Oct 9, 2019

President Trump goes to war, sets off impeachment battle.

President Trump goes to war, sets off impeachment battle.

Also, are Democrats being fair in their inquiry?

Today’s read: 7 minutes.

Trump is refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, a question on impeachment history and why you should avoid Facebook news.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Yom Kippur.

Today is Yom Kippur, often called the “most somber” and holy holiday of the year for Jews. It’s a time to repent, and observant Jews are fasting from sundown last night until the first star appears in the sky tonight. If you want to offer an appropriate greeting, you can wish your Jewish friends an “easy fast.” By the way: I love recognizing religious holidays, both obscure and mainstream. If you ever have a holiday you think should get a shoutout in Tangle, just let me know (I’m a Jew, so these ones are easy to remember). I love learning about other traditions and believe it’s good for society to recognize different cultures when we can.

Don’t @ me.

Yesterday, I received quite a bit of feedback about my breakdown of the story on Elizabeth Warren. A number of my more left-leaning readers wrote in disappointed that I gave the story oxygen and were upset I didn’t share some of the pushback to the story that poked holes in its logic. One right-leaning reader felt like I gave Warren too much credit, and another independent asked that I spoke more about her past. I tried my best to shoot down the middle, but here is some commentary on the story to appease these readers.

Today’s headline.

A historian on Twitter offered a compelling reason not to frame what Trump is doing as “war” — the exact way I framed it in today’s newsletter.  Though I haven’t changed the headline, I thought it was worth acknowledging as it struck me as a fair criticism. Dr. Jennifer Mercieca said, “Trump would love for his legitimate and legally required impeachment inquiry to be understood as illegitimate. One way to create that understanding is to attack the process (it's a scam, a ploy, a witch-hunt) and the people who are leading it (many ad hominem attacks).” She believes framing this as a war is exactly what Trump wants, and creates the image that he’s under attack from an irrational enemy. You can read her thread here:

What D.C. is talking about.

An 8-page letter from the White House to Congress makes one thing crystal clear: President Trump is not going to cooperate. Yesterday, the White House instructed the US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, to refuse to testify in front of the House. Sondland helped set up the phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Then, last night, the White House sent a letter to House Democrats saying it would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. The White House said the inquiry was an effort to “overturn the results of the 2016 election,” called it a “partisan and unconstitutional inquiry” and referred to it as a “kangaroo court.” It added that no other documents or witnesses would be provided.

What Democrats are saying.

Like hell, they won’t. If this is the route the President wants to go, he’s effectively digging his own grave. Democrats say that his failure to comply with their demands for documents or witnesses could, in and of itself, form its own article of impeachment. Words like “obstruction” are already being thrown around. They’re also floating a lot of ideas about what changed. Just last week, President Trump said he “always” cooperates and insisted he’d work together with Democrats, saying the accusations were bogus. Then the text messages between his diplomats — including Sondland — were made public, which seems to have thrown a wrench into things. Most Democrats say the timing of the White House’s decision to block Sondland and change course raises serious questions about what Trump thinks they were going to find — or what Sondland would say (even though in the text messages Sondland claims there was no quid pro quo).

Others have seized on the content of the letter to the House Democrats. Jonathan Lemire, the White House reporter for the Associated Press, said it was “pure scorched earth” but “lacked much in the way of legal arguments, seemingly citing cable TV news appearances as often as case law. And legal experts cast doubt upon its effectiveness.” Liberal (and even some conservative) pundits have gone much further. Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau said the letter “is truly insane and embarrassing even by Trump White House standards.”

What Republicans are saying.

It is bogus, and Trump should fight. Senator Lindsey Graham, while simultaneously dragging Trump through the mud on his Syria decision, says he is going to invite Rudy Giuliani — Trump’s personal lawyer — before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify. Trey Gowdy, the former South Carolina congressman who was responsible for overseeing the House inquiry into Benghazi, is reportedly joining Trump’s legal team. Mitch McConnell is claiming the House has “fallen short by failing to follow the same basic procedures that it has followed for every other president in our history.” Last night, The Washington Examiner’s Byron York reported that the Intelligence Community inspector general told lawmakers the Trump-Ukraine whistleblower had a working relationship with one of the current 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. York’s reporting was initially doubted (The Washington Examiner leans heavily right), but Axios’s Jonathan Swan confirmed it.

While some House Republicans were “frustrated” by Trump’s letter, they have in large part aligned themselves with the president’s talking points. And instead of just playing defense, it looks like they are going to be aggressive in trying to poke holes in the whistleblower’s story and the way House Democrats are handling the impeachment process. While Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Scott Perry and Lee Zeldin all defended Trump to the media, Democrats had just Rep. Adam Schiff — who didn’t take questions — pushing the Democrats’ story last night. That has some conservatives claiming the left is trying to avoid tough questions.

My take.

If Trump wants to fight, he should fight in the Senate. I don’t see any House Democrats breaking the law or running afoul of the constitution, and I don’t think it’s fair any longer to frame this as a 2016 revenge tour. Trump won the election, he came to office, and he’s given his opposition plenty of ammunition to claim he was unfit for the job. Now he’s literally provided evidence to the public that he asked foreign leaders to investigate his political rival, which in any other presidency would be an impeachable offense. And since those transcripts weren’t received how he thought they would be, it appears he is planning to stonewall Congress altogether. As an American citizen and as a reporter, we should all be advocating for transparency. I want to see what the president is trying to keep from the public’s view, and the easiest way to do that is through a House impeachment inquiry. But if his administration continues to keep witnesses from testifying, there is little the House can do. Their only option is to go to court and get a federal judge to compel witness testimony, but they’re already fighting similar battles with the administration over different witnesses and documents and it could take months or years to get the court order they need.

