NDN Blog

Acquitting Trump Will Be Harder for the Senate Than It Appears

This essay was originally published on Medium on Thursday, Dec 19th.

Regardless of what we’ve heard so far from Senate Republicans, I don’t think their upcoming decision about whether to keep or remove President Trump is an easy one. In the Ukraine scandal he committed serious crimes, betrayed the country and was caught. Two of his top aides, Mick Mulvaney and Gordon Sondland, have confirmed these crimes on camera. The original referral of these crimes came from two Trump appointees — the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community and the General Counsel of the CIA. They established the gravity and urgency of what the President had done, and other Trump Administration officials confirmed the story we know today — a story which was never seriously challenged during the House Impeachment process.

 

And this is the problem for the Senate Republicans — there is no question the President is guilty. Any effort to proclaim his innocence will be really risky — can one use the word innocent and Donald Trump in the same sentence? Just in the past few years he has been caught in a massive education fraud scheme (Trump U); his Foundation was shut down due to illegal activity; he and Michael Cohen broke federal campaign finance laws in their effort to bury his cheating on Melania; he and his family have enriched themselves while in office in a manner never seen before in US history; the New York Times and other news organizations have found clear direct evidence of Trump family federal tax fraud; questions about his illicit relationship with foreign leaders like Putin, Erdogan and MBS are likely to get much more scrutiny and could be very explosive. So when you hear House Democrats talk about a “pattern” of lawless activity, they are not just talking about his repeated cheating in an election, it is about him, the President, and his contempt for the rule of law and other norms which are required to make democracies work.

So, claims of innocence, one assumes, will be off the table. Given that Trump is now Impeached, and there is irrefutable evidence of his guilt in both the Ukraine affair and these other matters, exoneration is also not available to the President or GOP Senators. Just a corrupt acquittal. And so I think then the calculation comes down to something deeply political — will Senate Rs be more likely to keep their majority with him, or is the risk of keeping him too great? I want to argue that in the coming weeks Senate Republicans are going to start becoming far more aware of the risks of keeping Trump and that this decision will no longer be a simple one for Mitch McConnell or his colleagues.

The three seat GOP Senate majority is a fragile one. Three incumbents — Gardner (CO), McSally (AZ) and Tillis (NC) — are in bad shape and could easily lose. Maine’s Susan Collins while perhaps in slightly better shape could lose, and has a strong opponent. If Steve Bullock decides to run Montana will be in play, and while seemingly safe now, GA and SC could become uncomfortable wild cards for the GOP. Even if they beat Doug Jones in Alabama, there is a very high likelihood that the Democrats get to 50 or 51 in 2020; 50 with a Democratic President means McConnell is minority leader. As President, Trump had led the GOP into three disastrous elections in a row. Given how tenuous the majority is, the GOP should be very worried about Trump leading them into battle again.

If Republicans vote to acquit Trump all their incumbents will be running with Trump all next year. And what will that look like?

First, John Dingell. Last night, in the critical swing state of Michigan, the President made an outrageous attack on a revered long serving Member of the House who recently passed away. House Republican Members have already come out and asked the President to apologize. Here is what GOP Rep. Paul Mitchel tweeted this morning:

“John Dingell was a well-respected man & I consider Debbie a close colleague and friend. To use his name in such a dishonorable manner at last night’s rally is unacceptable from anyone, let alone the President of the United States. An apology is due, Mr. President @realDonaldTrump.”

When have we ever seen anything like rebuke from a lowly GOP House Member in the Trump Presidency? Do GOP Senators want to lash themselves to an ever crazier and unstable Trump who is capable of these kinds of uncivil acts daily for all of 2020? The Senate GOP has hopes of winning in Michigan in 2020 — that job just got a whole lot harder.

But the second and more profound problem for the Senate GOP is that all of the President’s problems with Russia, corruption, federal criminal investigations — criming in today’s vernacular — aren’t going to disappear if they acquit Trump. This week his deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, was sentenced to prison, joining his lawyer, his campaign manager and other aides in prison. On January 28th Mike Flynn will be sentenced to prison, and Roger Stone gets his prison sentence on February 8th. Who knows what else may come from the 11 — yes 11 — ongoing legal cases Robert Mueller left behind when he closed up shop earlier this year.

In September a new SDNY/FBI federal criminal investigation began arresting Donald Trump’s new set of political aides (most of his old ones are in or headed to jail) for their involvement in the same Ukraine scandal the President has been Impeached for. One of those arrested, Lev Parnas, has fingered the President, Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Devin Nunes directly. Subpoenas have been issued for prominent GOP leaders and Trump allies in the critical 2020 state Florida; a former Republican Member of Congress Pete Sessions has already testified in front of the grand jury. And most ominously for the President and the entire GOP, just this week we learned that Parnas received $1m just this past September from a Russian account of Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch close to Putin, considered to be part of the Russian mob, and a man wanted here in the United States. This payment creates a direct connection from pro-Putin Russian mobsters to the President of the United States. Who knows what else may come out next year? Will Rudy get indicted? Nunes? Will those who worked directly with Rudy in this criminal scheme — Pompeo, Mulvaney, Perry, the President — all have to testify in the investigation, will they be considered co-conspirators?

