Public opinion is shifting precipitously against President Trump, with a new Post-Schar School poll showing that 58 percent of Americans support the House’s impeachment inquiry, and 49 percent support outright removal.
But even more ominously for Trump, 62 percent say Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president, the topic of the inquiry, was “inappropriate.” This, along with the large majority backing the inquiry, suggests a broad public appetite to learn more about this scandal. If more evidence of related corrupt conduct emerges, support for removal could keep growing.
You can bank on this: The public will learn more. A lot more.
In an interview with me, Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and is the de facto head of the inquiry, provided a hint as to how more information might emerge.
With new indications emerging of Trump’s stonewalling, Schiff vowed that Democrats would “get to the bottom” of Trump’s corruption and misconduct, “no matter how hard the president fights us.”
Moments ago, Trump directed a key witness — Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union — not to testify to Congress, as he was scheduled to do on Tuesday. Sondland has indicated he will not appear.
Democrats were set to question Sondland about his role in a series of recently released text message exchanges that deeply incriminate the president. They show that Trump conditioned a White House meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on his willingness to carry out Trump’s corrupt scheme to rig the next election on his behalf.
Those texts also suggested a possible quid pro quo in which hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid — which Trump froze just before talking to Zelensky on July 25 — were also conditioned on doing Trump’s political bidding.
On two occasions, Ambassador William “Bill” Taylor texted to Sondland that he objected to such a quid pro quo involving that military assistance. In one exchange, Sondland denied there was any quid pro quo before abruptly signing off. No wonder Trump doesn’t want him talking.
But Taylor, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Ukraine, could shed a lot of light on this whole affair. Schiff said in our interview that Democrats want to ask Taylor about it.
“We certainly do have an interest in speaking with him,” Schiff told me. Schiff noted that the text messages “provide strong suggestions” that Trump’s “suspension of military aid” may be “tied” to his demands of Zelensky.
“We think that Ambassador Taylor is a potentially important witness on the subject,” Schiff said. He declined to go into detail about when this might happen, citing a reluctance to share too much about specific witnesses.
You’d think that could be quite revelatory. After all, Taylor had a reason for sounding the alarm about this quid pro quo — something he saw, heard, witnessed or knows led him to believe Trump had made the military aid conditional on Zelensky carrying out his designs. Indeed, in one text exchange, Taylor alludes to a phone conversation with Sondland in which they appeared to have argued over the matter.
This seems particularly urgent, now that the White House has blocked Sondland from testifying.
Democrats may go to court
Schiff also hinted at where this all might end up going in another way: He told me that Democrats have not ruled out going to court to try to enforce subpoenas the White House has resisted, as some previous reporting had suggested.
As of now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo still has not complied with the Democrats’ subpoena seeking a tranche of documents. Meanwhile, the White House is resisting another subpoena demanding materials that would certainly be illuminating.
Those White House materials include the full transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky, a full list of White House staffers who were aware of the call or communicated about how to stash it on the super-secret computer system, and all communications and documents related to Trump’s decision to suspend the military aid.
There has been some suggestion that Democrats would give up on the courts, and merely take all of this stonewalling and make it the subject of an article of impeachment for obstructing Congress.
But Schiff told me that Democrats have the option of doing both simultaneously, though he cautioned that no decisions had been made.
“I do not foreclose at all other efforts in parallel to make sure we fully find out all the facts, including court,” Schiff said. He noted that if the administration fought these efforts, “that will not delay us from going forward with articles of impeachment if they are warranted by the president’s obstruction.”
“We need to protect the country,” Schiff said. “We need to expose whatever wrongdoing has gone on. That work is going to have to proceed.”
Schiff noted, crucially, that Democrats could continue to fight for information in court even after the House voted to impeach — which could potentially lay the groundwork for additional articles later.
“If it is necessary to go down the road of other articles of impeachment, then presumably there will be a trial in the Senate,” Schiff said. “I don’t think there’s a court in the land that will preclude the Congress from getting the evidence it needs at trial.”
You don’t need an explicit quid pro quo for this to be impeachable. We already know from the rough White House transcript of Trump’s call that he pressured Zelensky to “investigate” Joe Biden, based on an entirely fabricated narrative, and to substantiate a fringe conspiracy theory undercutting our own intelligence services’ documentation of Russian interference in our election on Trump’s behalf.
But it’s not hard to see more emerging that does support an explicit link between the military aid and Trump’s demands of Zelensky. And as one GOP pollster conceded to John Harwood, that will make things a lot more uncomfortable for Senate Republicans.
If more along those lines does emerge, that could increase the pressure on Senate Republicans to hold a real impeachment trial, and make it harder for the more vulnerable among them to defend Trump’s position.
The public has an obvious appetite to learn more. A lot more. And we are only at the beginning of this process.
This piece was originally published in the Washington Post.