Dec 18, 2019

Trump sends 'deranged,' 'historic' letter.

Trump sends 'deranged,' 'historic' letter.

Also, a question about what comes next.

Today’s read: 7 minutes.

Trump is about to be impeached, a question about what comes next and a story about cash bail.

Photo: DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

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What D.C. is talking about.

Today is the day. After months of debate and witnesses, after nearly three years of posturing and alarm bells, the House of Representatives is set to impeach Donald John Trump. All but five of the 30 House Democrats serving in pro-Trump districts (it was 31, but Rep. Van Drew is jumping to the Republican party) have come out in favor of impeachment. The final step is for Democrats — who have a big majority in the House — to impeach Trump. The day will be full of final hours of debate before the House casts its vote. Their vote will not remove Trump from office, but will officially send the case to the upper chamber, the Senate, where a trial will take place (REMINDER: You can read Tangle’s breakdown of how impeachment works by clicking here). Still, it’s historic: Trump will become just the third president to be impeached, and he will likely become the third president to be acquitted in the Senate (both Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were impeached in the House and acquitted in the Senate). On the eve of his impeachment, Trump sent an angry, bombastic letter to House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), calling it an “illegal, partisan attempted coup.” The letter was full of exclamation points, angry lines and cries of partisan foul. It immediately split Washington D.C. down the middle.

What the right is saying.

Hugh Hewitt started his radio show by reading the entire text of Trump’s letter, calling it a “historic document that will be cited by @POTUS scholars for generations as the defining example of Article II blasting Article I” (Article II is the executive branch of government, which the president runs, and Article I is the legislative branch of government, which Congress runs). Buck Sexton, a former CIA analyst, said the letter was “an amazing and satisfying read,” and praised Trump for calling out Democrats who keep claiming they don’t want to impeach him when it’s clear they do. “No intelligent person believes them, and it’s laughable every time they say it,” Sexton said. Michael Tracey, an independent journalist who frequently hits both sides but has emerged as a Trump defender, called the letter “crazy, sensible, classicly Trump-like, and uncharacteristically formal all at the same time. A roller-coaster ride!”

What the left is saying.

How many negative adjectives are there in the English language? Nancy Pelosi, who the letter was addressed to, said it was “really sick,” though she claimed to not have read it in full. Ben Rhodes, the writer and former Obama adviser, called it “an insane, alarming, authoritarian warning about the decay of our political system.” MSNBC host Ari Melber asked on-air, “to be frank, how do you fact-check something that is that hyperbolically stupid?” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin called it “bizarre and frightening.” Jonathan Chait, The New York Magazine writer, said, “In complete sincerity, I predict Trump's letter will one day be cited by psychiatrists as a public manifestation of untreated mental illness.” The Washington Post fact-checked the letter, noting that it is “replete with false claims we have fact-checked many times before” but said that it “will add a couple dozen new entries to our database.”

My take.

What I find really fascinating about Trump is how he often seems to be oscillating between his true self and how he imagines a president should be. This letter is a really interesting look into his psyche. I understand both why it excites his base and terrifies the left, because it really is both an example of his brazen contempt for the “system” and the worst aspects of his personality. You can almost see the lines Trump wrote or dictated and the ones his policy advisers constructed. The minute I read it, one of the first things I said to a friend was that there was no way Trump’s lawyers saw this before it went out — it was too unhinged. Sure enough, an ABC News reported sniffed that out last night:

The two most revealing or interesting parts of the letter were Trump’s line about praying and his summary of the call with Ukraine’s president.

“Even worse than offending the Founding Fathers, you are offending Americans of faith by continually saying “I pray for the President,” when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense.  It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I!”

I found this part fascinating because it both illuminates Trump’s total lack of understanding of the notion of prayer and how he truly views his rivals. There are plenty of things about Trump that are genuine, but his posture as a religious or prayerful person strikes me as absurd. Nothing really illustrates that more than the time he was asked about his favorite part of the Bible and couldn’t conjure up a single passage. But the idea that Americans who pray would be offended by Nancy Pelosi saying she prays for the president, which this line is a reference to, is absurd. It’s a common practice amongst many religious Americans to offer prayer even for people you don’t like or are lined up against. And it says more about Trump than Pelosi that he thinks she means it negatively when she says she prays for him (unlike Trump, Pelosi actually has a well-documented history as a practicing Catholic).

The second interesting part was Trump’s version of the call he had with Zelensky.

I said to President Zelensky: “I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”  I said do us a favor, not me, and our country, not a campaign.  I then mentioned the Attorney General of the United States.  Every time I talk with a foreign leader, I put America’s interests first, just as I did with President Zelensky.