So, if acquitted, Senate Republicans will have to spend 2020 explaining why they let a serial criminal go, one whose aides keep getting sent to jail, one who is capable of saying and doing things which are impossible to defend — with the backdrop of a brand new explosive federal criminal investigation looking once again into the President and Russia.

I’ve been in national politics for 30 years now, and I can tell you there is not a single US Senator who wants to run for re-election under those circumstances. While they may ultimately decide to acquit the President, I think as the Senators begin to really weigh both the evidence and the broader politics, the chances of the President being removed, or forced to resign, are going to grow significantly in the coming days. This is perhaps why McConnell is threatening to not even have a trial at all — means the public isn’t exposed for weeks to Trump’s clear guilt, and the Senators don’t have to make the hard decision on whether to acquit or not.

Fasten your seat belts folks.

NDN Calls On The House To Conduct A Broad Security Review

Once the House appoints its Impeachment managers and the rules of the Senate trial are set, it is our hope that Congress also begins a project just as urgent – a broad review of the damage done to our standing in the world and our national security by the President’s willingness to put his own interests and the interests of others before the interests of the American people. 

After learning earlier this week that Trump's Ukraine "plumbers" had received money directly from a dirty oligarch close to Putin, yesterday the Washington Post published an alarming new story about Putin's influence over our President:

......"Almost from the moment he took office, President Trump seized on a theory that troubled his senior aides: Ukraine, he told them on many occasions, had tried to stop him from winning the White House.

After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions.

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.””

While a great deal of time and effort has been spent by Congress and the Mueller team looking into what happened in 2016, what Congress has to focus on now are the gifts the President has repeatedly given to other nations which have appeared at odds with stated US foreign policy. While time should be spent looking into his relationship with the Gulf Arab states and Turkey, the most important part of this review should be looking into a series of alarming decisions the President has made in just the past year which have helped Russia and harmed the security interests of the United States. 

I go into detail about these decisions in this recent analysis, but in sum the President has taken aggressive steps in recent months to change our policy towards Syria, Iran, Ukraine, Venezuela and Europe/NATO in ways which seem to be designed to achieve only one thing – advantaging Russia. The great fear we all had about Putin helping get Trump elected was that one day he could call in the chit – and based on what Trump has done in the last twelve months it sure looks like he’s called it in.

What would a broad security review look like? As I wrote recently, it could manifest in many ways, but it seems like it should be led by the Intelligence Committee with the support of Armed Services and Foreign Affairs.  If Chairman Schiff becomes one of the Impeachment managers, perhaps the Intelligence Committee’s Vice Chair, the very able Rep. Jim Himes, could take the lead for the House.  Concurrent public hearings could be held, and a report released this summer, perhaps in July.  We can view the Mueller, Horowitz and House Impeachment Reports as early evidence that can be flowed into whatever final report this process produces. 

Taking a step back, the testimony we heard from the parade of foreign service officers just a few weeks ago was as much about concerns that what the President was doing in Ukraine would benefit Putin and Russia as it was about how it would harm our democracy and elections here in the US.

Friends, there is just far too much evidence now that Russia’s Putin has some kind of dangerous and unnatural hold over our President.  It is time for these often whispered concerns to become front and center in our national debate.  If President Trump remains in office after the Senate trial, we simply cannot go through another election without the American people having a clearer understanding of the influence foreign leaders have had over our President, and how this influence has harmed the standing of our great nation abroad and made the world far more dangerous for all of us.

Trump Concedes The Trade War To China

NDN was an early opponent of the trade war launched in March 2018 by the Trump Administration. We argued that China did in fact commit trade abuses on a wide scale, but that the most effective mechanism for forcing a change in that behavior was through multinational trade negotiations involving US allies that offered China benefits if it committed to genuine liberalization (such a mechanism, the TPP, did exist before Trump unilaterally withdrew in January 2018). We predicted that Trump's alternative, a significant unilateral trade war with China, would instead cause significant pain to the US economy, would not create the leverage to force actual structural reforms, and would likely end with Trump "achieving" some cosmetic concessions from China as he worried that the trade war would harm his re-election chances in 2020.

As has become clear over the past week, this is exactly what has happened. The trade "deal" announced on Friday contains no details about the structural reforms that were the explicit justification for the trade war in the first place - no meaningful commitments on forced technology transfers, no meaningful commitments on industrial subsidies, and no changes to Chinese law regarding IP theft (for years China has made similar "directives" on IP reform as it did in Friday's announcement but has habitually broken them). Instead, the only "achievement" from the deal was a promise by China to increase its purchases of US agricultural exports, but even here there are major problems.

