Finally, Impeachment: Julián Castro on Trump and Ukraine

The presidential candidate joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss the prospects for removing Trump from office.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

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It finally happened: On Tuesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The final straw was a July phone call in which Trump pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, and appeared to suggest that U.S. aid to Ukraine might be contingent upon his compliance. Nearly all the 2020 Democratic candidates have come out in support of impeachment proceedings. On this week’s Deconstructed, one of those candidates, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss the week’s developments. Intercept D.C. Bureau Chief Ryan Grim stops by to break down the political prospects for impeachment.

Newscaster: The stage is set for a historic clash between Congress and the president.

Nancy Pelosi: The House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.

Donald J. Trump: Just so you understand, it’s the single greatest witch hunt in American history.

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan.

Could this be the week that marks the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency? I know, I know, you’ve heard it before, so many times before, but this time, impeachment is actually on the table.

Julian Castro: He very clearly asked him to investigate Joe Biden and his son which in and of itself is impeachable conduct.

MH: That’s my guest today Julian Castro, the Democratic presidential candidate who’s been calling for impeachment for a while now, discussing the bombshell phone call between Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine which was released on Wednesday. So, is this enough to finally take down Trump?

It’s here. At last. An official impeachment inquiry.

NP: Today, I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry. The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.

MH: A welcome change in tune from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who up until Tuesday afternoon had done everything in her power, and she has a lot of power, to block congressional Democrats from impeaching this most impeachable of presidents.

Up until Tuesday, she said it would be divisive. She said he just wasn’t worth it. She even pushed the crazy conspiracy theory that Donald Trump wants to be impeached:

NP: Trump is goading us to impeach him. He knows that it would be very divisive in the country but he doesn’t really care, just wants to solidify his base.

MH: Are you fricking kidding me? Trump, the most egomaniacal, megalomaniacal, thin-skinned president in modern American history, wants to go down as one of only three presidents to ever be impeached? Wants to have his ‘legacy’ tainted forever? Come on!

Just look at how he’s reacted to news of this impeachment inquiry — he went on a Twitter binge while at the United Nations in New York, multiple tweets calling it a “total witch hunt,” a “scam,” “garbage,” “presidential harassment.” He even tweeted that “no President in the history of our Country…has been treated so badly as I have.” Forgetting that JFK was literally murdered during his lifetime, when Trump was 17.

So what’s prompted top House Democrats to finally do the right thing and hold this lawless president to account? Well, last week the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump had called the president of Ukraine and asked him to investigate completely unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against Joe Biden and his son Hunter who had once been employed by a Ukrainian energy company.

This week, Trump, under pressure, decided to release what he calls the transcript of the call, actually it’s not a transcript, it’s a summary of what was said by note-takers listening in, and he says it backs him up.

DJT: The letter was a great letter, meaning the letter revealing the call. That was done at the insistence of myself and other people that read it. It was a friendly letter. There was no pressure. The way you had that, built up that call it was going to be the call from hell. It turned out to be a nothing call.

MH: “A nothing call”? At times like this, you have to ask again is the president gaslighting us? Is he just plain deluded? Is he unable to read English? Is it all of the above? I mean, let’s look at what was said in that call.

The President of Ukraine tells Donald Trump he’s “almost ready” to buy more missiles from the United States for “defense purposes,” against the Russians, remember? And Trump’s first response is to say, and I quote:

“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.” He then asks the Ukrainian president to speak with Attorney General Bill Barr — not just his bonkers personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — but with the Attorney General of the United States and he says, and I quote: “Whatever you can do with the Attorney General” to “look into” Joe Biden and his son would be “great.” Great.

To be crystal clear, this is the President of the United States asking a foreign government to investigate the man who might, if the polls are to be believed, be his opponent in next year’s presidential election. Oh and he’s doing this the day after Robert Mueller testified in front of Congress on July 24th and yet, there were of course no consequences — again! — for Trump from that testimony.

So Trump then makes this call and asks for this favor from another foreign government on the 25th of July. The call summary is devastating, damning, much worse that I and many others thought it would be. And when Trump tells us now there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo in the call summary, is he even aware of what a quid pro quo even means?

