The Morning Dispatch: The Impeachment Show: Episode 2

Plus, the GOP tries to recapture the governor’s mansion in Louisiana, and Democrats and Republicans trade places on presidential morality. 

Happy Friday! John Legend was officially named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine this week, so if today’s Morning Dispatch reads a little melancholy, we’re just bummed we missed the cut.

Quick Hits: What You Need To Know

  • A school shooting in California left four students wounded and two dead Thursday.

  • Top White House aide Stephen Miller is under fire after hundreds of emails he sent to Breitbart editors promoting white nationalist literature were leaked.

  • Deval Patrick, the millionaire former governor of Massachusetts, officially announced his 2020 campaign. Meanwhile, fellow rich latecomer Michael Bloomberg apologized for past lewd remarks about women. 

  • The nation’s biggest employer, Walmart, posted stronger-than-expected third quarter earnings Thursday.

  • Jury deliberations have begun in the trial of former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who is accused of lying to Congress during the Russia investigation. 

  • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell issued a grim warning about the state of the national debt Wednesday, telling Congress the federal budget “is on an unsustainable path.”

  • President Trump is demanding South Korea pay 500 percent more in 2020 to keep American troops on the peninsula.

Impeachment TV: Episode 2

The second day of public impeachment hearings begins Friday at 9 a.m. with the sworn testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was the subject of a smear campaign led by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. 

Yovanovitch served as ambassador in Kyiv from August 2016 until May 2019, when she was recalled to Washington. In her closed-door deposition, Yovanovitch testified that she was both baffled and frustrated by the campaign to oust her and told lawmakers that she’d met Giuliani only three times, on issues unrelated to the current controversy. “I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she testified. “But individuals who have been named in the press who have contact with Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal and financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

Yovanovitch didn’t specify these individuals, but under later questioning described a conversation she’d had with a senior Ukrainian government official who warned her about Giuliani’s campaign and his ties to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. “He basically said, and went into some detail, that there were two individuals from Florida, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who were working with Mayor Giuliani, and … were interested in having a different ambassador at post.”

Parnas and Fruman, since charged with campaign finance violations in connection with contributions they made to a Trump super PAC, among others, had pushed in both the U.S. and Ukraine for Yovanovitch’s ouster. One U.S. energy executive in Ukraine who met with the two men later said they presented him with a plan to remove Yovanovitch and return Ukraine’s energy industry to a time when it was “a heck of a lot more corrupt.”

Republicans plan to challenge Yovanovitch’s credibility and suggest she was part of an effort to thwart President Trump’s foreign policy. In this framing, the dispute at the heart of the impeachment hearings is really a disagreement over policy, with elements of the Deep State unable or unwilling to serve a president with whom they disagreed. Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, previewed his party’s approach to Yovanovitch during his opening statement Wednesday for the public hearings featuring William Taylor and George Kent. After a meandering tour through several pet conspiracy theories, Nunes claimed that “the bureaucracy … believed it was an outrage for the president to fire an ambassador.” 

Republicans may also try to revive a curious attack on Yovanovitch leveled last week by Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of Trump’s most excitable defenders. Zeldin suggested that Yovanovitch may have lied under oath in response to questions he asked her about an email she’d received from a Democratic aide.  

On August 14, two days after the whistleblower complaint was filed, Yovanovitch received an email on her personal email account from Laura Carey, a Democratic congressional staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and former State Department colleague, seeking a meeting to obtain answers to “Ukraine-related oversight questions.” In the email, obtained by Fox News, Carey wrote, “I'd appreciate the chance to ground-truth a few pieces of information with you, some of which are quite delicate/time-sensitive and, thus, we want to make sure we get them right.”

Yovanovitch responded the following day, August 15, indicating that she’d be eager to “reconnect” but then referring the inquiry to the State Department. “I have let EUR [Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs] know that you are interested in talking and they will be in touch with you shortly.”

Carey followed four days later, August 19, pushing for a meeting “this week.” There is no indication Yovanovitch responded to this email, having already referred Carey’s email to the State Department for a response. 

When Zeldin questioned Yovanovitch about the exchange, Yovanovitch, without mentioning that she’d responded to Carey to redirect her inquiry to the proper channels, testified that she had “alerted the State Department, because I’m still an employee and so matters are generally handled through the State Department.”