First, the level of promised exports is just not very large compared to the pre-trade war trend. The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that without the trade war, US agricultural exports to China would have hit $27 billion in 2019 and over $30 billion by 2022. In addition, the International Trade Commission estimates that the TPP would have further increased US agricultural exports by $7 billion/year - bringing the total to about $37 billion by 2022. In the new China deal, meanwhile, Ambassador Lighthizer announced that China would purchase a total of about $40 billion in US agricultural products in 2021 and 2022. As a result, this "deal" gets American farmers a paltry $3 billion/year more in exports than if Trump had done nothing on China and signed the TPP deal that was on his desk in January 2017.

Second, it isn't even particularly likely that China ends of purchasing this level of agricultural exports in the first place. A key sticking point for the Administration was that China agree to this level of purchases in a written and signed contract, but the trade deal didn't do this and instead just included a promise by the Chinese that they would do this level of purchases (the Chinese themselves gave no specifics on their level of purchases). Even more striking, Chinese officials on Friday still said that their level of purchases would be market-oriented and in compliance with WTO rules, while the $40 billion in purchases likely runs afoul of both of those metrics. As a result, it is very unclear if China will even uphold their end of the bargain, and over the past year they have routinely committed to purchases that they have then not done.

Finally, even if the purchases get done, encouraging the Chinese government to control the export process of the whole Chinese economy is counter to the entire economic strategy of the US vis-a-vis China. We want China to become a more market-oriented economy with a private sector free to import goods from firms and countries of their choosing, but this directly increases state control by the Communist Party. Furthermore, the purchases almost certainly violate WTO rules (for they impose de facto quotas on agricultural exports from other countries), something ironic given that the US has long (correctly) attacked China for violating the WTO with their trade policies. 

What, then, has Trump's trade war with China actually accomplished since it began in March 2018? It has reduced US economic growth by 0.6% ($128 billion), cost over 300,000 American jobs, and reduced the disposable income of the average American household by over $1,000. And what has Trump gotten from China in return? A paltry amount of increased exports and no structural reforms. You can read more about NDN's analysis of the economic costs of Trump's trade war here, and find NDN's broader work on trade and economic policy under the Trump administration here.

Trump Is Losing The Argument On Impeachment

In a new analysis this morning, Simon makes the case that right now all there is for Trump and Republicans is bad news.  The President was caught betraying the country, something his own aides have confirmed on camera.  He's losing the Impeachment argument with the public.  Close advisors are getting investigated and arrested again, and this new SDNY/FBI investigation into Russia and his campaign will be playing out all next year it appears.  He's historically unpopular, got beat badly in elections in 2018 and 2019, and is losing to Biden by 9 pts.  McConnell’s promise to rig the Senate trial is a sign of panic and weakness, not confidence and strength.

Let’s drill down on two aspects of this narrative – his bad Impeachment numbers and his even worse 2020 numbers:

Impeachment - The Fox News poll released yesterday was a huge, important corrective to an emerging media narrative that things are going the Donald’s way.  Its numbers were just brutal for the President and once again confirmed that there is no backlash.  54% Impeach, 50% remove, only 41% not Impeach.  53% say he abused his office and only 22% say it’s okay to solicit foreign help in an election.  As historian Kevin Kruse reminds us, just a few weeks before Nixon resigned he was at 46% remove, better than Trump now.  Diving into the Fox poll, which is consistent with other recent reputable polls, it is clear that Trump is not winning the Impeachment argument with the public – a big problem for him as this all heads to the Senate.

2020 - Part of the reason Trump isn’t winning the Impeachment argument is that his overall standing with the public is terrible, and he’s in far worse electoral shape today than he ever was in 2015/2016.  This chart summarizes the big numbers out there right now, and they all suggest that Trump is structurally down by high single digits. 

Polling Links: 123456   

By comparison Trump trailed Clinton by just 3-5 points for most of the 2016 election, and Clinton’s margin was above 6 for only a few weeks during the entire 17 months they were both in the race.  As Trump lost the popular vote by 2 points, 48-46, he is at least 5-6 points worse off today than he was on Election Day 2016.  Using the Real Clear Politics aggregates, Biden is ahead outside of margin of error in GA, NH, MI, NC, PA, OH and WI, while AZ, FL, IA, and TX are toss ups, inside the margin of error.  What all this says is that if the election were held today, Biden would beat Trump badly.  Trump is right now not definitively ahead in a single 2020 battleground. 

Related Readings From NDN – “To Defeat Illiberalism, Democrats Must Embrace Their Success As A Governing Party” (link here); and new pieces on Russia’s hold over Trump (link here), and how the House should split Impeachment into three parallel tracks now (link here). 