On Twitter, my good friend Tommy Vietor from Crooked Media, who was on this show a couple of weeks ago, he said the summary of Trump’s phone call reminded him of a certain scene from a Few Good Men.

Tom Cruise as Lt. Daniel Kaffee: Did you order the code red?

Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan Jessup: I did the job.

TC: Did you order a code red?!

JN: You’re goddamn right I did!

MH: Thank you Colonel Jessup.

[Music interlude.]

MH: So, where do we go from here? Are the Democrats gonna mess this up, drop the ball, now that impeachment is finally around the corner? Can they make the case to the country, not just about Ukraine but about everything this president has done to break the law, undermine the Constitution, obstruct justice, violate basic democratic norms? Well, my guest today is the Democrat who was very first presidential candidate to come out and call for impeachment back in April.

Julian Castro was president Obama’s HUD secretary, his Housing and Urban Development Secretary. He was also mayor of San Antonio, Texas. He’s the twin brother of Representative Joaquin Castro and is currently the only Latino running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He joins me now from the West Coast. Julian Castro, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

Julian Castro: Great to be with you.

MH: You’ve called this summary of President Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. It’s not a transcript, of course, the summary, you called it a smoking gun. Explain why.

JC: What I read in that summary is that President Zelensky of the Ukraine talks about the need for Ukraine to get more American weapons basically makes the request of President Trump for that. And then in the very next, kind of, as his response President Trump says, “Oh, well, I need you to do me a favor, though.” That is basically quid pro quo.

MH: Yeah. And even if it wasn’t a quid pro quo, it’s very clear that he’s asking him to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

JC: That’s right, even without the pro quo. And this is important, because you can’t, you know, Trump is not going to be able to move the goalposts here. He very clearly asked him to investigate Joe Biden and his son, which in and of itself, is impeachable conduct.

MH: It’s amazing to see Trump and Co. suggesting this phone call summary would be good for them when it now shows that he not only did ask the Ukrainian president for that favor, and asked him to meet with Rudy Giuliani, he also involved the Attorney General of the United States, which is pretty stunning.

JC: Absolutely. This is a president that is blatantly abusing his power and using the rest of the federal government as his political weapon against opponents. And this was Joe Biden. It is shameful. It is beneath the Office of the President. I believe it’s going to be found to be illegal. And I’m glad that House Democrats are moving forward.

MH: Yeah, and you’re glad they’re moving forward. Some people might say, you know, we wish they had moved forward earlier. I had Rashida Tlaib on the show in January making the case for quote “impeaching the motherfucker.” I think those were her exact words. You were calling for impeachment back in April. You were the first one presidential candidate to do so. I believe Senator Warren came out on the same day as you. This could have happened much sooner, couldn’t it? If Nancy Pelosi hadn’t dragged her feet. If she hadn’t poo-pooed it all these months. In fact, her aides were dismissing impeachment as recently as this past weekend.

JC: I agree it could have happened earlier. And certainly the evidence in the Mueller report was there about those 10 instances where the President either obstructed justice or attempted to obstruct justice. I think what compelled a lot of the Democrats on Capitol Hill to move towards supporting impeachment was two things. Number one, this is a very clear case and easily understandable to the American people what Trump was doing and how he’s abusing his office. And secondly, these things add up. How much evidence are you going to have to see that this president abuses his power to move forward? So, I think that those two factors probably led to a change of heart.

MH: And as I say, you’ve been calling for impeachment since well before this latest Ukraine controversy, and Trump didn’t just become impeachable a week ago or 10 days ago. He’s been impeachable since day one of his presidency in terms of his corrupt violation of the Emoluments Clause, in terms of his illegal hush money payments to Stormy Daniels during the election campaign. I mean, it’s a long list of impeachable offenses that go beyond Ukraine, go beyond Russia and Mueller. And I worry that your party made a bit of a big mistake by putting all your impeachment eggs in Bob Mueller’s Russia basket. He then let you down. You don’t want to do that, again, with Ukraine, do you?

JC: No, I do think this is a you know, there’s more evidence here, direct evidence. I thought there was good evidence there. But here you have direct evidence. You also have a whistleblower who is not reporting on the conduct necessarily just of other people, but the direct conduct of the president himself. Remember, in the Mueller investigation, there was always, Trump was always, you know, somewhat a step removed from direct conversations. That’s not the case here.

