2019-11-13 19:12:191 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
It was clear from the opening statements of the Majority and the Minority in Wednesday’s impeachment hearing the strategy of both sides. It only continued during the questioning of Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, and deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, George Kent.
The Democrat majority went about methodically dropping all the facts that they believe should lead to Donald Trump’s impeachment, while the Republican minority didn’t defend the president’s actions at all, instead attacking Trump’s opponents, just as he was trying to do by getting Ukraine to launch investigations.
For this to work, the GOP has to ignore a new powerful fact that was learned during the impeachment hearing. Taylor issued a damaging statement that Trump was more interested in the investigations of what Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election was and why then-Vice President Joe Biden was involving himself in the Ukraine government while his son was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), couldn’t help but first return to the two-year special counsel Russia investigation that netted convictions and guilty pleas, but nothing for Trump. He insisted that after the hearing with Robert Mueller didn’t “overturn the results of the 2016 election,” that the Democrats “turned on a dime and now claim the real malfeasance is Republicans’ dealing with Ukraine.”
The GOP used that to connect back to a woman whose name he said Democrats redacted from the released interview transcripts. He said she was affiliated with the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and “worked with Ukrainian officials to collect dirt on the Trump campaign.” He insisted this amounted to a “carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”
The Republicans also tried to make the whistleblower a focus as Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) made a motion to subpoena the anonymous individual whose complaint led to the impeachment inquiry. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) suspended the motion until after witness testimony, then disputed Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-OH) claim that Schiff is the only lawmaker who knows the whistleblower’s identity, noting that not only does he not know the identity, he is “determined to make sure that identity is protected.
Kent brought Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s name into the proceedings, discussing his efforts to “gin up politically-motivated investigations” that “undermined U.S. and Ukrainian national interests and damaged our critical bilateral relationship.”
While he admitted that he raised concerns of “perception of a conflict of interest” in February 2015 of Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, he “did not witness any efforts by any U.S official to shield Burisma from scrutiny.”
Taylor testified that after he took over as acting ambassador to Ukraine in June following former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch being pushed out, that “there appeared to be two channels of U.S. policymaking and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular.”
He added that “by mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations. ... It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani.”
Taylor added testimony that wasn’t heard before in his earlier deposition, as he’d only learned of it after. He stated that one of his aides was within listening distance during a phone call between Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that took place one day after Trump’s call with Zelensky.
The aide heard Trump asking about “the investigations,” and Sondland replied the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. After the call, the aide asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine, and Sondland replied that Trump cares “more about the investigations of Biden” that Giuliani “was pressing for.”
Despite a large focus by the GOP on the actions of the Bidens, Kent testified that there was no basis for Trump’s insistence that the former vice president stopped an investigation into Burisma while his son was on the board of directors.
Minority lead counsel Steve Castor asked Taylor whether Trump was justified in being suspicious of Ukraine in 2016, suggesting he could “appreciate” Trump’s concerns that they “were not in favor of him, did not support him, and were out to get him.”
Schiff jumped in and cautioned the witnesses against commenting on “facts not in evidence.” This turned into an argument with Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) implying Majority counsel Daniel Goldman was asking about facts not in evidence. In the end, Schiff allowed the question, to which Taylor replied he didn’t know “the exact nature of President Trump’s concerns.”
Schiff later asked Taylor if he was fearful of Zelensky publicly announcing investigations. “I was worried, Mr. Chairman, that he would do that. So, yes, I thought that it would be a bad idea,” replied Taylor. He added he addressed his concerns with Zelensky’s staff who were making plans for a public announcement. He added that the Ukrainian president “knew it would be a bad idea to interfere in other people’s elections.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) repeated a comment that Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had made that getting political favors for foreign aid was done “all the time ... get over it.” He asked Taylor if that was true, and he replied that holding up aid “for no good policy reason, no good substantive reason, no good national security reason, is wrong.”
After Republicans launched many complaints throughout the hearing that neither witness had firsthand knowledge of Trump’s conduct, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) offered,”I would be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”
Schiff closed Wednesday’s hearing by referring to the testimony as a “deeply troubling” story about a “dedicated ambassador” who was smeared and a president who tried to work through an “irregular channel” to bypass national security interests in order to promote his own political desires.
That ambassador, Yovanovitch, will appear in a public hearing on Friday. Also on Friday, David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine who overheard the Trump-Sondland call, will testify behind closed doors. Mark Sandy, the associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, will testify behind closed doors on Saturday. He was scheduled initially on November 8 but didn’t show.
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