As week two of the public impeachment hearings begin, here’s my impressions of last week’s hearings and the testimony of the three witnesses, career diplomats, George Kent, Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch.
The hearings remind me of the Benghazi hearings and many of the other high-profile hearings during the Obama administration, where the majority side in power tries to present the hearing as a dignified process, while the minority side devotes its energy to delegitimizing the hearing as … yep, a “witch hunt.” Although Republicans latched onto casting this as a “coup” too, but nevertheless, every effort goes into discrediting the proceeding as, to use Senator Lindsey Graham’s spin word of choice – a “sham.” The hyper-partisan antics came as no surprise, the personal animus between Schiff and Nunes though seems off-the-charts, making it obvious these two leaders in this committee are more dedicated to trying to destroy each other than they are to doing the nation’s business.
George Kent’s testimony came across as a seasoned career diplomat, offering excellent foreign policy analysis. He acted reticent to give more than the most cursory explanation when asked about Hunter Biden’s cushy Burisma deal and Vice President Biden demanding Ukraine fire a prosecutor, who had opened corruption investigations into several Ukrainian companies, including Burisma (but I’m still not clear on the Biden family- Ukraine dealings timeline of events). Kent reported the perceived Biden conflict of interest, end of explanation. Kent didn’t add any first-hand evidence or knowledge going toward proving the charge of bribery against President Trump.
Bill Taylor came across, just as I expected from reading his testimony from the private hearing. He came across as a serious, straight-shooter on following proper procedures and sticking to the rule book. He offered only second-hand accounts of the president’s phone call and the meetings and events swirling about Trump’s call with the new president of Ukraine, President Zelensky. What struck me as odd and inexplicable is Taylor testified that he met with aides to President Zelensky twice to urge them to stop Zelensky from making a public announcement, as requested/demanded (depending on your partisan viewpoint) by President Trump. Trump wanted Zelensky to announce Ukraine was opening investigations into, I think, the Bidens was the main issue for Trump.
Taylor described hearing through the rumor mill that Zelensky was planning to make the announcement to the media, per Trump’s request/demand, on a trip to the UN. Taylor’s actions seem odd to me. Why did he feel like he had to stop Zelensky from making that announcement and how did a straight-shooter, by-the-book diplomat square directly undermining the POTUS? Did Taylor, also through the rumor mill, know about an effort to report Trump’s quid pro quo phone call to Congress was afoot? Did Taylor discuss meeting with Zelensky with other people within the embassy in Ukraine, the State Department or other US government channels? Obviously, there were a lot of discussions within the US embassy in Ukraine and State/Intel channels going on about Trump’s phone call and the military aid.
Taylor offered another witness, his aide who had told him about a conversation he overheard of Ambassador Sondland talking to President Trump, so Taylor feeling compelled to stop Zelensky from announcing investigations without talking to other people seems improbable to me. It just sounds like there was a group effort going on to stop Trump’s request from being carried out.
The other odd part about this to me, is neither Kent nor Taylor felt morally compelled to contact Congress themselves and report it, instead the “collective concerns” of some of the professional foreign policy people were encapsulated in an orchestrated “whistleblower complaint” that sounds like it was written by a team of sharp Dem lawyers and then pushed to the IG. I wondered if Kent and Taylor were aware there was a complaint and plan being worked out to voice concerns.
Ambassador Yovanovitch was a poised, impressive witness on the professionalism of the Foreign Service, but she did not add a thing to proving Trump committed bribery. And yet, what happened to her with the Giuliani whispering campaign among Ukraine officials to undermine her ability to do her job and then the media smear campaign against her in the US media, to my mind is way worse (even if not “criminal”) than Trump asking Zelensky to open investigations into 2016 corruption, Burisma, Bidens, Crowdstrike and some server.
Listening to Yovanovitch testify how she was being told to watch her back and hearing murmurings about Giuliani’s meetings in Ukraine and watching the media smear campaign on social media and Fox News unfold, she didn’t really know for sure what was going on, but she knew it was something unsettling. Perhaps, I feel so outraged about Yovanovitch, because I’ve been in a very similar situation. When Yovanovitch stated she could never have imagined what happened to her, I knew exactly how she felt. She felt alarmed, scared and powerless. Feeling yourself the target of an attack coming from the White House is terrifying, especially when you know you’re being attacked, yet have no means to prove any of it or defend yourself.
