Last night, just after 8 p.m. EST, The Washington Post broke a story that adds even more damaging information to the growing litany of allegations – with rumors of an imminent Trump impeachment swirling – surrounding the major Russiagate scandal currently facing the Trump Administration and the Republican party.
During a private, pre-election meeting on Capitol Hill, following two separate meetings with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, among others, engaged in a secret conversation that had been taped and recently leaked to the Washington Post.
Prime Minister Groysman had moments earlier told both McCarthy and Ryan that Russian President Vladimir Putin was prone to a particular tactic of supporting, verbally and financially, populist leaders around the world in an attempt to undermine and weaken Eastern European democracies.
During the meeting, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy makes an accusation that threatens to place the entire Trump election campaign at risk. An excerpt of the conversation follows.
McCarthy: The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp research that they had on Trump. [Laughs]
Ryan: The Russians hacked the DNC…
McCarthy:…to get oppo…
Ryan:…on Trump and like delivered it to…to who?
McCarthy: There’s…there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump…[laughter]…swear to God.
Ryan: This is an off the record…[laughter]…NO LEAKS…[laughter]…alright!?
Ryan: This is how we know we’re family here.
Scalise: That’s how you know that we’re tight.
Ryan: What’s said in the family stays in the family.
This revelation is potentially damning, as it shows that Republican leaders were aware of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, well before the November 8 election day, yet decided to keep their knowledge secret.
Moreover, despite escalating disclosures – the sharing of classified information to Russian officials and a request to former F.B.I. Director James Comey to let go of the investigation into Michael Flynn’s indisputable ties to Russia – allegedly increasing President Donald Trump’s exposure to impeachment, Republican leaders have continued to stand by Trump.
At first, the entire conversation “never happened,” according to Paul Ryan’s spokesman Brenden Buck. Additionally, Matt Sparks, Kevin McCarthy’s spokesman, said that “the idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”
However, after last night’s story by The Post, Buck pivoted from his earlier assertion that it had never happened, and claimed that “this entire-year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor.”
“No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”
Mr. Dana Rohrabacher, the other person allegedly receiving payments from Russia and a fervent defendant of Vladimir Putin, added his view of Mr. McCarthy’s statement to the fray. Rohrabacher also saw the whole exchange as a joke, saying that McCarthy “sort of makes jokes like that.”
Meanwhile, Politico has reported that not since the Access Hollywood genital groping scandal have “two words: President Pence” so widely entered whispered conversations of a possible impeachment on Capitol Hill. It was also reported that Trump’s approval ratings were at a “record low.”
According to Politico, 38 percent of voters “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s performance, while only 19 percent “strongly approve.” Notably, only a mere 43 percent of Republicans approve of their front man’s performance, and just 42 percent people who voted for Trump showed approval of their candidate.
According to “whispers” on The Hill, the possibility of a Trump impeachment, making way for Vice President Mike Pence to ascend to the top job, now seems more real than ever. A House Republican who spoke on condition of anonymity compared the developing cover-up to Watergate.
“If what the [Washington Post] reported is true, Pence is probably rehearsing. It’s just like Nixon. From the standpoint that it’s never the underlying issue, it is always the cover-up.”
A committed Never-Trumper, Erick Erickson, said on Wednesday that he supported a Trump impeachment because Republicans “have no need for him with Mike Pence in the wings.”
Representative Walter Jones told The Hill on Wednesday that the contents of the Comey memo may well lead to Trump impeachment proceedings.
“I think legal scholars will probably start giving the justification of whether the House should or should not move forward on impeachment.”
Representative Carlos Curbelo referred to the prior impeachment proceedings against Nixon and Bill Clinton when he also raised the possibility of a Trump impeachment.
“Obstruction of justice in the case of Nixon, in the case of Clinton in the late 90s, has been considered an impeachable offense.”
Furthermore, Representative Justin Amash agrees with his colleagues that a Trump impeachment would be warranted if the Comey-Flynn allegations are true. Amash was asked by The Hill if he though an impeachment was imminent, and he only said, “yes,” but added that “everybody gets a fair trial in this country.”
Speaking to 11th Hour host, Brian Williams, about a possible Trump impeachment, former Congressman David Jolly said that “Donald Trump is done.”
“He is done. There is no question about that. He’s done. Look at what happened in the first hundred days. Director Comey, one of the top law enforcement officers in the country, makes memos of every interaction he had with the president of the United States. Tonight, Rosenstein comes out in the brief two or three weeks he has to make an impact and says, we need a special counsel. That is historic in terms of a hundred days of a new president.”
Jill Wine-Banks, who was an assistant special prosecutor appointed to the Watergate investigation that led to the Nixon impeachment proceedings, told MSNBC News that we’re well on our way to a Trump impeachment.
Ross Douthat, a Republican op-ed writer for The New York Times contends that a Trump impeachment is not the right course of action. A more suitable option is the “the 25th Amendment,” which gives Vice President Pence “and a majority of the cabinet” the power to remove Trump if they deem him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Douthat added that Trump was a very “childish” president and that President Pence would be much more competent.
“The presidency now has kinglike qualities, and we have a child upon the throne.”
After Richard Nixon had resigned from the presidency after Watergate impeachment proceedings had begun, Gerald Ford ascended to the role of commander in chief. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley compared the current Trump-Pence situation to the Nixon-Ford dynamic.
“It’s almost an eerie comparison that a more mild-mannered, religious conservative Republican Gerald Ford came in. He’s much like Pence in temperament and personality. He doesn’t have that acerbic side that Nixon and Trump had. Having Pence in reserve is one of the few things, I think, that is calming Republican nerves.”
However, Brinkley added that Ford had been offered the job only after then-Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. As a result, Ford “did not have the baggage of having campaigned for and championed Nixon” before the impeachment. Vice President Pence, on the other hand, has solemnly stood by Donald Trump.
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]