The Daily Signal’s White House correspondent, Fred Lucas, had a front row seat to the impeachment of President Donald Trump, an impeachment that Lucas says began even before Trump took office.
Lucas’ newly released book, “Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump,” dives deep into the left’s plot to remove the president from office and the key players involved in the partisan effort.
Lucas joins the podcast to discuss his book and how the American people should view Trump’s impeachment.
Also on today’s show, we read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about a 107-year-old woman who has beaten both the Spanish flu and COVID-19.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: I am joined by my colleague Fred Lucas, The Daily Signal’s White House correspondent and author of the newly released book “Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump.”
Fred, thanks so much for being here.
Fred Lucas: Thanks for having me on.
Allen: So Fred, let’s get right into it. In December of last year, House Democrats voted to impeach the president, but you make very clear in the title of your book, “Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump,” that really the effort to impeach the president began from the moment he took office. Can you just explain that a little bit further?
Lucas: Well, the only correction I would make there is it … really started before he took office, pretty much after the election, well before the inauguration.
And I document this in there that one of the first actions taken was [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren actually put forward a Senate bill on emoluments saying that Trump would be committing a high crime or misdemeanor if he did not divest all of his business holdings immediately. That bill went nowhere, but it was sort of symbolic.
From that point on, you had [Rep.] Maxine Waters pushing forward … what she called the “Impeach 45” movement. It had like a whole host of liberal nonprofits such as Tom Steyer, John Bonifaz, who ran this group Impeach Donald Trump Now.
So these things are all in place, eventually, after the inauguration and they continued, people were pressing.
There were actually three impeachment resolutions against Trump that reached the House floor that Congressman Al Green had managed to force a House floor … vote on these resolutions, well before the Ukrainian phone call. So basically, the bottom line is the push to impeach Trump did not start with a Ukrainian phone call.
Allen: You mentioned Maxine Waters. And I mean, it was probably, gosh, only like a month after the president had taken office that she openly said that, essentially, her goal was to see him impeached. There was no hiding this. They were very, very blatant, very obvious, right from the start. They didn’t want Trump in office. But why? Where did this hatred come from so early on before the president had hardly done anything?
Lucas: Trump even recently said, “Maybe it’s my personality.” But I think that was a lot of it. I think he just was not supposed to win was a big part of it.
What I would say is that early on, Nancy Pelosi, first as minority leader later speaker, did not want to see this happen. She thought it would be a political loser, had no chance of going anywhere.
She at one point said that she wanted an impeachment, [that it] needed to be compelling, overwhelming, and bipartisan. She ended up settling for an impeachment that was very uncompelling, underwhelming, and very partisan.
I think one of the things about Pelosi, it was kind of a total collapse in her leadership because she could not stave this off. And one interesting thing is that she’d said that, just shortly after Democrats took the majority, Pelosi was in an interview and said that Trump just is not worth impeachment. And the important thing about that is that once she said that, that was before the Mueller report came out.
Now, a lot of people knew that by this point we’re strongly suspecting that the Mueller report would not find any collusion in the Russia scandal, but at least in theory, there was some chance we didn’t know what the final report would say.
And I think that’s very telling because here is Pelosi on the chance, at least in theory, the chance that Mueller would come back with a report saying that there was collusion, which would be a very treacherous thing, if that were true that would be a very treacherous thing for Donald Trump to be involved in a collusion with Russia.
It turned out not to be true, but just a few months later, Pelosi, after saying Trump wouldn’t be worth it, given the chance that there was collusion, a few months later, Pelosi is all bent out of shape over a phone call with a Ukraine president. So those two things don’t really seem to mesh.
Allen: So what happened then in between her sort of being almost a little nonchalant in a way and saying that the president is not worth impeaching to then all of a sudden calling for his head?
Lucas: Yes. Well, one big thing, there’s an entire chapter in this book that gets into Pelosi’s feud with “the squad.” And the squad had a huge role in this. One congressional source that I talked to said that there’s a direct parallel between impeachment and the power of the squad. And they really came in and pushed this.
Allen: And those five being [Rep.] Ilhan Omar, and AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], and those folks.
Lucas: Yeah. Right, the lawmakers. And it looks like it’s going to be expanding, maybe, after this election. Yes.
So from that point, they were sort of winning a PR war against Pelosi among the grassroots of the party. And you eventually had this situation where Pelosi was to some degree in open warfare with the squad.
And she’d given an interview, I think, that was somewhat dismissive of the squad, referred to the Green New Deal as the “Green Dream,” or whatever. And this caused AOC [to] rear back and [she] ended up playing the race card against Pelosi. Omar did some[thing] similar, very publicly.
