Impeachment on a Page – Week of November 11, 2019

As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of November 11, 2019.

Previous Updates

Impeachment on a Page – Week of October 29, 2019

Impeachment on a Page – Week of October 22, 2019

Impeachment on a Page – Week of October 16, 2019

Impeachment on a Page – Week of November 4, 2019

As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of November 4, 2019.

Previous Updates

Impeachment on a Page – Week of October 22, 2019

Impeachment on a Page – Week of October 16, 2019

Impeachment on a Page – Week of October 28, 2019

As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of October 28, 2019.

Previous Updates

Trump Impeachment Inquiry: Recent developments and what’s happening this week – Week of October 21, 2019

A major player in the impeachment inquiry tragically passed away since our last update. On the morning of October 17, House Oversight Committee Chairman, Elijah Cummings died due to complications from longstanding health challenges. Cummings was at the forefront of the impeachment process and one of the top Democratic leaders. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) will serve as interim chair until a new permanent chair is selected, but there is no word at this time as to who may be selected. We here at Dentons offer our condolences to his family and friends.

As for the current state of play, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Senate Republicans last week that he believes the articles of impeachment will be approved in the House by Thanksgiving and hopes the Senate trial will be completed by Christmas. Speaker Pelosi reiterated that the timeline depends on getting all of the facts. McConnell also clarified that Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial. Also last week, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters that the Trump administration withheld $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in return for investigations. For Democrats, Mulvaney’s statement all but confirms the premise of the impeachment inquiry that the Ukraine scandal did involve a quid pro quo. Mulvaney walked back on his statement hours later claiming there was no quid pro quo, a talking point Republicans have pushed since the transcript of the call was released.

It was a busy week for testimony. Top Russia advisor Fiona Hill testified in front of lawmakers on Monday that senior officials were deeply concerned, even before the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, by the activities of the US President and those close to him regarding Ukrainian diplomacy. Hill’s testimony also brought another major player into the Ukraine scandal—former National Security Advisor John Bolton—who may be called to testify in the near future.

On Tuesday, lawmakers heard testimony from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, despite previous efforts by the State Department to block Kent’s testimony. Kent revealed that in a May 23 meeting, Mick Mulvaney told Kent that US special envoy Kurt Volker, who resigned last month; Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who resigned last week; and US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland would be tasked with Ukrainian diplomacy instead of career diplomats like Kent, who is considered a Ukraine policy expert.

The following day, Michael McKinley, former senior advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told lawmakers that his decision to resign was over frustrations that the Trump administration was sidelining career diplomats on Ukraine policy and not supporting them during the impeachment process. Kurt Volker also met with lawmakers for a second time.

On Thursday, Sondland testified under subpoena that he did not agree with President Trump’s decision to delegate American foreign policy on Ukraine to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Sondland’s testimony is at odds with other US foreign officials who have said Sondland willingly inserted himself into Ukrainian policy.

As we mentioned last week, two of Rudy Giuliani’s business associates— Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman— were indicted and arrested by the Southern District of New York. The two were arrested at Dulles airport just before boarding a plane with one-way tickets. Both men were released after paying $1 million bonds, and are under house arrest. Two more men associated with Parnas and Fruman— Andrey Kukushkin and David Correia— were also arrested soon after. It was reported that SDNY prosecutors have been looking into Giuliani since August over a $500,000 payment from one of Parnas’ companies. Prosecutors are looking into Giuliani’s financials and plan to subpoena his bank records. On the impeachment front, Giuliani’s attorneys have also reportedly stated that he will defy a subpoena related to the impeachment inquiry.

Where are Americans on impeachment? Gallup recently released a poll measuring support for impeachment and removal of President Trump. Additionally, Gallup compared the sentiment of the two parties as to whether they believe President Trump should be impeached and removed from office. As expected, sentiment is split strongly between party lines.

Slim Majority Now Supports Trump’s Impeachment and Removal From Office Compared to When Mueller Report Was Released

 June 3-16, 2019^October 1-13, 2019Change
 %%(pct. pts.)
Yes, should be4552+7
No, should not be5346-7
No opinion220

Gallup

Support for Impeachment, by Political Party Identification: June vs. October 2019

 June 2019October 2019Change
 % Yes, should be% Yes, should be(pct. pts.)
National adults4552+7
Republicans76-1
Independents4655+9
Democrats8189+8

Gallup

This coming week, lawmakers will hear testimony from Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, will testify on October 22nd. Taylor was part of the texts messages between State officials and Giuliani which revealed specific details about the Ukraine scandal. Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought will testify on Friday. There will also be testimony from two other lower level officials from the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget – Kathryn Wheelbarger, the Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs will testify Thursday, and Michael Duffey, the Associate Director for National Security Programs at the Office of Management and Budget will testify on Wednesday.

A date has not been set for the C.I.A. whistleblower to testify. Despite no official date, Democratic lawmakers assured that he will testify. Democrats plan on taking extreme step to ensure the anonymity of the whistleblower.  A date has also not been set for the Counselor of the State Department and former classmate of Secretary Pompeo, Ulrich Brechbuhl. Given his close ties to the Secretary, lawmakers are eager to hear his testimony.

Impeachment on a Page

As updates continue to develop, Dentons’ Public Policy group has assembled a quick reference guide providing an overview on the Trump impeachment inquiry.  

Trump Impeachment Inquiry: Recent developments and what’s happening this week – Week of October 15, 2019

Since our last update, two new players have emerged in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs Fiona Hill and former hotelier and current US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. 

