ROBERT COSTA: Articles of impeachment head to the floor.
REPRESENTATIVE JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): (From video.) For the third time in a little over a century and a half, the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
MR. COSTA: Battle lines are drawn.
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): (From video.) The evidence of the president’s misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested.
REPRESENTATIVE DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): (From video.) This is a travesty.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) To use the power of impeachment on this nonsense is an embarrassment to this country.
MR. COSTA: And Republicans turn the spotlight to the Justice Department’s inspector general report, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening. History unfolded at the Capitol this week. And partisan rancor, it narrated our times. Republicans and Democrats traded insults, sparring over articles of impeachment and the inspector general’s report about the Justice Department’s conduct during the Russia investigation. Yet, amid this bare-knuckle politics and marathon hearings, the week was also punctuated by a bipartisan deal on trade and the stock market soared to record highs after President Trump announced progress on a trade agreement with China.
But the road to this Friday night was paved with fury.
REPRESENTATIVE MATT GAETZ (R-FL): (From video.) You’re going to try to overturn the result of an election with unelected people giving testimony?
REPRESENTATIVE JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): (From video.) The gentleman will suspend. The gentleman has been warned before he cannot simply yell out and disrupt the committee.
REPRESENTATIVE DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): (From video.) This is the problem. This is why people don’t like us. This is why people are having such a terrible opinion of Congress.
REPRESENTATIVE ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): (From video.) The president committed the highest crime against the Constitution by abusing his office, cheating in an election, inviting foreign interference.
MR. COSTA: Fights continued on the campaign trail, and I traveled to Hershey, Pennsylvania, to cover President Trump as he rallied thousands in that battleground state.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Now that the Russia witch hunt is dead – a big, fat, disgusting fraud – the congressional Democrats are pushing the impeachment witch hunt having to do with Ukraine. (Boos.) But that’s already failing. You saw their so-called articles of impeachment today? People are saying they’re not even a crime.
MR. COSTA: For reporters and the nation, it was often head-spinning. It was also important, and the seriousness of this moment cannot be overstated.
Joining us tonight, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and co-author of Impeachment: An American History; Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter for The Washington Post focusing on national security; Jake Sherman, senior writer for POLITICO, co-author of Playbook, and co-author of The Hill to Die On; and Darlene Superville, White House reporter for the Associated Press.
On Friday morning the House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment, each on a 23-17 vote along party lines. A floor vote in the House is now expected next week. Jake, what does that floor vote look like when you look ahead to next week? Speaker Pelosi, is she whipping her members? Does she expect defections?
JAKE SHERMAN: It’s going to look very partisan. We don’t anticipate any Republican – we’re certain no Republicans are going to vote to impeach the president. We believe a handful of Democrats will vote with Republicans against impeachment. Nancy Pelosi says with certainty she’s not whipping; this is a matter of conscience. But they’re very aware, obviously, of who’s voting where, what problems she might have. And Republicans are whipping. They are trying to keep their troops in line with the president against these charges, and it’s going to be very charged. It’s going to be something the president certainly, as everybody here could attest to, watches very closely. And at the end of the day, politics are what they are, but the president’s going to be impeached by the House of Representatives, and that’s a certainty, and that begins a whole new phase which is the Senate trial.
MR. COSTA: Karoun, why did the Democrats decide to do these two specific articles, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress? What happened to bribery? What happened to looking at the Mueller probe?
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN: Right, I think that they settled on the two articles that seemed like they were the best legal charge to make – abuse of power covering the president’s actions in Ukraine, what we saw in the transcript and the testimony that came thereafter; and the obstruction of Congress being his refusal to let most of the – let anybody, really, come to the Hill to testify or provide any documentary evidence. Everybody that did end up coming to testify did so basically brushing off those orders. And so that – they feel like they have a fact pattern that can hold that up.
If you start to get into bribery, which Nancy Pelosi used the word, Adam Schiff used the word, it gets a little bit squishy just because the bribery in the Constitution predates statutory definitions of bribery, so you could get mired in an argument about dictionary definitions, basically. And to do obstruction of justice opens up Pandora’s box on all the Mueller probe stuff, which Congress didn’t investigate themselves, which the president has already declared, you know, exoneration from it, even though that’s not really the text of the Mueller report, but would have been a more difficult case to try without having actually gone through that investigation on the Hill itself. So they decided to dispense with the obstruction of justice, stick with obstruction of Congress, not go into bribery, but talk about the acts that they, you know, used in their rhetoric to describe as bribery and just call it abuse of power. That’s a smart legal decision, but it’s opening them up to, as you heard – you played a clip – of charges that these aren’t crimes, these are just – you know, you could have anything fall under abuse of power. Obstruction of Congress, Republicans disagree to some extent about whether that happened. And that’s, you know, leaving them open to that counter-charge from the GOP.
