Preet Bharara: From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.
Susan Glasser: It’s not too different interpretations of the same set of facts, it is a willful refusal to address or engage with a certain number of irrefutable facts. That, I think, is taking it to a new level.
Preet Bharara: That’s Susan Glasser, an author, reporter, and editor. Glasser got her start in journalism fresh out of college. She’s had a story career working at the Washington Post Politico, Politico Magazine, and Foreign Policy Magazine. These days Glasser is a CNN global affairs analyst and a staff writer for the New Yorker where she attends a weekly column called Letters from Trump’s Washington. Glasser talks to me about the broader narratives coming out of congress, the journalistic practices and principles that should be protected, why more government transparency hasn’t resulted in more accountability, and what impeachment means for the President and future of the country. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Hey listeners, it’s the holiday season, and you know what that means? Spending lots of quality time with friends and family members who don’t always share your political views. What to do? We’ve got a solution for you. Studies show that a subscription to the CAFE Insider Podcast makes for a very legal and very cool gift for the Trump supporters in your life because breaking out of ideological silos is definitely statistically possible. All you have to do is sign them up. So make a list, check it twice, and head to café.com/gift to give the gift of informed political legal analysis. All you need is their email address. Before you know it, they’ll be singing the articles of impeachment to the tune of the 12 days of Christmas.
Preet Bharara: Of course, feel free to gift the CAFE insider to like-minded friends and family too. Café.com/gift. Let’s get to your questions.
Preet Bharara: This question comes from Twitter follower Joan [Wener Leven 00:02:01] @PreetBharara. “So the President’s letter to Pelosi, isn’t there someone in the White House whose job it is to stop them from doing things like that? If not, should we be worried? Twenty-fifth amendment time? Love your show #askpreet.” Joan, thanks for your question. Well, I wouldn’t go to the 25th amendment just yet. Today, literally, we’re recording this as the impeachment vote is taking place. There’s an election in 10 or 11 months, so I think we have enough on our plate in terms of mechanisms for the removal of Donald Trump and the 25th amendment is not going to happen.
Preet Bharara: With respect to the letter, I think uniformly other than conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt who opened his radio show today, I believe, from what I saw on Twitter with a dramatic reading of the Trump letter, which he views favorably. Aside from Hugh Hewitt, I think the consensus of opinion is that letter was unhinged, unnecessary, whiny, full of misleading arguments, vitreal, and self-pity. Not the qualities you expect in a president.
Preet Bharara: We’ve all been treated in the past few days to memories of prior occasions when America came to the brink of impeaching a President in the case of Nixon and in the case of Clinton. And I, myself, had forgotten that agree to which even someone like Nixon and Clinton who tried to get through it expressed some remorse, expressed some apology. I believe on the day that the house voted to impeach President Clinton for only the second time in American history whatever you think of him, he did give an apology, and he at least expressed some kind of contrition. That’s been a theme on this show and on the Insider Podcast of how important it is to public sentiment and to people’s judgments about conduct, what the level of contrition is, and in this case there’s none. There is only self-pity and there is only anger, and no acknowledgement that in any way, shape or form did the President do anything wrong even though a majority of Americans think that he did. Depending on the poll that you watch, a majority of Americans think he should be impeached.
Preet Bharara: So that said, yeah, in ordinary White Houses there should be someone in the White House whose job it is to stop Trump from doing, as you put it, things like that. But there’s so many things like that that have happened over the course of his term. Whether it’s one of the chief’s of staff like acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, or the prior Chief of Staff, John Kelly, or even the Vice President of the United States, Michael Pence, President Trump does what he wants to do. And the reporting with respect to this crazy letter, and I think it’s fair to call it crazy, is that the White House counsel’s office, the White House lawyers altogether were kept out of it, did not have a hand in drafting it. It seems like it was drafted principally by the President himself; Stephen Miller, one of his advisors; and Head of Legislative Affairs Eric Ueland.
Preet Bharara: And in some ways, I saw someone say this on Twitter, and I echo the sentiment, if I were a White House lawyer I would not have wanted anything to do with that letter unless the President was going to listen to me, and I would want the world to know that I had nothing to do with that letter. Should we be worried? Based on the nature of the letter, well, I think it’s hard to be more worried than you should already be given where we are in the country and given the conduct of the President. One can only imagine what the President’s Twitter feed is going to look like after impeachment happens, which I expect will happen sometime later this evening. We’re recording on a Wednesday. So be worried. But also be, I think, thankful and grateful that the House of Representatives is doing its job even though it will be unfortunately partisan vote.
Preet Bharara: This question comes in an email from James in Seattle who asks, “Seriously, why shouldn’t the House just delay sending articles to the Senate until additional key witnesses have testified? I’m sure there’s a good answer, but it just doesn’t feel right. Thanks.” I appreciate the sentiment, and I think there have been one or two members of Congress who have floated the idea because it is true that you want the president to allow some of his top aides to testify. I think there’s a total of about a dozen people who are critical fact witnesses, firsthand witnesses, who have not been permitted to testify before Congress, and it would add to the storyline, and it would add to the evidence, and then people can make up their minds.
Preet Bharara: The premise of your question is also correct that the House is able to delay a trial in the Senate because after impeachment happens, assuming it happens today, they must convey the affirmed articles of impeachment to the Senate for the Senate trial to begin. So some people have suggested, well, maybe you hold out on that until more witnesses are brought to the House. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me though because what incentive does Mitch McConnell… What Mitch McConnell wants to avoid is having any trial in the Senate at all. If you say, “Well, unless you give us more witnesses, we’re not going to send you the articles, and, therefore, you can’t have a trial. I think Mitch McConnell and the President would be very pleased about that, and there would just be an impasse with respect to which Democrats would have no further leverage, so I don’t know what you gain.
Preet Bharara: I mean, I get the point, but in the absence of some additional leverage, it seems to me that the President and the Senate Majority Leader will be quite happy not to receive the articles of impeachment and avoid the trial altogether. I mean, right now the debate is over how minimalist the trial can be with no witnesses and maybe just argument and have this wrapped up in a few days time. So at first blush it seems like a clever point or a clever tactic, but at the end of the day I don’t think it accomplishes the thing that you want to have accomplished.
Preet Bharara: This question comes from Twitter user Gary Bett who asks, “Would it be possible for Chief Justice Roberts to be more active in the Senate impeachment trial than is expected, and what would you like him to do? #askpreet. Enjoy your show. Thanks.”
Preet Bharara: Yeah, I suppose Chief Justice Roberts can do more than is expected. The conventional wisdom in the prior presidents suggests that Chief Justices who preside over impeachment trials, and we’ve had vanishingly few of them, generally stay in the background. This is really a battle between the executive branch and the legislative branch, and they’re there to preside and make sure that order is taken care of and have not been very, very active. Remember, the Majority Leader of the Senate is in some ways above the Chief Justice because the Majority Leader can have a vote over what evidence should be admitted, what procedures should take place, and a bare majority of the Senate decides those things whatever the Chief Justice rules.
Preet Bharara: I guess the Chief Justice could make decisions about the admissibility of certain kinds of evidence or the issuance of subpoenas to other witnesses like John Bolton and others. I supposed John Roberts could decide, “Well, the world is watching, democracy is at stake, and history will judge. Therefore, I’m going to do my best to make sure that it is a fair and orderly process.” Depending on what his views are, what he’s trying to gain in the system the Democrats or the Republicans could decide to make rulings or he could decide to sort of punt.
