Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have spent the vast majority of their impeachment hearings trying to persuade voters that bureaucrats believe Donald Trump is impulsive, self-serving, and misguided — all of which is unsurprising, and completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.
Quite often, in fact, the most breathless coverage of these tedious hearings has absolutely nothing to do with the allegedly impeachable offenses of quid pro quo or “bribery” — or whatever focus group-tested terminology Democrats are deploying today. Take the newest blockbuster witness, Fiona Hill, a Russia expert whose testimony nearly every outlet promised would be “explosive.” She “lashes Rs for siding w Russian theory instead of us on 2016,” Politico’s Jake Sherman informs us.
Having a witness repeat “Russia” a whole bunch of times in front of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment panel isn’t nearly as fascinating or significant as reporters might imagine. Certainly, it has little to do with the supposed investigation undertaken to ferret out impeachable behavior.
For one thing, Hill’s broader contention is dubious. While Trump hasn’t called out Russia for interference, various other GOP leaders have done so on numerous occasions, including in a Senate intel report. And a person can simultaneously believe that both the Russians and Ukrainians meddled in 2016 to various degrees (and the Iranians.)
Even if one doesn’t, though, failing to adopt the Democrats’ histrionic tone over the threat of Twitter bots is neither criminal nor unconstitutional. (Reacting to 2016 as if it were Pearl Harbor, in fact, is likely quite pleasing to Putin.) If selling conspiracy theories to the American public for partisan reasons were a crime, Representative Adam Schiff would be serving consecutive life sentences in Supermax.
Hill ended up making a compelling case that she, and others, disapproved of the White House’s haphazard handling of foreign policy. But she offered no evidence of “bribery.” Yesterday, Ambassador Gordon Sondland also offered compelling testimony that he disapproved of how the White House was conducted foreign policy over Ukraine. Yet, Sondland, like all other bombshell witness, offered no real evidence of any arrangement proving Trump traded on U.S. military aid for a Biden investigation. Indeed, Sondland basically conceded that he didn’t believe Trump cared one way or another whether Zelensky launched an investigation — Trump simply wanted the Ukrainian president to announce one.
None of this means it didn’t happen, it only means that the dramatic tone of the coverage is unwarranted and the hearings have been a waste of time. Everything we know now that matters we already knew when first reading the report of Trump’s call with Volodymyr Zelensky. Either you believe Trump should be impeached for asking a foreign leader to investigate his opponent’s son for corruption or you do not. It’s unlikely we will ever have any hard proof of whether or not there was a quid pro quo.
To me, there’s little question such a call from the president — whether he was explicitly favor trading or not — is at the very least unethical and at most an abuse of power. Is it impeachable? That’s a political decision. Because, no matter how hard liberals try and convince you otherwise, the Trump presidency doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Republicans believe they’ve been living life under two sets of rules. Considering what previous administrations have gotten away with — and what many of the people now clamoring for impeachment helped them get away with — it’s difficult to blame them. Perhaps if Democrats and operatives within government hadn’t spent three years cooking up a fantastical Manchurian Candidate conspiracy to delegitimize Trump this impeachment inquiry might be playing out differently. As it stands now, the entire effort is drenched in partisanship. Which makes it extremely unlikely that many voters will be pried from their previously held positions. Nothing that’s been said during these hearings changes that fact.