MR. COSTA: Darlene, Jake reports that the vote is pretty much set inside the House of Representatives. So at the White House, when you’re reporting for the AP and talking to your sources there, are they already looking ahead to a Senate trial? And what do they want to see from the majority leader, Mitch McConnell?
DARLENE SUPERVILLE: They’re definitely looking ahead to a Senate trial because the Senate is more friendly terrain for the White House. It’s controlled by Republicans. The House, where the whole process started, is controlled by the Democrats, and we know how they feel about Trump pretty much. So they are looking ahead to the Senate. In the Senate trial – the president has said he wants a trial; he’s going to get one in January when lawmakers come back. We don’t know much yet about what that is going to look like, but there seems to be a consensus building around something that’s quick – maybe two weeks, three weeks. The president wants to call witnesses. It’s unclear yet whether he’ll be able to call the whistleblower, for example, or Joe Biden, or Hunter Biden. It seems unlikely.
MR. COSTA: Jake said that the House Democrats are letting this be a conscience vote. What about the White House? Are they whipping Republican senators? Are they worried about cracks?
MS. SUPERVILLE: I don’t think so because Republicans have been pretty much moving in lockstep with the president on this issue. They have been, you know, repeating his line that he’s done nothing wrong, the call was good, and it seems unlikely that anybody would break from the GOP and vote against him. Of course, you never really know until the actual vote is taken, but it seems unlikely at this point.
MR. COSTA: Peter, you had a terrific piece in The New York Times with your colleague Maggie Haberman. The headline: “For Trump, Impeachment May Be A Political Plus But Also A Personal Humiliation.” Take me inside the West Wing, the Oval Office. They have a strategy, as Darlene said, as they look to the Senate, but what about for this president, who cares so much about his brand and his image? What has it been like at the White House this week?
PETER BAKER: Yeah, I think the president has already come to the recognition that he’s going to lose this vote in the House, it’s going to go to the Senate, and he’s trying to move on with that, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not humiliating. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a stinging moment for him, and it was for President Clinton too, honestly. He could also say, look, it’s partisan, it’s party line, it’s illegitimate, I’m not bothered by it. They’re bothered by it. A president doesn’t want to have in his history page in the book the little asterisk that says impeached, even if they are acquitted at trial. So he has kind of, you know, toggled back and forth between self-pity, which we obviously see even in rallies like in Hershey, and sort of this combative kind of more energized version of himself. His mood is described by aides as actually being a little bit better the last couple weeks because he does see Republicans coming to his defense, and they’re being aggressive in the way that he wants them to be. He would have been very happy if he watched – and I think he did watch most of the House Judiciary Committee this week because they were not trying to say, well, he did wrong but it’s not impeachable; what they said was he did nothing wrong and you guys, the Democrats, are being bad actors in accusing him. That’s the kind of defense he wants.
MR. COSTA: So that’s the case he’s making, but we all watched these hearings. We covered them. We were on the Hill or at the White House. Did the Democrats break through in the House Judiciary Committee hearings? When you talk to members, do they feel like the country heard them in the same way the whole country watched the Watergate hearings or do they feel like there are still gaps when they make their case to the country?
MR. SHERMAN: I think they feel like there are still gaps and I think this is a lot more difficult to explain than Bill Clinton’s impeachment. This deals with complex foreign aid and different countries, and people say, well, why are we even giving money to Ukraine and what are we doing over there anyway. And I think it just becomes – there’s a lot of moving pieces here where the Clinton impeachment was relatively cut and dry, and you’ve seen this in public opinion polls that have not moved significantly through the last four or five weeks. And that’s frustrating for Democrats, and I do believe that’s part of the reason they want to handle this before the Christmas holiday because they – a lot of them want to move on and move to more comfortable ground.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: There’s a momentum issue here too, which is that the most exciting/exhilarating parts of this whole process that played out in public were when you had the hearings with the witnesses. There was an emotional factor there of people watching Yovanovitch. There was the shock potential factor when you heard people like Bill Taylor laying out a chronology of all the various things that Trump is accused of doing. Judiciary’s process right now is very formulaic. They are going through law professors. They are talking about constitutionality. You have to do all of those things, right, but the public has already been watching to much of this and it was so much more gripping before that it almost feels like it is slowing to a close at this point. And I think Judiciary has had – the Democrats on Judiciary have had a harder time breaking through that wall of, you know, grabbing Americans’ attention than the Intelligence Committee Democrats did, but that wasn’t even close to the end of the line when they did that So now we are –
MR. COSTA: And how will the House Democrats make their case when they’re the managers during the Senate trial that’s expected?
