Article II: Inside Impeachment
Behind the Scenes
Nancy Pelosi: I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.
Archival Recording: FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Yes.
Donald Trump: No, there's no pressure. (MANY REPORTERS SPEAK AT ONCE)
Archival Recording: Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.
Trump: That (UNINTEL) was perfect.
Bill Taylor: I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
Archival Recording: And the course of that discussion said that Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up.
Archival Recording: Everyone was in the loop.
Archival Recording: Today we are here to defend democracy for the people.
Doug Collins: I'll guarantee you, one day you'll be back in the minority and it ain't gonna be that fun.
Pelosi: Article I is adopted. (GAVEL) Article II (APPLAUSE) (GAVEL) is adopted. (CHEERING)
Trump: It's the single greatest witch hunt in American history, probably in history, but in American history. It's a disgraceful thing.
Pat Cipollone: The President has done nothing wrong, and these type of impeachments must end.
Adam Schiff: You can't trust this President to do the right thing, not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can't.
Chief Justice Roberts: It is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said Donald John Trump be, and he is hereby, acquitted of the charges in said articles.
Steve Kornacki: From NBC News this is Article II: Inside Impeachment. I'm Steve Kornacki. Today is Friday, February 7th, and it's our final episode. It's not very often that journalists across any medium: television, print, radio, podcasts, have the chance to cover a story like the impeachment of a president. This is, of course, only the third time in history that the country has gone through this event. So today we're gonna do something a little different. We have gathered together some of our regular Article II guests, the NBC News journalists who have been with us every step of the way, to talk about what it was like covering this historic moment. Everyone is joining us from Washington, DC, they are all in a studio together. I'm back here stuck in New York. But we have with us Leigh Ann Caldwell, NBC News correspondent covering Congress. Leigh Ann, how you doing?
Leigh Ann Caldwell: I'm good. How are you, Steve?
Kornacki: I am tired. I say tired, we're all tired I think. It's the permanent condition of covering politics these days, I guess. But we're happy to have you back here. And Frank Thorp, producer covering Congress as well, a veteran of the show. Frank, welcome back.
Frank Thorp: Thanks for having me.
Kornacki: And a third guest here, Shannon Pettypiece, senior White House reporter, another alum of this show. Great to have you back, Shannon, too.
Shannon Pettypiece: Good to be here.
Kornacki: Alright, let's think back to September of last year. That is when Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, announced that there would be an impeachment inquiry, something that Pelosi had been facing some pressure from our caucus to do for some time. She'd been resisting it. September 24th she steps forward and says we are moving on impeachment. Leigh Ann, you were there when this happened. This is the where were you when it happened question. Can you remember that day? What was that like to cover that?
Caldwell: Steve, I'm gonna go a day before, and that is when the Washington Post op-ed from the seven national security Democratic freshmen came out saying that they supported moving forward on impeachment.
Archival Recording: One of those Democratic lawmakers behind that op-ed, New Jersey Congresswoman and former Navy pilot, Mikie Sherrill, she joins me now. Congresswoman, why did you and your colleagues decide to publish this op-ed?
Archival Recording: I think we'd all desperately wanted to keep the focus on the things that our districts needed. But we have oversight duties. We've all served. We've all been taught to make hard decisions in trying times. And this was a moment where I think it called for something more than simply operating in our own committees of jurisdiction. We needed to stand up for national security.
Caldwell: That was the time where it all clicked, that it was extremely real. The mood on Capitol Hill had shifted so dramatically from, you know, just a week or two prior that it was really intense. And that was just a really eye opening moment for me that, wow, we might be covering this impeachment.
Kornacki: Yeah, I just remember watching your reporting, watching the reporting of everybody else around then, and I remember having a feeling like that too. Frank, what about you? As listeners of this show know, you specialize in the Senate. When the House decides to launch an impeachment inquiry you don't automatically know at that point that it's going to the Senate, but when you saw that Pelosi press conference back in September did you know it was coming your way?
