October 24, 2019

On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) led about 40 fellow House Republicans into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) being used to depose witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry of President Trump. Some of the Republicans brought cellphones into the secure room, a big no-no.

Their five-hour sit-in, which included a pizza party, delayed but did not derail the testimony of Pentagon official Laura Cooper, who spent about three hours with impeachment investigators after the Occupy SCIF crew left.

The performance was meant to highlight the GOP's attacks on the process House Democrats are using to gather preliminary information, a process that has already produced some damaging revelations about Trump's Ukraine dealings. Here are four odd details from Wednesday's bizarre circus:

1. A third of the occupiers had the right to be in the room already
Despite Republican complaints that this is a secret partisan inquiry, 48 Republicans and 59 Democrats are on the three committees allowed to attend and participate in the impeachment depositions — including 13 of the Republicans who "stormed" the SCIF, by journalist Marcy Wheeler's count.

2. The Republicans reportedly wanted to be arrested
Democrats considered having Capitol Police arrest the unauthorized Republicans, but they decided against it, The Washington Post reports. Nevertheless, some of the Republicans "asked to be arrested," Fox News' Chad Pegram reports, thinking "the optic of being frog-marched out of the SCIF in front of TV cameras" would help advance the "GOP narrative."

3. Gaetz really wanted the footage
"In a 'look-at-me' move that's almost too on the nose, Gaetz also broke House rules Wednesday when his staff handed out expired congressional passes to some uncredentialed reporters and the crew of HBO's The Swamp," HuffPost reports. "The show is following Gaetz's efforts to combat the impeachment process."

4. Trump apparently knew and approved
Trump hosted about 30 House Republicans on Tuesday and told them to be more "tough" in defending him against impeachment, Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) said. The "lawmakers shared their plans to storm into the secure room," Bloomberg News reports, and "Trump supported the action." Cooper was the first Pentagon official to defy a directive not to testify, joining State Department and former National Security officials. Peter Weber

4:47 p.m.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar might prove to be the most important Democratic presidential candidate when all is said and done in Iowa next week — even if she doesn't the state's caucus.

That's because many Iowa voters appear to be split among moderate candidates like Klobuchar, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Vice President Joe Biden, which The New York Times reports is at least playing a role in the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). If those moderate voters want to prevent Sanders from getting a head start toward the nomination with an Iowa victory, per The Times, rallying around one of the other candidates seems like a good place to start.

Klobuchar is doing pretty well in Iowa, but she's lagging behind Buttigieg and Biden, so her supporters are seen as having the most potential to make a switch, especially because of the caucus' multiphase process. If Klobuchar struggles to pick up the votes she needs early on, those backing her could theoretically shift to a stronger candidate and help push someone like Biden to victory.

It sounds like some in the Biden camp are aware of this. Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who's thrown his weight behind the Biden campaign, thinks Biden can appeal to Klobuchar's crowd since both politicians favor pragmatism, and well, as he puts it, "Joe is going to need a running mate." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

4:46 p.m.

This might be the most easily debunked claim of the whole impeachment trial.

President Trump's team of defenders got their turn on the Senate floor on Monday, with one of them, Trump lawyer Jane Raskin, employing a new strategy to distance Trump from his lawyer and Ukraine link Rudy Giuliani altogether. "In this trial, in this moment, Mr. Giuliani is just a minor player, that shiny object designed to distract you," Raskin said. "Senators, I urge you most respectfully, do not be distracted."

While Raskin may try to downplay Giuliani's involvement, the transcript of Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which Trump so often begs the world to read, would say otherwise. Giuliani's name comes up no less than six times in that call memo, with Trump mentioning "Giuliani" two times and "Rudy" twice as well.

There are also all those times impeachment witnesses told the House that Giuliani was deeply tied to Trump's Ukraine dealings, with a few of them explicitly saying how Trump had told them to "talk to Rudy" when they had concerns about the country. Oh, and don't forget all those other times Giuliani himself talked up his involvement with Ukraine while making gaffe after gaffe on national TV. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:19 p.m.

Fox News' Chris Wallace is once again calling out pro-Trump spin on the network, even slamming one contributor on air in a tense exchange.

Wallace spoke Monday about the explosive New York Times report that former National Security Adviser John Bolton in his upcoming book writes that President Trump told him he wanted to continue withholding aid to Ukraine until officials helped with investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

Speaking on Fox, Wallace said that to get a sense of how "big" this news is, one only has to look at Trump supporters "spinning like crazy that it isn't big news." This only reinforces that this is a "really important development in this case," Wallace said, per Mediaite.