MS. DEMIRJIAN: Well, you will see a variety of different Democrats making that case and they’re going to choose their most persuasive arguers to actually do that.
MR. COSTA: Any read on who’s going to be there?
MS. DEMIRJIAN: I think that I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw people like Adam Schiff there and various other members that they consider to be the stars of both the Judiciary and the Intelligence Committees since they do know this case the best, but that list has yet to be fully finalized. And so at that point, though, they will be not making the case in a vacuum; they had the whole stage for this – for the last several weeks of this process and they’re not telling the story right now, they’re arguing over the constitutionality and the legalistics of it, and that is fundamentally just less exhilarating for eyeballs and ears to listen to for hours on end.
MR. COSTA: Democrats aren’t just competing with Republicans; they’re competing with a torrent of news. You had the USMCA, the new North American trade agreement, come to an agreement between the White House, President Trump, and House Democratic aides. Was that a concession by the White House, a concession by Democrats? What explains this deal emerging amid impeachment?
MS. SUPERVILLE: That’s a very good question. It was quite interesting to see Nancy Pelosi and all the committee managers come out and announce the articles of impeachment, and then an hour later Nancy Pelosi in a different group of lawmakers come out and announce, hey, we have a deal on USMCA, which was the president’s biggest legislative priority this year and is something that he’s wanted for a long, long time. It’s the product of a lot of negotiation between Speaker Pelosi and Democrats and the trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, and the timing is just curious. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: Well, it’s curious, but it’s also politically –
MR. SHERMAN: Fortuitous, perhaps. (Laughter.)
MR. BAKER: Or surreal, perhaps.
MR. COSTA: And you see the president turning to the stock market, Peter, and saying he’s moving forward on a phase one deal with China on trade. When you couple USMCA with this new announced progress on China, what do you see from this White House?
MR. BAKER: Yeah, look, the China deal may or may not be as significant as he would like us to think it is. Obviously, it’s a “first phase,” quote/quote, deal; the Chinese have not been as specific in some of the commitments publicly as the president has indicated. But I think it does send a signal, which is to say that his best argument on impeachment, his best argument for reelection is the economy is doing well. And if he can solve some of these trade disputes, if he can settle down the concern that people have that things might turn south, that works in his favor. The thing that got Bill Clinton through it partly was a strong economy. The thing that has been President Trump’s, you know, biggest selling card has been don’t rock the boat – you might not like me – he even had an ad to this effect – I might be a jerk, but your 401(k)s are great and you have to vote for me, otherwise you might lose your job or your cousin or your wife might lose a job.
MR. SHERMAN: But also I would add – I agree with all that – I would add to that if the economy is doing well plus he doesn’t get into these ancillary issues that he tends to dive into all the time, these distractions – I mean, my colleague John Harris wrote a column this week that basically said most presidents with this economic climate would be a prohibitive favorite to win reelection. So there’s some element – and people in the White House recognize this – of self-sabotage. And God, Republicans on Capitol Hill wish/pray for him to just talk about the economy and leave the other issues to the side.
MS. SUPERVILLE: And one of the things the president can do, he’s got a rally next week in Michigan and he can go into that rally next Wednesday and say, look, I’ve got USMCA; look, I’ve finally got this China deal; and his base will just eat that up at the rally. Those are two things that he’s been talking about for a long time, bashing NAFTA during the campaign, also trade with China, and now he can say look what I’ve done while all the Democrats want to do is impeach me.
MR. COSTA: Or House Democrats could make a similar argument to their own voters and to swing voters in places like Michigan, perhaps, Jake, and say, well, we’re not just focused on impeachment; we also did USMCA with President Trump. Was that part of Speaker Pelosi moving toward this deal?
