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October 25, 2019

CAFE Brief 10/25: Disruptions, distractions, and more chaos

The news is breaking at dizzying speed, and we’re on top of it. Let’s dive in!

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 23: Flanked by about two dozen House Republicans, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Rep. Gaetz held the press conference to call for transparency in the impeachment inquiry. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

THE DOJ’S RUSSIA INVESTIGATIONS

In recent months, Attorney General Bill Barr and Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham—whom Barr assigned in May to review the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe—have reportedly sought help from governments in countries that are linked to right-wing attacks and unfounded conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation. Last week, The New York Times reported that Durham and his team, which includes two former senior FBI agents, have interviewed about two dozen former and current FBI officials, suggesting that the review is further along than previously known. Durham has reportedly indicated that he wants to question former officials who oversaw the CIA in 2016, but he has yet to interview either former CIA Director John Brennan or former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

In a parallel investigation, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report into aspects of the Russia inquiry is expected to be made public in the coming weeks. Some believe that Horowitz’s findings could help elucidate why Barr initially thought that the Russia investigation needed to be examined.

On Thursday, the Times reported that the Justice Department has transitioned Durham’s administrative inquiry into a criminal investigation. The Justice Department has not commented on the Times’ story, and it remains unknown what allegations of wrongdoing are being examined and when this shift occurred. The transition to a criminal investigation will grant Durham the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, impanel a grand jury, and file criminal charges.

This is a developing story that will be covered on Monday’s episode of the CAFE Insider podcast. To listen, sign up for a 2-week free trial, and join the conversation.

IMPEACHMENT UPDATES

House Republicans storm the Capitol

On Wednesday morning, more than two dozen Republican House members led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) tried to force their way into a sensitive compartmented information facility (“SCIF”) at the Capitol where Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, was preparing to testify before the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry. Cooper helps to oversee U.S. policy regarding Ukraine at the Defense Department, and House investigators were expected to ask her about the nearly $400 million military aid package for Ukraine that was temporarily frozen by the Trump Administration despite the Pentagon’s recommendation that it go forward.

The intrusion by the protesting members caused Cooper’s testimony to be delayed for about five hours over security concerns. Because many of the Republican members brought prohibited electronic devices—such as cell phones—into the SCIF, they engaged in a major breach of security guidelines. However, it is unclear if the lawmakers will be penalized for this violation.

The GOP lawmakers’ publicity stunt aimed to delegitimize the Democrat-led inquiry, which they believe has been conducted improperly because the testimonies of witnesses have been carried out in close-door hearings. Republicans contend that it is unfair to only allow members of the three House committees—Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs—to attend the hearings and depositions, arguing that the information and transcripts should be made available to all members given the high stakes of impeachment.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is leading the impeachment inquiry, has refuted Republican arguments that House Democrats are trying to hide impeachment proceedings and preclude them from attending. In an October 16 letter to House colleagues, Schiff pointed out that Republican members who are a part of these committees have been able to fully participate in all the closed-door interviews. He also underscored that it is imperative to conduct depositions behind closed doors to “ensure that witnesses cannot coordinate their testimony with one another to match their description of events or potentially conceal the truth.” Schiff wrote that the transcripts of the depositions would be released publicly in the future, and that House investigators hope to take witness testimony in public at a later time for the “full Congress and the American people” to hear it firsthand.

According to Bloomberg News, President Trump knew in advance about the GOP lawmakers’ plan to barge into the SCIF.  During a nearly two-hour meeting on Tuesday, Trump met with 30 Republican members to discuss the situation in Syria and the impeachment inquiry. When lawmakers shared with the President their plan to force their way into the closed-door proceeding, Trump reportedly supported the scheme, saying that he wanted the transcripts released because they will exonerate him.

While the protest ensued at the Capitol on Wednesday, Trump tweeted that “Never Trumpers” are “human scum.” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham echoed the President’s insult on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, stating that Republicans who criticize Trump are “just that.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Napolitano, Fox News analyst and former New Jersey Superior Court judge, said on “Fox & Friends” Thursday that the Republican complaints about the secrecy of closed-door impeachment hearings are groundless because the process is “consistent with the rules” that a Republican majority signed into law. Napolitano said: “When were the rules written last? In January of 2015. And who signed them? John Boehner [the Republican speaker of the House]. And who enacted them? A Republican majority.”

The Republicans’ about-face on House inquiry rules is further demonstrated by a 2015 confrontation in which former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), then-chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, blocked former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) from entering a closed-door Benghazi hearing in which only committee members were allowed. In defending his actions, Gowdy told NBC News: “[N]on-committee members are not allowed in the room during the deposition…those are the rules and we have to follow them, no exceptions made.”

Bill Taylor’s testimony

On Tuesday, the acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, William (“Bill”) Taylor, told House investigators that Trump made the release of military aid to Ukraine contingent on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s public announcement to investigate the Bidens as well as the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory of Ukrainian collusion with Democrats in the 2016 election. In Taylor’s 15-page opening statement, the career diplomat wrote that he observed “an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy-making with respect to Ukraine” that included then-Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Taylor’s testimony depicted Sondland as a central facilitator in the “irregular” policy-making channel communications, which is in sharp contrast to the Ambassador’s efforts to come off as well-intentioned and uninformed during his testimony last week.