Wallace went on to observe that it's now "much, much less likely" that Trump's impeachment trial will wrap up on Friday without any witnesses being called, as the Bolton news makes it "awfully hard" for Republican senators on the fence about calling witnesses to vote against doing so.

Not long after, Wallace got into an argument with contributor Katie Pavlich about the idea of calling Bolton to testify after she claimed that in "every impeachment beforehand, the witnesses that were called had been called in the House before being brought to the Senate."

"In the Clinton impeachment, they'd been called by the independent counsel," Wallace told her, adding, "Get your facts straight!" Brendan Morrow

3:28 p.m.

The Senate would probably want to hear from a firsthand witness in President Trump's impeachment trial. But Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) isn't sure where you'd find one.

Despite a Sunday report indicating former National Security Adviser John Bolton will say in his book he spoke directly to President Trump about Ukraine, a number of GOP senators still don't want to hear from him in Trump's impeachment trial. Hawley is among those lawmakers, giving new reasoning to his anti-Bolton argument Monday by questioning whether Bolton even was a firsthand witness to Trump's alleged crimes.

Bolton's book reportedly describes how Trump talked to his former adviser about withholding security assistance from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. And with Republicans largely complaining impeachment witnesses testified to the House based on "hearsay," one would think they'd like to hear from someone who was actually in, as Bolton's book title so aptly puts it, "the room where it happened." Kathryn Krawczyk

3:28 p.m.

Details are still emerging about the circumstances surrounding the helicopter that killed Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others including the pilot, but the flight was reportedly granted special approval to fly in challenging weather conditions.

Fog was thick Sunday morning in the Los Angeles area when the helicopter took off and made its way toward Gianna Bryant's youth basketball tournament, but air traffic control at Burbank airport gave the pilot Special Visual Flight Rules clearance, allowing the aircraft to enter Burbank's airspace.

A Federal Aviation Administration official said air traffic control's approval would not have extended to Calabasas, where the helicopter crashed. By that point, the official said, it would have been up to the pilot to determine if conditions were appropriate to continue or transition to instrument flight rules.

Witnesses near the site of the crash described conditions as so foggy that people had trouble driving, per The New York Times. "I couldn't see anything, not even a silhouette," said Scott Daehlin who heard the sound of the helicopter flying low before making impact with a nearby hillside. "My first thought was what in the world is a helicopter doing out here in this fog?" Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

2:28 p.m.

Immigrants may now face visa and citizenship restrictions based on their past or hypothetical future use of public benefits.

In a 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration's public charge rule to take effect nationwide. The rule would restrict immigrants who are considered or could later be considered a "public charge" from gaining legal status, and comes despite multiple prior courts striking down the rule.

The Monday decision came along ideological lines, with the court's four liberal justices dissenting from the majority opinion. U.S. District Judge George Daniels previously struck down the rule, mirroring critics who've called it a "wealth test" for immigrants by saying the rule is "repugnant to the American dream." Daniels had also placed an injunction on the rule's implementation due to a likely appeal to the Supreme Court, and the higher court lifted that injunction Monday.

The theory of a public charge rule has existed for decades, but wasn't codified until the Trump administration drew up this rule in 2017. The rule targets people attempting to legally immigrate into the U.S. by assessing if they have used public benefits such as food stamps in the past, or if they might use them after gaining legal status. If the government determines a person is or could become a "public charge," they can block a person from getting a visa, green card, citizenship, and other forms of legal status. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:27 p.m.

More than two decades after his investigation of former President Bill Clinton, Ken Starr while defending President Trump on Monday asked how it is we came to live in the "age of impeachment."

The former independent counsel spoke as part of Trump's legal defense team during the Senate's impeachment trial, making the argument that presidential impeachments are being invoked too often in recent years.

"The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently," Starr said. "Indeed, we're living in what I think can be aptly be described as the age of impeachment. ... How did we get here?"

Starr went on to decry the fact that impeachment has become not a "once in a century phenomenon" but rather a "weapon to be wielded against one's political opponent." He added the Senate should return to a time when "impeachment was truly a measure of last resort."

Given Starr's role in the last presidential impeachment, CNN's John Avlon asked "who thought that Ken Starr was the best choice to make the case for bipartisan process and against impeachment," while MSNBC's Garrett Haake observed, "Ken Starr, arguing against overly-political, thinly-predicated impeachment is enough to make a certain generation of Democrats' heads explode." Brendan Morrow

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