Thorp: Yeah, you have to kind of mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of it coming your way and try to figure out what that necessarily means and what we can expect. The thing is, is that, and you know this, the Senate is a really unpredictable place. So the way that you kind of wade through the unpredictability of the Senate is look at precedent, look at the history of what they've done in the past. So, I mean, this was, like, a lot of, you know, going back and looking at historic rules, at historic documents, the rules that were basically established for the two previous impeachment trials. But I think one of the biggest moments for me was I was just trying to figure out the best people to talk to about that, you know, about the history of impeachment trials, and how they go, and how they happen, and how they're put together. And I just sent an e-mail to the former majority leader, Trent Lott. I was like, "Hey, so, you know, you seem like a good person to talk to about this."
I'd never talked to him before, never emailed with him before. I just, you know, Googled his name, and went on the website, and his e-mail address is on the website. And so I was, like, "You know, hey, if you ever want to talk about this, please let me know." And I was walking out to my car later that day, you know, at the end of the day, and an unknown number pops up on my phone. And I look down and I'm like, "Oh, I guess I should answer this," and I take the call, and put it put it up to my ear and it's, like, "Hey, Trent Lott here. Is this Frank?"
And I was like, "Yes. Hold on one second." And so, you know, got into the back of my car, and put it on speaker phone.
Trent Lott: Unfortunately, I know now more about this process than I'd ever really want to.
Thorp: And just, like, started typing up notes.
Lott: Times are different and people are different, but when the House voted for impeachment of Clinton I was, you know, not happy to face the reality that it was going to be in our lap in the Senate.
Thorp: And he just, like, basically told the whole story about how he put together the trial with Tom Daschle.
Lott: He was my counterpart on the Democratic side and I said, "Tom, whether we like it or not this thing is coming over and we gotta deal with it."
Thorp: It was just a very cool moment to just be, you know, on the phone with one of the architects of the Clinton trial. And the idea that, you know, I mean, he was explaining that there was obviously a different dynamic back then. But just getting that insight was just super, super interesting. The ability to talk to him about just some of, even, like, the nitty-gritty stuff. I mean, the fact that they had to get some of the rooms, like, ready for the Chief Justice.
Lott: At the beginning of each day to make sure that he was comfortable and had coffee or whatever. And he did preside.
Thorp: And the fact that, you know, they needed to put furniture on the floor, and the rules that they had to put together, and the fact that they had put together a deal to try to establish the rules, and they brought it to their conferences and it was rejected. So they got all together, and got all 100 of them together and they came out with this other plan.
Archival Recording: And everybody was all excited, we'd figured out how to proceed. It was bipartisan. So I told Tom, I said, "We'd better go up to the press gallery and explain what happened." So we're walking down the hall and he said, "Do you fully understand what we just agreed to?" I said, "Tell you the truth, Tom, I don't. But we'll explain we have an agreement and then you send a couple of your people, and I'll send a couple of mine."
Thorp: All that stuff was actually super informative and was helpful in guiding our reporting in how we were expecting the Senate trial to happen for this impeachment trial.
Kornacki: My favorite part of that story you just told is you got a call from an unknown number, and you answered it. And I guess that--
Thorp: I know. I usually don't do that.
Kornacki: I guess that's the mark of a real reporter these days, right?
Caldwell: You have to.
Thorp: You never know. (LAUGHTER)
Pettypiece: The best calls are the ones from the unknown number. (LAUGHTER)
Thorp: Yeah, oh yeah, for sure.
Pettypiece: If the President's gonna call you it's gonna be from an unknown number.
Caldwell: That's why reporters always get so many spam calls, 'cause we have to answer 'em when we don't know who's calling us.
Thorp: I know. (LAUGH)
Kornacki: So you are single-handedly keeping the spam phone call operation in business. (LAUGHTER) You're the only ones who answer 'em. Well, Shannon, so you're our representative of the White House beat here. Let me ask you, Frank talks about the Clinton impeachment, and I've talked to some reporters who covered that, you know, two decades ago, and they always talked about it in terms of covering the White House where their lives just changed, their world just changed when the impeachment saga began with Bill Clinton. It's just an entirely distinct phase of his presidency and of their careers really. Is that your experience with this?