MH: Yes.

JC: But perhaps to answer your larger question as well. Look, there are six committees —

MH: Yeah, do we go broader?

JC: — Six committees that are doing investigations on any number of potential violations of the law committed by this president. And Speaker Pelosi did mention those committees yesterday when she remarked about opening an impeachment inquiry. To me, that says that the Democrats are looking at a broader inquiry than only Ukraine, and I think they should because whether it’s the Emoluments Clause —

MH: Yeah, I think they should. I hope you’re right.

JC: There’s clear evidence that there may be other violations of law.

MH: What’s your response to people who still say even now, “Look, there’s no point to Democrats in the House impeaching Trump when there’s no majority for a conviction in the Republican-led Senate. So this is all just theatrics. There’s no point to it.” What do you say to them?

JC: You have to show the American people that nobody’s above the law. If the president is breaking the law in this manner, abusing power so flagrantly, you have to do the right thing. That’s number one. Secondly, though, on the politics of it — I said this on the debate stage in Detroit — that some people were spooked by 1998. And they think that just because the Senate will not go for impeachment that this is somehow going to benefit Trump, ultimately. Things have changed since 1998. I think the American people recognize how much more polarized Congress is than it was back then. So, what would happen is, if they don’t impeach him, Trump is going to be able to say, “Look, they didn’t impeach me because they have no evidence against me.” And essentially, the Democrats are going to give him a clean political bill of health. Conversely, if they do impeach him, you know, Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues are going to have to answer to the voters. But why when there’s all of this evidence they did not support impeachment?

MH: Yeah, exactly. It’s not just a moral case. I think there’s a political and strategic case to this. I’m glad you made that point on the debate stage. I think it was to Senator Michael Bennett. And you rebutted him at the time, and of course, people forget that in 2000, after Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the Republicans won the White House, if memory serves me correctly. Senator Kamala Harris has said that if she’s president in 2021, her Justice Department will have “no choice but to prosecute by then former President Donald Trump,” because Bob Mueller said he can be indicted and prosecuted as soon as he leaves office. Would a President Castro’s DOJ do the same?

JC: What I believe is that it is likely based on the evidence that we have right now that Trump would be indicted criminally. What I would say to my attorney general would be look, you know, treat Donald Trump like you would treat anybody else. I agree with those who say that it’s not the role of a president to single out an individual, you know, treat somebody differently. But a sitting president is going to be treated differently from a former president. So when he’s a citizen, he’s gonna be treated like a private citizen. And in all likelihood, what you’re going to see is a criminal indictment.

MH: Just on Biden, these allegations about him intervening to protect his son are completely unsubstantiated. There’s no evidence of them. Having said that, there is an issue with the fact that his son Hunter was sitting on a board in Ukraine, has done dealings with the Chinese. Joe Biden does have this kind of family baggage which could hurt him in a general election, doesn’t he?

JC: Well, I mean, look, I believe that Joe Biden, and his family, they are honest, I believe that he’s an honest man. I don’t believe that in any way he was trying to exercise influence to affect whether there would be —

MH: But the perception isn’t great, is it? If Mike Pence’s son was sitting on various company boards, we’d be upset about it. We’re upset about Ivanka and Jared. Probably wasn’t great to have his son sitting on a board in Ukraine while he was the vice president dealing with Ukraine, perceptionally, at the very minimum.

JC: I mean, I think that’s what Trump is counting on. But I hope that people are able to separate those two, you know, because, you know, there are things that we can judge candidates, whether it’s Joe Biden or me or other candidates on separate from, you know, these accusations that are unfounded that Trump has brought up. In that sense, you know, Trump will have won. And look, I’m running in this primary. And I’m running against Joe Biden, and I have my differences with him on issues. But I do think that this is a playbook that Trump played on Hillary in 2016. And they’re basically trying to do the same thing to Biden.

MH: Which is why some of us are saying “Don’t put up a candidate who’s Hillary 2.0. In terms of Joe Biden, you grabbed the headlines at the last presidential debate by coming up very strongly, very personally, some would say against former Vice President Joe Biden, especially on his health care plan. He’s been the front runner in this race so far.

