2019-11-22 03:50:001 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff has done a great job of methodically laying out the case for impeachment of Donald Trump, showing his abuse of power with Ukraine. On Thursday the hearings wrapped up with a statement that showed how wrong it is to continue to push the story that Ukraine may have helped former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.
While Democrats may have thought their ticket to impeachment would be through the Russia investigation, they were struggling to get to that point. But then the whistleblower filed a complaint about Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which was like the Democrats' ticket to impeachment.
The GOP thought they had all the answers and were continuing to fight back, but after U.S. Ambassador of the European Union Gordon Sondland testified and threw most of the administration under the bus, Republicans have struggled to defend his testimony.
But the way Schiff was laying out the case, there had to be more testimony on the way that would nail the coffin shut. And there was, thanks to former White House adviser on Russia, Fiona Hill, as well as U.S. Embassy in Ukraine counselor David Holmes.
Holmes testified to what Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor mentioned for the first time last week, that there was another Trump call. Holmes was sitting nearby Sondland and testified he could hear him talking with Trump on the phone because the president was speaking very loudly.
Sondland told Trump that Zelensky would do anything Trump asked him to. After the call, Holmes asked the ambassador what Trump thought of Ukraine. He was told Trump didn't care at all about Ukraine and only cared about the "big stuff" that affected him personally, like "the Biden investigation."
When Sondland testified on Wednesday, he said he didn't realize Trump wanted investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, thinking the investigations would be only on Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter served on the board, and the 2016 election.
But Holmes disputes that, stating that Sondland and others knew early on in the process that the president wanted Ukraine to make an announcement of an investigation into the Bidens and not just about corruption as Trump has claimed. While Sondland said he didn't think he mentioned the Bidens to Holmes, the aide says he did.
Holmes said he learned that a Zelensky White House visit was depending on Ukraine conducting the investigations Trump wanted. By early September he had a "clear impression" that the frozen Ukraine military aid was on Trump's direction "either as an expression of dissatisfaction that the Ukrainians had not yet agreed to the Burisma/Biden investigation or as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so."
Daniel Goldman, Democratic counsel, asked Holmes to confirm he heard Trump ask Sondland, "Is he going to do the investigation?" and Holmes confirmed that the ambassador said, "Oh yeah, he's going to do do it, he'll do anything you ask," and testified that he had "never seen anything like this in my foreign service career."
"Someone at a lunch in a restaurant making a call on a cell phone to the president of the United States — being able to hear [the president's] voice, he has a very distinctive personality .. very colorful language was used. They were directly addressing something that I had been wondering about and working on for weeks and even months, a topic that had led to the recall of my former boss," meaning former U.S. Ambassador to U.S. Marie Yovanovitch.
Hill referred to the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call as "surprising." While she wasn't present for it, she did read the transcript once it was released. She testified that she and former national security adviser John Bolton opposed the call "for some period," believing there should be groundwork laid out for the two leaders to speak about mutual issues. "I saw in this call that was not the case," she said.
She disputed Sondland's' testimony that Bolton had endorsed the idea of a phone conversation between Trump and Zelensky. She noted he shared her concerns that the president was "not properly prepared." He also "never indicated in any way" that he accepted Sondland's claims that he was in charge of the Ukraine policy, though Sondland claimed Trump had given him "very broad authority."
She also referred to the drive to prove that Ukraine and not Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee and not Russia to interfere with the 2016 election to help Clinton.
"This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services," she said. Not only have Rudy Giuliani and Trump pushed this conspiracy theory, but now some GOP are pushing it as well.
"The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions," she said. "It is beyond dispute."
Goldman asked if Trump was "adopting [Russian President] Vladimir Putin's view over his own senior advisers and intelligence officials" by pushing the 2016 election conspiracy theory.
"I think we have to be very careful about the way that we phrase that," she said. "This is a view that President Putin and the Russian security services and many actors in Russia have promoted." She added that she thinks "this view has also got some traction, perhaps in parallel, and separately, here in the United States. Those two things have, over time, started to fuse together."
Both Hill and Holmes testified that it was always clear that the Burisma investigation was targeting the Bidens. "It was very apparent to me that was what Rudy Giuliani intended," said Hill.
Holmes agreed that "Burisma" was "code" for Biden and that anyone involved in Ukraine policy in the spring and summer this year would have understood that. This is despite both Sondland and former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker stating they didn't know that the Burisma investigation was targeting the Bidens.
"As has been the case throughout the Democrats' impeachment sham, today's witnesses rely heavily on their own presumptions, assumptions, and opinions," said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement. "These two witnesses, just like the rest, have no personal or direct knowledge regarding why U.S. aid was temporarily withheld."
"The Democrats are clearly being motivated by a sick hatred for President Trump and their rabid desire to overturn the 2016 election. The American people deserve better," she added.
One day after Hill found out that the Office of Management and Budget had frozen military aid for Ukraine, and six days before the Trump-Zelensky call, Hill left the National Security Council.
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