To Defeat Illiberalism, Democrats Must Embrace Their Success As A Governing Party

Over the past few years, NDN has been advancing an argument that we believe is essential to understanding American politics today – that the two parties are not the same; that over the past thirty years in this new age of globalization, when Democrats have been in power, things have gotten better.  When Republicans have come to power, things have gotten worse. 

The data for establishing this basic framework is overwhelming, and as we discuss in our recent piece excerpted below, those Americans who have come of age since the late 1980s – those in their mid forties and younger – see the world that way and recognize that there are vast differences between the two parties.  There is no “pox on both your houses” talk for younger Americans. 

Why does this matter? First, in our primary debate, we believe that Democrats should be making Republican policies the central cause of our ills today, not globalization, wealth concentration, inequality, or corruption.  Imagine what America would be like today without the trillions spent on failed geopolitical adventurism, a Great Recession and global financial crisis, plutocratic tax cuts, the resistance to climate change policy, universal health care, smart and sound immigration policy, and the Trump presidency?

Second, when it comes to the urgent task of defeating illiberalism here and abroad, it is critical that we establish that center-left governance has and can work; that it has brought a growing economy, rising wages and incomes, booming stock markets, and lower deficits; provided health care and modern skills and education to help our workers succeed; and worked tirelessly to give everyone – truly everyone – a chance to chase the American dream.  Unlike many of the left and center-left parties in Europe, the center-left Democratic Party is a modern force which has made the nation far better in two consecutive American Presidencies, won more votes in 6 of the last 7 national elections, and won a huge election victory against our illiberal President in 2018.  While not without problems, the American Democratic Party has been arguably the most successful center-left party in the developed world over the past 30 years, and it is our belief that making that story known and understood – and we hope imitated/replicated in allied nations – will not just be critical to defeating illiberalism here in the coming years but also throughout the world in the coming decades. 

So friends, read an excerpt from the latest version of our big argument below, which you can find in full here, and feel free to review earlier iterations of it here and here.  We have a lot of work ahead of us, but let’s begin it by owning our achievements and celebrating them with the American people and others fighting for a better future.

Godspeed, Simon

Americans Under 45 Are Breaking Hard Toward The Democrats — And For Good Reason

By Simon Rosenberg and Chris Taylor

Let’s say you were born in 1974 and are 45 years old today. You were 14 when George H.W. Bush was elected to office and during your teenage years, those when political understandings first form and begin to harden, the economy fell into recession, the deficit exploded, an era of deep military engagement in the Middle East began, and Bush became one of only three Presidents in the post-war period to lose re-election. But then in your twenties this all changed, as Bill Clinton was elected President and the economy boomed, the Internet age began, deficits became surpluses, and median income climbed by over $7,000 per household. The US spent its time in these years fashioning a new post-Cold War order through diplomacy and trade agreements, rather than through military conflict.

This era of economic prosperity and peace came to a halt in your late-twenties and early-thirties with a second Bush, 9/11, failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the worst economic and financial crisis in 75 years. Millions of jobs were lost, median income fell by almost 10%, and the stock market collapsed. But then in your mid-thirties Obama, and all that he represented, was elected President. The economy recovered, uninsured rates plummeted, the deficit came down, and global cooperation on things like climate and trade once again took precedence over military conflict.

Then came the shock and the ugliness of the Trump Presidency, starting with Russia’s extraordinary intervention on his behalf, and continuing with his giving trillions in tax cuts to those who needed it the least, threatening health care for tens of millions, subjecting women and kids to inhumane conditions at the border, and tearing at the country’s broader social fabric though his relentless attacks on women and people of color.

Source: Federal Reserve, Compiled by NDN Staff

Note — Change in the deficit refers to the difference in the annual fiscal deficit between each President’s first and last year in office

It is no wonder that if this is your lived experience, you would lean towards the Democrats today. The two Democratic presidents in your lifetime produced long economic booms, vast improvements in healthcare, and global cooperation and respect, while the three Republican presidents brought recession, rising deficits, disastrous adventurism abroad, and well, Trump. Furthermore, if you are under 45, your life has been shaped by the rise of a truly global economy, an interconnected world enabled by the Internet, a far more diverse population here at home, and important steps towards greater equality for all. This is the world you know — and it is almost as if Trump and the current GOP have risen to roll back and reject all that you understand America to be.

Not surprisingly, all of this has led to what is becoming a truly consequential divide in American politics — voters under 45 have become overwhelmingly Democratic. While these voters had been trending more Democratic in recent years, in 2018 there was an unprecedented and consequential shift among them. In the elections from 2000 to 2016, the Democrats beat the Republicans among under 45s by an average of 6 points, with Republicans even besting the Dems in 20002002, and 2004. In the 2010 and 2014 midterms, the Dem margin was just 2 and 5 points, and in the 2016 general election it was 14 points. In 2018, however, the Democratic advantage in this group exploded to 25 points, 58–33. Over 45s were 50–49 for the Republicans, so these younger Americans were responsible for the entire margin in the Democratic 9 point win last year.

