Or, at the very least, impeachment is far, far likelier today than it was even a week ago. Why? Two words: Nancy Pelosi. For many months, Pelosi has been stiff-arming members of her own caucus, a majority of whom jumped aboard the impeachment bandwagon over the Russia matter (despite Trump's fundamental vindication on the underlying 'collusion' charge) and various other foibles. But unless and until the Speaker herself decided that impeachment was a viable and appropriate course of action -- she'd been reading the polls and protecting her moderates -- the groundswell was going nowhere. Multiple reports now indicate that Pelosi, amid the fast-moving Trump/Ukraine controversy, has shifted significantly on her impeachment posture:
UPDATED: Pelosi is privately talking to members abt impeaching Trump, a swath of moderate House Dems are coming out in favor of his ouster, & leadership folks think we've hit the tipping point.— Rachael Bade (@rachaelmbade) September 24, 2019
The watershed moment. w/@mikedebonishttps://t.co/xwbW4J7efV
Add this to a group of moderate-leaning House Democrats from reddish districts coming out in favor of impeachment proceedings, this speech from John Lewis, and an apparent green light from a top member of Senate Democratic leadership (who was last heard from dousing the Kavanaugh impeachment nonsense with ice water), and it very much seems like a major development may be imminent. House Democrats now appear to be debating and negotiating on how to manage an impeachment process (there is buzz of a select panel dedicated to the matter), as opposed to whether to do so. They are huddling around 4pm ET this afternoon, and more clarity on next steps will probably become available when that meeting adjourns (UPDATE: Liberal NBC contributor Howard Fineman is reporting that Pelosi will call for a formal impeachment inquiry, and she's certainly sounding like that is what's coming). With developments rocketing forward at warp speed, this is my sense of where things stand overall:
General thoughts atm: I don’t know whether Trump’s Ukraine conduct is impeachment-worthy (need more facts), but his actions on this front shouldn’t be conflated w/ Russiagate (on which I argued no collusion=no impeachment). This is a separate issue, spurred by separate acts... 1/— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) September 24, 2019
I’m inclined to say that even if an abuse of power is apparent/established (assuming no clear quid pro quo w/ taxpayer $ is proven), we are close enough to an electoral reckoning that removal from office (for what high crime would Senators try POTUS?) may be excessive... 3/— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) September 24, 2019
I’m not arrogant enough to definitively declare how the politics of this will shake out. Risks on both sides. Absent MAJOR developments, Trump won’t be convicted/removed by the Senate. So everything else that may lead toward that eventuality will be messy & unpredictable. 5/— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) September 24, 2019
I tacked on this thought: "My impression is that Biden was cavalier about a conflict of interest, issued an over-broad and falsifiable blanket denial, and may well get stung by this. More investigation is warranted. But based on current info, this isn’t exclusively, or even mostly, a Biden story." Here's more background on the Biden component of this firestorm ("muddy water" concludes a sharp GOP strategist). As National Review's house editorial states today, Biden should not exempt from additional and serious scrutiny on this front. There's some smoke here, albeit a far cry (at this stage) from the raging fire of corruption that pro-Trump partisans are peddling. And none of that means that Trump's conduct was appropriate or ethical. He reportedly pressured a foreign government to investigate one of his likeliest 2020 rivals -- a charge to which Trump and his personal lawyer have more or less flat-out admitted. On that score, and thanks to the president's confirmation of the crux of the story, the squabble between the Director of National Intelligence and the IC Inspector General over the status of the yet-unnamed whistleblower's report almost feels moot at this point. Almost.
