Monday, December 2, 2019

BTRTN: “If This is Not Impeachable Conduct, What Is?”


Tom with the BTRTN November 2019 Month in Review, and what’s coming next.

THE LEAD

·        The House Intelligence Committee presented a meticulously conceived and efficiently produced set of testimony from a cadre of Trump Administration officials in the public testimony phase of the impeachment inquiry.

November 2019 calendar
·        The testimony proved conclusively that President Trump personally directed and participated in a scheme to withhold from Ukraine military aid and a greatly desired White House meeting in return for political favors to advance Trump’s reelection prospects (as opposed to U.S. security interests).

·        The GOP scrambled as new revelations emerged that undercut each successive defense the GOP offered – but by the end of the hearings, it was clear that not a single GOP representative or senator was likely to vote against the President when considering either the Articles of Impeachment in the House or a conviction based on those articles in a Senate trial.

·        GOP Trump supporters are now left with only two strategies: in the near term, to sputter about the impeachment “process” despite the fact that it has been conducted according to form, or, longer term, to explain the vote they cast on the conclusion that while the President’s offences were real and regrettable, but they were not impeachable.

·        But that ultimate defense begs the question raised by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff at the outset of the public testimony:  “If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”

·        And if the GOP admits openly there was wrongdoing, might some of them sign on to a bi-partisan censure motion in either or both chambers?


THE MONTH

November, 2019 was completely dominated by nine days of public testimony of 12 previously unknown, though all senior, public officials.  Many were State Department diplomats, and others worked in the White House or the Pentagon, but all were insiders with deep knowledge of U.S. policy objectives in Ukraine.  And they all had front row seats to the hijacking of those laudable aims to ones that sought instead to further Donald J. Trump’s reelection prospects. 

The stories they told were both riveting and credible, and despite the release of their private depositions before House committees prior to the public testimony, contained surprises and power.  Their power derived from their professionalism, their commitment to the best of American intentions, and their personal stories.

The officials each contributed pieces to the puzzle of a storyline they all deduced over time – that Rudy Giuliani, under direct orders from Trump, was re-focusing Ukrainian policy with the goal of gaining a public announcement from Ukraine President Zelensky that investigations would be opened on Burisma (the energy company on whose board Hunter Biden served) and the 2016 U.S. elections (involving the infamous server that contained Hillary Clinton’s emails).  Both topics were based on long debunked conspiracy theories that had been embraced by Trump.

The testimony not only laid out this storyline in detail, but also systematically erased every GOP defense point as quickly as it was touted.

·        De facto Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor revealed a bombshell, evidence of a telephone conversation between Trump and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland the day after the July 25 Trump/Zelensky phone call.  This second call directly linked Trump to the demand for Biden/Burisma/2016 election investigations.  The call was overheard by Taylor aide David Holmes as he sat with Sondland in a Kyev restaurant, and Holmes himself later testified about the call.

·        Sondland – the only witness without deep government experience (he was a wealthy hotelier who donated mightily to the Trump inaugural, leading to his appointment) -- turned on Trump in his testimony with a set of All-the-President’s-Men-worthy quotes that revealed the truth and debunked a slew of GOP defense points: 

o   “We followed the President’s orders.”  This established that it was Trump, not Giuliani, who was calling the shots.  So much for the “hearsay” defense which held that no one had actually heard Trump order the quid pro quo (apart from the July 25 call, of course).  (Sondland also confirmed the substance of the call Holmes overheard.)

o   “Was there a quid pro quo?  Yes.”  So much for the “there was no quid pro quo” defense.  Trump wanted the investigation in return for a White House meeting with Zelensky – and ultimately for the aid as well.

o    “Everyone was in the loop.”  The quid pro quo strategy was known to every top Administration official:  Trump, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney.  (And John Bolton knew about it, though he was violently opposed.) So much for the defense theory of the rouge freelancing by the “three amigos” (Sondland, Kurt Volker and Rick Perry).

o   “He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understand it.”  This statement, referring to Zelensky, shattered the notion that Trump was interested in actually rooting out corruption at all.  Trump did not even care if Zelensky actually undertook any investigations of Biden and the 2016 election, which were the only alleged “corruption” cases he ever even mentioned.  All he cared about, even for them, was an announcement of coming investigations.

·        Laura Cooper, a Pentagon official overseeing Ukraine policy testified – complete with corroborating emails – that the Ukrainians officials knew about the hold on military aid as early as July 25 itself (the day of the call), eliminating the GOP defense that if the Ukrainian’s did not know the aid had been held up, they could not have understood the “favor” as a quid pro quo for releasing it.

Apart from this defense-shattering testimony, the hearings offered other riveting moments:

·        Trump tweeting real-time to denigrate deposed Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovich while she was testifying on how she was the object of an ultimately successful schmeer campaign designed to drive her from office.  This was a clear case of witness intimidation that had horrified GOP representatives trying to save face for the party during the testimony by bending over backwards to show respect for the widely-admired State Department veteran.

·        Alexander Vindman’s riveting story of his family’s emigration from Ukraine when he was a child, and his damaging assessment – from the standpoint of a White House NSC staffer – of the infamous July 25 phone call.