Pettypiece: Well, I felt like I had already had a warm up run to impeachment, being the Mueller investigation, so when this was announced, and I remember watching the Pelosi speech at the White House, I felt like it was a sort of sense of, alright, here we go again. Let's get the band back together. I had the sources from the Mueller investigation who, you know, had defended the President through that, who I knew were going to be involved. So I almost felt like rather than it being a big shock and jarring change it almost felt like it was a comfortable story I was returning to about the President once being under investigative scrutiny, how was he gonna weather this, what's his strategy going to be, how is he going to respond, what are those around him telling him, how is the public gonna react?
It almost felt like a story I knew how to tell because I had been through that exact same process in the Mueller investigation. So in a way it was like okay, well, let's go back to work and dust off the Mueller playbook and use that for covering impeachment.
Kornacki: Yeah, I mean, it sort of came out of nowhere, the Ukraine story, but in another way it didn't come out of nowhere at all, because as you say, it was so many of the themes we'd been talking about for a couple of years were right at the heart of this. I want to ask you each now about another big day in these last four and a half months. It was December 18th, just before Christmas and that was when the House actually voted to impeach Donald Trump. Two articles of impeachment. Leigh Ann, that moment. This is the third time in history a president has actually been impeached. What was it like?
Caldwell: I was standing at a camera watching this go down because I had to do some television immediately after, and the weight of the moment was really powerful. And it was a culmination of the past two and a half months prior that we had been working on this story extensively. It was one of the most intense reporting periods of my life. You know, on the Hill team we kind of compare it to the time of Justice Kavanaugh, when Justice Kavanaugh was being confirmed, but almost on steroids, because it was longer. And, you know, there was an electricity around the capitol among Democrats, and that was really apparent when they voted to, you know, impeach the president.
Pelosi: Article I is adopted. (GAVEL AND APPLAUSE)
Caldwell: Democrats started to cheer and Speaker Pelosi, she did a, like, cut it out to her members. But that's what they were feeling. And you could feel that in the capitol, that they knew that this was going to happen, that they had the votes, and that the party was mostly united around this. So, you know, I'll look back on this, I still look back on this whole thing, and just feel so lucky to be able to witness it. 'Cause, you know, as reporters, so cliché, but we are the first draft of history, and to be there and to see it was, for me, personally, really amazing.
Kornacki: And Frank, you were a firsthand witness too. You were in the House chamber that day when the impeachment votes were taken. I understand you were doing something very specific in there though. Tell us about that.
Thorp: Yeah, I had a very important job, Steve, I was on Tulsi watch. (LAUGHTER) I had gone in just to kind of experience it, and we have, you know, just a text chain from our team, and Alex Moe, who actually runs our House coverage was like, "Does anybody know, has Tulsi Gabbard voted yet?" And I was actually standing in the chamber. And so in the House chamber it's actually kind of cool. They project the names of all the lawmakers on the wall. There's actually lights that show the last names of every lawmaker, all 435 of them. And there is just to the right of every name it shows a Y, an N, or a P, for present. So Y for yes, and N for no, and a P for present. And I just happened to be standing underneath Tulsi Gabbard's name. So I was like, "Hey, I'm here. She hasn't voted yet. But, you know, I'll keep an eye out." And so she turned out to vote present.
And so I was, you know, texting the chain back and then Alex would report back to our control room, who was reporting back to, you know, and going on our air. But that was basically my job. I remember looking down on the House floor and seeing some of the Democrats looking up at the board and seeing Tulsi Gabbard's present vote and just being, like, oh my God. Tulsi. (LAUGHTER) And I was like, I mean, yeah, that's pretty--
Pettypiece: What's gotten into you?
Thorp: Yeah, it's pretty wild.
Kornacki: You were looking if she was going to do A or B and she created option C.
Thorp: And she did C.
