Girding for the Public Case
Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 12, 2019
Whether you want the hammer to come down on Donald Trump or finally get the chance to dismiss the whole impeachment inquiry as wrongheaded, It may come about beginning tomorrow — if you believe in magic.
Tomorrow is Opening Day for the Democrats’ assault on the White House, a chance for House Intelligence Committee members led by Chairman Adam Schiff to take their Ukraine impeachment case against Trump in public view.
The idea among Democrats, of course, is that because people refuse to read, this is taking the testimony from former ambassadors and national security people out from the shadows into the public light where all can hear directly from these witnesses, adjudge their independence and credibility, and move towards a declaration of impeachment. Schiff said that public hearings will show “the most important facts are largely not contested” related to Trump’s use of “illicit” means to secure damaging information on his political rivals.
The idea among Republicans is to try to show the process is less than serious, that you should look elsewhere, that sideshows like fighting over whether to call the original — and protected — whistleblower to the stand is legitimate.
In other words, for a serious person who actually does not already accept or dismiss these impeachment plots, it will take a big of congressional magic to make these hearings actually draw out new information to persuade.
If you get all your news from identifiably conservative news sites, the testimony may come as a surprise, since the subject has gotten relatively little coverage in that world in favor of commentary that debases those describing what happened.
Given that this is about impeachment, expect some distractions along the way.
Three witnesses will testify Wednesday and Friday: Our American diplomat Bill Taylor, a man recruited by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to return to the foreign service to serve as a legate to Ukraine and State Department official George Kent, another longtime diplomat, will appear Wednesday to say that they both objected to what they saw going on. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who is getting death threats at home for her testimony, will appear on Friday.
They will be the first of several others, almost all diplomats or intelligence professionals, who have testified in private that there was not only a bad phone call, but an entire months’-long campaign by Trump and his team of Rudy Giuliani, Rick Perry and Gordon Sondland to extort Ukraine’s relatively new, inexperienced leader into promising investigations on Joe Biden and family as well as the 2016 to receive congressionally approved lethal military aid.
In case you need a scorecard: Taylor basically tried to stop what he saw as extortion, and he called Kent, a career State Department official who testified that he was ordered “to lie low” after raising concerns about Giuliani undermining policy in Ukraine. Ambassador Yovanovitch will testify that she was recalled in the middle of the night after being seen as an obstacle by Team Trump as being an obstacle to getting dirt for aid.
Of the dozen witnesses, only one — Sondland — has said there was no problem, and then he recanted and said he understood that there was a demand for the extortion.
Needless to say, Trump continues to say he was “perfect” in his phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenyy, without acknowledging a broader campaign, and attacking witnesses as “never-Trumpers” bound to do him harm.
Republicans in Congress have fallen over themselves to find ways to pick apart witnesses or process or now to say the Trump administration is too stupid and incoherent to have come up with a dirt for aid extortion. In any event, even those who acknowledge bad behavior here see no reason for impeachment. In their world, apparently, extortion is not a crime, and abusing the office for personal political gain is perfectly okay.
Republicans replaced Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark, with Jim Jordan of Ohio on the Intelligence Committee, as if sending in a sub, because Jordan is particularly disruptive in hearings. Jordan already has criticized Democrats for not bringing back for public testimony US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, whose transcript he said raised questions about any quid pro quo, even though Volker, too, said there was a campaign by Giuliani’s group under way.
Instead, Jordan heads the folks who insist on unveiling the original whistleblower, whom he wants to call as a witness to attack, and Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, who face questions about whether he won his former job for a Ukrainian company based on his father’s involvement with Ukrainian aid. These will prove to be its own war-within-a-war because the Democrats have the votes to deny a subpoena for the whistleblower, whose testimony Democrats feel is unnecessary since it has been subsumed by people who were principals in the matter. Plus, federal law is meant to protect the identify and to keep a whistleblower safe from retribution.
According to the rules voted last week, the hearings will afford Democrats and Republicans 45-minute blocks of time to have a single questioner — — in itself a procedural relief from the usual five-minute grandstanding efforts by endless numbers of congress members. The president was afforded a chance to have legal representatives present, though Republican defenders find none of this enough to make the hearings fair.
Trump says there should simply be no hearings. He did nothing wrong, he says,
In any event, the hearings — which each side at one time or another said they wanted in public before they said they didn’t — are a necessary step along the legal way. And they are necessary for the political reality as well: If you believe in magic, these televised hearings will move the needle one way or the other for American voters, either putting pressure on Trump or putting pressure on Republican senators who would sit as a jury to hear the impeachment trial that results.
If the stakes were not so great, we could feel better about all of this.