Lavrov Comes to America For a Russian Victory Lap

This essay was originally posted on GEN, a Medium affiliate, on Monday, December 9th. 

From a national security standpoint, the most important question about Vladimir Putin’s big 2016 investment in Donald Trump has always been about whether Russia would eventually get something significant in return for helping elect the U.S. president. Surveying President Trump’s actions over the past year, the answer appears to be that Putin is in the process of getting quite a lot from the United States, perhaps more than he could have ever imagined.

Not only has the United States taken very pro-Putin stances in Russia’s hot wars in Ukraine and Syria, but on a grander scale Trump has helped convey U.S. weakness and Russian strength in region after region across the world — a dangerous development which is going to create enormous challenges for the United States and the West for years to come.

With Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visiting Washington this week, it’s worth diving a little deeper into just how much Trump has tried to align the United States with Russian interests over the past year:

Syria

Trump has been working hard to unilaterally withdraw the United States from Syria, a country where Russia has a naval base and has been fighting on the government’s behalf since September 2015. Trump’s unexpected and abrupt withdrawal announcement a year ago caused Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign in protest, and his recent sudden second attempt at complete withdrawal has been met with extraordinary alarm in Washington, Europe, and even Israel. Without consulting our allies or Congress, the president pulled U.S. forces from the front lines of battle in northern Syria, abandoning our long time allies the Kurds, and in effect turning over the country back to the murderous Syrian government and its allies the Russians without the United States or the West getting anything in return. It was a hasty and sudden retreat, pure and simple, and sent a very strong signal across the globe about how feckless and unreliable America has become.

Venezuela

In May, shortly after talking to Vladimir Putin on the phone, the president again without warning or consultation with allies, publicly abandoned a months-long U.S.-led international effort to rid Venezuela of its corrupt leader, Nicolas Maduro, allowing him to stay essentially under Russia’s protection. In his statement announcing the decision, the president contradicted comments his own secretary of state had made just days before warning that Russia was in the process of invading and taking over Venezuela. It was a shocking reversal. Hopes of a restoration of democracy were dashed, and like in Syria, the president appears to have willingly allowed the country to become a Russian client state without getting anything for the United States in return. I spoke to a friend with family in Caracas this week, and he said Russian troops are now a common sight throughout the country.

Ukraine

In his infamous July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked for help in removing the blame for the 2016 attack on U.S. elections from Russia and instead tried to place it on Ukraine itself. I’m not really sure that we’ve collectively processed here the gravity of what Trump asked of Zelensky that day — it was essentially a request for him to commit national and political suicide, and made it very very clear that regardless of where the U.S. government stood, Trump himself was with Russia.

Again and again the president has conveyed his sympathy toward Russia in this hot war, including when he ominously turned the August G7 meeting into a discussion about removing the sanctions from Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea. Rudy Giuliani’s return to Ukraine last week should be read as a very public show of Trump’s contempt for Zelensky. It comes days before the Ukrainian president’s face to face peace talks with Putin that start Monday in Paris, a gathering where the United States is conspicuously absent.

Iran

At some point Trump was going to have to choose between his Gulf Arab and Israeli friends and the Russia-Iran-Assad axis. In recent months, it seems as if the president has finally chosen Putin over his allies. In September, the president signaled a desire to negotiate easing back on sanctions with Iran, backing off his hard line position. The United States did little to respond to Iran’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, and Russia’s perceived victory in Syria was a huge win for Iran as well. Experts in the region say the president’s recent dramatic reorientation toward Russian objectives there even has Israel wondering if it can continue to count on the United States in its struggle with Iran. The president’s embrace of Russian objectives in Syria cost him Mattis. His embrace of Russian objectives with Iran might have cost him John Bolton.

Europe/NATO/The West

Within the span of a few weeks, we have witnessed Western leaders mocking the U.S. president at a NATO meeting and Trump cutting short his trip to NATO as if it was a bother to him. Trump once again expressed doubts about his willingness to defend others in the alliance and also delivered a potentially crippling blow to the World Trade Organization, a key pillar of the U.S.-led post WWII liberal order. The president has backed Brexit and the fracturing of the European project, embraced far-right, pro-Putin, anti-European leaders like Hungary’s Orban, has walked away from a critical nuclear arms control treaty with Russia that directly affects European security, denigrated NATO, and weakened the global trading system. The Western alliance that won the Cold War, caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, and kept the United States safe, is under extraordinary strain. Of all of his gifts to Putin in recent months this one may be the most significant, and the most dangerous for the United States itself.