Kornacki: And there you go. (LAUGHTER) Shannon, you're in the White House as the President is being impeached. What on earth is that like?
Pettypiece: So actually I was on a bus tour with Mike Pence on the day the President was indeed impeached. (LAUGH) Traveling with the Vice President is always sort of like being in a parallel universe where everything runs on time, everything goes as planned, everything is on message. But that day was particularly like being in an alternate reality, because while everything is going back on in Washington, and I would be watching it on my phone as we traveled between stops, I was on this bus going around Michigan, and we stopped at a fried chicken spot, and the Vice President went around and shook hands, and people applauded him. And we went to a Christmas store, like, this big giant Christmas store that's open every day of the year.
You know, or the Vice President greeted people and took selfies, and we were just, you know, surrounded by, like, the Christmas spirit. And then we traveled to a Trump rally that evening and again while Democrats are having this moment that they had been working for, I mean, there were the President's supporters just as enthusiastic as they could be. And the President stayed backstage and watched some of the proceedings. He didn't wait until the final vote, but there were a few of his allies in Congress that he wanted to hear their remarks. I think maybe it was Mark Meadows.
Mark Meadows: I mean, you know, all the sudden what we have is these strict constitutionalists on the other side of aisle. Listen, this has nothing to do with the Constitution. It has nothing to do with anything but raw politics.
Pettypiece: And after he heard their remarks he came up on stage, you know, (APPLAUSE) was met by huge applause as always. The stage was decorated in Christmas decorations. It was like this Christmas themed rally.
Trump: Merry Christmas. Michigan, thank you, Michigan.
Pettypiece: So you had that going on too. And then he got the vote tally in the middle of the rally and, you know, was just really defiant, and, you know, he said something to the effect of, "Oh, it doesn't even really feel like we're being impeached."
Archival Recording: It's so much fun. They wanna impeach you. They wanna do worse than that. (BOOING) By the way it doesn't really feel like we're being impeached, you know? (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
Pettypiece: And had a two hour long speech to give his retort to what was happening and tout his perceived accomplishments, and mock his adversaries, and certainly a, like, looking glass type moment compared to what was going on back in Washington on the Hill.
Kornacki: Yeah, I guess that was a great reminder, too. I remember watching that rally, that cliché about being impeachment being a political process. But there you go, that's the President trying to fire up his base right there, and that's a big part of what happened. We're going to take a quick break here but stick around. We'll be right back.
Kornacki: So we just talked about December 18th, 2019, the day Donald Trump was impeached. Then the action moved to the Senate, and Frank, you had 100 senators are in the chamber. I guess that's a rare occurrence in and of itself. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court enters the chamber to preside over it. Talk about what it was like to be in there for that moment.
Thorp: All 100 senators are typically not in the chamber at the same time, at least seated in their chairs. You know, when they're voting all 100 senators need to be there, or, you know, as many as want to come and actually vote. But to have them all sitting there, and to be paying attention, and to be engaged in this process, having the Chief Justice sitting in the chair, just seeing the Chief Justice on camera at all, to be honest. I mean, we don't have--
Pettypiece: Right, hearing his voice.
Thorp: Hearing his voice.
Pettypiece: That was new for me. (LAUGH)
Thorp: I know. It was just super interesting to, you know, just even just seem him. It just felt significant and historic. All the talk of it happening for weeks and months, when it finally happened, it did feel pretty heavy.
Roberts: I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the President's counsel in equal terms, to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body.
Kornacki: And Leigh Ann, you were also in there, in the Senate chamber as the trial gets underway. You had a role I'm really interested to hear about though but there was all this conversation about were the senators paying attention. What were they doing? They were banned from having cell phones. They could drink milk, I guess. (LAUGHTER) Your job was to watch the senators, to see what they were doing. Tell us about some of the things you observed. I'm really curious to hear.