This whole business of Trump saying “us” instead of “me” is actually a defense that only popped up a couple of weeks ago. A conservative commentator noted the distinction on Twitter, and it quickly made it’s way to the president’s press team. In the first weeks of impeachment proceedings, I never saw anyone point this out, and I thought it was interesting Trump put this defense in the record by including it in his letter. But more than that, his summation is just absurd. He didn’t ask for a favor and then mention the Attorney General of the United States. He asked for a favor and then mentioned the 2016 election and the Bidens, which he wanted to be investigated, according to the transcript he released.

All told, the letter will go down in history for both the reasons the right and left claim. It’s a classic, all-encompassing look into the absurdity that is Donald Trump as president. It has all the bombast, bluster, fury and lies that made him such a famous entertainer and such a constant presence in the tabloids. But now it has the presidential letterhead on it, something that continues to bring joy to his millions of supporters who love nothing more than watching him unleash that fury on career politicians.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: You can ask questions, too. All you have to do is reply to this email or tweet at Tangle News.

Q: Is there any way the House could wait till after the election before they pass this off to the Senate?

- Voni, Big Bend, Texas.

Tangle: It sure doesn’t seem it. Based on how things are going today, Trump will be impeached by late tonight. From everything we’ve heard from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the Senate will be taking this up shortly after the new year. There’s an interesting political calculus happening on both sides: Republicans want this thing done and over with so they can focus on the 2020 election, but simultaneously say impeachment is good for them (they’ve been raising millions of dollars and are hoping to take back some House seats by running anti-impeachment ads). Democrats want this thing done and over with because they are confident Senate Republicans won’t remove Trump, and they want to focus on the 2020 election and not keep Senators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren off the campaign trail for too long.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t take up the trial before Christmas, and the Senate has a few important bills (like the USMCA trade deal) it will have to vote on when they get back from holiday recess. It will take some time for the Senate to agree on rules, and lots of lobbying will go on behind closed doors, but I’d expect the impeachment trial to start by the end of January.

All that being said, there has been some talk about Democrats not sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate. The basic gist of this — which in my opinion amounts to a pipe dream — is that the Senate may not take up fair rules. In that case, some of the left is encouraging House Democrats to hold onto the articles and continue investigating the president until the Senate rules are to their liking. But it’s not entirely clear how this would work. Once Democrats vote to impeach Trump, which will almost definitely happen today, they can’t hold onto the articles forever. They can stall, but it will head to the Senate eventually, regardless of what the rules are. And even tactically, I’m not sure how that would benefit the left. Totally eliminating the prospect of a trial in the Senate by holding onto the articles of impeachment seems like an unwise move, along with also apparently being unconstitutional.

A story that matters.

The ACLU recently looked at how cash bail was impacting one county in Oklahoma. If you are one of the 4,000 people arrested in Canadian County every month, the only way to get out of jail is to post bail. The ACLU is suing Canadian County Jail for participating in what it says is illegal use of cash bail that keeps defendants in prison while they await trial. In one case the ACLU highlights, a defendant couldn’t afford his $2,000 cash bail and has been inside for 19 days. He can’t even pay the $200 to a bondsman to get out. He had a three-minute video conference hearing, without a lawyer, where his bail was set. This process, which disenfranchises poor Americans across the U.S., is happening in hundreds of counties in America. Read more here.


  • 80%. The number of Democratic voters who think it is “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that Joe Biden would beat Donald Trump in a presidential race.
  • 60%. The number of Democratic voters who think it is “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that Bernie Sanders would beat Donald Trump in a presidential race.
  • 60%. The number of Democratic voters who think it is “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that Elizabeth Warren would beat Donald Trump in a presidential race.
  • 42%. Trump’s approval rating amongst active-duty military, the lowest mark since he entered office.
  • $1.37 trillion. The cost of the spending bill the House of Representatives passed yesterday, avoiding another government shutdown.
  • 45. The number of days former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates will serve in jail (on weekends) after pleading guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. but cooperating with investigators.
  • 43%. Trump’s approval rating in April, eight months ago, before impeachment began, according to a CNN poll.
  • 43%. Trump’s approval rating today.

Have a nice day.

The Pope has abolished a rule that kept sex church abuse cases secret for decades. The move has been demanded by reformists who want the Catholic Church to change how it handles sexual abuse cases after a series of revelations showed abuse was both common across the Catholic Church and being covered up at the highest levels. For years, “pontifical secrecy” was used by accused members of the Church to avoid cooperating with authorities. Now, the universal church law has been changed to require the reporting of “suspicions of sex abuse to civil authorities and forbidding attempts to silence those who report abuse or allege they have been a victim.” You can read more here.

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