While there were moments in 2017 and 2018 where one wondered whether Trump was rewarding Putin (Helsinki being a good example), much of the truly significant aligning of U.S. policy toward Russian interests has come in the last year. While we may never know why, I want to offer an explanation: Trump’s drubbing in the 2018 election. Putin may have understood at that point that Trump had an expiration date, and needed to get from him what he could while he was still in office.

It is also long past time for leaders of both parties to challenge the president’s alignment with Russia far more forcefully.

The way Trump has prosecuted these policies has in every case seemed rushed, reckless, and sudden — as if there was pressure on him to deliver, and he just didn’t have time to prepare or soften the ground for the decisions. The Ukraine affair has appeared particularly wild and sloppy — and has continued this week, with Guiliani returning to Ukraine in a manner that seems reckless to an extreme.

Whatever the explanation for what we’ve seen, in the past year Trump has fundamentally altered core security arrangements throughout the world in ways which have benefited Russia and harmed western and U.S. interests. It is time for U.S. policymakers to come to a clearer understanding of the damage the president has done to our standing in the world and our security by these actions, which is why I have called for the House to conduct a broad security review next year as part of impeachment. It is also long past time for leaders of both parties to challenge the president’s alignment with Russia far more forcefully — it has become a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.

The House Should Consider Breaking Impeachment Into Three Parallel Tracks

I have a new essay on up on GEN, a Medium affiliate, which makes the case that the House should break the Impeachment process into three parallel tracks: the crimes, the co-conspirators, a security review.  You can read it on GEN, link above, or below. 

The House Should Consider Breaking Impeachment Intro Three Parallel Tracks

Given Republicans’ stated intent to turn the Senate impeachment trial into a wildly partisan Sean Hannity-inspired circus, it is critical the House keep the inquiry into the Trump-Ukraine affair open past the trial — it must be far more challenging for the president to corruptly claim exoneration, as he did, malevolently, in the Mueller process.

The more we have come to understand about President Donald Trump’s months-long effort to illegally pressure two Ukrainian governments into doing political favors for him, the more difficult it has become for the House to move swiftly and to keep the process “narrow.”

Consider what we’ve learned: We know now the scandal involves many more people than just the president — dozens perhaps. A parallel federal criminal investigation into the scandal is currently underway. Already, two Trump associates have been arrested, implicating the president, Rep. Devin Nunes, Rudy Giuliani, and others. And once again, the scandal raises the spectacle of Russia’s influence over the president and his team — an issue so serious it cannot be wished away.

Breaking impeachment into three tracks will allow the House to make an initial set of time-sensitive criminal charges for the Senate to consider.

The Mueller investigation took almost two years. Ken Starr looked into Bill Clinton for more than four. The House has been scrutinizing Trump’s interactions with Ukraine for only a few months, and while some brave administration officials have come forward to testify, access to critical witnesses and documents has been illicitly withheld by the president. There is a real chance that a swift and narrowly focused process that ends in a few weeks with the president’s “exoneration” by the Senate will prevent the American people from seeing the complete picture of what has happened. This would allow senior government officials who have committed crimes to walk away without being held accountable.

So, to best serve the American people and fulfill its constitutional obligations, Congress should consider breaking down the impeachment process into three separate tracks: focusing on the criminal, the co-conspirators, and a national security review. Let’s look at each in turn.

Track one: Clearly establish the president’s crimes

In the coming weeks, and in preparation for an early 2020 Senate trial, the House should develop its core argument for why President Trump’s removal is required and why it should happen now, before the 2020 elections. Congress can establish that the president broke election laws in 2016 and illegally obstructed a legitimate investigation into his campaign throughout 2017 and 2018. In the Ukraine affair he has done it again — broken election laws and illegally obstructed. If he is not removed, it is reasonable to assume that he will attempt to break laws again next year. As sworn guardians of the Constitution, the House just cannot let that happen.

While the House can establish the gravity of the president bribing and extorting a foreign ally, Democrats must also bear down on the repeated election law violations and work to explain just how serious a crime “cheating” is in a system like ours. It speaks to a profound contempt for democracy, a disregard for what at the end of the day has been the central source of American greatness. It is the very definition of a “high crime” — a crime not against a person but the very idea of America itself.

In the recent press conference announcing the arrest and indictment of two of Trump’s associates in the Ukraine affair, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, law enforcement officials went out of their way to explain the gravity of election law violations. FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney declared, “These allegations aren’t about some technicality, a civil violation, or an error on a form. This investigation is about corrupt behavior and deliberate lawbreaking.”

The Justice Department has a decades-long policy of declining to prosecute a sitting president, but former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner has a compelling argument for why election law violations should be exempt from this policy. “If a president can act unlawfully to influence an election, he does not deserve the protections of his ill-gotten office,” Kirschner wrote. “This incongruity encourages lawlessness in the quest for the presidency and then rewards that lawlessness by inoculating the criminal president against prosecution. Such a construct is dangerous.” In other words, unless Congress and the Department of Justice aggressively punish election law violations, we will be creating huge incentives for Trump and future candidates to make cheating a core part of their electoral strategy.

