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Transcript: The Groundwork

The full episode transcript for Article II: Inside Impeachment, The Groundwork.
Image: U.S. President Trump impeachment inquiry hearing in Washington
David A. Holmes, Department of State political counselor for the United States Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine and Fiona Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia appear before the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing in Washington, on Nov. 21, 2019.Matt McClain / Pool via Reuters


Article II: Inside Impeachment

The Groundwork

Steve Kornacki: From NBC News is this Article Two, Inside Impeachment. I'm Steve Kornacki. Today is Friday November 22nd. Here's what's happening.

Archival Recording: Withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be crazy. I believed that then. And I believe it now.

Archival Recording: It was unexpected and most unfortunate however to watch some Americans launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine.

Archival Recording: How could our system fail like this?

Archival Recording: And now the president real time is attacking you.

Archival Recording: Well it's very intimidating.

Archival Recording: Dad, do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.

Archival Recording: I found the July 25th phone call unusual.

Archival Recording: My worst fear of our how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out.

Archival Recording: Feared at the time of the call on July 25th, how its disclosure would play in Washington's political climate. My fears have been realized.

Archival Recording: I did not know of any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations.

Archival Recording: Sir, my exact words were were that the Ukrainian embassy and the House Foreign Affairs Committee are asking about security assistance.

Archival Recording: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting the answer is yes.

Archival Recording: Would you agree though that it would be very unusual to place a hold on military aid in order to leverage a foreign country to get them to investigate a political opponent?

Archival Recording: Yes.

Archival Recording: Again everyone's in the loop.

Archival Recording: Ambassador Sondland stated, "Damn it, Rudy. Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and F's everything up."

Archival Recording: And he then in the course of that discussion said that Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up. He was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would you know, probably come back to haunt us. And in fact I think that that's where we are today.

Steve Kornacki: 122 hours of closed-door testimony, more than 34 hours of public testimony. And that public testimony was with 12 witnesses across seven televised hearings. It has been a busy few weeks on Capitol Hill. And it's a lot to make sense of. So today we are taking a step back and we are asking after two weeks of hearing where do lawmakers stand? And where are the politics of impeachment going next? John Allen is a political reporter for NBC News. And he joins us now from Washington. John, thanks for joining us.

Jonathan Allen: My pleasure, Steve.

Steve Kornacki: So we had quite a week of hearings here. The question is where this goes from here. And I wanna look at this from a standpoint of democrats first then from the standpoint of republicans. So from the democratic standpoint, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, what he said in his closing statements at the end of the the final set of public hearings on Thursday.

Adam Schiff: Now, I I happen to think that when the founders provided a mechanism in the Constitution for impeachment they were worried about what might happen if someone unethical took the highest office in the land and used it for their personal gain and not because of deep care about the big things that should matter like our national security and our defense and our allies and what the country stands for. I happen to think that's why they put that remedy in the Constitution.

Steve Kornacki: Does that represent the sentiment of the entire democratic caucus? Are there any are there any cracks there? Is this a unified party when it comes to saying what Schiff said?

Jonathan Allen: There's an outlier to Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey has been opposed to impeachment. He was opposed to the inquiry. I suspect he'll be opposed to impeaching the president. Collin Peterson of Minnesota was opposed to the inquiry in the first place.

I think it's hard to come out for impeachment after you opposed the inquiry. But otherwise we haven't heard a lot of cracks. There may be a few members who say they they didn't hear enough evidence at the end. I think they'll have the votes that they need, 218 for at least one or two articles of impeachment at the end of the day.

Steve Kornacki: That other part of that statement he made, you know, consulting our conscience and our constituents.

Adam Schiff: And I think we need to consult our conscience and our constituents and decide whether that remedy is appropriate here, whether that remedy is necessary here.

Steve Kornacki: That's the other significant piece of this. Democrats held these hearings for the last two weeks. I think one of the ideas they had was could this move public opinion dramatically in the direction of impeachment. We will wait to see if there's more polls that come out this weekend.

But the indications so far are this looks pretty much coming out of it as it did coming in. Is that is that a disappointment for democrats? Is that a surprise for democrats that that there's no indication of a dramatic, you know, five, ten point jump here or more in support for impeachment?

Jonathan Allen: It's certainly a disappointment for them. I'm not sure how much of a surprise it is. It's interesting to me that in Schiff's closing he's making arguments about the Constitution and about National Security. I'm not sure that those are the things that are going to move casual voters, that were gonna move independents.

There are arguments that could be made about potential spoiling of the political process, cheating the political process that might have resonated a little more clearly with people that's a very sort of high-minding argument that probably resonates with editorial writers and maybe some of the folks in the democratic party who pay a lot of attention to those things. And yet as you point out the early polls suggest that the public was not moved toward impeachment.