Despite the witnesses having no first-hand evidence and my suspicions that how the whistleblower complaint came about was orchestrated with former Obama intel peeps and some Congressional Dems, Trump’s own phone call record shows a quid pro quo and by Trump asking for an investigation into the Bidens added with president of Zelensky assuring Trump he’s on board with trying to meet Trump’s conditions for the quid pro quo, the quid pro quo seems irrefutable:
President Zelenskyy: Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier. For me as a President, it is very important and we are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine. For that purpose, I just recalled our ambassador from United States and he will be replaced by a very competent and very experienced ambassador who will work hard on making sure that our two nations are getting closer. I would also like and hope to see him having your trust and your confidence and have personal relations with you so we can cooperate even more so. I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine. I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us. I will make sure that I surround myself with the best and most experienced people. I also wanted to tell you that we are friends. We are great friends and you Mr. President have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership. I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly.. That I can assure you.
What Zelensky says in the beginning of this call speaks volumes more than anything Trump says. Zelensky acknowledges his assistants met with Giuliani and understands the deal. That Zelensky believes Giuliani is the go-to guy for this U.S. foreign aid deal speaks to how Trump corrupted the entire process. It’s one thing for a president to send a personal envoy, it’s another thing for the president to send his personal attorney. Giuliani represents his actions as he was working in the capacity as Trump’s personal attorney and that speaks to the corrupt melding of Trump’s personal and official actions in a way that undermined the U.S. embassy in Ukraine and also Trump’s own official foreign policy, as understood by the Trump State Department.
One of the main things Trump supporters revere about Trump is their belief that Trump is “a fighter” and ergo Trump, unlike other Republican leaders will “drain the swamp” in Washington. They see Trump as a superhero who will finally slay corrupt Dems and push back against the unchecked advances of the liberal culture war. By giving Trump superhero status, in the process, they’ve bestowed on Trump a cape of infallibility and given him a sword of unaccountability. Trump’s spinners among the media punditry touted “Trump doesn’t play by rules!” In reality our elected leaders should not only play by the rules, they should be exemplars, uphold the highest standards and serve as role models. Somehow, Trump has totally corrupted his followers moral compass, as they twist themselves in knots to excuse more and more egregious and inexcusable behavior.
Also in this call and not part of the impeachment debate is an exchange that speaks to Trump’s total moral unfitness to be President of the United States more than any sort of impeachment crime and until Americans regain some sense of a common moral code again, Americans will end up with more and more immoral and thoroughly corrupt elected officials, on both sides of the political aisle. Here’s the exchange:
President Zelenskyy: I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovich. It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.
The President: Well, she’s going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything. Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It’s a great country. I have many Ukrainian friends, their incredible people.
The new president of Ukraine is trying to assure Trump that he will work hard to meet the demands Giuliani laid out. It’s also obvious this foreign president felt free to trash the former US ambassador, whom Giuliani orchestrated a whispering campaign against among Ukrainian officials. It’s breathtakingly appalling that any American president would send his personal attorney to orchestrate a whispering campaign among foreign officials against the US ambassador in that very country. But that’s what happened. Trump’s response: “Well, she’s going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.” speaks to an American leader playing his own team against each other in a foreign country. I stick to my original assessment that Trump is a serious threat to national security.
Trump managed to throw Yovanovitch’s Congressional hearing into disarray last week by tweeting the following during her testimony:
Beyond the insanity of blaming a US ambassador for the demise of Somalia, he’s bragging about the Ukrainian president speaking badly of her (which was due to Trump’s own attorney’s whispering campaign against her). Now, I do believe Trump’s “mean tweets” are witness intimidation efforts, despite the effort to dismiss Trump’s tweet antics as just “Trump being Trump” or harmless “mean tweets”. I also realize my view is not a prevailing view. Trump’s personal Twitter account highlights Trump’s shrewd way of always operating by his own rules, which are whatever he feels like doing. He uses his personal Twitter account for personal tweets and for official presidential business and by doing so he maintains zero accountability for any official business carried out on that account. If his official business carried out via tweets comes under fire, Trump and his minions dismiss it as Trump letting off steam, Trump expressing his opinion, Trump being Trump, but no one around Trump ever defends those outrageous tweets as “That is an official statement by the President of the United States. If Trump issued most of these outrageous tweets on official letterhead, I doubt the reaction would be the same.
The larger part of assessing this impeachment effort rests on the scorched earth spin war, of course, because Washington politicians, on both sides, live and breathe polling. The latest polls being hyped today, after the weekend’s non-stop spin hysterics seems to indicate Dems and the mainstream media are gaining a bit in their push for impeachment, but the momentum could still change with the growing slate of witnesses testifying this week.
The way spin cycles rise and fall so quickly, the problem for Dems is the American attention span won’t stay focused on a drawn out impeachment sideshow filled with endless hours of testimony. Republicans’ dilemma will be finding ways to spin away the building array of witnesses backing the same chain of events and if Sondland and Volker revise their testimony this week. The real lethal blow to Trump would be if Bolton and Mulvaney testified, but that seems highly unlikely.
The most likely outcome seems to be Trump will be impeached in the House and acquitted in the Senate.