Joe Biden: They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.

JC: You just said that. You just said that two minutes ago. You just said two minutes ago that they would have to buy in. You said they would have to buy in.


JC: Are forgetting what you said a few minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in, and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy. You’re forgetting that.

JB: I said anyone but your grandmother who has no money. You’re automatically enrolled.

MH: First off, you were attacked for getting your attack on Biden wrong. You said he contradicted himself on whether his health care plan required people to opt in, even though the transcript suggests in parts that Biden did say his plan would “automatically enroll people who can’t afford it.” PolitiFact, among others, rated your claim as “mostly false.” What do you say in response?

JC: We had a very lively discussion, and there was actually a fact check that CNN did that showed that his plan would leave out 10 million people. And that’s the point that I was making. And you know, I’m up there and when I get on the big stage, I’m going to be a fighter. I’m going to be a fighter, especially for the most vulnerable people out there, including the millions of Americans that don’t have health care coverage right now. And if we’re going to go through the whole process of growing our healthcare system again, and all of the political capital that’s involved in that, then we better make sure that every single person is going to get healthcare. And that’s the point I was making.

MH: Yeah, I’m glad you were making that point. I’m glad you say you’re a fighter because I think the debate should involve people fighting. It makes no sense for everyone to agree. The whole point of a debate is to work out who’s the right candidate with the best policies, but you weren’t just attacked over the facts. You were attacked by cable news pundits, by fellow Democrats on stage for suggesting a 76-year-old man couldn’t remember what he had said two minutes earlier. Is that what you were suggesting?

JC: Well, what I was suggesting is that he had said the words buy in, that some people would have to buy in and then denied that he had said buy in. And you know, it’s clear, the transcript says that, that yes, some people would have to buy in under his plan. And so it wasn’t meant as a personal attack on him. It was meant to point out that he had just said that people would have to buy in and then denied saying that. And like I said, look, what I know is that in October of 2020 when the Democratic nominee goes up against Donald Trump, if Donald Trump is still around, you know, Trump isn’t going to be nice. He’s not gonna make it easy for the Democratic nominee. And, you know, it wasn’t personal with Joe Biden but when I get up there, I’m gonna fight for the people who need fighting for, for the most vulnerable Americans out there. And, you know, that’s the kind of candidate I’m gonna be.

MH: And you’re right to say that any Democrat going up against Donald Trump needs to have a thicker skin. It’s amazing that people are kind of getting so upset about some mild criticisms when you’re going to be going up against Donald Trump in November 2020, or in the debates in October, if he does them. But here’s what I don’t get. Why deny the implication of your attack? Because I was cheering you on when you did it. I’ll be honest, I know lots of Democrats and pundits were pearl clutching that night. I thought it was a good thing. You’re saying what the rest of us are thinking. This is a former vice president who said he remembered meeting the Parkland kids as vice president when that school shooting happened after he left office, who said he was in Vermont when he was in New Hampshire, who referred to tragic shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, as being in Houston and in Michigan. He’s got issues that need to be pointed out, why not have another rival candidate do it?

JC: Well, my conversation on that debate stage which is based on the back and forth about that healthcare policy, you know, I was not making a larger statement about other things.

MH: But that’s what I’m asking why not? Given we can all see there’s an issue with Joe Biden’s judgments, words, gaffes, opinions on issues that haven’t happened?

JC: Well, because I had disagreements on policy, whether it’s healthcare policy, or in Detroit, we talked about immigration policy. And I’ve chosen to focus on those. You know, in my first debate when I expressed my disagreement with Congressman O’Rourke about immigration policy, it was on the policy and so I tried to keep it focused on that. And the back and forth in the last debate was just about what had been said regarding buying into health insurance. So I’ve tried to keep it to that.

MH: I know you gotta run, but just before we finish: one of the issues you have brought up that a lot of others haven’t and you’ve been admired and praised for doing so in this campaign, is the issue of migration, of people crossing the border, of decriminalizing border crossings. But in 2013, when you were part of the Obama administration, I just want to play a clip of you taking a much tougher, more hardline stance, have a listen.

JC: In Texas, we know firsthand that this administration has put more boots on the ground along the border than any other time in our history, which has led to unprecedented success and removing dangerous individuals with criminal records.

