☕ You're invited! D.C. readers, please join me tomorrow (Thursday) at 8 a.m. at The Showroom, 14th and L NW (not our usual spot!), for national security conversations with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) ... Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, top Republican on Armed Services ... and former White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.
1 big thing ... Scoop: The GOP's ditch-Rudy strategy
Top House Republican sources tell Axios' Jonathan Swan and me that one impeachment survival strategy will be to try to distance President Trump from any Ukraine quid pro quo, with Rudy Giuliani potentially going under the bus.
- A Republican member of one of the impeachment committees told Swan: "[T]his is not an impeachment of Rudy Giuliani, it's not an impeachment of Ambassador Sondland. It's an impeachment of the president of the United States."
- "So the point is as long as this is a step removed, he's in good shape. ... If it's a step removed from the president, he doesn't lose any Republicans in the House."
A top House GOP leadership aide told me: "Substance is focus. [The co-leadoff witness, Bill] Taylor says [he had a] 'full understanding.' But from who? Not POTUS. That’s big."
- An uber-connected Republican added: "Rudy will be cut loose because he was rogue."
House Republicans prepped from 1 to 3:30 p.m. in the Capitol, going over questions members plan to ask, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.
What the president is thinking: "Trump is frustrated with the slippery slope it creates [by] saying it's bad but not impeachable," the GOP member told Swan.
- "Then it gets to bad but impeachable. I think the real problem becomes the slippery slope. ... It's more just a function that he believes there ought to be a strong defense based on the merits of what happened, not on the process."
A top Democratic aide told me the party's goal for the hearings is "Mueller on steroids": "Simpler crime witnessed by credible people. Mueller did exceptional work but nobody read his 400+ page report (except a few of us masochists)."
- A Democratic official who helped shape the strategy told me the narrative will be: "The president abused his power to rig and fix elections in his favor. Our challenge is to keep it that simple: What kind of democracy do we want?"
- Look for Democrats to say Trump would do it again if not held accountable.
🥊 P.S. Republican senators are "too busy" to watch today, per AP's Alan Fram:
- Millions of Americans will be watching. But of eight Senate Republicans questioned, seven said they wouldn't be watching or that it wasn't a priority.
- "Tomorrow I'm going to be paying attention to what we're doing in the Senate," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
👀 Keep checking Axios.com today for our constantly updating impeachment "speed screen" with "what matters" from testimony, tweets and talk.
2. 🍿 Impeachment viewer's guide
The American public has been left out of most of the impeachment process so far. Beginning at 10 a.m., we'll be looking live at the fourth attempt in U.S. history to remove a president from office, Axios' Alayna Treene writes.
Testifying today (side-by-side):
- Ambassador Bill Taylor: The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine says it was his "clear understanding" that President Trump wouldn't release military aid to Ukraine until its president promised to conduct investigations Trump wanted.
- Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent: He says Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to go to the microphones and say three words: "investigations, Biden and Clinton."
Testifying Friday: Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Testifying next week:
- Jennifer Williams: An aide to Vice President Pence.
- Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
- Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine.
- Former National Security Council adviser Tim Morrison.
- EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
- Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs Laura Cooper.
- Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.
- Former Russia aide Fiona Hill.
Democrats want appearances by several people who have refused:
- Former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman.
- Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought.
Republicans also want to call Hunter Biden and the whistleblower.
- But an official working on impeachment told Axios that the House Intelligence Committee said Hunter Biden and the whistleblower as witnesses are "absolute nonstarters."
3. ⚖️ Impeachment in 1 screen
The RNC is lining up supporters to publicly defend the president, including a conference call tomorrow for regional reporters with presidential son Eric Trump that is aimed at putting pressure on vulnerable House Democrats. Many of them represent districts that the president won in 2016. (AP)
- Other Trumpworld trouble ... Testimony in the colorful Roger Stone trial — featuring talk of dognapping and "Godfather" references — ended with former campaign official Rick Gates telling jurors that Stone wanted contact info for Jared Kushner to "debrief" him about hacked emails about Hillary Clinton. (AP)
4. Pic du jour
"Home is here" rally: Dreamers cheer on the Supreme Court steps after attending DACA arguments.
- "The Supreme Court's conservative majority appeared ready ... to side with the Trump administration in its efforts to shut down a program protecting about 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers," per the N.Y. Times' Adam Liptak.
5. 📊 2020 milestone: Pete tops an Iowa poll
6. 21 years ago: Clinton impeachment
Lanny Breuer, a White House lawyer who tried to defend President Clinton against impeachment in 1998, tells the N.Y. Times' Peter Baker for a front-pager, "Same Venom and Drama. But That’s About All":
It feels like our experience 20 years ago was "Mayberry R.F.D.," and Andy Griffith was our sheriff. ... As bad as we thought it was — and it was terrible, it was crazy, it was a rough and tough time — but for some reason it seems much simpler than today.
7. 🗞️ 46 years ago: Watergate hearings open
The Trump administration is considering setting up "web cameras to live-stream construction of President Trump’s border wall, going against objections from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials," the WashPost's Nick Miroff reports.
- Why it matters: The plan "aims to rally public support for hundreds of miles of new border barrier Trump wants in place by next year’s election."
9. Roula Khalaf named FT editor
The Financial Times named Roula Khalaf as editor, succeeding Lionel Barber, who has held the position since 2005 and will step down at the beginning of 2020, ending a 34-year career at the publication, per an FT announcement.
- Why she matters: "Khalaf has been the FT’s deputy editor since 2016, ... leading a global network of over 100 foreign correspondents."
- "She ... has been a driver of diversity initiatives in the newsroom, in particular those focused on increasing the FT’s female readership and talent."
10. 1 🏈 thing
- Nielsen said 16.6 million people watched on CBS as LSU held off the Tide's late charge. At 7 p.m. ET, just before the end, the audience topped 20 million.
6.7 million people watched Minnesota beat Penn State earlier in the day on ABC — the network's biggest audience for a noon college football game in three years.
- On network TV, the NFL held spots 1-5 for the week, led by 22.99 million watching NBC's "Sunday Night Football" (Minnesota at Dallas).
P.S. A shoutfest with Don Jr. gave "The View" its biggest audience since Vice President Biden appeared six months ago.
- For the week, Fox News Channel averaged 2.59 million viewers in prime time, to MSNBC's 1.89 million.