Zeldin tweeted that Yovanovitch “did not accurately answer this question” and several Trump-friendly media outlets took his allegation even further. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson reported that “Yovanovitch claimed that she never personally responded to it – never responded to the Democratic staffer. … As Congressman Zeldin pointed out, the ambassador’s original answer, which was dishonest, was given under oath.” A FoxNews.com story reported that Yovanovitch “indicated under oath that she never responded to” the August 14 email. The Federalist reported that “Yovanovitch stated that she personally had not responded to the first email sent to her by an individual from the House Foreign Affairs Committee” which means “there is a strong likelihood that Yovanovitch thus committed perjury.”

But Yovanovitch did not make such a claim. Nowhere in the transcript does she say she did not respond to the first email. She can be accused, accurately, of failing to volunteer that she’d responded to Carey to let her know that she had referred the inquiry to the State Department. But she never claimed that she didn’t respond to the first email, and it’s not accurate to claim that she lied under oath.

Battle in the Bayou

Another week, another off-year red-state gubernatorial race. With Republican Matt Bevin finally conceding to Andy Beshear in Kentucky on Thursday, the political world’s eyes can fully turn down south to Louisiana, where Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards is in a close race with GOP challenger Eddie Rispone (rhymes with pony) ahead of Saturday’s runoff election.

The runoff was set up about a month ago, when Edwards failed to reach the 50 percent threshold necessary in Louisiana’s jungle primary—where all candidates for the same office appear on one ballot regardless of party, and the top two head to a runoff a month later if no one receives an outright majority of the vote. Rispone, 70, who made his millions in the construction business, outpaced Ralph Abraham, a practicing physician and sitting member of Congress representing northeast Louisiana, to make the runoff.

Edwards is the last Democratic governor standing in the Deep South; a loss risks locking the party out of the region entirely.* Edwards maintains a +21 net approval rating in the Pelican State, which Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016. How? The governor, a West Point graduate who served eight years in the Army, isn’t necessarily marching in lockstep with his party: Although he expanded Medicaid on his second day in office and significantly raised taxes on businesses in an effort to balance the budget deficit inherited from Bobby Jindal, Edwards also signed into a law a ban on abortions after 15 weeks and views himself as a “strong supporter of the Second Amendment.” 

Rispone and the GOP are hoping these more conservative concessions won’t matter in an era where partisanship trumps everything. “All elected officials, or people in the public arena are, to some extent, opening themselves up to judgment by the company they keep,” Republican Governors Association spokeswoman Amelia Chassé Alcivar told The Dispatch on Thursday. “So while John Bel Edwards has adopted positions that are not reflective of the extremism we’re seeing in the modern Democratic Party, he has allied himself and tied himself and been supported by groups that represent positions that are wildly out of step with the vast majority of Louisiana voters.” 

In an effort to really drive home this point and tie Edwards to the national Democratic Party, the RGA has spent millions via its Right Direction PAC on ads highlighting the “open border extremists,” “Trump impeachers,” “socialists,” and “trial lawyers” supporting Edwards, reminding voters that the incumbent governor supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. The Democratic Governors Association—through the aptly titled Gumbo PAC—has also poured millions into attack ads, attempting to muddy Rispone’s business record and tie him to unpopular former governor Bobby Jindal. But it’s the Republican National Committee’s last-minute $1 million investment that has some panicking about the GOP’s prospects.

The race couldn’t be any closer, with surveys showing essentially a dead heat between Edwards and Rispone. The most recent poll, published Thursday by the Baton Rouge-based JMC Analytics, found Rispone ahead by half a percentage point with a four percent margin of error. 

JMC Analytics pollster, John Couvillon, told The Dispatch on Thursday that with early voting in the runoff 30 percent higher than it was in the primary, all signs “are pointing towards a more energized Democratic electorate.”

Would Trump’s rally in Bossier City, Louisiana, on Thursday night help stall that momentum? Couvillon was skeptical, saying he found Trump’s last visit to Louisiana increased early voting only by about 2,500. “The Republican vote was already high in the primary,” he said, “Partially due to the enthusiasm generated, in a negative kind of way, from impeachment. I don't think it could get any higher, but they've been joined by blacks [and] Democrats, and I think that the combination of those puts Governor Edwards in a better position than I would have thought would be the case in the beginning of the runoff.”

One additional worry for the GOP? Ralph Abraham voters, who might not have forgiven Rispone for the rough primary, which saw him call Abraham a Nancy Pelosi ally who didn’t support President Trump. While Abraham has endorsed Rispone publicly and spoken positively about him, “there’s some hidden animosities in there,” Couvillon says, and “Rispone needs about 90 percent of the Abraham vote, and that's even assuming black turnout will be the same as it was in the primary, which I believe is not a true assumption.” 