·        Fiona Hill, the NSC’s top expert on Russia, completely demolished the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, more than Russia, conspired to help Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, stating that such theories were promulgated by the Russians.  She memorably called on House Republicans to “not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”

·        The other witnesses – Jennifer Williams (an aide to Mike Pence), Kurt Volker (former special envoy to Ukraine), Tim Morrison (White House aide to the NSC), David Hale (undersecretary of state for political affairs) and George Kent (deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs) – all added color and corroboration to the story, with Kent laying out clearly for the American people why Ukraine is so critically important to U.S. security interests.

By the time the testimony was over, it was also plain that Trump knew of the whistleblower’s report at the time he released the aid to Ukraine, giving him a strong motive for doing so.  This, too, undercut a key GOP defense point, which was that since the aid was ultimately released, there was no harm, no foul.

The testimony so dominated the month that few other headlines emerged.  Trump completely ignored the successful Bill Clinton playbook of carrying on with the business of the nation while he was impeached; instead Trump incessantly defended his “perfect” phone call, and attacked the process (and the witnesses) at every opportunity.

But Trump did take the time to engage on two other topics.  The first was the effort to ban flavored e-cigarettes, to curb the rapid growth of teenage vaping in the face of unquestionable evidence linking it thousands of lung injuries and even 40 deaths.  Trump at first seemed to embrace the ban, then backed off when made aware of potential backlash among Trump supporters.

In the realm of “madness,” Trump also waded into the case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, completely overriding the recommendation of his own military commanders who wanted to see the matter handled in court, and who saw Gallagher’s maniacal behavior as something to curb, not celebrate.  Why a man who ducked the draft by claiming bone spurs, never spent a day of his life in the military, nor understood the facts of the case, wanted to take this stand is beyond reason.  But Navy Secretary Richard Spencer lost his job in the kerfuffle, and Trump lost support from yet another institution he has taken on, adding the military to the diplomatic corps and the intelligence community.

And it was a bad month in court for Trump.  Don McGahn was ordered to testify by a Federal judge, and Trump’s taxes and financial records were ruled fair game by District Court in both New York (where the Manhattan D.A. was pursuing them) and in Congress.  Each of this rulings will be appealed but they served to remind us all that the waiting game may not extend beyond the 2020 election as Trump as hoped.


NEXT UP

The spotlight turns now to the House Judiciary committee which will draft, debate and vote on Articles of Impeachment.  Many view the outcome of this entire process to be pre-ordained.  Just a month ago, we at BTRTN predicted that after the House voted to impeach, GOP Senators would cut and run, taking the position that what Trump did was wrong but not impeachable or, in their case, worthy of a conviction vote.

But there are many important nuances.  First, how many articles will there be?  Abuse of power in the Ukraine affair is a given.  And there will almost surely be an Obstruction of Congress article for the failure of the White House to permit testimony in the impeachment inquiry.  But will the Democrats go further, with Articles, say, on Obstruction of Justice for the RussiaGate, drawing on the Mueller report?  Or even further, perhaps another article on emoluments? 

The dilemma is, of course, the more articles, the longer the Senate trial, the more deflection of attention from the Democratic race, and the more disadvantageous it will be for the five sitting Democratic Senators who must stay in Washington as jurors in the case:  Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.  Those are five of the top seven contenders (in national polls) at this point and we are talking about THE crucial juncture of the primary season, the four early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) and 14 more on Super Tuesday, all of which have primaries or caucuses in the month from February 3 to March 3.  And to extend the proceedings for a “done deal” is perhaps unwise.

And the same logic goes for waiting for potentially damaging witness John Bolton, who could at some point be compelled to testify.  But the wait is not likely to be worth the trade-off; plus Bolton is an unpredictable witness and hardly trustworthy to tell a story completely favorable to the Democrats’ case.  Strictly from a political standpoint it might be smarter to wait for his tell-all book.

Trump has decided to skip the House Judiciary proceedings, to which he (and counsel) had been invited.  He will simply continue to damn the entire process and wait until the Senate trial to mount a defense (although perhaps he might skip that, too).

We think the Dems will go for three articles:  abuse of power, obstruction of Congress and, yes, obstruction of justice, and will push to get them passed before the holidays.  They will bank on McConnell deciding on a crisp process (though a professional one).  Senate Republicans will, as stated, not vote to convict.  Close attention will be paid to Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowsky and Susan Collins to see if they cast a conviction vote, but that seems unlikely. 

Perhaps the real drama gets back to Schiff’s question:  is it really defensible to say that using foreign policy to extort political favors is not impeachable?  Assuming the Democrats continue to make the case and the public tunes in, how will that fly?  Especially if Trump himself, who hates that strategy since it is an explicit critique of his “perfect” performance, is railing about it during the entire trial? 

If impeachment is too much – how about censure?  Would GOP representatives and senators who espouse the “not enough for impeachment” argument try to apply that to censure as well?  A bi-partisan censure would surely be a blow for Trump.  But in our divided country, is there really any bridge that is too far?


TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

Through the tumultuous month, Trump’s approval rating remained fixed at 43%, locked in the 40-45% range for the 23rd consecutive month.  Impeachment hearing?  Everyone’s mind is made up.

TRUMP MONTHLY APPROVAL RATING

2017
2018
2019

Jan
Jun
Jan
Jun
Ja
Fe
Ma
Ap
Ma
Jun
Jul
Au
Se
Oc
No
Approve
45
40
41
42
42
41
42
42
43
43
43
43
44
43
43
Disappr.
44
55
55
53
54
55
54
54
54
54
54
53
53
55
55
Net
1
-15
-13
-10
-12
-14
-11
-12
-11
-12
-11
-10
-9
-13
-12

It is worth noting the intensity disparity in Trump’s approval and disapproval levels.  When you break it down (as per Ipsos/Reuters) further, one can see that the intensity of the “disapproval” far outweighs the intensity of approval.  Simply stated, almost twice as many American “strongly disapprove” of Trump as “strongly approve.”

But while Trump’s overall approval rating has remained unchanged over, essentially, the duration of his presidency, the intensity of that rating has changed markedly.  When you break it down into “strongly” and “somewhat” segments, you can see the nature of the shift since Trump’s inaugural.  At that top, 43% of all Americans approved of him (the top two boxes), and that has dropped modestly since then (using this pollsters, Ipsos/Reuters, among all Americans).  But look at the disapproval line, and specifically the dramatic increase in “strongly disapprove” from 29% to 42%. 

APPROVAL RATING INTENSITY
Approval Rating Intensity
Jan 25, 2017
Nov 27, 2019
Change
Strongly Approval
22%
21%
-1%
Somewhat/lean approve
21%
19%
-2%
Somewhat/lean disapprove
16%
13%
-3%
Strongly disapprove
29%
42%
13%
Not sure
12%
5%
-7%
Source: Ipsos/Reuters among all adult Americans

Quite simply, this shift does not bode well for Trump’s reelection – many more people dislike him intensely than when he was new to the Presidency.  That sharp spike among detractors is not matched by a like upward climb in approval intensity among his supporters – and, if it persists, that gap can mean a great deal when it comes to voter turnout on Election Day 2020.


ON IMPEACHMENT

Polling indicates that just about half of the country favors impeachment, with supporters outpacing detractors by a 49/44 margin, having inched upward since the inquiry began.  Democrats have risen about +15 percentage points since the hearings began, while Republicans have only inched up a few points.  Independents are up about +10 points, and are now solidly in the mid-40% range.

VIEWS ON IMPEACHMENT (FROM FIVETHIRTYEIGHT)
2019
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep*
Oct
Nov
Support
45
37
39
39
38
39
47
48
49
Don't Support
45
54
50
52
51
53
46
44
44
Support among
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep*
Oct
Nov
Democrats
66
63
70
69
67
70
79
84
84
Independents
33
31
33
35
33
34
43
46
45
Republicans
10
8
10
9
8
9
12
11
12
* Support starts moving up on 9/24 when Pelosi announces impeachment inquiry


GENERIC BALLOT

The generic ballot continues to favor the Democrats by a wide margin.  If this +7 differential was the margin on Election Day, our BTRTN model indicates the Dems could pick up 15-20 additional seats and hold an even more dominant position in the House.

GENERIC BALLOT

2019
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Democrats
45
46
47
47
47
46
Republicans
39
38
38
39
39
39
Net Margin
7
8
9
8
7
7


TRUMPOMETER

The Trumpometer improves somewhat from October to November, from +10 to +13.  The +13 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +13% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration, per the chart below (and with more explanation of methodology below). 

The increase in the Trumpometer was driven by a 1,000-point rise in the Dow, and a modest adjustment of the Q3 GDP from a growth rate of +1.9% to +2.1%.  The other measured were either unchanged or not materially changed.

The “Trumpometer” was designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  The Trumpometer now stands at +13, which means that Donald Trump can definitively claim that the answer to that question is “yes.”  (Whether he deserves credit for that score is another matter.)


Clinton
Bush
Obama
Trump
TRUMPOMETER
End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 10/31/2019
Trump 11/30/2019
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)
Trumpometer
25
-53
0
10
13
13%







  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
3.6
3.6
23%
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
126
126
11%
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.69
2.67
-10%
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
27,046
28,051
42%
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
2.1
1.9
2.1
0%

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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017, on an average percentage change basis... The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline, and the GDP. 




2 comments:

  1. I'm not certain of the importance, but it is worth mentioning that members of Trump's Sad!-ministration chose NOT to respond to subpoenas. Among them:
    John Eisenberg, deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs;
    Michael Ellis, senior associate counsel to the president;
    Robert Blair, a top aide to the acting chief of staff;
    Brian McCormack, an official with the Office of Management and Budget
    Charles Kupperman, deputy at the NSC
    John Bolton, NSC
    Rudy Giuliani,
    Mick Mulvaney,
    Mike Pence,
    Rick Perry, and
    Mike Pompeo.

    ReplyDelete

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