Caldwell: Yeah, well, I brought a special notebook actually for it, that I have here, it's this, like, teal green moleskin notebook, because I wanted to remember. And also the reporters weren't allowed to have cell phones, or Apple watches, or anything like that either in the chamber. And so we have no access to what's happening outside. And so I have this notebook, which is where I wrote down all of these details, and then I would go and report back to the network.
The most interesting to me was the body language of these members. You could really tell where their heads were based on their body language. You know, you had Lindsey Graham who was just completely, like, leaned back, disengaged, you know, kind of scoffing at things that he would hear. Richard Burr was kind of the same way. He has a chill, laid back demeanor anyway, but he brought in fidget spinners one day for his colleagues, and they would play with these fidget spinners. 'Cause we were watching who was falling asleep, especially, and at the beginning senators were dosing off. It was a very long day. There weren't used to these--
Kornacki: Oh, can you name names here?
Caldwell: Oh, yeah, I'll name names. (LAUGH)
Thorp: Do it. (LAUGH)
Caldwell: So at this one moment, Senator Inhofe, he's older, he's in his 80s, he was sitting in the back row, his wife actually had just had a mini stroke, so he's not his normal seat, but he was sitting in the back row because he wanted to be close to a phone in the cloak room. He had nodded off and his seat neighbor, Senator Todd Young of Indiana, looked up at the gallery, gently nudged Inhofe, like, very subtly to wake him up. And he woke up and then Senator Young leaned over to Senator Inhofe and whispered something, and Senator Inhofe looked up at the gallery and nodded his head. And so they knew that we were watching them.
And then there was another moment where Senator Risch actually wasn't in the gallery at this moment, but I got a tip that Senator Risch, he's a big Trump ally, that he was balancing his checkbook. So I went in the gallery to check and sure enough he was balancing his (LAUGHTER) checkbook. And so we go out, and, you know, we tell the network, and we tweet about it, and I actually just saw Senator Risch yesterday, or a couple days ago, and he's like, "You know, Leigh Ann, I saw you up in the gallery, and I saw you yawn." (LAUGHTER) He was, like, "It was a really important moment and I saw you yawn." And I said, "But I didn't fall asleep and I wasn't balancing my checkbook." (LAUGHTER)
And so they became very hyperaware that we were watching them, and that they were going to get a lot of pushback, or fall out if there were tweets and stories about them falling asleep. They stopped falling asleep after about day two and a half. (LAUGH)
Thorp: And, Steve, you have to remember, the reason why we have people like Leigh Ann to watch for color like this, and, like, who's sleeping, and who's drinking milk, or chocolate milk, or playing with fidget spinners, is because we don't have control over the cameras. So we can't just point our camera in the direction of senators to pay attention to whether or not they're engaged or not, of if they're balancing their checkbooks, or whether or not they're, you know--
Caldwell: No one can take photos.
Thorp: --using chewing tobacco. We can't take photos. There was not a single press photographer inside the chamber during the entire trial. So that's why these color notes by Leigh Ann and the rest of the team were so important. They were our only eyes on anything other than what they were providing us through this basically, like, government controlled feed.
Pettypiece: Well, and I think they helped give a little bit of a window into where some senators heads were, because I believe I remember one of your notes about Lisa Murkowski taking, was she the one who as taking these diligent notes throughout most of it? Or she had volumes of notes? Or--
Thorp: She and Collins were, yeah.
Pettypiece: Or Susan Collins. Yeah, the sense that okay, you know, they are, at least they're attempting to appear like they are taking this very seriously, and they're gonna put a lot of thought into this. So kind of indicates those two had not made up their minds at least.
Kornacki: I'm just curious too, I know watching this on television, these days were long to watch, you know, even if that's all you were doing. I can imagine covering it, some of these, you know, trial days ran late into the evening. There was just constant news that was breaking, and everybody was trying to process, I'm curious just from a standpoint of having a life, having a job, having a life, trying to balance these things, Shannon, did this just disrupt everything for you?