With so few off-year elections, each individual race takes on outsize importance in the pursuit to figure out what it all means. And Trump’s personal investment in the race—he’s held three rallies in Louisiana in the past month, including last night’s—will lead many to treat Rispone’s fate, like they did Bevin’s, as a referendum on the president and the party as a whole heading into 2020. But party officials are already tamping down expectations, even if Trump himself is not. “This race was rated by every single one of the prognosticators, you know Cook Political Report, Sabato, all of those kind of race-ranking folks as a lean-Democrat race a year ago,” Chassé Alcivar said. “This was always an uphill climb for Republicans.”

Presidents as Role Models?

One of the nice things about hoary old polling institutions is the reams of historical data they’ve accumulated over the years. Last month, Gallup polled Americans with a simple question: Would you rather have a president you disagreed with on policy who set a good moral example, or a president whose views you agreed with who was not a good moral example? It was a question they last asked in February 1999—just days after President Clinton’s impeachment trial ended with a vote to acquit him of perjury in the Senate.

In each case, supporters of the impeaching party were far more likely to say good morals were important. In Clinton’s case, 75 percent of Republicans said they wanted presidents who set a good moral example, compared with only 36 percent of Democrats who said the same. Now, the split is almost identical, but reversed: 75 percent of Democrats say they prefer the good moral example, while only 30 percent of Republicans agree.

We’ll leave interpretations up to our readers. But plenty of respondents, then and now, likely take a question like that to mean simply: “Do you think the president should be impeached for his immoral deeds?” Gallup drily alluded to this in its own release: “Because Gallup has asked the question only during the Clinton and Trump administrations, it is not known how Americans in general, and partisans in particular, might answer during a presidency that has not been dominated by investigations and charges of unethical (if not illegal) behavior.”

Maybe someday we’ll get another administration like that, and maybe then we’ll be able to find out.

Worth Your Time

  • “The sun, it has passed,” Neutral Milk Hotel sang in 1998; “Now it’s blacker than black.” But what is blacker than black, and how much blacker than black can you get? That’s the subject of this fascinating New York Times feature, which details scientists’ attempts to create a true black material—one which traps every last photon of light that hits it—and throws in an interesting discussion of the historical social and artistic role of the most striking color for good measure. “How about if we smother a diamond in a layer of ultra-black carbon nanotubes, Ms. Strebe suggested, and watch its facets disappear? ‘It was an exploration of a Heraclitean principle,’ Ms. Strebe said. ‘The extreme opposites of how carbon behaves on exposure to light.’”

  • You’ll want to read this New York Times op-ed from a young Jewish student at George Washington University, decrying what he calls the anti-Semitism of much of today’s campus progressive movement:

Before I arrived on campus, I could proudly say that I was both a strong progressive and a Zionist ...

But my view is not at all shared by the progressive activist crowd I encountered on campus. They have made it abundantly clear to me and other Jews on campus that any form of Zionism — even my own liberal variant, which criticizes various policies of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and seeks a just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is a political nonstarter. 

  • The Berlin Wall—27 miles of concrete and barbed wire separating Europe from the Soviet Union, backed up by guard towers and landmines—was a brutally functional structure. Yet with the fall of communism, the wall took on a new aesthetic significance, and suddenly everybody seemed to want a fragment. This piece, in Lapham’s Quarterly, is an interesting investigation of where all those fragments have ended up. 

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

The Houston Astros, who lost the World Series last month, have been accused of using hidden outfield cameras to steal pitch signs and relay information to batters by banging on trash cans in the dugout. Twitter user Jomboy has a pretty thorough breakdown of it happening here. The practice, which apparently dates back to 2017, is being investigated by Major League Baseball, and could result in punishments “unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history.”

In the meantime, the memes are glorious.

Toeing the Company Line

  • David French’s most recent newsletter is, by his own admission, not “the most upbeat,” but that doesn’t make it any less of a must-read. Join him as he discusses the mounting evidence against Trump, America’s turn toward idiocracy, and Russia’s increasing military prowess.

Let Us Know

Would you rather have a president you disagreed with on policy who owned the libs, or a president whose views you agreed with who treated his or her political opponents with respect?

Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.

*Correction, November 15, 2019: The article originally stated that John Bel Edwards was the only Democratic governor in the Southeast region of the United States. North Carolina also has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.