What ethical leader has had so many around him fall under investigation, or get indicted or jailed? Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Igor Fruman, Rick Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Paul Manafort, Devin Nunes, George Papadopoulous, Lev Parnas, Richard Pinedo, Roger Stone, and Alex van der Zwaan. Or so many Cabinet officials resign due to scandal? Rampant criminal activity and lawlessness around Trump is something that will also need to be firmly established in the months ahead.

It is evident that the president is a serial criminal and should be removed from office. That he has repeatedly violated U.S. election laws and cheated and committed crimes against our democracy itself makes his removal before the 2020 general election an urgent and patriotic endeavor.

Track two: Prosecute the co-conspirators

In order to allow Congress to focus on the case against the president, the House should create a process where his co-conspirators in the crimes of bribery, extortion, election law violations, and obstruction of Congress are allowed to face the evidence against them and defend themselves in public. This should be separate from the parallel federal criminal investigation that’s currently ongoing. Perhaps Congress can focus on one conspirator per day, and at the end of each proceeding, the House Committee overseeing this process can vote on whether the evidence available and testimony warrants a criminal referral to the Department of Justice.

Fortunately, the DOJ has already established a team overseeing the criminal prosecution of those in the Ukraine affair. The House-led criminal referrals can be made directly to that established team. In theory, the whole process can be completed in a few weeks, and executed shortly after the Senate trial ends for expediency’s sake.

Among those who should be compelled to defend their actions are Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Attorney General William Barr, and others the House has reason to believe committed crimes in service of the president’s illegal scheme.

Track three: Review how the president has damaged our national security

In the Ukraine affair, the evidence suggests the president put his own interests above those of the United States; he not only betrayed the nation, but also, in the process, damaged our standing in the world and national security. Even more evidence suggests this is not the only time the president has done this, and Congress must investigate his dealings with Russia and all other nations. The awful possibility that the president has serially betrayed the nation, leaving us far weaker on the global stage, is such a grave matter that it must undergo a thorough review that is separate from the more rapid consideration of his recent lawbreaking.

At the very core of this security review should be a comprehensive assessment of the president’s repeated actions to benefit our most significant historic adversary, Russia. Wherever one looks in the world, one sees the American president taking steps to align our policies with Russia’s foreign policy aims, weakening America and elevating Vladimir Putin: the years-long refusal to condemn Putin’s repeated attacks our democracy, his decision to abandon Syria and the Kurds, his reversal in Venezuela, his efforts to undermine Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Ukraine, his embrace of Brexit and denigration of Europe and NATO, his recent easing up on Iran, and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. Just in the past few days, new worries have emerged about his ultimate aims in Afghanistan and Lebanon. The cumulative record is astonishing.

Trump’s lawlessness and his repeated willingness to dangerously sacrifice our national interests leaves Congress no choice but to proceed.

That a week ago the president repeated a false and frankly ridiculous story, which originated in Russia about the 2016 attack on America’s democracy, adds fresh urgency to this vital task.

A security review would be the most serious of all the steps Congress could take in the coming months, and should not have any timetable associated with it. While the review could be led by the Intelligence Committee and look and feel a lot like what we’ve experienced over the past month or so, the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees should be expected to proceed with concurrent public hearings and investigations to help ensure a thorough and complete review. Efforts should be made to allow those members with significant national security experience to play leading roles in the proceedings.

In order to conduct these investigations with the kind of thoroughness that the American public would expect, Congress should work to aggressively compel the Department of Justice to turn over all materials gathered by Robert Mueller in his two-year-long look at Russia’s efforts to penetrate and influence domestic U.S. politics. That the full Mueller report has still never been turned over to Congress remains among the significant outrages of the Trump era.

There is a powerful logic for Congress to move swiftly to remove the president. He has shown a dramatic disregard for U.S. election law; that cannot stand. Breaking impeachment into three tracks will allow the House to make an initial set of time-sensitive criminal charges for the Senate to consider, keep the criminal inquiry open in case more matters arise, hold those who have been involved in the president’s vast Ukraine conspiracy accountable, and conduct a thorough review of the damage done to U.S. national security by the president’s illicit foreign dealings.

Congress was reluctant to go down this path. But the president’s lawlessness and his repeated willingness to dangerously sacrifice our national interests leaves Congress no choice but to proceed, and to do so in a way which reminds the American people and the world that this great democracy is something very much worth fighting for.

Analysis: Trump Is The Least Popular First-Term President Since WW2

This piece was originally published on May 1st, 2019 and was updated with the latest polling data on November 21st, 2019.