Trump’s team has very much enjoyed framing this whole thing in legal and court terms, so let me play along: the House’s job isn’t to determine whether Trump is guilty. An impeachment inquiry is not a trial — it’s an indictment. This is the accusation: Trump pressured foreign leaders into investigating his political rival. If he wants to stand trial and defend himself, that happens in the Senate. But obstructing the House from even getting its hands on the available evidence, the evidence he claims will absolve him of any wrongdoing, is in itself incriminating.

And some pieces of a thread worth reading:

Your questions, answered.

If you have a question you want answered, simply reply to this email and write in. Tangle is all about helping you, the reader, get the information you want without having to wade through the news.

Q: In the midst of the bombast of the White House's letter refusing to comply with the House's impeachment investigation, the President's attorney points out that full votes were taken to commence formal impeachment inquiries for past presidents. How true is that, and, if it is at least somewhat true, why hasn't Speaker Pelosi followed that procedure to deprive the President of that argument?

- Chas, Brooklyn, NY

Tangle: Thanks for writing in, and great question. The claims you’re asking about in the president’s letter are — in a way — true. If I were a fact-checking website I think I’d rate them “mostly” true. It is accurate that both President Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton had impeachment inquiries authorized by a full vote in the House. It’s also true that Pelosi has opted against holding that vote, and as a result, Republicans lack any subpoena power to call their own witnesses (Republicans are in the minority in the House of Representatives). What isn’t true is that this is a violation of the constitution. In fact, as The New York Times noted, “it is not clear that she [Pelosi] has any constitutional obligation to follow those precedents. The Constitution says that the House “shall have the sole power of impeachment,” but provides no process or rules, meaning each House that has considered it has proceeded as it chose to.”

Pelosi is breaking precedent, but so is Trump’s team. They have been unthinkably abrasive and resistant to subpoena and document requests throughout their time in the White House and one could pretty easily craft a case that Pelosi’s calculation here to move forward with the inquiry without holding a vote is fair. The letter sent to the House Democrats was crafted by White House counsel Pat Cipollone. It was an unusual mix of conservative punditry talking points and legal arguments, making it difficult to parse at times. My takeaway was that Cipollone was telling the House the only way Trump would cooperate is if Democrats stopped the very things that make an inquiry an inquiry.

As for Pelosi’s rationale, I think it’s pretty simple: she wants to protect vulnerable House members. Holding a vote means everyone would have to pick a side on impeachment now, which is a dangerous game to play. A lot of Democrats are in purple or Trump-leaning districts and some just won a 2018 election that saw massive Democratic turnout. 2020 won’t be the same game, as presidential election years usually leave voters picking a party line and sticking to it. Pelosi knows this. If she forces her members into an impeachment vote, and vulnerable Democrats vote to impeach Trump, that vote will be the crux of every Republican ad against them in 2020. There isn’t a ton of data to support the idea that this would hurt Democrats, but Pelosi is the House Speaker because she has sharp political instincts, and the conventional wisdom is that impeachment is unpopular with independent and moderate voters (though the polls are moving).


Apparently, armies of tarantulas — thousands of them — are about to start marching through San Francisco looking for mates and love. Scientists are trying to warn citizens that they are “gentle giants” and need not be feared. I’ll be taking a hard pass on any visits to the Bay Area. (As if things couldn’t be any more terrifying, San Franciscans are also dealing with a huge power outage that will affect 800,000 people — so these tarantulas will have the dark of night for cover). You can read more from the WSJ here.

Screenshot: WSJ article

A story that matters.

In case you weren’t already carrying yourself this way, it’s probably a good idea to read everything you find on Facebook with a great deal of skepticism. Yesterday, Facebook denied a request from Joe Biden’s campaign to remove an ad that falsely accuses Biden of corruption for his role in Ukraine policy during the Obama admin. Facebook said their decision was "grounded in Facebook's fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and belief that in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is." They also added that advertisements are not sent to third-party fact-checkers. The story highlights where Facebook is drawing lines in the 2020 election after being heavily scrutinized for its role in spreading disinformation in 2016, and it appears the company is going to let propaganda run wild. You can read more here.


  • 8 points. That’s how much Bernie Sanders’ electability went down since his heart attack last week.
  • 66 percent. The number of Democrats who say his health is a “legitimate issue.”
  • 37 percent. The percentage of registered voters who think Elizabeth Warren would beat Trump in 2020.
  • 45 percent. The percentage of registered voters who think Warren would lose to Trump in 2020.
  • 22 percent. The percentage of primary voters who would be disappointed if Joe Biden won the nomination, the third-highest (behind Marianne Williamson and Tulsi Gabbard).


Chaos is about to break out in the Middle East, experts say. Turkey has officially begun its military operation into northeastern Syria as it aims to push out the U.S. backed Syrian Kurds. Turkish airplanes are already carrying out airstrikes, one spokesman for the U.S. backed militia said. Trump has been under fire for effectively greenlighting Turkey’s operation, which many Republicans and Democrats said amounted to abandoning our allies and leaving them to die. The military operation confirms those fears and civilians are now fleeing the area. You can read Tangle’s previous coverage of this story here.

Have a nice day.

Hate him or love him, Jimmy Carter is pretty much a mensch. The former president made news this week when, at the age of 95, he showed up to kick off a Habitat for Humanity build with 14 stitches and a black eye. Carter had suffered a fall in his home just hours before, but that didn’t stop him from traveling to Nashville to participate in the volunteer event. Carter has become well-known in his post-presidency life for volunteer work all across the globe. He and his wife have worked alongside 103,000 volunteers in 14 different countries. You can read more here.

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