Pettypiece: I mean, it was not a good month for yoga. (LAUGHTER) I did my little, like, app tracker, I try to go to yoga once a week. The last time I went was, like, the day before Christmas. So, yeah, not a great month for yoga. I have a six year old son and I've explained to him what's going on, and there was one Friday night recently, usually Friday night is, like, our night together, and his babysitter was coming over at, like, 7:00 PM so I could go to the White House to man the White House booth there until the hearings were over. And, you know, explaining to him, again, what's going on, why this is important that I leave right now and do this, and he was very understanding. You know, I don't know if my mom is as understanding because I keep, you know, declining her calls, but, I mean, I guess I just tell myself though, you know, nothing's forever and this had an end to it in sight. And, I mean, now we can get back to working 12 hour days covering the campaign, and the election, and traveling to Trump rallies. (LAUGHTER) So that was the light at the end of the tunnel.
Kornacki: The very common leisurely life of covering a presidential campaign in the Trump era. Leigh Ann, I've been told you have two kids and you actually recorded talking to your kids?
Caldwell: I did. I have, you know, a son, Ellison, who's seven years old, and a daughter, Penrose, who is four. She likes to say four and a half.
Caldwell: Do you know why mommy was working so much?
Ellison: 'Cause the impeachment.
Caldwell: What's impeachment? Do you know what that is?
Penrose: Come to me.
Caldwell: What's impeachment?
Penrose: Impeachment is the president broke the law.
Kornacki: You actually, you brought them to work. You brought them in to see this one day.
Caldwell: I brought them in on the first day that the White House defense started their opening statement. So it was a Saturday, and we knew it was going to be a short session. And, you know, it was just important for me, personally, as a mother, to bring them in, but also for the historic nature of it.
Caldwell: Ellison, do you remember when you came to work with mommy?
Caldwell: What do you remember from it?
Ellison: That there was a lot of senators and reporters.
Penrose: Mommy, come to me.
Penrose: I remember there was a lot of senators and we saw cups.
Caldwell: You saw a lot of cops?
Penrose: No, cups.
Caldwell: Where did you see cups?
Penrose: For the senators.
Caldwell: Were there glasses on their desks?
Penrose: Yeah. And we heard one of the presidents said the whistleblower.
Caldwell: You heard the word whistleblower?
Penrose: Yeah. (LAUGH)
Caldwell: You remember that?
Penrose: Yeah. And I said president.
Caldwell: Yeah, you're kind of right. The President's lawyers. Wow, Penrose.
Kornacki: That is an amazing recording. You have two future reporters there, I think. (LAUGH) They're very observant.
Thorp: I really think that you should in the future podcasts just interview kids about (LAUGH) impeachment.
Caldwell: I know.
Thorp: It would be so much more entertaining. (LAUGHTER)
Kornacki: Let's go to the final, you know, big moment in all of this, obviously, and that is the vote on conviction or acquittal. The President ultimately acquitted on both charges, basically a party line vote except Mitt Romney, Republican from Utah, joined with the Democrats on one of the charges, voted to convict. Shannon, building to this acquittal vote, actually having it happen, what were the final days, the final moments like covering this?
Pettypiece: Well, I think there was a pretty big weight lifted off the White House knowing that this was coming. Once they got past that witness vote, and I'll say, there were a few days when this story broke about the John Bolton book where there were some real nerves, once we got through the vote about witnesses, then it did seem like while there was anxiety about when will the actual vote be, and how it will go, it was like they could see the finish line in the marathon. And, you know, the President's last rally, it was Des Moines last Thursday, so right when we had a sense the vote was either gonna be sometime early in the following week. And I've been to a lot of these rallies now. I felt like it was one of his best rallies.
Trump: We're having probably the best years that we've ever had in the history of our country. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) And I just got impeached. Can you believe it? I got impeached.
Pettypiece: It felt like it was 2015 Trump. He was funny, and energetic.
Rally: (CHANTING) U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
Trump: It's a happy period, because we call this impeachment light. (LAUGHTER) Crazy Schiff. Shifty Schiff.
