At the end of former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony on Friday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff emphasized her bravery as the first State Department official to “[break] the dam,” the first one through the “stone wall that the president was trying to set up.” Once the hearing adjourned, House Intelligence Committee member Mike Conaway (R-Texas) tried to steal the spotlight back with more process complaints, but he was drowned out by the applause. Yovanovitch received from the public seated in the hearing room. As the public phase of the impeachment inquiry moves into week two, Republicans’ ever-shifting arguments in defense of Trump may well be drowned out once more by career bureaucrats speaking up in the face of retaliation and disparagement, and by witness testimony of Trump allies who may choose to save themselves instead of the president.
Approximately 13.1 million people tuned in to the first day of public impeachment proceedings. (Since Trump prides himself on ratings, it’s worth noting that the impeachment hearing drew 5.5 million more viewers than the average number of people who watched Trump’s final season on “The Apprentice.”) Trump felt so threatened by Yovonovitch’s testimony that he engaged in witness tampering by implicitly threatening her on Twitter. Ken Starr, who prepared the report ultimately used to impeach President Bill Clinton, admitted on Fox News that Trump’s tweet demonstrated “extraordinarily poor judgment,” saying, “Obviously this was quite injurious.” Schiff called it “witness intimidation in real-time.” And Conaway told reporters, “It’s not something I would do.”
What to Watch for This Week
Eight witnesses will testify publicly this week before the House Intelligence Committee. The most scrutiny will likely be around EU ambassador and Trump donor Gordon Sondland, who will appear on Wednesday. Sondland had to revise his initial statements to Congress with a supplemental declaration because they conflicted with those of acting Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor. But in this supplemental, Sondland maintained he did not know “when, why, or by whom the aid” to Ukraine was suspended. But last Wednesday, Taylor testified that a member of his staff overheard Sondland talking on his cellphone to Trump during a meeting at a restaurant in Kiev. Media reports over the weekend also allege there were multiple witnesses to Sondland’s call with Trump, restaurant staff among them. And Sondland’s claim also contradicts the testimony of National Security Council adviser Tim Morrison, who said that Sondland was clear with him that “the President was giving him instruction.” Morrison will testify publicly this Tuesday, a day before Sondland, which, combined with Taylor’s testimony and the media reporting, will make it even more difficult for Sondland to maintain he didn’t know that Trump insisted the aid be withheld.
The week is set to end with public testimony from former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill. Her earlier testimony led to many questions about what was known by former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has been subpoenaed but has refused to comply. Hill worked for and had extensive contact with Bolton, and it was during her October 14 deposition that she said Bolton told her to tell White House Counsel John Eisenberg that Bolton was “not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.” Democrats will likely use her hearing to dig into this “drug deal” during a public hearing that is sure to generate headlines, as well as attempt to get some of what Bolton knew on the record to either compel his testimony, or make it unnecessary.
Pressure Mounts on Trump From All Sides
Meanwhile, Trump continues to rack up losses. One of his most crucial early campaign associates, Roger Stone, was found guilty Friday on all seven counts he was charged with, including witness tampering, lying to Congress about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks, and obstructing a congressional investigation. Meanwhile, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is being investigated for campaign finance violations and failure to register as a foreign agent.
Trump has also faced several losses in elections he personally intervened in, beginning with the Kentucky governor’s race, and now, in Louisiana. On Saturday, Democrat John Bel Edwards won re-election in the Louisiana governor’s race, despite Trump’s three visits to the state to stump for Republican Eddie Rispone. This comes after Trump himself turned the election into a referendum on impeachment, telling his supporters Thursday, “In two days, I really need you, but you really need you, to send a message to the corrupt Democrats in Washington.” He implored rally goers, “You gotta give me a big win please. Please,” in a moment reminiscent of Jeb Bush’s “please clap” plea in the 2016 Republican primary. A race that was widely predicted for months to be close, and otherwise would have been seen as a marginal win for Democrats, now takes on a larger-than-life media narrative, with Politico declaring, “Louisiana delivers Trump a black eye,” thanks to Trump’s own framing.
Trump is also facing increased media scrutiny due to his unannounced visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham attributed the visit to Trump conducting “portions” of his annual physical, although his next annual physical wasn’t due till February 2020. Saturday’s visit deviated from his past physicals, which were all conducted on a single day and were all announced in advance. The hushed and seemingly rushed nature of the visit drew widespread speculation from the press and on social media over the weekend.
An increased media spotlight is also on Trump’s would-be defenders in the GOP, who are facing increased pressure from grassroots organizations. The pro-impeachment organization known as By The People, which organized rallies nationwide on October 13, continues to expand its rapid-response network. A large coalition led by MoveOn.org is organizing nationwide “No One is Above the Law” rallies to take place the night before the House impeachment vote, whenever that may be; currently 260 events across the country are planned. And Indivisible, a grassroots organization that advocates for progressive policies through regular constituent engagement, is organizing constituents in Republican districts to attend town halls or organize events outside offices of members avoiding engagement with constituents, in addition to running ads and compiling “impeachment daily” videos summarizing the latest on impeachment.
On November 18, an ABC News/Ipsos poll showed that 70 percent of Americans thought Trump’s actions were wrong. According to the poll, 51 percent said they believed Trump’s actions were wrong and that he should be removed from office. The same poll found that 58 percent are following impeachment closely. Meanwhile, on November 17, FiveThirtyEight’s aggregation of polls found that impeachment support stood at 47.7 percent, with 45.6 percent opposed. This level of support is nearly eight points above where it was when the news first coalesced around the Ukraine scandal on September 19, when only 40.1 percent supported impeachment and 51 percent opposed. While Republican support for impeachment is still low, it’s moved up 1.4 points since September 19, from 9.7 percent in support to 11.1 percent.
Support for impeachment among Democrats has jumped nearly 10 points, and that among Independents has increased the most — over 10 and a half points — over the same time period. It will be worth watching how polls shift as we move into this next week of impeachment, as the GOP Senate in particular will be watching the polls to see if it may imperil their majority.
The House Intelligence Committee has been steadily posting the hundreds of pages of transcripts from past depositions to the Committee website, laying out the groundwork for future articles of impeachment, but perhaps more importantly, giving the media and the public access to examine the case themselves. Democrats claim to no longer be watching impeachment polling, but it is, ultimately, the court of public opinion, that will determine what happens when Trump faces what now seems like an inevitable trial in the Senate. After his disastrous last week, Trump will face even more scrutiny this week. Any mistakes he makes, on Twitter or elsewhere, will only serve to break the dam open ever further.
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