A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Impeachment Watch newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Another action-packed week in the impeachment inquiry has wrapped up. Get all the latest news here:
Whistleblower won’t testify
Attorneys for the whistleblower whose complaint kicked off the impeachment inquiry made clear their client would not sit for in-person interviews with investigators on Capitol Hill.
They wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post with the headline: “We represent the whistleblower. Their identity is no longer relevant.”
“Much of what has been disclosed since the release of our client’s complaint actually exceeds the whistleblower’s knowledge of what transpired at the time the complaint was submitted. Because our client has no additional information about the president’s call, there is no justification for exposing their identity and all the risks that would follow.”
There have been many comparisons this week between the whistleblower and Anonymous, the senior administration official (current? former? we don’t know) who has a blockbuster book coming out. Axios reported the book contains mention of specific Oval Office conversations and internal notes. It’s still not clear how senior they actually are, or were, and how much they expect to make off the book.
But here’s the thing. The whistleblower isn’t like Anonymous. The whistleblower is like Deep Throat, the government official who blew open Watergate for Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – revealed decades later to have been FBI agent Mark Felt.
Sounding alarm vs. hitting snooze – The whistleblower saw wrongdoing and reported it through a legal process. Anonymous went into the New York Times to say government workers were doing their best to keep the ship of state running and could handle Trump.
Anonymous could certainly raise alarms in the book. But the book introduces profit motive for Anonymous that does not currently exist with the whistleblower.
If the whistleblower stays anonymous, that seems more like Deep Throat, who in an era before whistleblower protections, led the Washington Post reporters in certain directions. But Mark Felt didn’t unmask until decades later as an old man.
Trump attacks Bill Taylor as a “never Trumper”
Talking to reporters at the White House, Trump was asked what he thought Bill Taylor, his own top official in Ukraine, was lying about in his testimony before the impeachment inquiry.
Taylor outlined his impression that Trump was demanding politically beneficial investigations in exchange for security funding.
“Here’s the problem: He’s a Never Trumper and his lawyer’s a Never Trumper,” Trump said. When it was pointed out that Taylor was put in his position by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump said, “Hey, everybody makes mistakes.”
There’s no evidence that Taylor is a “never Trumper.”
New subpoenas for OMB and State
Impeachment inquiry investigators have issued subpoenas for testimony from officials at State and the Office of Management and Budget. There were already subpoenas issued, and ignored, for documents from those agencies. CNN’s tracker is here.
3 GOP holdouts on impeachment resolution
After Sen. Lindsey Graham, at Trump’s prodding, introduced a non-binding resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry, both he and Trump made a show Friday of saying that 50 of 53 Senate Republicans had signed on. The holdouts?
- Mitt Romney of Utah,
- Lisa Murkowski of Alaska,
- Susan Collins of Maine
Three is actually the magical number in the Senate. The current party breakdown is 53-45 with two independents who caucus as Democrats. That means if those three Republicans ever voted with Democrats, you could have a majority of the Senate against Trump. That could be important in some procedural matters during a Senate trial.
But the show of Republican cohesion does demonstrate that Trump is in little danger of being removed from office by impeachment, at least right now. It would take 67 senators to remove him.
Federal judge orders DOJ to release redacted Mueller information
A federal judge on Friday in Washington ordered the Justice Department to release grand jury information redacted from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The judge, Beryl Howell, who supervised the special counsel’s grand jury in Washington, also wrote that the impeachment inquiry being conducted by House Democrats is on solid legal footing. That undercuts Republican arguments that the process is invalid.
DOJ now conducting a criminal investigation into origins of Trump-Russia probe
Attorney General William Barr was tasked by Trump with looking into how the FBI and Department of Justice started the Russia investigation. This is mostly a matter of public record, but Barr enlisted a federal prosecutor to help him and it was in this effort (along with investigating Joe Biden’s son) that Trump wanted the Ukraine president’s help.
That Barr’s inquiry into the Russia probe is now a criminal investigation is significant, but it’s not exactly clear what it means.
CNN’s Evan Perez provided us with some context.
What is the possible crime?
