7 reporters recount a historic week in impeachment

Andrew: I’m not ready to say that quite yet. I think we entered this week with a high probability that the House would ultimately vote to impeach Trump in December — and I think the week largely ended with that same probability. Another obvious reason Trump isn’t in more trouble is that his GOP firewall in the Senate doesn’t appear to have cracked at all this week. Of course, that could change — especially as eight more witnesses testify in public next week. It is still the case that Trump is very likely to be impeached once the House wraps up its inquiry; it also remains true that the Senate is very likely to acquit him. Nothing that happened this week changed that.

Kyle: Trump proved that the biggest trouble from his presidency comes from within. It became clear that there are limits to Trump’s trust-my-gut impeachment defense, so to the degree he recognizes that he’s not winning the battle for America’s hearts and minds on impeachment, it could have a significant effect on the rest of his presidency.

What is the biggest outstanding question you have for Donald Trump in the Ukraine scandal?

Anita: My question is a big one: Why? I’ve been covering the Trump presidency since Day One and I’m constantly asking this question. I know I should be used to it by now but somehow it still surprises me. Why does he do things that he knows other people will criticize him for? After all, politicians are supposed to care what other people think. When I recently wrote about Trump choosing to hold the G-7 summit of world leaders at one of his family’s resorts, I asked people close to him this question. I was told that he has become “fearless” because he has seen over and over again that he won’t lose the backing of supporters no matter what seemingly outrageous action he takes. “He has demonstrated he’s bulletproof,” someone that used to work for him told me. I’d still like Trump to answer the why.

Natasha Bertrand, national security correspondent: My questions are less for Trump and more for the Office of Management and Budget officials who were tasked with carrying out his order to suspend military aid to Ukraine in July. They could provide testimony on the president’s motivations and state of mind when he asked for the funds to be held up, which, as my colleagues Kyle and Andrew have pointed out, remains elusive for the Democrats. Former OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, now the president’s acting chief of staff, was reportedly involved in conversations about suspending the aid until Ukraine opened the investigations Trump sought, and an OMB official was the first to brief the interagency about the hold. Mulvaney has refused to comply with a congressional subpoena to testify, and so far, only one senior Budget official has agreed to comply with a subpoena. Three other OMB officials, Russ Vought, Michael Duffey and Brian McCormack, have also refused to appear.

Melanie: Marie Yovanovitch actually put it perfectly: Why was it necessary to smear her reputation before ousting her as ambassador to Ukraine? Republicans have argued that the president has the right to appoint whomever he wants to serve as an ambassador. But that doesn’t explain why there was an effort to gin up negative news stories about her and personally damage her reputation.

What did we learn this week about how Trump will fight impeachment?

Anita: Trump continues to do what we’ve come to expect of him — talk, tweet, say whatever he wants, without sticking to Republican talking points. But his aides, at least, began to develop a more coherent, organized message. The White House, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee set up rapid response teams to push back on testimony in real time — similar to what they did during special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

Kyle: Trump is willing to go where even his GOP defenders won’t. His direct attack on Ambassador Yovanovitch — in the middle of her testimony — was not only ignored by the Republicans on the impeachment panel but refuted. One after another they praised Yovanovitch’s service, leaving Trump isolated in his willingness to impugn her integrity.

Melanie: The same way he fights everything: attack, attack, attack. He has continued to act as a one-man war room in the impeachment fight, and at times, has undercut his own party’s defense strategy. Trump’s mid-hearing attack on Yovanovitch blew up the GOP’s carefully orchestrated plan not to personally go after Yovanovitch and turn her into an even more sympathetic character.

Andrew: Trump will continue to speak in direct, absolute terms as he defends himself against charges that he abused the power of his presidency — even if he makes life harder for his congressional GOP allies. We saw evidence of that on Friday, when Trump attacked Yovanovitch while Republicans on the Intelligence Committee were praising her service and largely taking pains not to harangue the veteran diplomat. We’ve seen this movie before: Trump has repeatedly dubbed his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president “perfect,” but none of his allies on Capitol Hill have described the call that way. Some have even said the call itself was inappropriate — but, they stress, not impeachable. Still, Trump has made clear that those defenses aren’t good enough. He demands complete loyalty.

What should we make of Senate Republicans trying to stretch out an impeachment trial to make life difficult for 2020 Democratic candidates who also serve in the Senate?

Melanie: It’s actually not clear that Republicans will try to stretch out the trial — they haven’t even started negotiations over the chamber’s impeachment proceedings. And keep in mind, while a long trial might hurt 2020 presidential candidates, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has his own vulnerable senators to protect. They won’t want to be there any more than the Democratic candidates.

Shifting gears, what did we learn about Donald Trump from the Roger Stone trial?

Darren Samuelsohn, senior White House reporter:

Here’s where I can actually offer up something substantive, as these last two weeks have been a crash-course rerun on all things WikiLeaks, Julian Assange and Robert Mueller’s attempts to learn what had happened in 2016.

Trump’s name got dropped dozens of times during the course of the Stone’s trial, which ended Friday with a guilty verdict on all seven courts. Stone lied to protect Trump, the prosecutors said. And phone records show Stone called Trump 60 times during the final 11 months of the presidential campaign, including three times during which they appear to have talked about the Democratic document dumps.

We also learned that many of the high-ranking people around Trump were clued in to what Stone was up to, including Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.

Now that Stone’s been convicted and is looking at a couple years of prison time, all the focus shifts to Trump and whether he’ll heed calls from MAGA-world to pardon his longtime friend and political adviser. Buckle up.

Whose testimony are you most looking forward to next week?

Andrew: Gordon Sondland’s testimony on Wednesday morning, with no other witnesses beside him, will be fascinating for a number of reasons — chief among them, William Taylor’s revelation this week of a previously unknown phone call between Trump and Sondland that one of Taylor’s staffers overheard. Republicans said Taylor’s testimony about the call — that his aide overheard Trump asking about “the investigations” and that Sondland said the Ukrainians were ready to move forward — was simply second- and third-hand information. But when Sondland appears before lawmakers, it’ll be the first time he addresses the claim. If Taylor’s account of the call is correct, it’s another data point Democrats can use to connect Trump directly to the scandal. Sondland’s public appearance will also present Democrats with an opportunity to put his revised testimony on camera, most notably Sondland’s testimony that he told a top Ukrainian official that the country “likely” would not receive military aid absent public announcements of the investigations Trump was seeking.

Nahal: Gordon Sondland. Gordon Sondland. Gordon Sondland. I cannot WAIT to see him in the spotlight. He’ll be testifying on Wednesday, and he’s one of the people who had direct interaction with Trump on the issue of Ukraine. He’s already had to revise his private testimony and has effectively admitted there was a quid pro quo. I. Cannot. Wait.