Preet Bharara: The sort of question comes down to whether or not the Chief Justice with respect to some questions would want to have his power seemingly diminished by ruling in a particular way or deciding to take a position on something even if he’s not been asked to rule. Right? That would be a way in which a judge can be active. He makes a proclamation or determination that there should be some particular procedure or there should be some particular witness or some particular thing can’t be asked by a house manager and interpose himself in the process in a pretty aggressive way. Then, there’s the possible consequence of being overruled as I said by a Senate majority, which makes the Chief Justice look a little bit weak.
Preet Bharara: Sometimes judges decide to be less aggressive because it would work a diminishment of their prestige and their authority if they know they’re going to be overruled by a political process, so they don’t get as involved. I guess that’s sort of speculative and off the top of my head. As to what I would like him to do, you know probably a few things, but one hopes that the trial, especially if there are witnesses, and there may not be. But if there are witnesses, the trial should be one that’s fairly decorous. In other words, House managers and lawyers for the President conduct themselves honorably, intelligently, and in a way befitting of what the process is supposed to be. We’ve not really seen that in some of these other hearings. There’s been badgering, belittling, yelling, name calling. At a minimum what you want in a judge, at least what I always wanted in a judge at the District Court level, is someone who takes control of the courtroom and doesn’t allow that kind of nonsense and crap to go on. A judge with a strong hand who makes sure that the proceedings retain their dignity.
Preet Bharara: So at a minimum Justice Roberts… And this, I don’t think is something that can be overruled by a majority, this is just simple decorum. If people start to get out of line, and people start to humiliate other people and behave in a way that’s unbecoming of such a proceeding, one of the most somber proceedings you can have in American democracy, then I would hope that the Chief Justice would shut that person down.
Preet Bharara: My guest this week is Susan Glasser, a reporter and editor who cut her chops covering the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. Glasser regularly writes about the latest mind-boggling developments coming out of Washington. What you may not know is that she also has extensive experience covering International Affairs including a four year stint as a correspondent in Moscow documenting the rise of Vladimir Putin. We, of course, have an in depth discussion of impeachment. We also talk about why it is becoming increasingly difficult to parse out fact from fiction when it comes to news, what tactics Trump is taking out of Putin’s playbook, whether congressional republicans will ever defect from the President, and why Glasser is becoming cautiously optimistic about the role of women in public life.
Preet Bharara: That’s up next. Stay tuned. Susan Glasser, welcome to the show.
Susan Glasser: Well, thank you so much for having me.
Preet Bharara: We are taping on Monday afternoon, December 16th. This won’t drop until Thursday morning. From where we sit at this vantage point, by the time people get to hear this conversation between you and me, in all likelihood the President of the United States will have been impeached by the House the day before. I guess my first broad softball question to you is, what does this mean? What is this moment in America? Can you put it in some context for us?
Susan Glasser: You know, what’s incredible about it is that it is the third modern impeachment, second that you and I remember, and what’s extraordinary is that it doesn’t feel like the same kind of craziness even as the bill Clinton impeachment of 21 years ago. I think that reflects something kind of scary about the state of our politics right now, and I think it also reflects something about the Trump presidency where it’s the presidency itself that could be argued is the crisis as opposed to any one chapter within it whereas the Bill Clinton impeachment was almost a standalone chapter in that eight years of a two-term presidency.
Susan Glasser: And so I think that’s part of why we’re having a struggle with trying to understand, well, where is this episode going to fit into the larger story of this incredible period of disruption and tumulton in our politics.
Preet Bharara: Is that in part because of the sort of modern frequency note? We had one impeachment in 200 years, and then we’ve had three in 50. Do you think we’re setting an expectation. I mean, this is obviously what the Republicans say posing impeachment now based on the facts that are before us. Do you think that we’re at a point now where we’re so polarized that every couple of decades this is going to happen?
Susan Glasser: Well, look, in part I would say it will depend on how this impeachment is come to be seen whether it was an effective tool by those who chose to wield it or not. And I would point out just going back over some of the reporting and writing on the Clinton impeachment, which was my first assignment at the Washington Post 21 years ago, 13 long months later, this was actually exactly the argument that Democrats made during the Clinton impeachment was that it was a disastrous misuse of the tool of impeachment and that if Republicans proceeded with their partisan impeachment of Bill Clinton that every president from then on would be subject to a partisan impeachment.
Susan Glasser: You know, it’s been 21 years. George W. Bush was not impeached, and Barack Obama was not impeached so it’s hard to say. I suspect that that’s not the first order consequence that we’re going to see coming out of this.
Preet Bharara: It’s interesting how you talk about that because some people as you point out are saying, “Well, the future will depend on the degree of ease with which impeachment was undertaken versus what you’re saying that future generations will think about impeachment based on how effective it was, and the Clinton impeachment in some ways was not effective, I guess, as a political cudgel at least against Bill Clinton, and, therefore, maybe that’s a reason why despite the Mueller investigation, in particular volume two of the Mueller report, there was still a lot of reluctance on the part of Nancy Pelosi and others to proceed with impeachment. Do you think that will happen then here if Trump is impeached, acquitted, and either comes close in the election or wins in the election?
Susan Glasser: Well, look, there’s a lot that we don’t know yet. I mean, that’s the thing. Every day of the Trump presidency, I don’t know about you, but I feel like wouldn’t I just love to skip ahead to the end of the story and know how it-
Preet Bharara: Yeah, or two years past the end.
Susan Glasser: … know how it turns out, right? Obviously, we don’t know how the story turns out yet fully. Certainly, the 2020 election will be one key determinant of how that story turns out or not, whether he’s reelected or not. And I do agree with your analysis by the way of the Clinton impeachment and that the question about that is an effective technique given that it was a partisan impeachment and a partisan acquittal on the part of Bill Clinton. I do think that that colored the thinking of Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants and how she remained deeply ambivalent about this and arguably now that they did choose to embark on an impeachment around the Ukraine matter this fall, I would say that that ambivalence is carried over into some of the tactical decisions they’ve made about what kind of impeachment to pursue against Donald Trump.
Preet Bharara: How do you mean? Give me an example.
Susan Glasser: Well, I feel like they chose to go forward with it, but they’ve never embraced fully the idea of impeachment. They certainly seem to think there are more political downsides than upsides than anything that they’re pursuing it despite the politics rather than because them. As a result they’ve chosen this very fast and aggressive time table. They’ve chosen not to go to court to get testimony from John Bolton and others even though… You’re the lawyer in this conversation, but it seems like they would have a strong case were they to choose to mount it. It’s informed their decision not to include certain charges in the articles but to frame them narrowly around Ukraine not to include, for example, the obstruction of justice that’s outlined in the Mueller Report.
Susan Glasser: Again, we won’t know really how history will judge this for a long time, but those seem like very important decisions that may be informed in my view by a continuing ambivalence about their decision to pursue this impeachment.
Preet Bharara: Do you think the Democrats generally, I know they’re not a monolithic group, but Democrats generally are proceeding with impeachment here with reluctance or with eagerness?
Susan Glasser: It’s very interesting. It’s been quite an unusual fall. On the one hand, the outcomes have been relatively predictable since they chose this course of action, and you’ve seen both parties line up pretty staunchly behind their leadership. Republicans not breaking ranks and mostly democrats not breaking ranks either. But I would say that the Democrats I’ve been speaking with throughout this process, they really do seem to feel that they’re proceeding despite the politics of it rather than because of political reasons. For that reason, I’ve seen a certain resoluteness. I haven’t found a lot of Democrats who are questioning the decision to go forward even though they don’t know how the politics will end up. So it’s kind of unusual in that sense because this is a hyper political atmosphere here in Washington especially with our divided partisan politics right now.
Susan Glasser: And so it’s actually quite unusual for members of Congress to just sort of say, “You know, we have no choice. We’re just going to march through this. We’re just going to do this.” That’s most of what I’ve heard this fall.
