The Morning Jolt

White House

There’s Little Justification for the Impeachment Proceedings to Be Private

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks behind President Trump and Attorney General William Barr at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill May 15, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The arguments in favor of keeping the early portion of the impeachment process secret and behind closed doors start to falter; Joe Biden continues to look really good for a candidate who’s supposed to be a dead man walking; and NBC News hopes you’ll forget recent history.

When Does the Open Part of Impeachment Start?

I’m not a fan of bringing cell phones into Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facilities — although Will Collier, who spent the better part of 20 years working in SCIFs every day, observes on the home page today that a “first offense will result in a verbal scolding and an admonishment to go forth and sin no more.”

Nor am I a fan of big show-y protests by members of Congress. You guys have the powers of your offices, you shouldn’t need to make a scene like Code Pink or Shut Down DC. You notice that Code Pink and Shut Down DC rarely achieve the political goals they set out to accomplish, and mostly succeed in irritating everyone around them.

But yesterday, Amy Walter, the national editor of the Cook Political Report and pretty darn far away from being a partisan of any stripe, asked a simple question: “Can anyone tell me why Dems can’t make these hearings with officials involved in the Ukraine issue open? or, why we don’t have any transcripts?”

The most common justification is that this is like a grand jury portion of a criminal hearing, and the committee majority and their staff, acting as the equivalent of prosecutors, don’t want the witnesses and potential witnesses to coordinate their testimony. This answer would be a little more compelling if we weren’t getting considerable leaks of information, which would seem to undermine that objective. Bill Taylor’s detailed, 16-page opening statement was first in the Washington Post but eventually posted everywhere – Time magazine, CBS News, CNN, PBS.

And for what it’s worth, committee members Eric Swalwell and David Cicilline contend witnesses are coordinating testimony anyway. The committee has few options to stop witnesses from getting together beforehand and saying, “I’m going to tell them X, don’t tell them Y” or meeting up after to keep their peers updated. In fact, it’s almost inevitable:

Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA), who said he could not “opine” on whether it was clear that certain witnesses had coordinated with each other in the midst of the impeachment inquiry. “But that doesn’t mean that these witnesses haven’t talked to each other over the last few months, because they’re all operating in the same theater of Ukraine — many of them, obviously.”

As far as we know, nothing involved in impeachment is classified because it would jeopardize national security. No one’s discussing the technical specifications of the military aid we’re sending to Ukraine, or intelligence sources and methods involved in watching Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, or anything like that.

In fact, there’s a big irony about these ongoing secrecy fights. The administration insists that just about every possible administration official and document that the panel wants is covered by executive privilege. The idea behind executive privilege is that the president has a right to keep the advice he gets private, because otherwise people will self-censor themselves if they know their communications and statements could someday be publicly revealed. (Because the boundaries of executive privilege are pretty vague, most preceding presidents have tried to avoid forcing the issue. If you want to get a more restricted definition of what it covers under the law after a lengthy court fight, this is exactly how an administration should behave.)

So the argument of Schiff and friends right now is that this is not an appropriate application of this privilege, that the information must not be kept secret, and that the information must be revealed to the House . . . where it can only be discussed in a closed hearing because it has to be kept secret.

The complaint about the secrecy of these depositions will be greatly mitigated if all of the relevant testimony is repeated under oath in open hearings. And supposedly, that’s coming down the road, although no one knows exactly when. Last week, Schiff wrote in a letter to his House colleagues, “at a time that it will not jeopardize investigative equities, we will make the interview transcripts public, subject to any necessary redactions for classified or sensitive information.”

Today, our Kevin Williamson urges Nancy Pelosi to get the impeachment effort out from behind closed doors: “The time has come to act, Madame Speaker. Enough with the gutless calculation. The country needs leadership and, for our sins, you’re what we’ve got. Do your duty and open the people’s business in the people’s house to the people.”