His first important point is that we don’t know what element of the Russia investigation has come under scrutiny as a possible crime.
It could be significant if anyone who oversaw the original Trump-Russia investigation is a target of Durham’s criminal probe.
But we have no information so far to indicate that is the case.
What are the possible crimes?
It could also be true that there is a matter connected to witness conduct (eg, lying to investigators or tampering with evidence) that is being investigated as a crime.
When did this happen?
The turn to criminal investigation happened some time ago. But it is noteworthy the information has become public as President Donald Trump faces an onslaught of negative headlines stemming from the House impeachment inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine.
What does it mean for Trump and for Democrats?
The President and his allies will seek to portray the move as proof that the 2016 investigation itself was somehow criminal. But that will depend on what, if anything, is ultimately alleged to be criminal. Democrats will say this is a tool to seek revenge on perceived enemies of the President.
How does this affect the ongoing investigation?
In the near term, the move does allow Durham to use subpoenas to compel testimony and to use a grand jury to gather evidence. And DOJ officials had always said they expected it would eventually go in this direction.
And in the SDNY criminal case: safecracking!
CNN’s Evan Perez and Erica Orden report on newly issued subpoenas for the brother of one of the Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani who has been accused of violating campaign finance law. But it’s the detail about blowing the door off the safe that will stick with you.
The subpoena to Steven Fruman is the latest indication of prosecutors’ actions since the rushed arrest two weeks ago of his brother, Igor Fruman, and another defendant, Lev Parnas, at a Washington-area airport. Since then, investigators have doled out multiple subpoenas and conducted several property searches, in one case blowing the door off a safe to access the contents, sources tell CNN.
Rudy Giuliani butt dialed a reporter and then talked about how much money he needs
The President’s personal attorney, who also sells his services as a security consultant, butt dialed an NBC reporter and then, in a conversation recorded on the reporter’s voicemail, talks about sending someone to Bahrain, where he does business, because he needed money.
Giuliani told CNN’s Dana Bash on Friday that the voice mail is “helpful because it shows that I don’t do anything dishonest.”
“The $200,000 is for another project in another country,” Giuliani said. He called the project a “non legal security matter” completely unrelated to anything related to Ukraine or Trump, but declined to specify what it was related to.
Butt dialing, by the way, is a common occurrence for Giuliani. After a butt dial to the same reporter several weeks ago, he went on about Hunter Biden Giuliani’s theories about the former VP’s son’s business dealings.
Wanna buy Trump’s hotel?
The Trump Organization now says it’s looking to sell its Washington, DC hotel.
It’s not clear to what extent the possible sale is a business as opposed to an ethics decision. Trump has said that serving as president has cost him billions, although he hasn’t released his tax returns, as is the custom for presidents, so his claims are unverifiable.
The property has been a flashpoint for ethical concerns about Trump’s presidency since foreign governments have tried to curry favor with him by spending money there.
Several lawsuits have accused Trump of violating the Constitution’s ban on presidential profit-making through his continued ownership of Trump Organization properties. It’s possible that emoluments violations could eventually find their way into articles of impeachment.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the possible sale, “The company is hoping to fetch more than $500 million for the lease rights, or a price of about $2 million a room key, say people familiar with the matter. That would make the sale one of the highest-priced hotel deals ever by this popular industry valuation metric. With extensions, the lease runs close to 100 years, and a new owner could control the property well into the next century.”
What’s up next?
Check out the tentative schedule below:
- Saturday, 11 a.m.: Philip Reeker, a career foreign service officer now serving as the acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs
- Monday, 9:30 a.m.: Charles Kupperman, the former deputy national security adviser
- Tuesday, 9:30 a.m.: Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council’s top expert on Ukraine
- Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.: Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security
- Thursday, 8 a.m.: Tim Morrison, a top Russia and Europe adviser on President Trump’s National Security Council
On the podcast
CNN political director David Chalian is joined by CNN national security analyst Jeremy Herb to discuss the latest impeachment headlines, while Republican strategist and CNN political commentator Alice Stewart explains how she thinks the White House should be handling the investigation. Listen here.
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election.
Democrats want to impeach him for it.
It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.