The formal launch of an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump has placed the president’s reelection campaign and his staff at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at diametrically different stations on the emotional spectrum.
For Trump’s political and campaign team, efforts by congressional Democrats to drive the president from office are being treated internally with political euphoria. Within minutes of news that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would back impeachment proceedings, the Trump campaign was plumbing its base for money and Republican campaigns were tagging opponents who endorsed the effort as do-nothing radicals.
Inside the White House, an entirely different reality is now being confronted, one that involves actually dealing with the likelihood of a painful, cumbersome, intrusive battle that brings what remains of its legislative agenda to a standstill.
The president took his first official step towards dealing with the conundrum on Tuesday afternoon, when he announced that he would release the transcript of a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has sparked the current rush towards impeachment. That apparent concession came after high-level discussions at the White House, where the prospect of impeachment-related proceedings had gone, in a matter of hours, from a remote possibility to an immediate likelihood.
Hours later, the White House took an even more dramatic step, agreeing to allow Congress to review a complaint filed by a whistleblower in the intelligence community who suspected some form of official wrongdoing pertaining to that phone call and other outreach by Trump allies to officials in Kyiv, as well as an inspector general report that reportedly found merit in the complaint. Politico first reported that expected release, and a White House source with knowledge of the president’s thinking confirmed to The Daily Beast that the plan is to release that information to Congress this week.
The president has been loath to release any information to congressional investigators since Democrats took the majority in the House this year. But the White House official told The Daily Beast that the impending impeachment inquiry made it likely that the underlying conduct would emerge eventually. Releasing the information, the source said, positioned the president as being forthcoming and acquiescent.
“Let’s say we didn’t” release it, the official said. “We’d probably be compelled to under some select committee or some sort, so the question is how does it get out.”
Asked whether the White House thought the release of that call’s transcript would mollify congressional Democrats, the White House official laughed.
“No,” the official said. “There are some parts of the Democratic Party that have been calling for impeachment since before he was inaugurated, so the idea there will be some sort of magic bullet, I don’t think anybody’s that naive.... So the question is how you deal with that mentality.”
The source portrayed Trump’s apparent concessions in allowing the release of pertinent information as a demonstration that the White House has nothing to hide. Trump, the official said, is “confident there’s nothing there.”
The release of the information nevertheless threatens to fuel Democratic antagonism towards the president right as Pelosi’s caucus gets on board with impeachment proceedings. Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani have all but admitted that they pressed Ukrainian leaders to reopen an investigation into an energy company that previously counted former Vice President Joe Biden’s youngest son as a board member.
It’s not clear whether the more serious allegation—that Trump threatened to withhold U.S. aid to Ukraine unless that investigation were reopened, a step that appears likely—would constitute a crime under U.S. law. But the Constitution is vague about what constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” with which a president can be charged, and legal scholars have interpreted the term to implicate conduct beyond specific violations of federal law.
Privately, senior White House officials had long maintained that Democratic efforts to impeach Trump or aggressively probe the president, his family, his administration and his business empire would never lead to impeachment—in large part because they believed Pelosi was firmly standing in the way of more aggressive members of her caucus. Those close to Trump have also watched as this year’s myriad House investigations and document requests have been stonewalled or tied up in the courts by the president’s legal team—all without any major consequences for the president.
“What are they gonna do?” a senior Trump administration official mockingly told The Daily Beast late last week. “Every investigation, everything—it’s been a joke.”
On Tuesday, however, the same official took a far more dour tone, acknowledging that Trump’s impeachment at the hands of the House Democratic majority was now far more likely and that this would be a colossal pain for the White House to deal with, in part because of how it will invariably affect the president’s focus, actions, and mood.
On Tuesday alone, Trump posted nearly a dozen tweets complaining about Democrats’ impeachment moves, including one griping about how liberals deliberately ruined and degraded his “important day” at the United Nations.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions seeking clarification on the administration’s approach to an impeachment inquiry.
Such nuanced discussions of how best to approach the problem were largely absent from the president’s reelection campaign, however. While some in the White House fretted over the prospect of an angered and annoyed president, the political team leapt into action in an effort to translate an impeachment inquiry into a galvanizing force for its supporters.
“The misguided Democrat impeachment strategy is meant to appease their rabid, extreme, leftist base, but will only serve to embolden and energize President Trump’s supporters and create a landslide victory for the President,” declared Trump reelection campaign manager Brad Parscale in a statement on Tuesday evening.
A joint fundraising committee for the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee sent out a fundraising solicitation midday asking for help supporting “our Official Impeachment Defense Task Force.” Less than two hours later, the committee sent out another, identical fundraising pitch. Ninety minutes after that, a third email was sent.
And according to a senior RNC official, the committee’s in-house research team is already compiling materials to counter-attack House Democrats, and a war room has been assembled already to respond if liberal lawmakers move ahead on Trump impeachment. In particular, the official noted, the RNC has already started targeting House Democrats—in districts President Trump won—for supporting impeachment.
“It will be part of the [Trump reelection] campaign theme,” former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), a current Trump surrogate, said on Tuesday. “‘Dems are about impeachment, investigations, and turning over the election, while Trump is fighting for you.’”