Preet Bharara: It calls it to mind again the obvious. Last time we had an impeachment inquiry, the Clinton days, and that my recollection was terrible for Republicans in the polling throughout the process. I don’t know that the public was in favor of impeachment by anywhere near the kind of numbers we’ve seen in the last few days by some polls 50% or 54% think impeachment and a high subset of that believed that he should be removed. Do you think Republicans were proceeding in 1998 against Clinton based on in part politics where they also felt in good faith whether you agree with them or not that it was their constitutional duty?
Susan Glasser: Well, there’s a lot to unpack there. Fist of all, remember that Bill Clinton was a much, much more popular president including during impeachment than Donald Trump ever has been. Donald Trump is the only president since polling began who has never spent a single day while in office supported by more than 50% of Americans. As you know, his poll ratings have been remarkably constant if you look at it from the beginning of his presidency, it’s essentially a straight line around 40% support and much more significant majority of Americans opposing Donald Trump and disapproving of his actions while in office from the very beginning.
Susan Glasser: Impeachment has roughly followed that since September when previously reluctant Democrats essentially got on board with it and some independents as well. You actually have support for impeachment as you said in a lot of polls recently. It’s right around 50%, maybe a little bit above 50% that’s running behind a little bit the number, the percentage of Americans who disapprove of Trump’s performance while in office.
Susan Glasser: Donald Trump is a very unpopular president. Bill Clinton was actually a very popular two-term president. In that sense of politics they’re very different. Also, there were real questions inside the Republican party and in some ways the story of the Bill Clinton impeachment is the story of an extremely effective and even kind of ruthless House leader and tactician at the time, Tom DeLay, the House Majority Whip, who essentially determined that he wanted to make this happen and did a ruthless and extremely effective job of pushing aside any doubts and pursuing that relentlessly.
Preet Bharara: As you’ve said, we don’t know what the conclusion of the story would be. It’s an ongoing and unfolding saga, but we do have the narrative up to this point, and I think you’ve written and said there’s more than one narrative. There’s a deeply negative narrative, which details all the misconduct if you believe in that on the part of the president, but also an uplifting positive narrative. What do you think is the main narrative of impeachment thus far?
Susan Glasser: Well, I mean, look, first of all I think you had a situation that is sort of almost vintage Trump where he does something that’s so breathtaking and brazen and largely to a certain extent in the public view as this story was and as it started to unfold in September that you can’t believe that any politician could survive this fact set.
Susan Glasser: Remember, it was Trump himself who released the White House’s account of his famous July 25th phone call, which continues to be the key piece of evidence. It’s by no means the only piece of evidence [crosstalk 00:20:46].
Preet Bharara: Read the transcript, Susan.
Susan Glasser: Exactly. It’s perfect, the perfect phone call. And yet the perfect phone call it has it right there. What’s been incredible speaking about the two different narratives of impeachment is to see as the defenses of Trump have hardened by Republicans. And I’ve watched literally basically every minute of both the House Intelligence Committee hearings and the House Judiciary Committee proceedings. Watching the Republican arguments get stronger and more vehement and more detached from reality-
Preet Bharara: You don’t mean stronger, you mean louder?
Susan Glasser: Louder.
Preet Bharara: Okay.
Susan Glasser: More vociferous.
Preet Bharara: Yes.
Susan Glasser: More entrenched. They have detached from reality and in ways that even I did not really anticipate. You and I could’ve said six months ago that we’re living in a world of two different political narratives. You and I could’ve said six months ago that Republicans and Democrats would look at almost any fact set in a different way given this partisan divide. But I still have been surprised at the extent to which Trump has gotten Republicans to play along with him rather than reverting to what I kind of assumed a kind of Bill Clinton impeachment like scenario where Republicans would say, “Well, what he did was wrong or inappropriate. I wouldn’t have done that, but I’m not sure it rises to the level of being impeached and removed from office.” Right? That’s the fairly obvious defense in this situation.
Preet Bharara: It seems to me the only plausible defense.
Susan Glasser: Correct. And yet listen to what a lot of the House Republicans on the Intelligence Committee and on the Judiciary Committee have had to say about this. The other day Congresswoman Debbie Lesko from Arizona-
Preet Bharara: Yes.
Susan Glasser: … I was just so blown away by this. After the House Judiciary Committee approved the two articles of impeachment she was asked by reporters, “Well, how can you… Do you really think it’s appropriate for the President of the United States to solicit foreign leader’s help in investigating his political opponent, Joe Biden?” And she said, “Well, he didn’t say that.” They said, “Well, Congresswoman, he literally said that in the phone call.” And she said, “No, he didn’t say that.”
Preet Bharara: Can I give you one that’s just as good? On Sunday, Senator Rand Paul was being interviewed by Jake Tapper of CNN, and Jake Tapper said exactly the same sort of question, “What do you think about a president asking for an investigation into his political rival?” And Rand Paul to great umbrage said, “Well, that’s not what he said. He didn’t say my political rival. He said this person.” Jake had to say, “Yeah, and that person was his political rival.” Lots and lots of folks are doing that. Are you surprised that that’s the tact they’re taking?
Preet Bharara: Look, I practiced law for a long time. I’ve been in the courtroom a million times, and there’s always some argument to be made, and sometimes it’s a weak argument because you’ve been dealt bad facts, but there’s always some straightforward argument to be made. Generally speaking, people don’t make the stupidest one or the one that doesn’t have at least some plausible and responsible basis. Is it because they don’t want to run afoul of the President’s mood? Because he likes to refer to his conduct as beautiful and perfect. Or is there something else going on? Is it pure fear of retaliation from the President?
Susan Glasser: Well, that’s a great question obviously. In general, I find that we’re often called upon to act as psychoanalysts these days because Trump has turned so much of American national politics into a psychodrama about him as the starring character, which, of course, is exactly what he wants. There’s obviously some element of playing to the audience of one, and I think relevant and fascinating not just to impeachment to note that in many of these arguments that we’re hearing from Republican members of Congress, it’s not two different interpretations of the same set of facts. It is a willful refusal to address or engage with a certain number of irrefutable facts.
Susan Glasser: That, I think, is taking it to a new level. It’s not about spin around a common fact set, it’s around simply saying disregard, don’t believe your own lying eyes. You see that with the continuing promotion not only by President Trump himself but also now increasingly by Republican senators of this discredited conspiracy theory that it was actually Ukraine and not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election. Again, that requires them to disregard in many cases their own previously stated views. And, so, it often brings to mind Trump’s often quoted remark during the 2016 campaign that his supporters loved him so much that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and they would still support him. I think of this in my own mind as the Fifth Avenue defense.
Preet Bharara: Right. He can say, “Look, there’s Hunter Biden.”
Susan Glasser: But also the idea of him as a noble anti-corruption fighter. I was curious what you thought of that as a prosecutor. I mean, you must’ve had many people make-
Preet Bharara: It’s the most-
Susan Glasser: … crazy arguments.
Preet Bharara: It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I think of things in terms of argument.
Susan Glasser: Right.
Preet Bharara: To further the point I was making before, I have been in court where people make absurd arguments because they’re caught red handed or they’re on video tape, but their client insisted on going to trial. I talk about one of the cases that I had. It was my second trial, I think. A guy got on the stand in his own defense and I was unprepared for this, completely unprepared for this. And he was charged with conspiracy to distribute 100 grams of heroin. He’s caught on tape talking about the hundred with the person who is helping to deliver the heroin to him. But, obviously, drug dealers don’t say heroin, but he needed to use the quantity.