Steve Kornacki: Another aspect of this too I think folks were watching closely this week, the last two weeks with sort of the with the interactions on that committee between the democrats and the republicans, Schiff and Nunez and and and Schiff and Jim Jordan, some of the other republicans could get pretty testy at times. And then in his closing, Schiff explicitly invoked Watergate.

Adam Schiff: The difference between then and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump. It's the difference between that congress and this one. And so we we are asking where is Howard Baker? Where is Howard Baker? Where are the people who are willing to go beyond their party to look to their duty?

Steve Kornacki: What I was picking up on there tell me if if if this was your sense if this is accurate, there was a lot of frustration on Schiff's part with the approach republicans took the last two weeks?

Jonathan Allen: Absolutely. I think Schiff believes that the republicans on the committee are being disingenuous. You heard Fiona Hill the former national security council official who is an expert on eastern Europe and on Russia in particular talking about how the president was pursuing or promoting conspiracy theories that were generated by Russia regarding these investigations that he wanted to pursue.

And you heard ranking member Nunez and other republicans repeating them gleefully in defense of the president. And I think he was frustrated about that. I think he felt like the republicans were not being statesman. And of course that is going to I believe turn into a political argument that the democrats are gonna make if the impeachment is not successful in removing the president from office basically to tell voters that republicans did not take this process seriously, that they did not have the courage to stand up to their president when when they should have.

Steve Kornacki: So if democrats are moving towards formalizing, you know, what Schiff was articulating there into articles of impeachment and getting some kind of vote in the House on that, in the next few weeks you're suggesting the question there obviously from the republican side has been are there gonna be any cracks, any changes on the republican side.

I think the republican on the intelligence committee that everybody I think was looking at as sort of a barometer was Will Hurd from Texas. This is somebody from a swing district that had gone slightly for Clinton in 2016. He refused to endorse Donald Trump in 2016.

He's now retiring from the house. But I think a lot of folks looked at him as somebody who if Hurd could be persuaded, it could mean there are other republicans who could be persuaded to vote for impeachment. In his final shot at the microphone late on Thursday Hurd made sort of a two-prong argument. First, he did go after Trump's actions. He took issue with Trump's actions in relation to Ukraine.

Will Hurd: So why are we here? The use of the phrase do us a favor though in reference to the 2016 presidential election and the mention of the word Biden. I believe both statements were inappropriate, misguided foreign policy. And it's certainly not how the executive current or in the future should handle such a call, the Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine. So where does this leave us?

Steve Kornacki: But then he worked around to say those actions are not in his view impeachable.

Will Hurd: (IN PROGRESS) overwhelmingly clear and unambiguous. And it's not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I've not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.

Steve Kornacki: The fact that Will Hurd landed there, bad but not impeachable, does that tell you something more broadly about where the republican party's likely to land?

Jonathan Allen: It tells you that he's given great cover to moderate republicans who want to land in that spot. You know, if you're looking for acts of what one would call political courage, they're few and far between, the members of congress usually do what they think is in their own best interests.

And those can be defined by a lot of things. But Will Hurd maybe thinking about a future political career, the republican party after he leaves congress. He may be thinking about a variety of other things. Or maybe he simply looked at the evidence and decided that it didn't reach to the point where it either merited or demanded impeachment. One thing I thought was very interesting though he seemed to define the entire question of whether the president should be impeached by whether or not it had been proven that the president had committed an act of bribery or extortion.

So that leaves open two questions to me. Number one, whether Hurd might be inclined to vote for impeachment on other potentially impeachable offenses including obstruction of congress or high crimes and misdemeanors based on some of the evidence that we heard before the House Intelligence Committee specifically not necessarily whether there was a quid pro quo involved in the discussion of aid for Ukraine in these investigations or announced the announcement of investigations into Biden but simply the act of turning so much of the U.S. government, the taxpayer paid officials in the U.S. government into a force to try to pressure Ukraine into investigating the President's political opponent, Joe Biden. I think you're gonna hear a lot of democrats make the argument that that in and of itself is an impeachable offense.

Steve Kornacki: It seemed a little striking to me that where Hurd landed, what he was saying at the end there, bad but not impeachable, that distinction, I did not hear that from a lot or really any of the other committee republicans over the last two weeks. Is there a unified message that republicans are likely to push in the coming weeks if this builds towards a floor debate in the house and a vote on articles of impeachment? And is there gonna be a unified argument here from republicans? Or is it just gonna be sort of scatter shot?

Jonathan Allen: I think it's mostly gonna be scatter shot. They don't really need to have one reason for voting now. And that's the that's one of the many asymmetries in this. There are a lot of them (LAUGH) including that making the case that you know, number one what the president did was wrong, number two that it was done, number three that he did it, you know, rather than people doing it on his behalf, number four that it merits impeachment, number five that it requires impeachment, number six that it's bad for the average person and they should be concerned about it. I mean, there's a whole, you know, sort of litany of things the democrats have to prove to get the public on their side.