Pettypiece: You know, and, like, I feel like at this point I can see these times when he's got low energy, his mood's not great, other times when he comes in really hot and angry, and I just felt like he just was in his prime.
Archival Recording: But, you know what? Today we saw I hit my highest poll numbers since I got elected. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Pettypiece: That the speech that the President gave the day after I felt was one of the most really kinda feeling vindicated and exonerated.
Trump: I mean, we went through Hell, unfairly, did nothing wrong. Did nothing wrong.
Pettypiece: But you could still tell just he was very spiteful and angry about this process and almost feeling vindictive about those who had put him through this.
Trump: It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops, it was leakers and liars, and this should never, ever happen to another president, ever. I don't know that other presidents would have--
Pettypiece: So I think we haven't seen the last of the President's rather sort of vicious victory lap about this. But I think that, you know, in a few weeks we will move back into, again, our regularly scheduled program of this presidency, and politics, and get back to immigration fights, and border walls, and all of that.
Kornacki: Let me ask the big picture question to all of you. This will be the closing question, but--
Thorp: I just wanna ask you, Steve. I mean, you know, it was a pretty big for you though, 'cause I mean, you had some, like, light nights monitoring (LAUGH) numbers coming out on the Iowa polls. What's it been like for you, man? (LAUGH) I mean, you've been (LAUGHTER) (UNINTEL)--
Pettypiece: I know.
Thorp: --you know, the political. And you've been the show--
Pettypiece: You have your own camera.
Thorp: --this whole time. I mean, like--
Pettypiece: I mean. (LAUGH)
Thorp: --and what has it been (LAUGH) for you?
Kornacki: Well, I--
Thorp: I mean, you ask us all these questions.
Kornacki: I didn't know about the camera until after I got off the air. So that was kinda (LAUGH) terrifying to find out there had been this camera trained on me when I thought I wasn't on the air. So I had to go back and make sure I wasn't saying or doing anything that was (LAUGH) gonna cost me my career. Fortunately so far it isn't.
No, I mean, I'm covering the Iowa caucuses. I'm looking at, you know, state delegate equivalent formulas in (LAUGH) random western Iowa counties. And meanwhile the president of the United States is on trial for impeachment. (LAUGH) So there was sort of a stakes imbalance there or something.
But yeah, no, I mean, I was more a consumer of this. I've been hosting this podcast for the last few months genuinely curious about what you're seeing, what you're hearing and there's I think just so many valuable, you know, insights and observations we've been able to bring to it.
And I guess I'm gonna turn it back around on you now. I'm done talkin' about myself. (LAUGH) Here's your big picture question to close it out though. We keep saying it's historic. It's the third president ever to be impeached. It does not happen every day. It will be talked about for a long time. It will be recorded for history.
When you're asked about this five years from now, ten years from now, 20 years from now, is there a story you're gonna tell? Is there gonna be a go-to moment you're gonna be recalling to people? I'll just go around on this. We'll start with you. Frank, since you put that on me, I'm gonna put this one on you first. (LAUGH)
Thorp: I would just say that just the entire process in general, just the idea of being there in the chamber for the House vote, being in the chamber for the Senate vote, there are these moments. I mean, they're a little bit too hard to pinpoint just one. I mean, there are these moments where, you know, asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a question.
Archival Recording: Would you call witnesses in the Senate trial if the House decides not to call?
Mitch McConnell: It's way too early to--
Thorp: Realizing that you are, like, kind of that, like, first line, like, asking these questions and being there for these moments in person. Sending out the note saying that Senate has, you know, voted to acquit the president of the United States. I mean, that's to our entire network. Like, it was a big moment.
And I think that, you know, I'll look back at that and realize that, you know, it was a part of covering a moment in history. It is really easy to kinda go through these moments and kind of just take them in stride. And, you know, I mean, we go through shutdowns. And we go through, you know, Supreme Court justice contentious nomination battles and things like that.