Preet Bharara: And I had no idea that he would testify because he was caught dead to rights. He gets up on the stand, and he says, “When I was talking about the hundred, I was referring to $100 worth of Benny Hill video tapes that I ordered on the telephone after watching an ad,” and then brought forward in his defense one video cassette of a Benny Hill comedy with no receipt and no other tapes. I’ve seen preposterous arguments get made because they get insisted upon, but that’s really, really, really rare. Usually you say when you don’t have a leg to stand on and you’re still trying to defend your client, that some version of what you were talking about earlier. There’s insufficient evidence or we don’t meet the elements of the crime or the government has wasted its time on something that’s not important like this and hope that the jury will nullify.
Preet Bharara: But you don’t turn facts on their head. In part the reason you don’t do that is there’s a judge in the room and doesn’t let you attack the people who are putting forth arguments by saying, for example, like the President does Nancy Pelosi’s teeth are falling out of her head. You have to use actual arguments. So, no, I have not seen this before.
Susan Glasser: Well, first of all, number one, will they continue to do this in the Senate? Will they mount on actual plausible, legal and constitutional defense of the president in the Senate, number one? Then number two, trying to understand and get inside what is it that they perceive to be politically advantageous in making what appears to you and I to be the least plausible and, indeed, almost laughable argument. Who are they trying to persuade with this? Isn’t it insulting to the audience on some level to insist not that the president did nothing wrong, but that, in fact, he was a noble anti-corruption fighter?
Preet Bharara: Maybe nobody cares. You’ve said this, and you’ve mentioned it now. No one’s persuadable. Did you think… And it’s hard to remove yourself from the situation. Pretend you’re from the old metaphor. Pretend you’re from Mars and you’re observing the proceedings. Did you find the Intelligence Committee proceedings compelling and persuasive?
Susan Glasser: You know, it’s interesting. I did. I did very much. Just in general-
Preet Bharara: Is that because you’re horribly biased?
Susan Glasser: You know, the thing that’s interesting is that I’m really not. One of the things about the Trump era that’s been very hard, I think, for independent-minded journalists like myself is the polarization of the country is such that there is the insistence upon putting an ideological and partisan overlay on speaking basic truths. I resist that because I think it’s very dangerous. The President from day one has wanted to turn journalists and journalism, independent journalism, into not only the enemy of the people, but to say that it is the resistance, that it is essentially an arm of the democratic party. Nothing could be farther from the truth from my point of view.
Susan Glasser: I think it’s important to keep an open mind. Certainly, on the facts of this case, what struck me was how much evidence was able to become public and how many people came forward despite Trump’s absolute stonewall. None of this evidence it seemed to me contradicted in any significant way the basic contours of the story that were in the whistle blower’s initial complaint. In fact, indeed, since then we learned an awful lot of additional information about how Trump went about compelling key senior members of his administration to work with his personal attorney to carry out his scheme.
Susan Glasser: I was struck by how much evidence there was. By the way, the sheer courage and bravery of many of these public officials in coming forward and testifying at significant risk to themselves and their careers, an act of bravery in which the contrast couldn’t be sharper when you have John Bolton taking a two million dollar book deal, but refusing to testify even though he, himself, was very likely a skeptic who was very concerned about Trump’s Ukraine scheme. His two subordinates Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman came forward. Here’s this man earning millions of dollars who has really not beholden to anybody and for whatever reason failing to do his duty and come forward and testify, it told you so much, I think.
Preet Bharara: Further to that, let me quote back to you something you wrote recently. There is, of course, another narrative of the hearings, a nobler one, a patriotic and inspiring and surprisingly feminist one. What did you mean by that?
Susan Glasser: Well, look, I think I was impressed as a lot of viewers were in seeing the courage and power and straightforward way in which women like Fiona Hill, like Marie Yovanovitch came forward and testified, again, at great risk to themselves and their careers. It was a moment, I think, to understand both what is at stake in the Trump presidency, but also to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way, that John Bolton had the ability to get in a taxi, get in an Uber, go up to Capitol Hill and do his civic duty.
Preet Bharara: And some did not.
Susan Glasser: That’s right.
Preet Bharara: Can we talk about process a little bit?
Susan Glasser: What really matters in Washington, process.
Preet Bharara: Can I tell you you’re excellent on Twitter. We urge people to follow you. And I like a lot of your tweets. Can I tell you one of my favorites. It might be my favorite. This was back in October. You tweeted, “Confession. I’m already exhausted by all the everybody was on the other side of the process wars during Clinton’s impeachment and Benghazi stories. Can we just stipulate that politicians are hypocrites about process who change sides when it suits them and get on with it?”
Susan Glasser: If only somebody had paid attention to that tweet, I’m literally sitting here, you know, as are you watching the end game of this House impeachment and both sides have essentially just done a big game of moving chairs.
Preet Bharara: You see this clips, right? And you see-
Susan Glasser: Lindsey Graham.
Preet Bharara: Younger versions of Lindsey Graham and others, but then you have Democrats as well. People have been upset that supporters of Trump have called this a coup and some video surfaced in which Jerry Nadler referred to it being a coup I guess back in the Clinton days.
Susan Glasser: Yes. He said a partisan coup d’etat.
Jerry Nadler: The American people are watching, and they will not forget. You may have the votes. You may have the muscle, but you do not have the legitimacy of a national consensus or of a constitutional imperative. This partisan coup d’etat will go down in infamy in the history of this nation.
Preet Bharara: Are both sides equally bad on this point or are the Republicans being worse this time? Because there’s this issue that is a dangerous one in the third rail sort of when you do false equivalency, so I’m not going to answer that question, but I’m asking you the question.
Susan Glasser: That’s right. Punt the tough one. Punt the tough one. Look, it really is situational. Where you sit is where you stand when it comes to process and the minority in the house is always going to complain that they’re being railroaded and they didn’t get enough witnesses, and they didn’t get enough time, and they didn’t get a fair hearing and vice versa. That is almost endemic to the nature of politics and how the system is. So it’s not a surprise in that sense that since we had a democratic president impeached by a Republican house 21 years ago and now a Republican president and a democratic house that there ware echoes and almost verbatim talking points one impeachment to the other.
Susan Glasser: The question about what really matters, what’s consequential, what can we say is different about this impeachment or this process versus the one 21 years ago or the one during Watergate. I think really in the end the outcomes are much less uncertain here than the underlying stories. In the end, the Clinton impeachment was about a much more discrete episode, if you will, of indiscretion.
Preet Bharara: By discrete, you don’t mean-
Susan Glasser: I definitely don’t mean discrete in the sense of behavior.
Preet Bharara: Wise judgment right there.
Susan Glasser: What I mean is it was almost compartmentalized. It also did not have to do directly with his official actions. Right? Bill Clinton it was pretty clear from the very beginning he lied pretty much to everybody including the American public, and he also more to the point lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The question is what to do with a President of the United States who in the course of a private conduct in a private lawsuit, which was the Paula Jones lawsuit, engaged in an act of perjury like that.
Susan Glasser: It didn’t have a direct bearing on his ongoing duties as the Commander in Chief and as the President of the United States, although, of course, it became an all-consuming political controversy for the following 13 months. There was also a special counsel, independent counsel, Ken Starr investigating it and driving the narrative forward. Here, I think, we have a very different underlying story, and that differs even more than the process itself. First of all, of course, we don’t have an independent counsel law anymore. We’ve had no independent investigation of the Ukraine matter.
Susan Glasser: Second of all, you have a situation where it appears to be much more fundamentally and directly connected with Donald Trump’s official capacity. It relates to his conduct of the foreign policy of the United States on whether he has essentially perverted that for personal political ends.
Preet Bharara: Do you think that one of the House managers in favor of impeachment should be former Republican, now independent representative, Justin Amash?
Susan Glasser: You know, there’s been a big crusade that I see among certain democrats in the house to get him on their side. It would certainly seem to be pretty good politics. You talk about Twitter. I’ve been very impressed. He’s almost been live tweeting this impeachment process.