Now, probably the advisable thing to do in this would be the sort of sit back and let the Democratic civil war go on. Trump probably unwisely went to Twitter and attacked the squad during this, which caused Pelosi, kind of gave her an out, to come in and defend the squad and that sort of settled this feud.
But there was one interesting thing that I note in this book and that was when Pelosi visited with AOC. Pelosi posted their photos together on social media, AOC did not. And I think that there’s almost a message there that Pelosi was the one who was trying to fit in and be part of the cool kids and AOC did not feel like she had to.
Allen: Interesting. So, I mean, this is really like insider political play, essentially. It kind of sounds like a middle school classroom, “I’m going to bully this kid because the cool kids don’t like him.”
Lucas: Yeah. Well, there is a bit of insider baseball stuff here because this book’s based on more than a dozen interviews, it’s not just me pontificating. I’ve interviewed numerous people on Capitol Hill, in the White House, both on the record and off the record.
Another good bit of insider info that actually got some media attention this past week, which I was happy to see that, was what the book said about how [Rep.] Adam Schiff really edged out [Rep. Jerrold] Nadler to end up being the guy who runs the impeachment.
A lot of that had to do with Nadler did not do a very good job when he tried to jump into the impeachment and handle it with some of the early stuff with the Mueller stuff.
He did a horrible job in his committee work, and hearings, and so forth. At that point, after about three hearings, Pelosi became very upset and she knew if the caucus did push her to an impeachment, that she did not want to use Nadler.
Now, another interesting thing is that Schiff was very ambitious during all this. And there was actually, some of our feeling here, he actually had a tweet about two weeks before the whistleblower complaint came out.
And when she complained that the money seemed to be on hold at the time when Rudy Giuliani had said he was investigating [former Vice President] Joe Biden, some of that had been public, but some of this revealed made it look as almost like Schiff might’ve had some advanced knowledge that this whistleblower complaint was coming.
Allen: Wow, that’s fascinating. So why was this seen as an opportunity? Why was the Ukraine phone call and the whistleblower the second chance, essentially, that the left saw, “OK, the Russian collusion thing didn’t work, we’re going to latch onto this.”
Lucas: The second chance, the New York Times even actually called it a do-over of sorts, in which they referred to Adam Schiff as being the can-do special counsel that Robert Mueller could not be, which I referenced that.
But yeah, this was the Russia narrative that they’d built up for years, and the Democrats made a real strong investment in the Russian narrative that collapsed on them after the Mueller report. And they had to turn to something because even after all this, that’s sort of been what Pelosi had used to stave off impeachment talk from Maxine Waters, Al Green, and others, was, “Let’s wait for the Mueller Report and then see.”
And then the Mueller report came out, I think Pelosi probably, maybe Nadler at the time, thought, “Well, we’ll be OK. We’ll have to beat him in the election.”
And then the calls for impeachment did not quiet down. On some level, they picked up. By June or early July of that year, a majority of the Democratic Caucus was calling for either an impeachment or an impeachment inquiry against Trump, even after the Mueller report.
The big part of it was, from people I interviewed and talked to on this, the fear among Democrats and even moderate Democrats was that they would be reprimanded. Impeaching Trump became a political litmus test.
So it almost stands to reason that the next thing to come along was going to be what they called for impeachment on. And this was not a perfect cause, Trump said. I don’t think under any other president it would have been considered an impeachable offense. They were looking for something though, something, anything, that they could use as a grounds for impeachment. They framed this as a national security threat.
And the book gets into how they went through several admissions of this. First they called it a quid pro quo with [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy. That didn’t really shock people’s conscience, so they started using the word bribery, but that was not a convincing sell. Extortion is a word that they tossed around for a little while to describe Trump and Zelenskyy, that didn’t work.
So they eventually settled with abuse of power and obstruction of justice, which was sort of broad enough for people to generally understand, but nonspecific enough that they didn’t have to really explain.
Allen: One of the most interesting things that you discuss in the book is that this standard that was used by the Democrats to justify impeachment, if those standards were applied across the board to every other previous president, pretty much every other president would be worthy of impeachment. Can you just explain that a little bit further?
Lucas: Well, yes. Yeah, yeah. And I get into the book quite a bit on that. Certainly, you don’t have to go back that far, I mean, just [former President Barack] Obama, certainly obstruction of Congress.
He, in this case, Obama used executive privilege to shield [former U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder from having to turn over documents about [Operation] Fast and Furious. That was something that could have easily been considered. And Eric Holder was found in contempt of Congress for holding back these documents.