Back in late September, the word was House Democrats would finish up impeachment by Thanksgiving. That proved wildly overoptimistic; now the thinking is that the impeachment process will begin its public portion in mid-November; Pelosi is hoping to hold the impeachment vote before the December holidays.

That would set up Senate impeachment hearings in January, just about the worst possible time for any senator running for president. If you thought Joe Biden was showcasing his big, toothy, silly grin before . . .

Speaking of Biden, he’s got a lot to grin about.

That Allegedly Inevitable Joe Biden Collapse Keeps Getting Delayed

For a guy who’s supposed to be dead, Joe Biden looks pretty good.

Take your pick of most of the recent polls. Sure, Quinnipiac has a new national poll out this morning that puts Elizabeth Warren up seven. But in Iowa, he’s no worse than tied or maybe behind by a point or two. In New Hampshire he might be down but it’s currently a close second — nothing to panic about yet, and that should be Warren’s best state. He is still comfortably ahead in Nevada, and South Carolina still looks like a firewall. A bunch of the latest national polls are still showing Biden up by one to nine percentage points, and CNN unveiled a shocker yesterday that put him up 15. The latest one in California has him up by 15 points.

A lot of prominent voices of the national media really want to tell the story of Elizabeth Warren overtaking him. The only nagging flaw in that dramatic narrative is it really hasn’t happened yet.

The really good news for Joe Biden is that all of this has happened when he’s had a pretty lousy set of news cycles. The Hunter Biden stuff looks bad and creates a real vulnerability for the general election. Biden’s debate performances of range from okay to pretty bad. His fundraising is really “meh” for a guy who’s the former vice-president and would presumably have a national network of donors.

Biden announced he was running in late April. We are now about a half a year into his campaign and I think it’s safe to say that the Biden we see is the Biden we’re going to get for the rest of this cycle. He is not going to shake the rust off and turn into a sharper or more articulate speaker or debater. And yet despite all these flaws, Joe Biden is still doing okay.

If you’re a Democrat with lingering doubts about Joe Biden’s ability to beat Donald Trump in a general election, you have every reason in the world to start freaking out right now. The one guy in this race who went after Biden hard on his age and mental acuity, Julian Castro, saw no benefit from it and maybe a mild backlash. Bernie Sanders isn’t dropping out anytime soon and even seems a little rejuvenated after his heart attack (the AOC endorsement helps) and so we’re likely to see Sanders and Warren fighting over the same voters well into this primary.

Eric Levitz had a smart piece in New York magazine about the faction of centrist Democrats who “unintentionally placed all of its bets on an old, increasingly lame horse who was infamous for mounting lousy presidential runs when he was in his prime.”

Sure, President Trump appears to be getting more erratic, angrier, less predictable and quicker to lash out at anyone he deems insufficiently loyal. His gaffes are getting odder — “we’re building a wall in Colorado.” It’s quite possible the Democrats will end up nominating Biden, setting up a million political cartoons and memes referring to the Grumpy Old Men movies with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, or Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show. It’s not hard to imagine disappointed woke Democrats feeling tempted to vote for a Green Party candidate again.

NBC News, Feminist Icon

NBC News proudly announces an all-women debate moderator lineup: “the Nov. 20 Democratic presidential debate, co-hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post, will be hosted by Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC; Andrea Mitchell, host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC and NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent; Kristen Welker, NBC News’ White House correspondent; and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for the Washington Post.”

I guess they figure most people will respond, “Yes! You go, girl! If there’s any institution in this world that stands up for women and their rights, making sure that they’re respected and treated properly, and that their mistreatment get addressed quickly and correctly, it’s NBC News!”

ADDENDA: People generally have no idea what “Medicare for All” includes or how it works.

Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill denies the allegations that she had an affair with a congressional office staffer, but admits she did have an affair with a campaign staffer. That doesn’t quite explain that from not-safe-for-work photo that RedState uncovered, but maybe the complimentary hair care from the boss in that office is just amazing.

Finally, please read this Corner post all the way to the end.

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