Preet Bharara: Pretty smart, right?
Susan Glasser: And making very strong arguments. Yeah. Stronger arguments frankly than a lot of the Democrats who have been on those committees. It seems like it would be good politics for Nancy Pelosi to make that decision. I think everyone is pretty clear eyed that Pelosi is a very hands-on decider and that she will be the ultimate decider of who gets to be the manager. By the way, there were 13 managers, house managers, in the Clinton impeachment trial from the House, but that number is not prescribed by law, so we don’t even know how many managers there will be. It could be more. It could be less.
Preet Bharara: By the way, Susan and I are speaking on the 16th basically assuming that the president will have been impeached by Thursday morning. If something bizarre happens, and he is not, then you can all listen to his episode and laugh at how stupid we are.
Susan Glasser: Right. Put it in the time machine.
Preet Bharara: All right. Now we go to trial assuming there’s an impeachment in January. Is it going to be quick? Are there going to be witnesses? Should there be? Should there not be?
Susan Glasser: Well, again, you’re the expert on trials here, but, of course, this is not going to be a trial of the kind that you’re used to in New York or in federal court. This is inherently a political process, the hundred senators are meant to be the jurors. They do, in fact, swear on oath to impartial justice. At the same time, there’s no established procedure for it. By the way, I think this is significant. It only takes 51 members, a majority of the Senate to determine the rule for these proceedings and to determine whether to approve any particular motion up or down in the course of the trial, but it takes two-thirds to determine the outcome.
Susan Glasser: So that small handful of Republican senators who are critical of Trump have much more power over the contours of a Senate trial and what kind of a trial we’ll see than they do have on the ultimate outcome. Nobody really thinks you’re going to get 20 Republican senators to vote to convict Donald Trump, but you certainly have a handful of Republican Senators who don’t necessarily want to turn this into a pro-Trump circus.
Preet Bharara: Right. So the play will be with respect to those rules. Here’s another example of how this is nothing like an ordinary trial. In ordinary trials, jurors are not able to overrule the judge and decide what the rules of evidence are going to be and which witnesses testify. It’s completely bizarre. It renders slightly less bizarre the statement that McConnell has made in the last few days, the Senate Majority Leader, which seems horrifying and I think is bad politics at a minimum where he said he’s closely coordinating with the White House, and there’s not going to be any daylight between the White House’s position on impeachment at the Senate trial and his position, which is totally bizarre and crazy if you think it’s a perfect analogy and parallel to an actual criminal trial where you have the person, McConnell, who is the chief juror, also has the ability to be the chief determiner of rules, so can overrule the judge in the case, which in this proceeding will be Justice Roberts, and then also coordinates closely and alarmingly with the person on trial itself.
Preet Bharara: How are we supposed to think about this political process and what ordinary notions of fairness and neutrality and impartiality are? You mentioned that oath that Senators have to take in an impeachment trial, which talks about impartiality, but isn’t that a bizarre concept given what the relationships are between and among Senators and the President?
Susan Glasser: Well, yes. I think it’s hard to really fathom that there’s going to be any impartiality frankly on either side of the aisle when it comes to the Senate trial. It’s not a realistic frame to lay on these Senators given who they are now and what they represent in the system that they come out of. McConnell’s comments have gotten a lot of pushback, but I think you can understand them a little bit more if you think of him not as the sort of juror in chief or the jury foreman but if you think of him as essentially frantically lobbying Donald Trump on behalf of always keeping his majority together, making sure he has 51 votes, that he doesn’t lose control of the process.
Susan Glasser: He’s appearing on Sean Hannity, Donald Trump’s favorite show, speaking as always to that audience of one. Actually, it comes after days of shadowboxing and negotiating between McConnell and Trump’s advisors because McConnell is actually trying to stop Trump from insisting publicly I want to have a long trial, I want it to go on for weeks and weeks. I want to have Hunter Biden and Joe Biden and the whistleblower and Adam Schiff and all these witnesses. McConnell thinks that would be both politically terrible for his members, for key members who are up for reelection this year in Democrat leaning or toss up states. He also thinks that it would cause Democrats to be able to have a pretty strong case to bring administration witnesses like John Bolton who we’ve talked about or Mick Mulvaney, the White House Chief of Staff, who imposed the freeze on the 400 million dollars in security assistance for Ukraine, people like that.
Susan Glasser: McConnell was quoted the day before that as saying, “This would be an act of mutually assured destruction if they went ahead with the trial as Donald Trump was insisting.” And so weirdly enough, there’s two ways to interpret it. One, completely undermining any pretense of impartial justice on the part of the jury, but then on the other hand also as part of a negotiation where he’s actually trying to get Trump to come to a more moderate consensus view of what a trial should look like.
Preet Bharara: In the last couple of days the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Schumer, has proposed what he and his caucus view as reasonable rules of the road for the Senate trial. Smart move or not?
Susan Glasser: Well, yeah, I think it’s clearly an opening round of negotiations. Senator Schumer, you know him very well. You work with him. That’s what we should understand this as, right? The beginning of a negotiation.
Preet Bharara: What leverage do the Democrats have? I guess what matters is, is there a group of four or more gettable Senate Republicans, and does Mitch McConnell feel confident that there are not? How is his whipping going within his own caucus? Because if they’re not, if there’s going to vote lockstep in favor of whatever McConnell wants, and whatever the White House wants, then they don’t have to negotiate on anything. Do you think there are a handful of Senators on the Republican side who want to do something different from what the President wants?
Susan Glasser: Well, it’s a very interesting question. I think that McConnell has telegraphed pretty clearly that he thinks that the trial needs to stay away from becoming a circus and not have all the witnesses that Donald Trump wants to call and the likes of that suggest to me that McConnell thinks that it’s in the interest of a key group of his Republican Senators to have a trial that way. In a way, both he and Schumer are pitching to that small handful of Republican Senators in the middle here with their view of how a trial should be conducted.
Preet Bharara: Former Senator Jeff Lake has said that if there was a secret ballot, I think he said something like 30 to 35 Republican Senators would vote for impeachment. You have sources in the Congress. If there was a secret ballot and Senators could vote their conscience without fear of retaliation and reprisal from the President, how many Republican Senators do you think would vote in favor of conviction?
Susan Glasser: Well, you know, this is one of Washington’s favorite parlor games.
Preet Bharara: That’s why I’m asking.
Susan Glasser: It has certainly been widely accepted since Senator Lake said that that there’s truth to it. In fact, I think another Republican said, no it’s not 30, it’s 35. It’s not 50. It’s not 50 Republican Senators. There is a hard core of genuine support and enthusiasm for Trump among a certain chunk of the Sensate Republican caucus.
Preet Bharara: But it’s above zero?
Susan Glasser: Absolutely. And it’s above five. And it’s probably above 10. And it’s above 15 even.
Preet Bharara: Do I hear 20?
Susan Glasser: I think the answer is you don’t hear 20 when it comes to any meaningful political thing. You know, we’ve always known obviously that our politicians are creatures of the moment and of the polls. These folks have not seen anything in the polls that suggests to them that there is a massive shift in public sentiment that requires them to make a shift in their public support for Donald Trump.
Preet Bharara: What do you think Mitt Romney does?
Susan Glasser: You know, all along Romney has been by far the most critical of Trump and the most skeptical of Trump. He is slotted into that role with the death of John McCain. However, he is not nearly as confrontational a figure as John McCain was in his last year of his life when he did take on Donald Trump on a variety of issues. Romney is a much less confrontational personality, so there’s still a lot of people who think even he who would be the most likely Senator to vote to convict Donald Trump that even that is not a foreordained vote for conviction, but I think it’s very possible.
Preet Bharara: Can I tell you my take on that?
