Report: Trump approved in advance of House Republicans' stunt to disrupt impeachment testimony at SCIF

I think maybe the new strategy is to keep committing impeachable offenses so that the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry never actually ends.

It’s risky. But brilliant.

Imagine Matt Gaetz testifying before the Senate in a month or two at Trump’s trial after House Dems add obstruction to the articles of impeachment because of today’s sit-in.

Trump had advance knowledge and supported a protest by Republicans who told him they planned to barge into a secure hearing room on Capitol Hill where Democrats are holding impeachment testimonies, according to four people familiar with the matter.Trump on Tuesday met with about 30 House Republicans at the White House to talk about the situation in Syria and the impeachment inquiry. During a nearly two-hour meeting, which focused mostly on the impeachment inquiry, lawmakers shared their plans to storm into the secure room, the people said. Trump supported the action, saying he wanted the transcripts released because they will exonerate him, the people said.

As I write this at 3:30 p.m. ET, it sounds like the protest is over — or at least sufficiently at bay that the scheduled witness, Laura Cooper, is going to proceed with her testimony. The stunt was Trumpism distilled to its purest essence, though, destined to infuriate the left, embarrass the center-right, and give righty populists something to cheer and rally around. It’s also evidence that Trump and his allies in Congress are worried about the Bill Taylor testimony yesterday. They’ve gotta do something to stop the momentum towards impeachment and to make their case to voters before the public tilts even more lopsidedly against Trump. A sit-in in the SCIF over procedural fairness is one weird thing they can do to try to change the subject.

Although, really, it’s revealing how few Republicans were involved, not how many. There are 185 GOPers in the House, most of them outwardly completely devoted to the president. Today’s protest involved something like two dozen. That’s a lot of House R’s who somehow avoided participating. Maybe they’re quietly embarrassed too? Or maybe they thought it’d be poor messaging for the alleged party of national security to rush into a SCIF with cell phones in hand, creating a potentially serious vulnerability.

One note on process here. Everyone understands that House Republicans who are members of the relevant committees are already attending these “secret” depositions and questioning witnesses, right? Among them is Mike Pence’s brother, Greg. Amid all the Trumpy complaints about procedural unfairness, it can be hard to discern what process Trump and the party are entitled to and what process they aren’t. I think it’s fair to complain that the GOP hasn’t been allowed to call its own witnesses, as they’d be able to do if Democrats had held a formal vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry. But as far as Trump not getting to have his lawyers there, not being to cross-examine witnesses, not being able to confront the whistleblower, and so on, that’s … perfectly par for the course in a grand jury proceeding, which is the analog in the criminal justice system to the House phase of the impeachment process. At the grand jury stage in criminal law, the defense lawyer doesn’t even get to be in the room. It’s the prosecutor’s show entirely, which is why grand juries almost always agree to issue an indictment. Trump already has more process than the average American gets inasmuch as he has Republicans on the committees like Greg Pence going to bat for him against the witnesses. And of course he’ll have much more process in his favor at the trial stage, when his attorneys will enter the picture and he’ll call his own witnesses.

It is … odd to complain about a Star Chamber in this case when the average criminal defendant faces a Star Chamber that’s skewed even more heavily towards the prosecution in grand jury rooms across America every waking hour of every day. And unlike Trump, that defendant isn’t worried about losing his job. He’s worried about prison. Potentially forever.

Anyway. I think there’s another reason why Trump greenlit today’s sit-in. He’s been hoping for more aggressive counterprogramming to impeachment by his allies in the Senate but it hasn’t happened. The question is why.

In particular, there is growing frustration that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not yet called hearings into the issues that sparked Trump’s interest in Ukraine: Joe Biden’s alleged and unfounded attempts to aid a business whose board his son sat on as well as a conspiracy theory that links Ukraine with 2016 election meddling.

“Senate Republicans don’t have to defend Trump on everything, they just have to do their jobs,” said one senior Trump operative. “Part of that is holding hearings, calling witnesses, and forcing testimony on the misdeeds we already know about—Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 election against Trump, the Clinton campaign paying foreign sources to fabricate a dossier against Trump, the politically driven Kavanaugh smear campaign, the son of the former vice president influence-trading overseas, Adam Schiff trying to obtain dirt on Trump from the Ukrainian embassy, and more. What good is controlling half of Congress if Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff get to run the whole show anyway?”

Why is it, do you suppose, that a Trump crony as stalwart as Lindsey Graham is reluctant to open hearings into the Burisma and CrowdStrike matters, knowing how grateful Trump and Trump fans would be? Is it to punish Trump for his bug-out in Syria? I don’t think so; Graham has a supernatural ability to compartmentalize his grievances with Trump. I think it’s because, whatever else Lindsey Graham may be, he’s not stupid. And he understands perfectly well that if he were to hold those hearings and they didn’t go well for Trump, they’d be an unmitigated political disaster. It’d be one thing for Democrats to investigate the Bidens and the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and conclude that there’s no “there” there. That can be dismissed as partisan hackery by anti-Trumpers. And it’d be one thing for Ukraine to investigate those two matters and decide there’s nothing to either matter. That can be dismissed as foreign corruption. But if Graham takes up those matters and can’t prove wrongdoing by Joe Biden and can’t substantiate Trump’s strange belief that the DNC server is hiding in Ukraine or whatever, there’s no spinning it. Democrats will declare both matters dead and buried by the hand of one of Trump’s top Senate lackeys. And Trump — and Trump fans — will be furious at Graham for not having produced the goods, which might even derail Graham’s Senate reelection bid. Lindsey’s not going anywhere near this stuff if he can help it, and he’s doing Trump a favor by refusing. Better to let Matt Gaetz break through the walls of SCIFs like Kool-Aid Man or whatever to keep Trump happy instead.

I’ll leave you with this as your exit question.

Update: Oh, wait, my mistake. Lindsey has been brought to heel.