Since the midterm elections last November, perceptions of Trump's popularity have swung rapidly as highly visible controversies such as the government shutdown and the release of the Mueller Report and Barr Summary have unfolded. Over the next few weeks, I'll take a look at some interesting developments in the polling, including Trump's popularity, the Democratic presidential primary, and the general election in 2020, and will comment on important take-aways from the data.

To start, how popular is Trump right now? While much of the conventional wisdom still portrays the President as a strong figure, the reality is that he continues to be by far the most unpopular first-term President in the modern era. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump today sits at a -11.7 net approval rate. How does this compare to previous Presidents? Firstly, the lowest net approval rate that either Obama or George W. Bush hit during the entirety of their first 3 years in office was -8.7, so Trump is significantly lower than his immediate predecessors. Secondly, looking at all 11 Presidents since 1953, net approval at this point in their first term averaged +14.6, so Trump is more than 25 net points worse than his predecessors (and this average isn't skewed by potential problems with polling several decades ago - the average net approval of just Obama, Clinton, both Bushes, and Reagan at this point in their terms was +9.8).

Finally, let's look at how often Presidents over the past 60 years have experienced the type of heightened disapproval that Trump sees today. From Eisenhower until Obama, looking only at the first 3 years of each President's first term, Presidential net approval has been at -10 or worse for a total of 262 days (or just 2.0% of the time). By contrast, Trump has been under -10 net approval for 871 days (or 84.1% of the time).

In the 2018 midterm elections, this dramatic level of disapproval (-10.4 net on November 8, 2018 compared to -11.7 today) led to Democrats winning the popular vote by the largest margin of any midterm since 1986. Also within that midterm victory was a significant rejection of Trump by almost all of the emerging demographic groups that will form an increasingly large share of the US electorate in years to come, especially non-white and young voters. This trend has only accelerated since election day. According to Civiqs polling data, Trump today has a -36 net approval rate among voters under age 35, and is -49 among Latino voters. Similarly, the Republican Party currently has a net favorability rate of -42 among under 35s and -50 among Latinos, whereas the Democratic Party is net even among under 35s and +22 among Latinos. This represents an enormous decline since 2004, when George W. Bush actually won voters under 45 and lost Latino voters by only 9 points. 

While much of the media continues to hold up Trump as a powerful political figure who can conjure up electoral victories out of nothing, in fact he continues to be the most unpopular first-term president in over six decades and is leading Republicans down the path of the California GOP by ignoring those demographic groups that will over the next decade become more and more critical to winning elections.  Indeed, the future for Republicans in critical battleground states looks grim, with voters under 35 disapproving of Trump by a net 34 points in Pennsylvania and 28 points in Florida. Even in solid red states, Trump is losing the argument with the next generation of voters, with net approval among under 35s at -25 in Texas and -13 in Mississippi.

Is VP Biden In Better Shape Than Conventional Wisdom Holds Right Now?

While Mayor Pete has deservedly gotten headlines for his strong showing in the early states this week, an equally consequential shift seems to be happening in the national polling.  Using the RealClearPolitics Democratic Primary aggregate, the Vice President has gone from even with Elizabeth Warren on Oct 5th (26-26) to up 13 today (31-18).  Today's newly released YouGov national poll, which has historically been the best pollster for Warren, went from Warren up 3 last week (29-26) to Biden up 8 this week (30-22).

A review of the early state polls also finds Biden in a very competitive position in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and far ahead in the more ethnically diverse states which follow. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden is ahead of Warren for 2nd place in Iowa by 1 point and behind her for 1st place in New Hampshire by 2 points. Meanwhile, he is up 19 in South Carolina, 9 in Nevada, 10 in Texas, and 17 in North Carolina. Warren seems to have lost ground in most polls we’ve reviewed in recent weeks; and one has to wonder whether the President’s efforts to smear Biden with Ukraine is actually backfiring on the GOP, and making him into a stronger national figure. 

For more on NDN's insights into the 2020 elections, click here.

NDN Calls on Pres. Trump To Forcefully Condemn Russian Attacks on US Politicians

In response to the news that Facebook took down a sophisticated Russian-based malign influence campaign involving Democrats running for President, NDN is calling on the President and his Administration to take four immediate steps:

Denounce The Action, Implement Sanctions – The President should immediately denounce this interference in our domestic politics, ask the intelligence community to review Facebook’s findings, and if confirmed work with Congress to implement sanctions against Vladimir Putin himself, not just his government.

Work With Congress To Pass Bi-Partisan Election Protection Bills – The President should meet with Congress this week and settle on a package of bills he would sign which would improve our nation’s ability to protect itself from foreign interference.

Fill Critical Vacancies – The President should immediately appoint a permanent DHS Secretary and work with the Senate to put a fourth Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, turning it back on. 

For more about NDN's work on protecting America's elections from foreign interference, click here.

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