Susan Glasser: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: I think if Mitt Romney could vote as Pierre Delecto he’d vote to convict.
Susan Glasser: Well, I think most people agree with that. He has seemed to me this fall especially earlier in the Ukraine saga to be a little bit kind of Romney untethered. He seemed to be embracing his secrete Pierre Delecto identity when it became public.
Preet Bharara: Don’t we all.
Susan Glasser: Yes. We are all Pierre Delecto.
Preet Bharara: Okay, so now let’s fast forward and get really ahead of ourselves.
Susan Glasser: Okay.
Preet Bharara: Impeachment, trial, acquittal, and let’s say it’s a very, very lopsided acquittal. Let’s say very, very few Republican Senators and maybe even no Republican Senators vote to convict. Now we’re in the spring. Democratic primaries are going on. What does America look like? What does Donald Trump’s administration look like? What does Donald Trump’s view of his own power look like? Describe what the universe and within the universe America, because American universes are not always coextensive, although often they are, how it’s going to look.
Susan Glasser: Well, that’s the thing that I hear more than almost anything else these days is not a lot of speculation about the numbers in the trial because fundamentally whether there’s one or three Republicans voting to convict him that’s not a meaningful difference. Same thing in what the House vote ultimately did or didn’t end up being. I think there’s a huge question around what does it do to Trump’s already expansive view of his own powers and his willingness and ability to exercise them? You could say, in fact, that the entire kind of first three years of his presidency has been a process of Trump becoming more and more untethered, more and more unconstrained as he’s grown in confidence in the job as he’s shed a very astonishingly large number of advisors and aides who’ve circled in and out of the White House in key cabinet positions. He’s become closer and closer to getting the kind of circle of enablers and facilitators for his desire in how he wants to run the White House.
Susan Glasser: What would a Trump who would be truly unconstrained? To a certain extent the ongoing Mueller investigation was a constraint. That’s gone. Lots of people have pointed out that, in fact, it was the day after Mueller’s testimony on Capital Hill that he had this phone call with Ukraine and seemed to move forward full steam with the next plot. Does it mean that he will really truly feel like there’s no punishment, that he’s invulnerable as a practical matter in American politics. Of course, were he to be reelected, I think a lot of people think a second term could potentially for that reason look even very different than the first term. What’s Congress going to do even assuming that one or both-
Preet Bharara: Impeach him again, people are already saying.
Susan Glasser: Impeach him again.
Preet Bharara: But they’re right. In a usual law enforcement posture if you’ve got someone who’s committing crimes and you convict them or the get acquitted and then they commit other crimes, you go after them again, and nobody bats an eye. But politically to the extent Democrats are saying what I think is a reasonable thing to say that if more comes to light later, then we can impeach him again. They cannot do that. I do have a concern. I think it’s within the realm of possibility we go through this process. We have the trial. He’s acquitted. And then in April or May there’s information that comes out that Donald Trump had all sorts of conversations with the Chinese about investigating anyone, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, or some other nefarious conduct. What the hell is the Congress supposed to do about that information with acquittal in the rear view mirror?
Susan Glasser: Correct. That, I think, is a great fear. From a constitutional vantage point there’s been little to no discussion of that even quite possible scenario. I think you’re right as a political matter it seems impossible that Democrats having failed with impeachment once against Trump could pursue it a second time. Again, that’s why I keep coming back to these very crucial tactical decisions that Nancy Pelosi has made around this impeachment pursuing it narrowly, pursuing it quickly and without the imprimatur of the courts that likely would’ve occurred in order to try to force more information to become public, without any meaningful chance of persuading Republican members in either the House or the Senate of the power of their case.
Susan Glasser: These are decisions that would become even more crucial were additional wrongdoing in this case or in others to come out after the fact of an impeachment acquittal.
Preet Bharara: Is Donald Trump made of Teflon?
Susan Glasser: It’s been a pretty, pretty remarkable ride in American politics, and again and again he has dodged bullets that would’ve seemed to destroy any other political figure. We have term limits in American politics when it comes to the president, so in the end there is a defined eight year period at most. You already hear Trump joking about running for office past that period of time. I had someone say to me. a very senior Republican, just yesterday, “Well, if he’s reelected, I imagine you’ll see some hardcore Trump supporters in Congress start talking about wanting to get rid of the presidential term limits that were imposed after FDR.” So who knows.
Preet Bharara: Oh, yeah. He’ll point to Michael Bloomberg who is running for president. There’s a term limit of two. As Mayor of the City of New York he got a third through interesting circumstances, but, yeah, I fully imagine. Can I ask you a question that I cannot resolve? You have written as a Trumpologist, I think you maybe even coined the term Trumpology, you’ve written, “Trump is a temperamental insecure, narcissistic 72-year-old addicted to watching television, eating cheeseburgers, and insulting people who dare to challenge them.” Then you further go on to say that another Trumopologist who’s pretty accurate, Chris Christie has had, and, you, I think, agree with this that, “There’s no Makavelian grand plan with Trump. There’s no strategy. With Trump there never is.” If that is true, how does that person become the President of the United States in a crowded field, and how does he dodge every single fatal bullet that politically would’ve failed any other politician in modern history? Is it an argument that he’s the most lucky and fortunate human being who ever walked the earth?
Susan Glasser: He also has an incredible sense of both instinct, self-preservation and marketing. Those talents seem to be particularly suited to our media moment. I think you can think as Chris Christie very much does that Donald Trump is not some secret Makaveli who’s playing 4D chess while the rest of us are sitting around playing checkers. I don’t think that is a view of Trump that’s really compatible with the evidence that we have for him. He is remarkably uninformed. He is, in fact, remarkably impervious to even processing new information or information that goes against his previously held conceptions and instincts.
Susan Glasser: However, he, I think, has a really, really strong sense of marketing, self-promotion and self-preservation. This sort of narcissistic personality of his is also about self-preservation and what is necessary for me to do to survive at any given moment. He’s also-
Preet Bharara: A lot of politicians are self-preservationists.
Susan Glasser: That’s right. But what he also has, Preet, I think that other politicians don’t have at least in the same degree is a brazen willingness to proceed despite the consequences and to challenge almost any norm law or institution. We’ve had brazen public officials who look absolutely covered in shame compared with Donald Trump. Even Bill Clinton in the middle of impeachment a lot of people say, “Well, Donald Trump is using Bill Clinton’s impeachment playbook.” But remember that Bill Clinton had to apologize in impeachment. In fact, that was the price, the political price, that was exacted upon him. He had to admit wrongdoing and be humbled and say he was sorry and that it was a mistake.
Bill Clinton: What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds. I never should’ve misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame.
Susan Glasser: That was a cost that Democrats insisted upon with Bill Clinton. We haven’t seen anything like that in this situation.
Preet Bharara: You wrote an excellent essay about three years ago called Covering Politics in a Post Truth America. It occurs to me that part of the answer to this question we’ve been discussing is that Trump is not only operating with this own faculties that are suited to the moment, but the moment is one in which truth doesn’t have the same standing as it previously did. And you wrote in that essay, which I thought was a great way to put it, and also jarring, you said, “The media scandal of 2016 isn’t so much about what reporters fail to tell the American public, it’s about what they did report on and the fact that it didn’t seem to matter.”
Preet Bharara: Is that more or less true in 2019 as when you wrote it in 2016?
Susan Glasser: Well, bringing that up, I think, is on the mark and very painful really as a journalist. When I was starting out as a journalist we had this almost I would say religious belief in the idea that sunlight was the best disinfectant. We saw our role as sort of picking up the rock of public life and showing Americans all the creepy crawly things underneath it. It was up to Americans. It was up to our institutions to decide what to do about that. Transparency is a form and would lead to accountability.