Everything seems to be significant, and everything seems to be crazy especially in the Trump era. But this was a big deal. And I think that, you know, the idea of having that kind of ability to see that in person and to talk to the lawmakers and see them work it out themselves was something that I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Kornacki: Leigh Ann, it's 2030. You're talkin' to somebody at a dinner party. They say, "Oh, my gosh, you covered the Trump impeachment." What's the story you're gonna tell them?
Caldwell: I'm gonna quote Hamilton musical. Just being in the room when it happened. I mean, I was in the room when, you know, they voted to acquit the president. And it was a John McCain thumbs' down health care, you know, Obamacare moment when Mitt Romney stood and said, "guilty."
Archival Recording: Mr. Romney.
Mitt Romney: Guilty.
Archival Recording: Mr. Romney, guilty. Mr. Robinson.
Caldwell: (BACKGROUND VOICE) And you had some Republicans just staring straight ahead, others whiplashed. You know, they knew how he was gonna vote. He had announced it a couple hours earlier. But whiplash, turned their head and look at him. There was a sense of hope among Democrats when that happened. And so, you know, that's really, really gonna stand out for me. There's so many moments. But that's gonna be a big one.
Kornacki: And Shannon, what about you?
Pettypiece: I think I'll think about the people I covered it with. I mean, just so many great colleagues who helped elevate and move the story along and also helped provide you with comic relief along the way. And, you know, the White House press corps, I think, well, I mean, we're not always one big happen family.
But we all help each other out. And there's also a lot of, "Did you get this? Did you get that? What did he say?" I mean, it was just, like, for me just a complete honor to get to be part of that group of really tremendous elite reporters. And I, you know, still feel like I snuck in and any minute now someone's gonna come and tell me I'm not supposed to be here. But just getting to say I'm colleagues with so many of these great reporters was a real honor for me.
Thorp: Here, here.
Kornacki: Well, for us at this podcast, it was an honor and a pleasure to have all three of you as repeat guests on this. You brought a ton to this podcast. You brought a ton to the NBC and MSNBC coverage. (MUSIC) Really appreciate it. Leigh Ann Caldwell, Frank Thorp and Shannon Pettypiece, thanks to all of you.
Pettypiece: Thank you.
Thorp: Thanks for having us.
Kornacki: So what was this all for, these last four and a half months? Did they mean anything? Did they add up to anything? Well, ultimately what we can say about this impeachment saga is that it was dramatic, but it wasn't necessarily that suspenseful.
(MUSIC) There's always the question of history of course. And we've heard plenty of confident assertions about how this drama and its characters will be regarded by the scholars of tomorrow. But really, we don't know. Because we never know how history will ultimately be written and then long after rewritten, and some day even farther into the future after that, written all over again. And on and on it goes.
(MUSIC) What we do know is that the final verdict on Donald Trump has not yet been rendered. 2020 as you might have heard is an election year. With impeachment's failure, Trump will now run for re-election. And his approval rating has not actually fallen during this saga. It is ever so slightly up in fact.
(MUSIC) Not up enough to make him a strong bet for re-election, but enough to reinforce what should be clear to all by now. He can be beaten. And he can also win again. How do Americans really process the last four and a half months? Well, one way of looking at it is this.
(MUSIC) Donald Trump is the third president to be impeached after Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson. And I guess we can throw Richard Nixon in there too. Nixon was technically impeached, but articles of impeachment were heading to the House floor when he resigned. And he knew he was about to be impeached and removed from office.
(MUSIC) But Donald Trump is unique among that list of four presidents because he will be the first to appear on a general election ballot after his impeachment. If Americans believe his conduct warrants removal from office, they will have the power nine months from now to do it themselves.
(MUSIC) And if they don't think it warrants removal, they can keep him in place too. It is the court of public opinion that in the end will decide Donald Trump's fate. (MUSIC) (PAUSE) Article II: Inside Impeachment is produced by Isabel Angel, Max Jacobs, Claire Tighe, Aaron Dalton, Preeti Varathan, Allison Bailey, Adam Noboa, and Barbara Raab. (MUSIC) Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of audio. I'm Steve Kornacki. Thanks for listening.