Ms. Hill testified before investigators for than 8 hours on Monday October 14.  News reports indicate that Ms. Hill told members of Congress that following a July meeting with Ukrainian and U.S. officials about unspecified investigations, she and John Bolton, the former national security adviser, were so concerned that Bolton directed her to alert a lawyer in the National Security Council.  Hill exited the administration days before the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Ambassador Sondland was identified as a key witness after text messages were handed over to House investigators by former special US envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. During Volker’s 10-hour deposition, text messages between US and Ukrainian officials that he provided revealed that US officials felt President Trump would not agree to a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky unless he launched a public investigation into Joe Biden’s son.

Reports have emerged that either the White House or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blocked Sondland from testifying, which has resulted in the three committees issuing a subpoena to Sondland. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Ukraine expert George Kent also did not appear for his scheduled deposition last week. Additionally, Secretary Pompeo missed his  deadline to produce documents according to the request we discussed in last week’s update.

Last Tuesday, the White House sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi and Chairmen Schiff, Engel and Cummings informing them that the White House will not cooperate in the ongoing impeachment inquiry. This came on the heels of a similar letter sent the prior week by House Minority Leader McCarthy asking to halt the impeachment inquiry until Speaker Pelosi publicly answers a list of questions relating to how she will involve House Republicans in the process. Republican lawmakers and the White House have raised the issue of why Speaker Pelosi decided to forego a formal House vote authorizing the impeachment inquiry. Pelosi has said that the House rules do not require a vote and has accused the Republicans of playing politics.

There was a major development on the Giuliani front. Early last week, John Dowd, a former Trump attorney representing arrested Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, said that the two Soviet-born emigres would not comply with their document and deposition requests. On Thursday, October 10, Parnas and Fruman were taken into custody by federal officials prior to departing from Dulles Airport for alleged criminal violations of federal campaign finance laws. According to an unsealed indictment in the Southern District of New York, Parnas and Fruman participated in a complex scheme to funnel foreign money into the 2018 election, and engaged in a straw-donor scheme to conceal the true source of funds donated to pro-Trump super PACs in order to foster influence and access with politicians. According to reports, Parnas and Fruman were assisting Giuliani in efforts to gather information about Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine.

As for new subpoenas, the three House committees have issued subpoenas to the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget for documents related to whether President Trump’s decision to withhold military aid was associated with pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival. 

This week, committee members will hear from: Tuesday, George Kent; Wednesday, McKinley; Thursday, Sondland; Friday, Laura Cooper (new addition), who is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.  Committee members heard from Fiona Hill Monday.

There are breaking updates on this front seemingly on a daily basis and the Dentons Public Policy Group will continue to send out updates accordingly.

Partisan Gerrymandering Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

On June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Rucho v. Common Cause, a highly-anticipated case stemming from legal challenges to the purported partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts in Maryland and North Carolina. 

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court held that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Consequently, gerrymandering can only be addressed or resolved through action from Congress or individual states, and the drawing of highly partisan legislative districts, which have increasingly raised political ire in recent years, can no longer be challenged in the courts solely on political grounds.

Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing electoral district boundaries in a way that gives one party a distinct advantage over its rivals. Gerrymandering is by no means a new phenomenon – its roots trace back to the first US congressional elections.  In recent years, however, both political parties have taken advantage of control over various state legislatures to craft electoral maps strengthening their opportunity for political success in future years.  In the Rucho case, the districts at issue were the most recently-drawn congressional boundaries in the states of North Carolina and Maryland.  In North Carolina, litigants challenged the legitimacy of Republican-drawn districts that disadvantaged Democrat prospects in federal elections.  Similarly, in Maryland, litigants objected to the imbalance of congressional lines drawn by state Democrats to the disadvantage of Republicans.

Despite the balanced posture of the case, the Court’s majority leaned on precedent and the inherently political question before it when crafting its opinion. According to the majority, there is longstanding precedent recognizing the power of state legislatures to draw electoral districts – an inherently political task.  As such, in his majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts argued that partisanship is allowed to play a role in the drawing of congressional districts – indeed this was the Founders’ intent.  In turn, the Court asserted that any attempt by courts to interject themselves into the process of weighing levels of partisanship in gerrymandering cases would inherently mean judges would be arbitrarily deciding how much partisanship is too much rather than resolving such disputes based upon clear, manageable and politically-neutral standards and limited and precise rationales. 

The rulings of the lower courts in North Carolina and Maryland, grounded in rubrics that the Court viewed as non-justiciable, were thus vacated.  It is noteworthy that the majority distinguished partisan gerrymandering from gerrymandering that involves population inequality or racial discrimination – both of which the Court has previously ruled as unconstitutional.  Ultimately, any partisan gerrymandering disputes can only be resolved politically through state legislation, state constitutional amendments, or Congress.

While the Court’s opinion expressed frustration over the excessive partisanship driving redistricting in the current political environment, the majority found that the judiciary is simply not the proper governmental branch to find solutions to the political issue of partisan gerrymandering.  Moving forward, Rucho puts the ball firmly in the courts of the people’s elected legislators to address the question of partisan gerrymandering.  Some states — Florida, Michigan, and Colorado, e.g. –  have passed amendments to their state constitutions limiting the practice. Others like Delaware and Iowa have passed laws through their state legislatures prohibiting favoritism in redistricting. Congress also now has the opportunity to address the issue through legislative means. 

Dentons will continue to monitor these efforts moving forward and provide insight on how such efforts will impact future elections at the federal, state and local levels around the country.