Susan Glasser: Now, we see a president who is essentially unaccountable, and I think that has exacerbated and led to the crisis feeling around democracy of the last few years. There is a sense that there’s fundamentally a link that’s been broken. We have more information, more transparency in some ways than ever before, and yet less accountability.
Preet Bharara: How do you think we got to this point where there’s been somewhat, I think, clear destruction of truth and people’s understanding of truth?
Susan Glasser: Well, some of it obviously it has to do so much with the technological disruption of the last few decades, the complete fragmenting of our media environment at the same time that these floods of information were being unleashed, and then some of it is purposeful. It’s not just a sort of natural state of the internet ecosphere that our democracy has become polluted in this way. Because I think that would mistake the purposeful nature of a lot of the war on truth.
Susan Glasser: Republican party didn’t need to embrace Trump in such a way that it became incapable of even acknowledging certain basic facts as facts. That’s a series of choices that have been undertaken. It’s demagoguery populism. They obviously existed. Propaganda. Distortion. It existed before there was Facebook, before there was Twitter, but we’ve just happened to have created the most powerful real-time tools for amplifying, disseminating, and distributing that kind of propaganda and lies. It’s really a scary fusion of a lot of long-term trends.
Susan Glasser: Of course, for somebody who spent the last few decades really dedicated to a belief that independent inquiry and reporting and analysis are crucial to the state of our democracy, it’s been devastating. We have a President of the United States who calls journalists enemies of the people. I spent four years living in Russia in the former Soviet Union. Enemies of the people are what Stalin used as the term to condemn millions of people to the Gulag in death. That is not a term that the President of the United States, any president of the United States should be using.
Preet Bharara: Has he journalists human scum because that’s what he has called lifetime public servants in Ghana?
Susan Glasser: That’s right. Exactly. Again, it’s the language of tyrants and dictators. It is not the language of democratically elected presidents.
Preet Bharara: I’m glad you brought up Russia because I do want to point out to the audience that you spent some years there and have some insight based on your experience there and as a journalist. Can I ask you first? Are you a [inaudible 00:58:24]?
Susan Glasser: Absolutely not.
Preet Bharara: Do you vehemently deny it?
Susan Glasser: You know, my husband and I were-
Preet Bharara: Because that’s the way you’re supposed to deny it, vehemently.
Susan Glasser: The louder the better, right? That seems to be a lot of in these impeachment proceedings that it seems like the decibel level has been correlated with the efforts to defend the President. Living in Russia for the first four years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency turned out to be oddly relevant to Washington in the first few years of the Trump presidency in ways that, of course, I never could possibly have imagined, and one of the-
Preet Bharara: Could we just… That’s a crazy-
Susan Glasser: It’s crazy.
Preet Bharara: That’s a crazy sentiment to express. And if you thought you’d be expressing it many years later… You were there from what? Two thousand and-
Susan Glasser: Basically the end of 2000 to the end of 2004, which was essentially Putin’s first term in office.
Preet Bharara: And the idea that a serious and thoughtful American journalist could say 15 years later that there was something about that experience at the beginning of Putin’s term in Russia was helpful in understanding Washington in America in 2019 is a stunning thing.
Susan Glasser: Well, I’ll tell you what I mean by it in a few oddly specific ways. First of all, this period was the period when Vladimir Putin was consolidating and reconsolidating power in the Kremlin after the sort of uncertain democracy of the Yeltsin years. Watching not only his attacks on any independent institutions, independent centers of power, that really was the template for seeing how people use the tools of democracy. There’s still elections. There’s still a parliament, things like that, and, yet, are able to attack independent sources of power. First thing you do by the way is you go after the media, the independent media and you call them enemies of the people.
Susan Glasser: And that is a playbook that we have then seen run in a number of other societies over the last couple of decades, in Turkey, with President Erdogan, for example. So there’s something resonant when you look at a leader attempting to consolidate power and taking on independent institutions, number one. Number two, I remember so vividly in the beginning of Trump’s presidency, Americans were basically used to good news. History might zig and zag, but the arc of the universe bends toward justice, that there’s this almost naïve at times American faith in progress.
Susan Glasser: If you’ve spent any time in the former Soviet Union with that tragic history, that is not a faith in progress and essential goodness of things that is shared by most former Soviet people. So being here in Washington Americans will be like, “Oh, this is terrible. It can’t possibly get any worse.” It was really my friends who either were Russian or had lived as I did in the former Soviet Union, they understood thing can always get worse. Look at where we are today, Preet, and the things you and I are talking about versus three years ago. Things are worse by many standards and not better. So that was also an invaluable part of that Russia experience for me.
Preet Bharara: There’s an antidote that always sits with me told by Bill Browder who spent many years in Russia, has been a guest on this show a couple of times, and he recites in his book there’s a Russia joke about a Russian person who is, I guess, greeted by the equivalent of a Russian genie who says, “You can have anything you want. I’ll grant you one wish.” And the Russian says, “Okay,” and he says, “But you have to understand that anything that I grant you I’m also going to give to your neighbor,” to which the Russian says, “Okay, in that case poke out one of my eyes.” Less optimistic.
Susan Glasser: Well, that’s exactly right. You know, I know Bill Browder well. Actually, he was, I think, one of the very first people I met when we moved to Moscow. By the way, at the time he was not only the largest Western investor in Russia but actually a Putin supporter and cheerleader at a time when others were skeptical about Putin and his lack of commitment to democracy.
Preet Bharara: I think he’s changed his view on that.
Susan Glasser: Exactly. It’s really a dramatic example of how much Russia itself has shifted and where Putin took the country. But there was a joke. We were there 10 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and there was a conference that we went to at the Carnegie Moscow Center, and one of the kind of leaders of the Democratic opposition to Putin who’d been one of the early leaders in the transition away from the Soviet Union, Grigoriy Yavlinsky, he was on a panel with me, and he was asked, “Well, what do you think about the future of Russian democracy under assault by Vladimir Putin?”
Susan Glasser: Yavlinsky said, “Well, let me tell you an old Soviet joke, an old Soviet antidote.” He told the one about the Soviet ambulance that picks up someone, and they’re driving along and the guy suddenly gets worried, and he sits up in the back, and he says, “Hey, wait a minute,” to the ambulance driver, “Where are you taking me? This doesn’t look like we’re going to the hospital.” The guy says, “No, we’re going to the morgue.” The guy in the back of the ambulance says, “Well, what do you mean? Why are you going to the morgue? I’m not dead.” The ambulance driver says, “Yes, well we’re not there yet.”
Susan Glasser: The thing is that got a lot of sort of mortified laughs 10 years after the fall of the Soviet Union when it came to the state of Russian democracy. What’s really amazing is that 20 plus years after the fall of the Soviet Union, A, nobody would even bother to tell that joke about Russia anymore because they already got the morgue when it came to Russian democracy. And, B, it kind of works for America democracy.
Preet Bharara: You are a very well-known held in high esteem journalist who happens to be a woman, and you’ve written about some of the trials and tribulations of being a woman editor. You wrote an essay that a lot of people, I think, it resonated with them called Editing While Female. What was your point in that essay?
Susan Glasser: Well, it’s interesting because it was written a few years ago before the Me Too Movement, before Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign, before, I think, a kind of feminist reawakening that we’ve seen in the public discourse, just really struck by the incredible persistence of different standards that great women in leadership positions, not only in journalism, but in almost any area in particular in our public life. You can’t help but think about that when you look at the kinds of commentary that’s followed many of these women presidential candidates this year that certainly accompanied the Clinton campaign in 2016.
