Welcome to the Impeachment Briefing, a special edition of the Morning Briefing that explains the latest developments in the House impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Sign up here to get the briefing by email every weeknight.
I’m Noah Weiland, and I’m here to catch you up on the day’s news, along with insights from the Washington bureau, where I work, and the rest of the Times newsroom.
President Trump speaking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House today, as he headed to the presidential helicopter. CreditPete Marovich for The New York Times
What happened today
The Times has learned that two of President Trump’s top envoys to Ukraine drafted a statement for the country’s new president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals. The effort is more evidence that Mr. Trump’s fixation with Ukraine drove senior diplomats to bend U.S. foreign policy to the president’s political agenda.
People familiar with the statement told our reporters that the envoys — Kurt Volker, of the State Department, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union — believed that Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was “poisoning” his mind about Ukraine, and that a public commitment to investigate would encourage Mr. Trump to more fully support the new government there.
Mr. Volker was interviewed today as the first witness in the House impeachment inquiry. He disclosed a set of texts in which Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told him and Mr. Sondland, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” After speaking with Mr. Trump, Mr. Sondland messaged that there was no quid pro quo, adding, “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”
On the South Lawn of the White House this morning, Mr. Trump publicly called on China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden — flouting Democrats who are already investigating him for seeking electoral assistance from a foreign power in private.
The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking her to suspend impeachment proceedings until she had answered questions about how she would include Republicans. The move is part of the G.O.P.’s nascent but aggressive impeachment defense of Mr. Trump. In a message sent to Republican lawmakers this morning, Mr. McCarthy accused Democrats of “trying to discredit democracy” and “undo the 2016 election.”
China, if you’re listening …
In his decades-long public life, Mr. Trump has continually said things that shock (“Russia, if you’re listening …”). But today’s open request for China to investigate his political adversary still felt like new territory. I talked to my colleague Maggie Haberman, who has covered Mr. Trump for many years in New York and Washington, about the significance of his statements.
Maggie, why would he just blurt out that he wants China to investigate the Bidens?
He clearly knows something a wise person once said to me, which is that the value of a secret is its ability to be disclosed. So he tries to move the window of acceptability by publicly doing the very thing he is accused of doing in private.
What is it about his circumstances that might encourage him to make a request like this out loud?
He has led a consequence-free life despite enormously self-destructive behaviors over time. The divorces were marriages he wanted out of. The bankruptcies impacted his lenders most, not him. All of his behavior in 2016 ended with him winning the presidency. And the Mueller obstruction inquiry ended with no definitive answer.
Does his request this morning remind you of anything?
The period of time that is the most illuminating happened after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out. The next day, I wrote a story about Mr. Trump holed up at Trump Tower. He came downstairs sometime after 4 p.m. and went and immersed himself in a crowd of supporters who were outside on the street, and pumped his fist. The next day, he went to the debate in St. Louis and paraded Bill Clinton’s accusers in front of Hillary Clinton. It was the most savage thing I had ever seen anyone do in politics. And it underscored what Mr. Trump does when he is wounded.
What else we’re reading
Ben Smith outlines what he sees as Mr. Trump’s retaliation structure in Buzzfeed News’s “The Stakes 2020” newsletter:
What Mr. Trump is doing, he writes, “has one purpose, which is to build an alternate scaffolding of lies, truths, and random facts for the Trump movement to hang on to when the big impeachment wave comes. You have your Ukraine accusations? Republicans will have their own Ukrainian narrative. You have Robert Mueller? We have Rudy Giuliani. And so on. Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill mostly just need something to say, something to throw back in the faces of Trump’s accusers. He’s producing that narrative for them.”
Why do impeachment politics feel so personal? The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, released a new survey that shows close to half of Americans think of politics as a struggle between good and evil.
CNN rejected a pair of ads from Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign that derided the impeachment investigation, which the network said contained inaccuracies and unfairly attacked the network’s journalists.
The Washington Post put together a handy calendar to show what comes next in the impeachment investigation.
At an appearance at Amherst College this evening, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked by a student to characterize this moment in American history. “As an aberration,” she said.
This summer, after Mr. Trump said that he would be open to taking information from a foreign power, Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, posted a statement to Twitter reminding him (indirectly) that taking anything election-related was against the law. She posted it again today and added, with a microphone emoji, “Is this thing on?”
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