RIP Elijah Cummings and congressional testimonies

On Thursday, the late Elijah Cummings—who died on October 17—became the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol, an honor bestowed to only a few dozen statesmen, presidents and military leaders throughout U.S. history. To mourn the long-serving Democratic congressman from Maryland, several closed-door depositions that had been scheduled for this week as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry were postponed.

Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker is expected to testify this Saturday. Meanwhile, the following individuals are expected to testify next week: Former Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Charles Kupperman on Monday; Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council Alexander Vindman on Tuesday; Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger on Wednesday; and Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for Europe and Russia Timothy Morrison on Thursday.

WASHINGTON, DC – October 22:
The acting Ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor, Jr., departs after meeting with the House Intelligence committee for their impeachment inquiry, in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Trump calls impeachment a “lynching”

In a tweet on Tuesday, Trump likened the impeachment inquiry to “lynching.” Many top Republicans refused to defend the President’s comment, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who told reporters: “Given the history in our country, I would not compare this to a lynching. That was an unfortunate choice of words.” Other lawmakers like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) chose not to rebuke the President, instead saying that Trump is “frustrated.”

In contrast, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) quickly jumped to the President’s defense, telling reporters on Tuesday that “this is a lynching in every sense” and it is “un-American.” He elaborated: “What does lynching mean? That a mob grabs you, they don’t give you a chance to defend yourself, they don’t tell you what happened to you, they just destroy you. That’s exactly what’s going on in the United States House of Representatives right now.”

THE “PHONY” EMOLUMENTS

In defending his prior decision to host the 2020 G7 Summit at the Trump National Doral Miami resort, President Trump told reporters on Monday that he was being unfairly scrutinized because of the “phony emoluments clause.” Far from “phony,” the Founding Fathers included the Domestic and Foreign emoluments clauses in the U.S. Constitution to prevent corrupt and self-serving behavior.

On Tuesday, attorneys representing nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers, accusing President Trump of illegally profiting off his businesses while in office, filed a brief with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals asking to uphold a district judge’s decision to allow their court battle to move forward. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan had allowed the lawsuit to proceed, but the Justice Department appealed the decision earlier this year, alleging that the legislators did not have the legal right or “standing” to sue. The D.C. Circuit Court agreed to step in and hear the appeal, and oral arguments are scheduled for December 9. The brief cites Trump’s “phony emoluments clause” comment from this week, even though the decision to host the G7 at Doral was ultimately reversed.

MIGRANT DNA & COLORADO’S BORDER WALL

On Monday, the Justice Department published an amended regulation that allows the government to mandate DNA collection from almost all migrants who cross between official entry points and are held temporarily by immigration authorities. The data would be stored in a massive FBI criminal justice database, which raises major privacy concerns and questions about whether such information should be collected when a person is not suspected of a crime other than illegally crossing the border. The amended rule exempts immigrants legally entering the U.S. and those being processed for lawful admission into the U.S. The Trump administration stated that by amassing this trove of biometric data, they hope to solve more crimes committed by immigrants as well as deter migrants from trying to enter the U.S.

Meanwhile, during his remarks at a shale-energy conference in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the President made a significant geographical blunder when he claimed that “a big beautiful wall” would be built in Colorado, a state that does not share a border with Mexico. Trump tweeted on Thursday that he made the comments “kiddingly,” and in this part of his speech, he was simply referring to the “people in the very packed auditorium, from Colorado & Kansas, getting the benefit of the Border Wall!”

FURTHER READING

“Anonymous author of Trump ‘resistance’ op-ed to publish a tell-all book,” The Washington Post, 10/22/19

“Giuliani Associates Plead Not Guilty To Charges Of Making Illegal Campaign Donations,” NPR, 10/23/19

“White House Aides Feared That Trump Had Another Ukraine Back Channel,” The New York Times, 10/23/19

“Putin and Hungary’s Orban helped sour Trump on Ukraine,” The Washington Post, 10/21/19

“Judge orders State Department to release Ukraine records in 30 days,” CNN, 10/23/19

“NYC Bar calls for AG Barr to recuse himself from Ukraine dealings,” The Hill, 10/23/19

“In court hearing, Trump lawyer argues a sitting president would be immune from prosecution even if he were to shoot someone,” The Washington Post, 10/23/19

“Donor who gave $900K to Trump inaugural to plead guilty to illegal contributions,” Politico, 10/22/19

“Fired NYPD officer in Eric Garner’s chokehold death, Daniel Pantaleo, sues to get job back,” NBC News, 10/23/19

“Forty-six attorneys general have joined a New York-led antitrust investigation of Facebook,” The Washington Post, 10/22/19

“White House Personnel Director Tells Trump Top DHS Secretary Picks Ineligible for Job,” The Wall Street Journal, 10/21/19

“Donald Trump Jr. and Don McGahn did not testify to grand jury in Mueller probe, new court filing confirms,” CNN, 10/20/19

“State Dept. finds no ‘systemic’ classified violation in Hillary Clinton private-server emails,” Politico, 10/18/19

“Amendment 4: Judge blocks law requiring fees be paid before ex-felons can vote,” The Orlando Sentinel, 10/18/19

Facebook’s Zuckerberg takes broad lashing on Libra, 2020 election and civil rights at congressional hearing,” The Washington Post, 10/23/19

Stay Informed,

Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team: Tamara Sepper, Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, David Kurlander, and Aaron Dalton

We hope you’re enjoying the CAFE Brief. Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions. We look forward to your feedback as we continue to expand CAFE content.

 

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