MR. SHERMAN: Yes, she said her three things are legislate, investigate, and something else.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: Litigate? (Laughter.)
MR. SHERMAN: Litigate, yeah. It’s tough to keep track of all these –
MS. SUPERVILLE: All the -gates.
MR. COSTA: Jake, I know you’re tired. Oops. (Laughter.)
MR. SHERMAN: – of all these sayings in the Capitol, I mean, listens. But there is an element of that that, listen, they want to show that they’re doing business with the president while they’re also holding his feet to the fire, and the reality is – quickly – that the Democrats were largely responsible for getting this trade deal in shape so President Trump could claim this victory. It was Rich Neal, the Ways and Means chair, and Nancy Pelosi who negotiated with Bob Lighthizer to get this to a place where it could come to the House floor.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: And Pelosi’s also been talking about, you know, walking and chewing gum at the same time. She will have a window in January to be making that case because I’m pretty sure McConnell has said he’s not doing that trade deal until after impeachment is done in the Senate.
MR. SHERMAN: Correct, yeah.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: Which means she’s got January to make the case of, well, the Republicans say we’re not doing anything; here is the president’s trade deal, pass it.
MR. COSTA: But this Republican Party in the Senate, they may not like a protectionist trade deal on USMCA, but they’re still with this president politically at every step.
MR. BAKER: They really are – no, it’s really interesting, there’s no real sign of any cracks even among Republicans who clearly don’t like this president, who clearly would just as soon another Republican be president. They are sticking with him, and it’s striking. It’s different, I think, than either Nixon or in Clinton. Both cases they were worried about losing their own party. Nixon did; Clinton ultimately didn’t. But that was the big danger for them, was you lose your own party, not the other party. The other party’s always be against you. The danger is you lose your own, and Trump is showing he’s not losing his.
MR. COSTA: Just on that point about history, when you look at this, you’ve written The Breach about the Clinton impeachment; you’ve co-authored the latest book on Impeachment, a history – An American History. Republicans keep saying this is different this time, that it’s too fast, it’s too narrow. What makes this different, if at all, this entire experience?
MR. BAKER: Well, it’s funny watching the hearings this week, the meetings this week where the House Judiciary Committee had their debate. And if you close your eyes, I could literally hear the same things I heard 21 years ago, it’s just everybody’s just flipped sides, right – you have no fact witnesses, you’re in a rush to judgment, it’s a railroad, you’re out to get him because you hate him; no, it’s about rule of law, it’s about a very serious constitutional – all these things were said 21 years ago, just everybody’s on the opposite side.
But there are things that are different. One thing that’s different we just talked about; the parties are more in lockstep today than they were back then. On the day the House Judiciary Committee voted in 1998 there was a moment in the afternoon where Lindsey Graham, then on the committee, tried to broker a deal for censure with the president. The president came out and made a televised apology in the middle of their meeting; they stopped the meeting so everybody could watch the television to see what he would say, and he just didn’t go far enough as far as the Republicans were concerned. The Republicans came out and said that was it, he didn’t do it, and six, seven, eight minutes later they impeached him.
MR. COSTA: No such deal this time. The acrimony, it just continued. In the Senate this week, Republican Chairman Lindsey Graham held a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing probing that long-awaited report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. As Karoun reported with her colleagues at the Post, IG Michael Horowitz said that the FBI was justified in opening its 2016 investigation into the Trump campaign, but he told sharply divided lawmakers that he could not vindicate the Bureau’s former leaders because of other major errors. Here is part of his testimony.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): (From video.) Former FBI Director James Comey said this week that your report vindicates him. Is that a fair assessment of your report?
MICHAEL HOROWITZ: (From video.) You know, I think the activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this.
MR. COSTA: When you look at what the IG found, no political bias but many major errors, do you expect FISA reforms in the surveillance in this country to move now in Congress, or not?
MS. DEMIRJIAN: Heh.
MR. COSTA: Wait, why the laugh?