And from the republican standpoint really what they have to do is just go out and vote no. I think we're gonna hear at least a couple of different versions of that one being the Will Hurd version, bad but not impeachable. And of course the other one that we're gonna hear a lot of is the president didn't do anything wrong.

Steve Kornacki: Okay. We'll be back with more in just a moment. So you think this is coming to a head in the house in the next couple weeks, before Christmas, before the end of the year? What what will those just procedurally here, what are the sort of the highlights then of the next few weeks? What will happen in the house between now and whenever this vote will occur?

Jonathan Allen: From the house officials I've talked to what we're expecting to see happen is the judiciary committee will now take over because that's the committee that drafts articles of impeachment. They may start hearings of their own. It's not clear whether they'll do that but probably gonna have some hearings of their own starting the week after Thanksgiving.

Those could include a variety of things possibly legal scholars on what the House Intelligence Committee collected and transferred over. There's an expectation that the House Intelligence Committee will write up a report over the next week or two and send something to judiciary short of house intelligence getting more witnesses in the next week or so. Need then at some point the judiciary will between now and the third week of December, will draft articles of impeachment and vote them out of committee. Then those will go to the floor. The democrats want to vote on major legislation the same week as those articles of impeachment to try to fend off the allegation that they're not doing legislative business for the people while they're focused on the impeachment. So we should see right before Christmas some legislative votes and a v and votes on impeachment. Now how many articles of impeachment and what they look like, that's still being determined.

Steve Kornacki: The other piece of drama that that was playing out as the hearings were wrapping up on Thursday before the intelligence committee, at the White House senate republicans were having a lunch meeting there, a group of senate republicans. And the subject of a potential impeachment trial in the senate came up during that during that luncheon.

It was a major source of conversation apparently. We have a question from Alicia from Toronto, Canada. Look at that we got listener we got international listeners here. Alicia is asking if senate republicans wanna have a short impeachment trial or a long one? And and who would be making those decisions? I know the reporting coming out of this meeting suggested there might be conflicting opinion there.

Steve Kornacki: I think there is conflicting opinion. And there always would be on something like this. There will be those who wanna make sure that it's long enough to ensure that it doesn't look like there was sort of a rush job done. And at the same time they don't wanna leave the president out there hanging and, you know, create an opportunity for you know, for new evidence to show up or the president to have a drip, drip, drip effect.

You know, the other thing that affects us is the democratic presidential primary or to be more specific the caucuses in Iowa. You know, if the thing lasts for the entire month of January, you've got several democratic presidential candidates who will be basically bound to their chairs silently in the senate which will start proceedings at 12:30 p.m. every day. (LAUGH) And they won't be able to campaign in Iowa which generally speaking would be seen as an advantage to former Vice President Joe Biden who no longer serves in the senate.

And, you know, of course, the allegation against President Trump is that he spent all this energy trying to essentially invalidate Joe Biden's candidacy through investigations in Ukraine. How ironic it would be if the senate ended up helping him in the Iowa caucuses in his impeachment trial. (LAUGH) And so maybe some of those senators would like to some of the republican senators would like to unleash Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and Cory Booker back out onto the campaign trail as early as possible.

Steve Kornacki: John Allen, political reporter for NBC News, thanks for joining us, really appreciate it.

Jonathan Allen: Thanks, Steve.

Steve Kornacki: Members of congress are officially off for the Thanksgiving break. Though NBC's reporting suggests that the House Intelligence Committee will convene next week to go through the evidence and testimony that they have heard so far. And we wanna get in a question from you. We are always asking our listeners to send in their questions, make that part of the show.

Well, here's one from Jordan in Brooklyn, New York. Jordan in Brooklyn, New York asks this, "Has all the behind the closed doors testimony been released? If not, do we expect Schiff to roll it out over the next several days to keep up the drumbeat of news?" Well, good question there Jordan, actually good two questions there.

First of all there are two people who testified behind closed doors whose testimony has not yet been released. They are Philip Reeker the acting assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs. And Mark Sandy, he is a career official from the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, which Mick Mulvaney oversees.

Both of their testimonies occurred behind closed doors. Neither has been publicly released. And as to the second question of whether they will be publicly released, we don't know. It's possible they will. It's possible they won't. We will wait to see what the committee does. So thanks again to Jordan from Brooklyn for that.

And we wanna answer more of your questions next week and every week. Every episode we have here on Article Two, you can always write to us at That is Article Two, write out T-W-O, You ask, we will answer or we will do our best to answer. Keep those questions coming in. Article Two, Inside Impeachment is produced by Isabel Angel, Max Jacobs, Clair Tighe, Aaron Dalton, Preeti Varathon, Allison Bailey, Adam Noboa and Barbara Raab. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of audio. I'm Steve Kornacki. We'll be back on Monday.