MH: Do you regret being part of an administration and defending an administration which did have such an awful record on deportations, on enforcement, on its treatment of unaccompanied kids at the border, which did build cages?

JC: I came, you know, I think that was 2013 when I was mayor. Later on in 2014 when I was mayor, I criticized the approach on deportations. But the administration was undertaking and so what I said in Detroit on the debate stage was that yeah, I’ve learned the lessons of the past and I hope that everybody else will, too. I think that what we need to do is that we need to build on where the Obama administration was going toward the end of the administration, with DACA and DAPA and coming up with the Family Case Management Program, so that you wouldn’t detain families, you would allow them to be together and go and be with family members in the United States who are here. I hope that we go in that direction in the years to come.

MH: And one last question: as much as you want to be in the White House and as much as Beto O’Rourke wants to be in the White House and as much as you’ve both helped change the conversation in this presidential race, on immigration, on guns, a lot of Democrats, a lot of grassroots democrats say shouldn’t one of you drop out and try and help your party win control of the Senate by running against the eminently beatable Republican John Cornyn in your home state?

JC: Yeah, I’ve said from the beginning that I’m running for president. My experience as a federal executive, as a cabinet member matches the office that I’m running for. The other thing is that there are great candidates already in that. That’s a crowded primary actually in Texas. And the good news is that there are a few very good candidates that I think can beat John Cornyn. So we’re well taken care of, well covered in Texas for 2020.

MH: Julian Castro, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

JC: Thanks a lot.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That was former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He joined me on the phone from the west coast. I’m joined now here in the studio in Washington, D.C. by The Intercept’s D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim. Hello, Ryan.

Ryan Grim: Hello, Mehdi.

MH: Ryan’s just written a piece for The Intercept, I urge you all to read it called “Why the House Democratic Caucus Was Able to Move So Rapidly Toward Impeachment.” Ryan, I want people to read it. But I also want you to summarize it for us in a sentence or two. Why were they able to move so rapidly towards impeachment this week after all the delays?

RG: I can summarize it in one word: primaries. There were more than 110 primary challenges going on according to Cheri Bustos, the chair of the DCCC, who said this to her fellow Democrats in a private meeting. And I don’t think that that had the kind of effect that people hoped, that she hoped it would have. Ultimately, you wound up with a situation where you had roughly 200 rank and file Democrats who felt like their own political futures were now at risk. For the sake of seven or eight or nine really loud front liners, you know, these Democrats who represent seats that they just flipped in 2018 from red to blue who didn’t want to go forward with impeachment. And so back home, all these activists are just pounding away at them at you know, town halls and at the grocery store —

MH: Your piece is a real endorsement of the power of grassroots activism. You have a quote right at the top from a Democrat who’s on the receiving end of the pounding. He says, “We spent all summer getting the shit kicked out of us back home.” All for shit-kicking or kicking the shit out of. Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker was the number one roadblock when it came to impeachment until Tuesday afternoon when she did her U-turn. Did she look at these numbers as a kind of leader and say, I can’t let this happen to my party? Or was it House Democrats banging on a door saying we need you to change your mind?

RG: It was them banging on the door. So, you have to see — So if you think of it from their perspective, they represent, you know, these 200 folks, they represent safe blue districts. And so, they’re doing a lot of fundraising for the 44 front liners. And they’re moderating the agenda that they’d prefer to be pushing in Congress, also for the benefit of these 44 folks. And that’s all fine and good if the goal is to stay in the majority, but in order for you to be in the majority, you also have to be in Congress. So what they started to realize is we might still be in the majority, but I might lose a primary. And then I won’t be in the majority. It’s like “Oh, actually, it turns out, despite all of Cheri Bustos’ talk about primaries, nobody actually cares about me because if I lose my primary, whoever beats me is going to be a Democrat.

MH: And in the end, they probably saved Nancy Pelosi from a rather harsh verdict from history because I’m one of these people who thinks — I tweeted recently that no matter what she did in the past, her legislative achievements, you know, her record breaking career, history would remember her as the House Speaker who basically let Donald Trump get away with all this shit.

