Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday.
Democrats in the House of Representatives plan to prove over several weeks of hearings that the US leader abused his office by seeking Ukraine’s help for his 2020 reelection campaign, and sought to extort his Kiev counterpart into finding dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Trump says the inquiry is “corrupt” and “illegal,” and maintains he did nothing wrong.
“Democrats in Washington would rather pursue outrageous hoaxes and delusional witch hunts, which are going absolutely nowhere. Don’t worry about it,” he said confidently Tuesday in a speech to the Economic Club of New York.
But the investigation threatens to make him only the third US president to be impeached, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, and placed on trial in the Senate for possible removal from office.
“On the basis of what the witnesses have had to say so far, there are any number of potentially impeachable offenses: including bribery, including high crimes and misdemeanors,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who will lead the hearings, told NPR radio Tuesday.
Neither Johnson or Clinton was convicted and removed. But in 1974 Richard Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment and removal from office for the Watergate scandal.
– Fiery hearings expected –
Hearings are expected to be fiery as a series of government officials take the stand to testify on Trump’s Ukraine machinations during the middle of this year.
Both sides have spent the past several days rehearsing for the showdown. Coming just one year before national elections, the hearings carry great risks for both parties and no certain reward, with the US electorate deeply divided and weary of Washington infighting.
Polls show a slim majority of Americans favor impeaching the president.
But they also show that Trump’s sizable voter base, which delivered his shock victory in 2016, rejects the allegations. Trump has focused his personal defense on ensuring Republicans in Congress heed their views.
Republicans have accused the soft-spoken and prosecutorial Schiff of an unfair and unconstitutional process, and they have attacked witnesses as biased against the president.
They have also sought, in closed door depositions over the last six weeks, to refocus attention on Biden’s link, through his son, to Ukraine, and on the widely discredited theory Trump apparently believes that Ukraine assisted Democrats in the 2016 election.
– Phone call transcript –
But Schiff said in a letter Tuesday that he will not put up with attempts to hijack the hearings and turn them into a political circus.
The inquiry “will not serve as venues for any member to further the same sham investigations into the Bidens or into debunked conspiracies about 2016 US election interference,” he said.
Democrats have amassed evidence that Trump sought to leverage Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s desire for a meeting between the two leaders and for some $391 million in aid to get Ukraine to find dirt on Biden, who could face Trump in next year’s presidential election.
The key evidence is the official White House transcript of a July 25 phone call showing Trump pressuring Zelensky to open investigations into Biden and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
The White House has refused to hand over other records on Ukraine policy or allow top Trump aides involved in the decision to pressure Zelensky to testify.
On Tuesday Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — who has publicly confirmed the broad outlines of Democrats’ allegations — rejected a subpoena to appear before the committee.
The first witnesses Wednesday will be William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Both have already testified in private that Trump clearly used his power and aid to pressure Zelensky for investigations that would help him in the 2020 vote.
“I had concerns that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the US,” Kent told investigators.
On Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump removed earlier this year, will testify.
Democrats on Tuesday unveiled the schedule for public testimony next week by eight more witnesses, all of whom previously testified behind closed doors.
House Republicans are preparing to argue that Trump was within his rights, given Ukraine’s history of deep corruption.
“Democrats want to impeach President Trump because unelected and anonymous bureaucrats disagreed with the President’s decisions,” they said in a strategy memorandum over the weekend.
“The federal bureaucracy works for the president…. and President Trump is doing what Americans elected him to do.”
Trump fears his base will turn on him if he flips and calls for nationwide mask guidelines: CNN
On CNN Saturday, analyst Ron Brownstein outlined the key reason President Donald Trump is struggling to adapt his message to proper public health guidance on the coronavirus pandemic.
"Ron, there is a retail trade group that has asked President Trump to institute federal, nationwide mask guidelines at stores across the country as the country continues to re-open," said anchor Alex Marquardt. "Experts are saying that masks could save thousands of lives in the coming months. Do you see a scenario in which — any chance in which he would issue that?"
"I think the short answer is no, and for a revealing reason," said Brownstein. "He is in a trap of his own construction. On coronavirus, we talk all the time about how President Trump's base is bonded to him, immovably. He's also bonded to the base in the other direction, that he is very reluctant to get out crosswise with a base that includes the kind of people that showed up at the Michigan capital to protest lockdown without wearing masks and waving Confederate flags and carrying automatic weapons."
Trump and the GOP have become the party of the dead
There are few morbid topics subject to greater speculation than the religious loyalty of President Donald Trump's "base." Why an alarmingly large amount of Americans refuse even to entertain any criticism of Trump deserves scrutiny from political scientists, psychologists and perhaps horror novelists working in the school of Edgar Allan Poe.
This article first appeared in Salon.
What is abundantly clear is that no matter who votes for Trump, he and the Republican Party on the national level have no interest in governing on the behalf of living human beings — with the exception of ensuring that a tiny minority of billionaires and multimillionaires enlarge their investment portfolios. Trump evinces no concern for Americans dying of the coronavirus, racist violence or any other malady or injustice. He demonstrates no regard for health care professionals courageously trying to save their patients from dying, and appears cruelly indifferent to the struggles of millions of workers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19. Needless to say, Trump also shows contempt for Black Lives Matter, immigrants and anyone who opposes his re-election, which at this moment (and throughout his presidency) is more than half of the American public.
As coronavirus seizes the state, Florida hospitals are in panic mode
This article first appeared in Salon.
There are 47,663 hospital beds in the state right now with 11,782 available (meaning a remaining capacity of 19.82 percent) and a total staffed bed capacity of 59,445, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration's Hospital Bed Capacity Dashboard. The state Department of Health also reported on Friday that, out of 95,300 individuals who received coronavirus test results over the course of the previous day, 11,433 tested positive for COVID-19 (all but 90 of whom were Florida residents), meaning that more than 12 percent of the new cases had positive test results. The state also reported 93 new deaths due to COVID-19. (Salon reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment on this story.)