That’s something that Congress could have, in theory, impeached. By this standard they could impeach Obama over that for obstructing Congress and abuse of power. Oh my gosh, that’s such a broad term. Certainly you could say that Obama’s use of the immigration executive actions—DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], DAPA [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents]—one could say that those were abuses of power.
Allen: We have to touch on, just briefly, and I know you touch on it in the book, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were the only presidents who were actually, besides President Trump, impeached. What was different about their impeachments versus President Trump’s?
Lucas: The big thing is that both of those were impeached over actual crimes, or alleged crimes, I should say, but actual criminality was involved in the articles of impeachment.
Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, and his attempt to cover up the Monica Lewinsky affair.
And I would further note that the legacy of impeachment was not the only consequence for Bill Clinton, and that he had to pay a $90,000 contempt of court fee for lying under oath about the Lewinsky situation, he had to surrender his law license. And so he faced legal consequences beyond political.
There’s almost no chance that Trump will face any kind of legal consequence for the Ukraine phone call because abuse of power is not an actual statute, obstruction of Congress is not a statute.
Democrats seem to try to merge contempt of Congress, which is actual statute, with obstruction of justice, which is a statute, and create something new called obstruction of Congress in the impeachment of Trump. So that was not an actual criminal law.
Going back all the way to Andrew Johnson, he was impeached for a violation of the Tenure of Office Act. And just real quickly, that was Congress had passed a law with a super majority over Johnson’s veto saying that the president cannot fire a Cabinet official without the approval of the Senate.
So Johnson knew it was an impeachment trap, he walked right into it and fired the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton. So the Republican House impeached him for that. And the Senate acquitted him by just one vote, actually.
But that impeachment is pretty much frowned on by most historians today, mainly because the Tenure of Office Act was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. But I think there’s a point that at the time that was a duly enacted statute and Johnson was actually impeached for violating an actual law. So I think the Johnson impeachment probably will stand up to history much better than the Trump impeachment.
Allen: Wow. So, what, I think to me, and I’m sure to so many Americans, is so troubling and concerning about Trump’s impeachment is that it was so partisan. And we see from really the Founders’ intent of allowing for impeachment was not to remove a candidate just because you disagree with their policies or you don’t like them, there was very specific intent there.
So just explain for a moment why this vote was really concerning to see it straight down party lines?
Lucas: Well, there were a couple of Democrats in the House, there are, I think, four overall that voted against at least one article of impeachment. But yeah, I mean, for the most part, it was a party-line vote. And then in the Senate, Mitt Romney crossed over to vote to convict. But yeah, it was almost entirely partisan.
And the book actually gets into a bit of why we’ve seen Republicans, actually, who didn’t like Trump early on, why they became somewhat more loyal to him, and it’s largely because he ended up being a more conservative president than anticipated, was one.
But also, because of the less sort of “hair on fire” attitude toward Trump, which is one of always exploding over everything he does, and it’s always a crisis. And I think that extended here, Democrats felt very pressured by their party base.
There were a lot of moderates who ran in purple districts and red districts in 2018. Pelosi owed the majority to them. And they campaigned on saying, “We’re not going to Washington to impeach the president. We’re not like those other Democrats, we’re moderates.” But then when they got into Congress, they sort of faced the threat of a primary challenge.
And I think their rationale was that a primary challenge, even if it’s not successful, could really hobble somebody going into a general election. Whereas voters might forgive you if you just vote along the party line on a major, seemingly inconsequential issue like impeachment because no one thought that Trump would actually be removed by the Senate.
Allen: Fred, I love your perspective on all of this because, as The Daily Signal’s White House correspondent, you were watching all of this unfold really up close and personal. I mean, when there’s not a global pandemic, you’re at the White House multiple times every week, you’re on the Hill.
What was it like being in D.C., being at the White House, being on the Hill when all of this was unraveling? Give us kind of your inside perspective, what were some of those vivid memories that you have?
Lucas: It was just a feeling of being involved in something historic. And like I said, there was never a chance that Trump was going to be removed from office, but … this is only the third time in American history this has happened.
Yeah, I think there was this vibe, I think there was chatter among other reporters about the historical aspect of it. But also, there was chatter about who this helps, who this hurts in the election. I think since that time, everything has been sort of focused on COVID, but yeah. At one point, this seemed like it might be a big issue going into the election.
Allen: So the book is called “Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump,” by Fred Lucas. And Fred, the book can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, wherever books are sold. Correct?
Lucas: Yes, that’s right.
Allen: OK. Awesome. Well, we’ll be sure to have a link to the book in today’s show notes, and Fred, we just really appreciate you coming on this show, and so excited for this book, and just to really hear and read your inside perspective.
Lucas: OK. Thanks for having me on.