RG: Right, and that was the other thing, a lot of these folks would be willing to suffer and have been willing to suffer a decent amount of political pain for the benefit of the caucus and to follow the orders of Pelosi, but they were becoming much less convinced that the strategy was actually working. They felt like they were just getting humiliated by this —

MH: What was the strategy? I don’t buy there was a strategy. The strategy that I heard was, if we do this, then we’re distracted from all the kitchen table, bread and butter issues that people want us to get along with. But you know, Ryan better than most, and a lot of people out there don’t realize House Democrats already passed loads of bills dealing with kitchen table issues and bread and butter issues. The Republican Senate refused to consider them, just as it will refuse to consider impeachment. So hey, why not do impeachment as well?

RG: Right, but that is precisely what the polling that the DCCC was conducting or paying for.

MH: This is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

RG: Right, and they’re constantly giving briefings. They wouldn’t let the members take the polling with them. You could watch the presentation, but you can’t leave the room with it which shows that maybe they’re not that proud of the work that they’re putting out. But in any event, that was the case that they’re making, that impeachment is underwater in these swing districts in, which means that there’s more people opposed to you doing it, than support you doing it. And what voters will tell you is that they really want you focused on the economy and on health care. And part of that is just pollsters leading voters because it feels more polite as a voter, you’re on the phone with a pollster: Do you think that, you know, Democrats in Washington should be focused on taking down Trump or healthcare and making the economy better? Well, what kind of a jerk is going to say taking down, only the most partisans —

MH: But also, Richard Nixon in the 1970s, my understanding is the polls were all against impeachment at the start of that process too. The whole point of the impeachment hearings and inquiry and leadership by House Democrats is you’re supposed to take public opinion with you and change their minds by showing them the evidence.

RG: Right and public polling can’t really capture the dynamics of impeachment. And so, a lot of the advocates for impeachment would say, look, if we’re going to spend the entire next two years calling Trump corrupt and running against him on corruption, but we won’t impeach him, then what voters are going to take away from that is that that was actually just partisan bickering. And so, he must, he probably isn’t that corrupt? And you know, what, maybe Hunter Biden’s just as corrupt as Ivanka Trump?

MH: And this is the point that Julian Castro just made in that conversation with me where he said this point that he made on the debate stage, which is there is a cost to not impeaching as well. The idea that there’s only a cost to impeachment, the cost of doing nothing allows Trump to say “I was exonerated.” And the worst conspiracy theory was the one Pelosi repeatedly endorses, I pointed out at the start of the show, which said that Donald Trump wants to be impeached. I’ve never heard anything more absurd in my life. Anyone who knows anything about Donald Trump knows he does not want to be impeached.

RG: Right, he loses his mind the closer you get to actually impeaching. And, you know —

MH: He thinks if you ask him a mildly tough question, you’re nasty. Do you remember the Prime Minister of Denmark was nasty for refusing to meet with him to sell him Greenland? This is a guy who’s that thin-skinned. He’s gonna be okay with going down with Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton as one of only three men in history to be impeached?

RG: And as soon as they made a real threat of impeachment, all of a sudden, he’s handing over all of these documents. He’s completely changed, which again —

MH: It’s a vindication of the pro-impeachment side, the Rashida Tlaibs and the AOCs.

RG: Right, who said, “Look, we would prefer that Trump weren’t president. But if Trump’s going to be president, we would prefer that he would follow the law.” And one way to get him to follow the law is put him on notice that we’re launching impeachment proceedings.

MH: And put Senate Republicans on notice. This argument that they’re not going to vote for it. Okay, don’t vote for it. Good luck, Susan Collins in Maine when you come out and put a nakedly partisan vote in defense of President Trump after an impeachment case has been well and truly made.

RG: Which is actually interesting because there are liberals in Maine who are nervous about this, because they don’t want to give Susan Collins the chance to vote to convict.

MH: Oh, interesting, you think she would vote to convict?

RG: She certainly might.

MH: If she thinks it will help her re-election.

