The fall of the republic will be catered.
The dining room of this Washington, D.C., home is filled with a rainbow array of macarons, steaming bowls of dumplings, gallons of red wine, and tray after tray of sushi. Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden isn’t much for raw fish, but he’s perched in the kitchen picking at a slice of cheese pizza, listening to lawyer George Conway explain the cast on his right arm. The injury was not, as some wiseacre suggested, the result of something inflicted upon him by his wife, Kellyanne, with whom he is famously feuding over President Donald Trump.
The party is atwitter with a few hundred famous-for-D.C. communications specialists, prolific partisans, national media reporters (one even brought a Trump official as a date, their first!), and the man of the hour, former acting solicitor general and first-time author Neal Katyal.
In early November, Katyal, 49, was standing onstage with John Legend at a Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit, and announced he would soon be quickly writing a book titled “Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump.” At first, Katyal was hesitant to write the book, but when opportunity knocks, it’s best to move quickly, and for many, there has been no better opportunity than impeachment.
It’s launched countless podcasts (even Rudy Giuliani has reportedly been toying with the idea). It’s made stars out of high-minded Democratic prosecutors (Rep. Adam Schiff) and Republican MAGA acts (Rep. Matt Gaetz). Viewership is up on daytime cable, readership for newspapers has skyrocketed (thanks!), and just look at what the Trump administration is doing for book sales.
Within three minutes of Katyal’s announcement that he was writing an impeachment tome, he received an email from Juleanna Glover, a Republican strategist and doyenne of the D.C. social scene, telling him that she would be throwing him a book party, whether he attended or not.
Tap tap tap.
“Those of you by the bar in the back please come toward the kitchen,” Glover, the evening’s host, says with a big bright smile. “Everybody come closer. Let’s get a little cozy … I’m so glad you’re here, because I think everybody here wants to hear a very effective argument for why we need principled, honest leadership in the White House.”
The feting at Glover’s expansive townhouse listed as co-hosts: George Conway, Hayden, former attorney general Eric Holder, NBC’s Nicolle Wallace and Hollywood’s Rob Reiner. Three of those hosts did not attend, but Katyal did, of course.
“This book was written because of an emergency,” Katyal tells the now-cozy crowd. “It was written on an emergency schedule, and this party was put together on an emergency schedule, and we have an emergency number of people at the party.”
It had been just 50 days since Katyal’s friend and literary agent Howard Yoon suggested that he write a book laying out in plain English the legal and historical argument for Trump’s ouster, and do it fast. With so much news happening all the time, Katyal agreed that it could be difficult to follow the thread of what was really happening – Democrats could lose the impeachment debate based solely on confusion. Perhaps Katyal could figure out the way to write something that transcended the twists and turns of a constantly churning story.
Katyal didn’t immediately agree to take on the project. He had other things going on: he had to prepare for a death penalty case he’d be arguing in front of the Supreme Court in December; he had Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Love Supreme improvisational rap classes on Tuesdays in New York (mostly for fun, he said, though the improved mental elasticity could be helpful for the rat-a-tat rapport of his now-frequent television appearances); and there was that voice track he was supposed to record with members of the band the National for a charity album benefiting Planned Parenthood.
But Katyal woke at 2 a.m. and started working on a proposal, just to see where it took him. It took him: less than a week to get an offer, 10 days, with the help of co-writer, Sam Koppelman, to write the entire book, and less than two months for trucks to be carrying his first book to stores all across the country.
Katyal isn’t your typical impeachment opportunist. The son of Indian immigrants in Chicago, he grew up to become one of the most respected lawyers of his generation. He came to prominence by winning the 2006 Supreme Court case that ruled the Guantánamo military commissions set up by the George W. Bush administration violated the Geneva Conventions. He’d been, before that, a law professor at Georgetown and a mostly unknown lawyer in Bill Clinton’s Justice Department – helping, among other things, draft in 1999 the special counsel regulations that would guide Robert Mueller III’s investigation into Russian meddling.
After Guantánamo, he was a lawyer in demand. He had so many profiles written in niche publications that the Above the Law blog dubbed him the “Paris Hilton of the legal elite.” He began arguing more and more cases in front of the Supreme Court and earned enough money as a partner at the global law firm Hogan Lovells to support his love of skiing in Aspen (while on the slopes he often works on oral arguments, dictating notes to himself via Bluetooth).
“I consider him to be one of the great lawyers of his generation,” Holder, his former boss at the DOJ, said after the party. “And I think he’s a person who should certainly be considered on the short list of Supreme Court nominees.”
Katyal would have friends on the court. Not only did he work for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan when she was solicitor general, but two years ago Katyal wrote a controversial op-ed in the New York Times telling liberals why they should support Neil Gorsuch, a Trump nominee for the high court.
Katyal is by his own description an “extremist centrist” – despite his popularity on #Resitance Twitter. His Gorsuch endorsement earned him plenty of sniping from the left, and he attended the nomination announcement as a supporter in the East Room, where he met his future friend and occasional writing partner George Conway (this is back when the two of them were more welcome on White House grounds).
“There is some sentiment in my household that he’s been a bad influence on me,” George Conway says at the party, clearly referring to his wife, who works for Trump and zealously supports the president. “But in fact, as he never ceases to remind me, he’s a restraining influence on me. … He’s always saying don’t say that, don’t tweet that. Though usually I don’t listen to him.”
Together the two have penned big stories such as “Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.”
Katyal has had star turns in the past. Once, he was asked to consult on the Netflix series “House of Cards,” and ended up playing himself.
“He’s just so smart, has such a strong moral compass, and is actually a good actor,” said his scene mate and now friend Elizabeth Marvel.
Katyal wants to be more than just a cameo in today’s national drama. In addition to battling the Trump administration as a practicing lawyer (he did, for example, argue against Trump’s travel ban at the Supreme Court), he’s got his writing, an MSNBC contract, endless radio interviews, and a new show he’s starting with John Heilemann titled “The I-word.” Katyal’s even represented by a management company that used to work only for recording artists but is pivoting to “changemakers.” He may not be angling to a seat on the Supreme Court (yet, anyway), but his goals are equally ambitious.
“What Carl Sagan did for astronomy,” Katyal says, “is what I want to do for the law.”
Yes, he’s aware of the hackery pitfalls that now surround him. It’s why he goes on television to speak only about subjects he knows about (“No one should care what I have to say about Syria”), and he pushes back at terms like “public intellectual.”
“There’s this idea, especially in places like Silicon Valley,” he says, “where people think because they are good at one thing, they are good at all things. To me, that can be the problem with someone who calls themself a public intellectual.”
It’s why at this loud book party in his honor filled with D.C. insiders, Katyal almost seems out of place (“I only invited like 15 people,” he says).
So many people ended up RSVPing that attendees were warned that – emergency! – parking would be scarce and the lines for the bar would be long. But now the party is winding down. The reporter on the date with the Trump official is wondering whether it was a “baller move,” or a mistake to bring his date to an impeachment party. George Conway is explaining to people why he’s not verified on Twitter (“They stopped verifying!”). Koppelman is telling guests that they’ve sent copies of the book to every member of Congress, and that, hey, maybe it could make a difference.
“Neal genuinely believes the moral arc bends toward justice,” Koppleman says. “And that he needs to do everything he can to help it bend.”
But before the party ends, there are other moral imperatives to consider.
“The books are all free,” Glover announces to the guests, motioning to a pile for the taking by the front door. “Which means you’re morally obligated to buy it on Amazon.”