MS. DEMIRJIAN: Because they’ve been talking about FISA reform forever. It’s kind of hilarious, actually because the people who were talking about FISA reform are not necessarily the ones who are cheering at this report right now. There’s been a little bit of a do-si-do, and you now have a bunch of people who are OK with the way the intel community was handling things now calling for FISA reform because this ended up being, you know – because of the Carter Page element and how connected he is to Trump. I think that, you know, Democrats are trying to say they’re vindicated here because there was no proof of political bias, and the president has been beating the drum on they were just out to get me the whole time because they didn’t like me and they were biased against me, but it is pretty damning when you come to the question of confirmation bias and basically the FBI tossing aside potentially exculpatory evidence when they were going to make the – going to apply for the warrant to conduct the surveillance on Carter Page. In a vacuum, if we were not in this political environment or this world right now and you have something like that land, that is, frankly, you know, an argument for people being concerned about what the deep state is doing. But we are in a world in which Trump has made that all about politics, in which he’s accused the DOJ and the FBI of having this deep-written political bias that isn’t there, and so all of a sudden we’re not really talking about what the core issue is, which is how was the FBI through a very secretive process that we don’t know going about and, you know, looking at and surveilling potentially civilians?
MR. COSTA: And the IG report isn’t the only report. You have Attorney General Bill Barr. He’s conducting his own, alongside prosecutor John Durham, and the attorney general sat down with Pete Williams of NBC News.
ATTORNEY GENERAL BILL BARR: (From video.) The greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government use the apparatus of the state, principally the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time in history that this has been done to a presidential campaign.
MR. COSTA: So the IG had a conclusion, Jake, but you have House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who you cover every day, calling what he saw in this report a coup. Is that the language you’re hearing from your Republican sources, despite what the IG has concluded?
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, listen, I think everybody found something that they like in this report. Republicans said it showed just broad malfeasance at the FBI in a way that’s so stunning and so unfair to Americans. And Democrats say, listen, the FBI did not start investigating Trump under false pretenses. So there’s something for everybody in this report. Lindsey Graham had Horowitz up there after, you know, real pressure from the Trump-aligned right to do more to kind of conduct these investigations. And the Durham report, which we assume will be coming out at some point in this torrent of news over the next couple months, is really being eagerly awaited by people who are close to the president on Capitol Hill, people like Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, who believe that this man, John Durham of Connecticut, is the person who is going to finally put people in handcuffs. That’s what a lot of Trump-aligned Republicans say, that this is the person who’s going to charge people.
MR. COSTA: So that’s what some Republicans want. But the bigger picture here, the bigger question, is where is the truth? There’s the Durham report, the IG report. Where is the truth?
MR. BAKER: Well, the problem is there is no truth. There is no single truth anymore. I mean, there is, but that’s not how this political system operates anymore. Everybody has their own, as Karoun said, as Jake said. There are different ways of looking at this report. Everybody’s going to pull it out if you listen to Fox, if you listen to MSNBC. But more broadly, I mean, even just listening to the impeachment hearings you heard this week – right – you heard very starkly different versions of reality. Listening to the president talk, what he says at times has very little bearing on, you know, the fact set that you would hear from the Democrats. And getting them on the same page is really, really – is probably impossible in this day and age. We’re so atomized, we’re so polarized, and not just our politics but in our media and our social interactions, that we live in these separate universes and they don’t meet.
MR. COSTA: And you saw President Trump was hosting Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, at the White House on Friday. What does that tell you about the White House’s coming strategy? Are they going to have their own report on Ukraine to counter what’s happening in the House of Representatives?
MS. SUPERVILLE: It’s quite possible. The president has said that he – you know, he wants to hear from Rudy Giuliani and what really Rudy discovered on this recent trip to Ukraine. They are still very much whole cloth into the idea that Ukraine had something to do with the 2016 presidential election, and it doesn’t appear that they’re going to let it go.
MR. COSTA: Despite U.S. officials have testified, including in an interview with ABC News FBI Director Chris Wray said there is not evidence to back that claim up.
MS. SUPERVILLE: Right, he pretty much said don’t listen to the president. (Laughter.)
MS. DEMIRJIAN: And that’s what’s getting lost here, really, in all of this. I mean, Lindsey Graham actually nodded to it when he was chairing that hearing with the IG. He made the point that Russia interfered in the election, not Ukraine, and Russia’s probably going to do it again, and also made the point that it was legitimate to be concerned about Russian interference at the time they started this. But that’s not being echoed by everybody across the party.
MR. COSTA: That’s all the time we have for tonight. Thank you for joining us. And make sure to check out our Washington Week Extra. We will continue this conversation and discuss all of that trade news that’s been happening. You can find it on our program’s social media accounts and on our website tonight and all weekend long. I’m Robert Costa. Good night.