RG: If she thinks it will help her. Now, there’s a right-wing in Maine that would be so angered by that that the question is do they just leave her blank in November? But you could certainly see her changing the trajectory of her race. Oh, you know, Collins is a partisan, she’s sold out. She did the tax cut. She did Kavanaugh. Oh, she surprised everybody and she voted to —

MH: People are very forgiving, unfortunately, in American politics, I think. Remember John McCain? He did that one vote and that cancels out his whole regressive reactionary right-wing record. Kamala Harris referred to him as the “late great John McCain” on the debate stage even though he voted against everything Democrats believe in for the vast majority of his career, but one vote towards the end of his life, and that’s all. So maybe Susan Collins can do a McCain.

RG: Same with Gardner in Colorado.

MH: Gardner in Colorado. Just, oh and by the way on the subject of kind of states. What did you make of Julian Castro’s final answer to my question about dropping out and running in Texas? Cornyn clearly is beatable if you had a Beto or a Castro in there much better chances. Do you think the existing crop of candidates in that crowded primary field can beat John Cornyn? Because Texas could go blue.

RG: It could. MJ Hegar, you know, kind of the leading Democrat at this point is basically running on the prospect of a blue wave in the state just lifting her over the top, you know, not trying to do anything to actually galvanize the vote and not doing anything that would anger any of the Republican voters other than be a Democrat. Christina Tzintzún Ramirez on the left who’s a Beto organizer, a longtime organizer in the state who’s trying to run kind of a campaign similar to Beto’s without his name recognition and his status as a member of Congress. You know, she hasn’t been able to get off the ground and match MJ’s millions yet.

MH: Do you think Beto or Castro could end up pulling out and running? We all know politicians deny things. But do you think, if you were a betting man, do you think one of them would end up running in that race once the presidential race is over for them?

RG: I think anything is possible but I think both of them feel like they’ve acquitted themselves enough that they’re going to get either cabinet positions or other high level —

MH: Or VP.

RG: VP, certainly. So Castro, I think, very much thinks he can be VP.

MH: Not to Joe Biden.

RG: Not to Joe Biden but clearly, he’s a very smart politician. And he clearly made a gamble at some point that Joe Biden will not be the nominee, or if Joe Biden is, he will lose, and there’s going to be a new wave of Democrats and he wants to be in that new wave. He clearly cut cut off any chance of him being vice president for Joe Biden.

MH: And just before we run out of time, Trump himself — This week has been a big week for Trump. I know we talk about this all the time, there were some Republicans quoted in the press saying it won’t hurt him because Democrats always overstate the case. They always say this is the biggest moment ever and it comes and goes and we’ve seen that. Jim Comey testifying Congress. I’m old enough to remember when that was going to be the turning point. Mueller report, that was going to be the turning point. Mueller testifying, that was going to be the turning point. Charlottesville, we could be here all day. Is this week an actual turning point if a gun was put to your head?

RG: It certainly could be.Yeah, who knows?

MH: Ryan, there’s a long career in politics waiting for you with that kind of caveated in answer. Come on, man.

RG: If I could predict the future, I’d be —

MH: Okay, let me rephrase it. Should it be?

RG: It should be. So, he’s showing weakness which is unusual for Trump. And he’s showing kind of, public weakness.

MH: Yeah, an excessive level of incompetence. I mean, I actually thought this “transcript,” this summary wouldn’t be that bad for him. They were just kind of, you know, Democrats were going to look foolish for expecting that. It’s actually really bad for him. How did they think it was good for him?

RG: It comes out and it’s terrible for him. And it raises more questions. “We need a favor. Oh, thank you appreciate that.”

MH: He also does a whole Info Wars conspiracy which we haven’t even had time to get into about the server, this missing email server is in Ukraine.

RG: Yes, that’s right.

MH: That’s what he believes from listening to Info Wars.

RG: That’s right from Trump Tower? Whatever it was.

MH: I can’t keep track of which servers. He picks up all his information from Info Wars and Fox News comments sections, and then runs them over to the Ukrainian Prime Minister. Yes, the fact that Democrats are getting this much more aggressive, I think will be a turning point. But it’s such a divided country and there’s so long between now and the election that things could move either way.

MH: And don’t underestimate the ability of Democrats to mess it all up.

RG: There’s certainly that.

MH: Ryan, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

RG: You got it.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That was Ryan Grim, The Intercept’s D.C. bureau chief. Check out his latest piece. And that’s our show. Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice: iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review. It helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much! See you next week.



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