly disagree with my colleagues here and say that if those people can convince the president that Giuliani is hurting him more than he’s helping, he could very well cut off Giuliani.
Kyle: Trump may need him to. Rudy knows everything about everything and he’s intertwined with all of Trump world. Though I wouldn’t expect to see Giuliani on TV quite as often as the president’s emissary, it’ll be hard to excommunicate him from the inner circle completely, even if his commentary has alienated other Republicans and seems to embroil the president in more legal trouble every time he speaks.
Josh: I think Giuliani will be more or less silenced within a matter of days. No one wants a lawyer who is himself under criminal investigation, according to multiple reports. And someone facing that kind of investigation suddenly has all kinds of conflicts in all his or her cases because it is very hard to negotiate with prosecutors about your own potential liability while doing your best by your clients.
Another prediction: His talk of testifying before the Senate will devolve into a court battle over that testimony. I can’t imagine Giuliani’s lawyers will want him being publicly grilled by Democrats and be open to potential charges over those answers, when he’d be entirely within his rights to take the Fifth or just claim everything he knows is protected by attorney-client privilege. Those arguments get harder to make when you’re on TV all the time talking, so that’s another reason we will see less of that.
What can we expect to see next week?
Natasha: I’ll be watching for any new information that comes out of Fiona Hill’s congressional testimony on Monday. Hill was the special assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council — aka Trump’s top Russia/Europe adviser — until just before the infamous Trump-Zelensky call. Hill was crafting policy on Ukraine, Russia and Europe while Giuliani, Sondland and Volker were conducting what was essentially a shadow foreign policy campaign on Ukraine, and she and her team noticed. They were apparently unnerved by it, sources told me, so Hill could probably fill in some blanks for Democrats about what was going on in the NSC at the time — including the practice of concealing Trump’s calls with foreign leaders on the NSC’s top secret codeword system.
Andrew: Depositions, depositions and more depositions. Democrats are rapidly gathering evidence in the form of documents, communications and witness testimony in order to establish that Trump abused his office by soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election. And next week, they’re talking to a few more key witnesses who could contextualize the full extent of Trump’s and Giuliani’s efforts to push Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden.
In addition, the House is back in session on Tuesday after two weeks back home, so we should have a better idea of how the political landscape has shifted ever since Pelosi declared formalized the impeachment process. Pelosi could also face new pressure to hold a formal vote authorizing an impeachment inquiry — something she has been hesitant to do amid complaints from Republicans. Democrats largely believe such a vote is unnecessary, but some of the court decisions we’re expecting in the coming days could weigh on Pelosi — namely, the Mueller grand jury case, in which a federal judge is hearing arguments that center on whether the House is engaged in a formal impeachment inquiry and therefore can access Mueller’s grand jury secrets.
Kyle: Lawmakers return from recess for the first time since their impeachment push began in earnest, and since polls began to reflect the changing mood of the country in their favor. I’d expect a frenzied atmosphere on Capitol Hill as lawmakers hash out a timetable to turn their investigation into actual articles of impeachment. It’s going to get messy, especially with a slew of court deadlines that could result in teams of new information landing on Capitol Hill connected to the House’s impeachment efforts.
Darren: Hard to fathom there are technically only four business days next week given how much stuff is indeed packed onto the calendar. There are too many depositions and subpoena deadlines to count, and if many of them are ignored, as expected, the Democrats will have even more impeachment fodder to run with. Just having members of Congress back in Washington is going to amplify things as well. They’ve been scattered around the country since Nancy Pelosi added propellant to the impeachment fire — and now they’ll be followed at every turn by reporters looking for a comment about where things stand. Rest up this weekend, everyone.
Josh: I predict more talk among returning Democratic lawmakers about a vote to explicitly authorize impeachment proceedings. Don’t think that actually happens next week, but consensus among Dems for that could build. Also continued focus on Giuliani’s role in the Ukraine affair. His clients might enter pleas to the charges next week, which would engender a New York media scrum. And the press will be on to out the Ukrainian official said to have bankrolled and directed their alleged scheme to make straw donations to gain influence in D.C. and with Trump.