Trump Growing More Agitated As Impeachment Inquiry Continues, Reports Say
As the walls close in, the President is growing more agitated.
Politico reports something that has become more and more apparent as the impeachment hearings that began last week, and the overall Ukraine scandal that has evolved for the past two months. Namely that the ongoing impeachment investigation is having a significant negative impact on the President:
One day, he’s up. One day, he’s down. Other days he’s just angry.
President Donald Trump has gone through a range of emotions since House Democrats started their public impeachment hearings last week about whether he threatened to withhold Ukrainian security aid unless the country opened politically advantageous investigations, according to more than half a dozen people who have spoken to Trump in the last several days.
On Wednesday, Trump was frustrated, defiant and uncharacteristically terse.
Running more than an hour late, the president emerged from the White House shortly before noon, carrying a few notes he jotted down on White House stationary. For once, he stuck his talking points.
“I want nothing! I want nothing!” Trump told reporters, responding to the eye-opening testimony of Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, who had just told lawmakers that everyone understood there to be a quid pro quo regarding Ukraine, even if the president had never told him directly.
“I want no quid pro quo,” he reiterated. “This is the final word from the president of the United States. I want nothing.”
With that, Trump got in the waiting helicopter and lifted off.
It was the latest in a series of ever-shifting Trump reactions — which can change by the hour — to the public portion of the impeachment inquiry.
“Sometimes he’s super calm and cheery and other times he’s pissed when he sees something,” a White House official said. “His reactions are human.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has repeatedly insisted the president is busy working and doesn’t have time to watch the testimony. Other people around Trump say he has watched some of the witnesses, while getting a readout on those he doesn’t watch before responding the way America has come to expect — via Twitter.
“President Trump is like Babe Ruth: doesn’t practice, ignores advice, but hits more than his share of home runs,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor and CEO of the drilling services company Canary, LLC. “The impeachment hearings have had their ups and downs but Sondland is basing his testimony on presumptions regarding President Trump’s witnesses.”
Instead of merely tweeting, Trump decided to speak to reporters after watching a slice of Sondland’s testimony in the White House residence. Before meeting the press, he worked with Grisham and the counsel’s office on a few notes, essentially writing down Sondland’s own recollection of a phone call with Trump, during which the EU ambassador said the president insisted he didn’t want a quid pro quo, just for Zelensky to “do the right thing.”
A senior administration official said Trump latched on to the language because it was a recollection of his own communications.
Trump’s language mimicked a talking point Trump’s team was circulating on Wednesday. The bullet points were developed in war rooms across Washington that brought together staffers from the White House, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.
“Ambassador Sondland said in his opening remarks that he followed President Trump’s direction,” read one bullet point. “This would include, by Sondland’s own testimony, the President’s insistence on no quid pro quo.”
Another senior administration official said the White House anticipated from the start that Sondland would be the most challenging witness, given his shifting testimony in recent weeks.
“There’s been a lot of work to prepare for today and how to handle: from Hill coordination; to facts and questions; to rapid response and messaging; to what [Trump] should consider saying, and when,” the official said.
Trump had been privately and publicly fuming for weeks that Republicans weren’t doing enough to defend him. But that changed last week when the hearings started and he could watch the full-tilt defenses from allies on Capitol Hill, including Reps. Devin Nunes (Calif.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio).
“I think when you’re trying to issue somebody the death sentence politically, even a guy with a constitution as strong as his … that’s got to bother anyone,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “But mostly they’re building the case for why he’s going to get re-elected because the American public doesn’t like it either.”
Still, Trump’s feelings have risen and fallen based on the story of the moment.
On the first day of public hearings last week, Trump was feeling more optimistic because he thought William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, was a weak opening witness, given that he had little firsthand knowledge of the situation, said two people with knowledge of the president’s thinking.
But on Friday, the second day of hearings, he felt frustrated after multiple people inside and outside the White House told him he made a mistake by criticizing a Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, as she was testifying. Democrats immediately accused him of trying to intimidate a witness.
Trump’s mood in the wake of the testimony of the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is not surprising. As I noted late yesterday, Sondland’s testimony was perhaps the most damaging of all the publicly testifying witnesses that we’ve heard from in that he was the closest person to the President and the formation of policy toward Ukraine to testify. He’s also one of the first witnesses to publicly acknowledge the existence of a quid pro quo between the release of military aid and other progress on U.S./Ukrainian relations such as a White House visit for Ukrainian President Zelensky and Ukrainian agreements to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden and the discredited conservative conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Given that, it’s not surprising that Trump is letting all of this get into his head.
In addition to Sondland’s testimony, yesterday also featured testimony from two other individuals who helped to flesh out the timeline of who knew what when, and specifically whether or not the Ukrainians knew that the military aid they were hoping for was being held up by the Administration. Laura Cooper, an undersecretary of Defense whose portfolio includes Ukraine, testified regarding her role in attempting to get the Congressionally-mandated aid to Kyiv. In that regard, Cooper testified that it appeared to her that the Ukrainians were aware that there was at least a “problem” with the aide as early as mid-July before the phone call between Trump and Zelensky and most certainly by mid-August after the phone call. In the end, the aid was released on September 11th, after the existence of the whistleblower complaint became publicly known.
The second witness for the afternoon/evening session of yesterday’s hearing was David Hale, a State Department official whose portfolio also includes Ukraine. Like Cooper, Hale was on the list as a witness that had been requested by the Republican minority but he ended up providing testimony that seemed to help the case against the President more than it undercut it. Specifically, Hale agreed that tying aid or the advancement of relations between the United States and Ukraine to matters related solely to the personal political interests of the President rather than the interests of the United States was utterly inappropriate. He also failed to provide any testimony that supported the President or the seemingly ridiculous arguments that his Republican sycophants have been relying on to push back on the growing evidence of the President’s wrongdoing.
The public phase of the hearings for the Intelligence Committee ends his morning with the testimony of two officials involved in the formation and implementation of Ukraine policy. One witness, Fiona Hill was a top Russia specialist on the National Security Council during John Bolton’s tenure. In her deposition, Hill testified that she voiced concerns about the seemingly parallel policy channel being run by Presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani and the impact it could have on American policy toward the country. Specifically, Hill reportedly told investigators that she discussed those concerns with Bolton himself, who called Giuliani “a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up.”
The second witness today will be David Holmes, a State Department official who was at a table in a restaurant in Ukraine with Ambassador Sondland when Sondland received a phone call, apparently on an unsecured phone, from the President of the United States. Holmes is expected to testify that he was effectively able to hear both ends of the conversation because Trump was speaking so loudly. It is expected that Holmes will testify that he heard the President repeatedly refer to “investigations” in the call, which took place the day after the now-infamous Trump-Zelensky phone call in late July.
Assuming that this is the end of the public phase of the Intelligence Committee hearings, and it will at least be the last of what we’ll see this month since Congress will be on break for the Thanksgiving holiday after Friday, then the next phase will likely up the pressure for the Trump White House. First, the Intelligence Committee will prepare a report based on its investigation and send that report to the Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for drafting and voting on Articles of Impeachment according to House Rules. As part of its process, the Judiciary Committee may or may not have its own witnesses to hear from so there could be additional public hearings. At some point, though, that committee will begin drafting Articles of Impeachment. If those are approved by the majority of the committee, they would then be sent to the House floor for a final vote. Presently, the House is hoping to hold a vote on Articles of Impeachment by the end of the year.
What this all means is that the pressure of impeachment on the President isn’t going to cool down, it’s going to continue to build. And that’s likely to cause the President to lash out even more than he has been recently.