Democrats are now standing shoulder to shoulder demanding to see the contents of the whistleblower's complaint (see updates), and even some Republicans are on the record calling for more information along these lines. The "best" place-holder Trump defense from GOP members at this stage is that more context is needed, that the president's actions appear to be quite improper, but that they don't necessarily rise to the level of requiring impeachment as a consequence. This is a very different set of circumstances than we saw during the Russia saga, and anyone who's pretending otherwise is engaged in spin. Things could get much uglier if it's somehow proven that Trump held back Congressionally-approved aid to Ukraine in order to put the squeeze on Kiev vis-a-vis a Biden probe. The relevant timeline, as reported by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, looks potentially ominous:
Another WaPo bombshell.— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) September 24, 2019
“Trump ordered hold on military aid days before calling Ukrainian president, officials say” https://t.co/FoOgIDmeMq
Allahpundit rightly notes that there are an array of far less sinister reasons Trump may have temporarily gummed up the works on funneling US assistance to Ukraine, but the president's true motivation remains unclear at this time (there are conflicting reports about how Ukraine's president perceived the fateful phone conversation). If it's somehow established that Trump (likely still bitter over Ukraine's pro-Hillary 2016 tinkering) chose to dangle the money as a quid-pro-quo in pursuit of his own partisan interests, that's a grave offense that would likely turn the tide among some Republicans. That's not just my read; it's also what the president would have heard if he tuned into his favorite morning show earlier today:
Steve Doocy: "If the President said 'I will give you the money but you've got to investigate Joe Biden,' that is really off-the-rails wrong." pic.twitter.com/2lxUPDERJM— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) September 24, 2019
It's this distinction that could ultimately be the difference between "definitely bad, but not impeachable" to "er, maybe this is impeachable" in a lot of people's (and lawmakers') minds. Remember that the House has full discretion to define what constitutes impeachable offenses, on a case by case basis. But even if impeachment were to succeed in the House, there would be a Senate trial. 'Extremely bad judgment and unethical scale-tipping' is very unlikely to result in an upper chamber conviction -- especially, many will argue, with an election right around the corner. Evidence that the president deliberately withheld duly-appropriated, taxpayer-funded resources from an ally in order to force said ally into a scheme designed to damage one of the president's domestic political foes would present another proposition entirely. We don't have that evidence yet, and it may not exist at all. But you'd better believe Democrats are going to search far and wide for it. And as ever, this from Rudy doesn't exactly inspire confidence:
BARTIROMO: Did the president threaten to cut off aid to the Ukraine—— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 23, 2019
GIULIANI: No, that was a false story.
GIULIANI: Well, I can't tell you if it's 100%. pic.twitter.com/EYy0SHdPdh
As for my point about "investigation fatigue" above, that is a problem of Democrats' own making. By hyperventilating over Russia for years, and running around with their hair on fire throughout his presidency, Trump's opponents have repeatedly overstepped and played silly games, quite possibly inuring the public to the sort of serious rhetoric that would typically accompany a serious enterprise such as removing a president from office. Whether voters will have the energy or interest to draw (real) distinctions between Mueller's 'collusion' fizzle and this developing Ukraine issue is an open question. The public's opposition to impeachment may reset and adjust based on new information. Or people may be dug in and sick of the while conversation. Anyone who purports to confidently predict exactly how voters will react to a possible impeachment exercise is likely trying to convince themselves and concoct a narrative.
The reality is that this could go very badly for the president. It could also backfire enormously on Democrats. Risks abound on both sides. It's far too early to tell how or where the story will end, but it looks more likely than ever that it will take a dramatic turn down the path of impeachment, possibly much sooner than later. Buckle up and stay tuned.
UPDATE - Biden is all but calling for impeachment today, with a slight hedge.
UPDATE II - The (relatively functional and non-partisan) Senate intelligence committee is apparently getting involved:
Senate intel opens up own probe of Ukraine and is seeking an interview with the whistleblower this Friday. Story to come.— Michael Isikoff (@Isikoff) September 24, 2019
UPDATE III - I guessed that Democrats might issue some document demands and ultimatums before going the full impeachment inquiry route -- and if that was the plan, Trump has beaten them to the punch (although the full transcript is not the same as the full whistleblower complaint, which reportedly involves allegations about multiple presidential actions):
....You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo! This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
UPDATE IV - Schiff says the whistleblower wants to talk, but is moving through proper channels:
We have been informed by the whistleblower’s counsel that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the Acting DNI as to how to do so.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) September 24, 2019
We‘re in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistleblower’s testimony as soon as this week.