Susan Glasser: It was something that I found in my career as an editor and as a leader of organizations. What happened was that a good friend of ours from Moscow, [inaudible 01:05:28], had gone on to become the Editor in Chief, the first woman editor, of Le Monde, which is France’s sort of most prestigious newspaper. She basically got embroiled in a controversy and was pushed out of her job in the exact same week that Jill Abramson of the New York Times, the first woman executive editor of the New York Times, was pushed out of her job. So that was the kind of proximate cause of why I wrote that essay, which was a very personal essay.
Susan Glasser: I’ve been cautiously optimistic at what I do feel is a much more of a public feminist consciousness in the last few years about the obstacles, the hidden obstacles, that women leaders face. But at the same time, I would say it’s deeply, deeply ingrained, not to view women as having the attributes that we associate with leadership.
Preet Bharara: You made it a point of saying at the beginning of your answer that you wrote the essay some years ago, and then you also said you’re cautiously optimistic, what are the things, what are the metrics that you use or is it just sort of a feeling you get that fuels your optimism?
Susan Glasser: Well, I actually do believe that part of the backlash to the backlash of the Trump era has been a much more explicitly kind of feminist dialogue about the role of women in public life. You’ve seen that in the political awakening of women, and the large, large numbers of women who were elected to Congress in 2018 and who’ve mobilized as part of the political discourse. I see it in the world of foreign policy where I’m still very active. I was the first woman who had ever edited a major foreign policy publication and routinely, when I became the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine would be asked to attend dinners and panels and conversations where I’d be the only woman at the table.
Susan Glasser: That has become increasingly not the norm except, of course, in the Trump administration itself where it’s become increasingly the norm. I do think there’s been a backlash to the backlash.
Preet Bharara: Going back full circle to where we began, there’s been this controversy that maybe not everyone follows on the college campus that you and I attended where there was… And fill in the details because I think you’ve been paying some attention to it as an alum of the school and the paper where there was a protest, and in connection with the protest the Harvard Crimson, your former paper, was doing some reporting and writing an article about the protestors and the protest was in part about the government agency known as ICE that has become somewhat controversial and in connection with that reporting, called ICE for comment.
Preet Bharara: That has led to a maelstrom and a lot of controversy on campus. Do I have that right?
Susan Glasser: That’s exactly right. It’s amazing because it’s literally a single sentence in an article about the protest on campus saying essentially something like ICE could not be reached for comment, the local field office.
Preet Bharara: And so the criticism is what?
Susan Glasser: Well, that’s what’s so extraordinary. The criticism was to the Crimson for even daring to call the government agency that was being protested for comment. I think it’s such a fundamental misapprehension of the role of journalism first of all. Second of all, the idea that we can have our protests but somehow journalists shouldn’t try to see if the people who are being protested against if they have anything to say for themselves. Again, it does such a disservice, but more importantly to me it spoke to the fact that there were clearly many people on the Harvard campus who didn’t understand the basic principles of independent journalism. In fact, there was a resolution passed by the Harvard undergraduate counsel condemning the Crimson for making a phone call and doing its work of journalism.
Susan Glasser: I’ve been very proud of the student journalists at the Crimson who not only stood up for reporting but wrote a very eloquent statement of principle that frankly professional journalists would do well to adopt in this very polarized time.
Preet Bharara: Is one of the arguments that by writing the article and then by alerting ICE to the article and then perhaps by identifying people who are protesting on campus by name that that would draw ICE’s ire and would cause them to investigate whether these people were documented or undocumented, and maybe that’s a problem?
Susan Glasser: Well, I think maybe a contorted version of that was what was at the heart of it that somehow there’s an illegitimacy to ICE itself and that you essentially have to take sides and that a protest in this sense is not a public act, which by the way, of course, is ridiculous because if ICE is going to know about this protest on the Harvard campus and has multiple means of understanding who was publicly attending it and looking into them if they want to do so. It seems like such an ill-informed objection if that was the actual objection. I know there was something comparable actually at Northwestern in which they were literally the student organizers of the protestors what we didn’t want it to be… It’s not a public event except that it’s a public event that’s being held in public.
Preet Bharara: I thought that’s the point of a protest.
Susan Glasser: Of course.
Preet Bharara: Is to draw attention-
Susan Glasser: Don’t you want attention?
Preet Bharara: … with a protest.
Susan Glasser: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: Are you worried about college campuses?
Susan Glasser: Well, this has become another device of talking point. If you look at Fox News, America’s liberal campuses are a hellhole of lack of freedom of speech and toxic political correctness. If you look at a far left website, evil fascistic ICE agents are kicking down doors and dragging college students out of their dorms. Of course, I’m worried and I’m concerned if there are protests at the Harvard student newspaper against the basic principles of reporting 101 and the undergraduate council, the student government of Harvard, is passing resolutions condemning journalism 101. That’s something that we should all be worried about.
Preet Bharara: Last question. Softball, easy one. Say something hopeful about the country.
Susan Glasser: I think that whatever else is going to happen in 2020, there’s nobody who’s going to go into the election next November thinking cynically about it or thinking that it doesn’t matter. If there’s one thing that the Trump era has shown us it’s that elections do have consequences, votes matter, you can’t game out the outcome in advance. The stakes, I think, are there with a renewed clarity and crispness for all of us to see.
Preet Bharara: Susan B. Glasser, thank you for being on the show.
Susan Glasser: Preet, thank you so much. It’s really great to talk.
Preet Bharara: The conversation continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. To hear the Stay Tuned bonus with Susan Glasser and get the exclusive weekly CAFE insider podcast and other exclusive content, head to café.com/insider. Right now, you can try CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks at café.com/insider.
Preet Bharara: Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Susan Glasser.
Preet Bharara: So yesterday the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, was impeached by the House of Representatives. We’ve had a lot of discussion here on the show and on the television and in people’s homes and in magazines and newspapers of how significant that is or isn’t. Make no mistake, it is profoundly significant. There has been some back and forth on whether or not folks in Congress are appropriately solemn about it and prayerful about it. And the President of the United States in the lead up to his impeachment made fun of the idea that it was a solemn undertaking in that anyone praise for the president like Nancy Pelosi says she does.
Preet Bharara: But I view this a little bit the way that I view a verdict in a criminal case, that even if the prosecutor has done the right thing and even if justice was served, that there’s not joy in a foreperson of that jury pronouncing a verdict of guilt on another human being. It may be necessary. It may be fair. It may be just. But it’s not joyful. And I agree with those who say this shouldn’t be joyful either. Some members of Congress have done a better or worse job of conveying the solemnity of the occasion, but there’s a particular speech that some folks have been recalling in the last number of days from 1974. For a long time, it’s been one of my favorite speeches by an American politician in history. You probably have guessed that I’m talking about Barbara Jordan.
Preet Bharara: Barbara Jordan was a three-term congresswoman from Texas who was among other things a great stateswoman and order. She was a trailblazer too, first African American to be elected to Congress from Texas. Black woman in Congress in 1974 was a pretty rare thing. She had also a pretty rare talent for making a point. I can’t do any better than she did in her speech on July 24th, 1974, where she stirred the nation with her measured and impassioned rhetoric about the constitution and the need for impeaching President Nixon.
Preet Bharara: Here’s a taste.
Barbara Jordan: Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the preamble to the constitution of the United States. We The People. It’s a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that We The People. I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation and coordination, I have finally been included in We The People. Today, I am an inquisitor and hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now.
Barbara Jordan: My faith in the constitution is whole. It is complete. It is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the constitution.
Preet Bharara: If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics and justice. Tweet them to me at PreetBharara with the hashtag Ask Preet. Or you can call and leave me a message at 669-247-7338. That’s 669-24PREET. Or you can send an email to Stay Tuned at café.com. Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior audio producer is David Tatasciore. The CAFE team is Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, David Kurlander, and Jeff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew Doss. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay Tuned.