Updated: Dec 19, 2019
After weeks of public hearings and opposing narratives, the impeachment inquiry enters its next phase with both sides ready for battle.
By Solomon Smith, Managing Editor
The public impeachment hearings against President Donald J. Trump have ended but many are still confused about the players and the end result.
Held before the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee and chaired by representative Adam Schiff (D), the open hearings revealed the disturbing details of two separate systems for the advancement of two different agendas: one of the United States' support of Ukraine and one guided by the president through his agent, former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, to solicit an announcement of an investigation against the Bidens.
Ukrainian foreign policy experts William Taylor, Jr. and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, were the first to publicly share their worries about the president’s behavior on Ukraine. Their “strong concerns” stemmed from the president’s withholding $44 million in military aid designed to help the country defend its borders from Russia.
“I had a phone conversation with Mr. Danyliuk,” wrote Taylor, “He conveyed to me that President Zelinsky did not want to be used as a pawn in a U.S. re-election campaign.”
Taylor was also concerned with the president’s attitude on a phone call which was overheard by his assistant. Taylor’s testimony revealed there was a concerted effort by agents of the president to make the aid package contingent upon Ukrainian president agreeing to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Taylor and Kent indicated that Trump’s behavior was inappropriate and agreed that it was against American interests.
The most damaging points for the president are the corroborating evidence piling up from legitimate experts who were privy to the two channels of communication, and the discovery of others who may have a more direct link to the phone calls between the president and his advisers. Taylor mentions one of his assistants overheard the president on the call and that he was more interested in getting the Ukrainian president to capitulate to his demands and investigate a political rival.
The Republicans have mounted a vigorous defense of the president and held firm against impeachment. Rep. Jim Jordan (R), a new member of the intelligence committee, kept his questions and comments in line with the rest of his party.
The Republican defense has come in two parts. First, they have pushed a widely debunked conspiracy theory which place servers containing evidence of interference in American elections in the Ukraine, and second, they have floated the idea that Biden sought to fire a Ukrainian prosecutor for the purposes of protecting himself and his son from investigation.
Both theories have been proven false by the FBI and CIA. Conspiracy theories have been the lynchpin for Trump’s defense as he and his defenders claim that the “favor” on the call was about Biden’s corruption and Ukrainian election interference. This defense has been problematic as it raises more questions than answers; why ask a foreign power to investigate Americans, why push something that has been proven false and why now, almost four years later? Another problem for Republicans center on the testimony of Gordon Sondland. He initially testified that there was no collusion and claimed there was no evidence of it, but as the testimony of others contradicted his, he began to change his tune.
Republicans have also endeavored to distract from the testimony by calling the process into question. Initially, they claimed it was unfair to have “secret hearings” ignoring the fact that the inquiry is not a hearing but a gathering of evidence. It was also not hidden. Although behind closed doors to the public, half of those present were Republican. When Republicans pushed for a more public hearing, it was brought to a vote by Pelosi — no Republican voted for the motion.
Day two adds weight to day one
After a rough day for the president, things get considerably more dire with testimony from former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Her testimony brought to light deep problems in the administration’s State Department, and the attempts to smear her personally after her firing from her post in Kyiv last May. Trump tweeted negative comments about her testimony, according to reporting from the New York Times.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” tweeted Trump.
Her opening statement began by clearly stating when she was involved in the Ukraine and refuting fake news stories about her involvement in directing Ukrainian prosecutors with a “do not prosecute list.” It was clearly focused refuting any second-hand testimony.
“I arrived in Ukraine on August 22, 2016 and left Ukraine permanently on May 20, 2019,” said Yovanovitch in her statement. “There are a number of events you are investigating to which I cannot bring any first-hand knowledge.”
Yovanovitch’s testimony on Friday was another straw on the camel’s back, noting the involvement of Rudy Giuliani as a secondary, and seemingly, contrary alternate diplomatic route.
Giuliani pushed a smear campaign against her, making false claims about her behavior. He solicited a corrupt prosecutor from Ukraine to make false statements to the New York Times. She noted that she had only met Giuliani a total of three times and had no idea why he “attacked” her.
What she did have knowledge of was the president’s behavior towards those in the government who anger him. The president mentions her two times, calling her “bad news” on his July 25 phone call with Zelinsky, adding that she would “go through some things.” The comments left Yovanovitch cold, feeling intimidated by the president when she read the comments in the call’s transcripts.
"I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner,” said Yovanovitch.
During her testimony, Trump continued to tweet about Yovanovitch. The tweets were viewed by many Democrats as an attempt to intimidate a witness.
Yovanovitch’ s testimony added credence to the idea that Trump had been actively trying to cover up his questionable activity in Ukraine through agents like Giuliani. Testimony (and more corroborated statements) could lead to another article of impeachment. So far, the Democrats have not stated clearly what, if any, articles of impeachment will be created.
Starting with President Ronald Reagan, Yovanovitch served 33 years as a respected diplomat working with Democratic and Republican administrations. Her family emigrated from Nazi Germany, according to her opening statement.
"My mother’s family escaped the USSR after the Bolshevik revolution, and she grew up stateless in Nazi Germany, before eventually making her way to the United States,” wrote Yovanovitch. “Their personal histories — my personal history — gave me both deep gratitude towards the United States and great empathy for others — like the Ukrainian people — who want to be free.”