Reason Roundup

Trump Calls on 'American Patriots' to Defend Him From Impeachment

Plus: Tulsi Gabbard opposes impeachment, vaping panic in Massachusetts, California's "war on freelancers," and more...


It's happening. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) has started impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. The president has promised to release an unredacted transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president that triggered this impeachment inquiry. The White House has also promised to release to Congress the whistleblower complaint that first sparked interest in that call. The former should be out today and the latter by the end of the week.

The usual curmudgeonly crowd (for whom I have much fondness) has been pointing out that of all the potential things to launch impeachment proceedings over, this business hardly stands out. Then again, a bipartisan consensus props up most of the serious rights violations and abuses of power carried out by this president (and those that came before).

The most serious misstep Trump allegedly made this time was attempting to withhold military money for Ukraine. The Trump administration says it was simply trying to figure out if the new Ukrainian president could be trusted before forking over the funds. But Democrats say Trump deliberately timed this move to imply to Ukraine's leaders that funding was contingent on whether they took up Trump's demand to investigate the Bidens.

"If Trump did indeed try to use the aid funds as leverage, he not only engaged in improper self-dealing but also usurped Congress' power of the purse. That's an important constitutional issue that goes beyond Trump's many personal flaws," writes Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy (which is hosted at Reason).

But that's still a big if. And even supposing it turns out true, an implication is mighty hard to prove. Especially when White House transparency here might not be all it's cracked up to be…

Trump has been working to frame this whole business as a Russiagate redux, calling it "a total Witch Hunt." Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) fired back:

Meanwhile, the Trump 2020 campaign is already using this for fundraising. An email from the campaign calls on "American Patriots" to join and help fund the "Official Impeachment Defense Task Force."

One reason Trump may seem so forthcoming about the call and transcript is that any real dirty work was carried out by Rudy Giuliani. That's been a big point of speculation.

"Rudy—he did all of this," one U.S. official told The Washington Post. "This s---show that we're in—it's him injecting himself into the process."

"Over the course of the past year," reports The Daily Beast, "Giuliani pressed the Ukrainian government to investigate so far unfounded allegations of corruption in the country involving" Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Giuliani insists that this has all been on the up-and-up and his overtures were part of sanctioned State Department work.

Indeed, two U.S. diplomats (Kurt Volker, special representative to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union) were briefed by Giuliani on the situation. But the State Department has yet to officially confirm if and how extensively it was involved.

The existence of an official State Department inquiry into Biden/Ukraine things could be good for Trump and Giuliani, suggesting that there was nothing untoward about their own efforts. But it could also be very bad if evidence comes out that team Trump pressured State Department officials to get involved for the president's own personal political gain.


California's "war on freelancers." In the name of workers' rights, the state has made it much harder to make a living as a freelance journalist. Columbia Journalism Review explains:

California Assembly Bill 5, in its original language, seemed as though it could end freelance journalism in the state. The bill, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law September 18, codifies and expands on a 2018 California Supreme Court decision that made it harder for companies to classify workers as freelancers rather than employees. As employees, workers are covered by state laws on the minimum wage, worker's compensation coverage, workplace discrimination and other protections. As freelancers, they are not.

When that court decision was first handed down, in March, "some publishers responded…by cutting ties with freelancers based in California," reports CJR. Under Assembly Bill 5, the state has clarified that freelance writers, editors, photographers, and editorial cartoonists can be hired for up to 35 "content submissions" per year without being labeled employees. But this is little comfort for those whose livelihood depends on high-volume freelancing for multiple outlets.

"It's not hard to find freelancers who say they will run into that limit," notes CJR. Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, told the magazine that his publications depend on freelancers to write weekly columns on things like local restaurants and events:

They write 52 weeks a year, and that becomes a problem now. We will have to pick the 35 most important weeks for them to write. [It] just seems so arbitrary.

Freelance writer and editor Zac Estrada, who is based in Los Angeles, told CJR that in his experience, "it's been really easy to go over 35 bylines in less than a month." Already, one site he edited content for has stopped providing him with work. Estrada said:

I'm glad the state of California is looking out for workplace issues and benefit, but I don't see a way this bill helps me. A lot of people I know love freelancing and wouldn't take a full-time job even if it offered them more money.

Now, thanks to anti-gig economy crusaders, Californians can no longer make that choice for themselves.


More vaping panic, this time in Massachusetts:

See also the latest from Reason's Jacob Sullum: "Why Is the CDC Still Fostering Potentially Deadly Confusion About Vaping and Lung Disease?"


Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) has qualified to participate in the next Democratic presidential debate:

Gabbard yesterday expressed concern about Trump impeachment proceedings.