Impeachment! premiered Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill. This Adam Schiff production was no boffo hit. The show’s co-stars failed to shine. Far worse, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent and Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor repeatedly sandbagged Democrats’ rationale for booting President Donald J. Trump offstage. And today’s performance also lacked luster.
- Citing Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky, Representative John Ratcliffe (R., Texas) asked the two witnesses, “Where is the impeachable offense in that call?”
Taylor and Kent blinked silently at Ratcliffe.
“Shout it out,” Ratcliffe encouraged them. “Anyone?”
- Wednesday’s testimony reflected hearsay and second- and third-hand information. In other words, rumors and gossip.
As Taylor said: “What I can do here for you today is tell you what I heard from people.”
The relentless, scalpel-sharp Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) demonstrated exactly why Republican leaders added him to the original cast of Impeachment!
Jordan underscored Taylor’s detachment from relevant events by reading this sing-song sentence from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s recent sworn testimony:
“‘Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 1, 2019, in connection with Vice President Pence’s visit to Warsaw and a meeting with President Zelensky.’” (Andriy Yermak is Zelensky’s top aide.)
“We’ve got six people having four conversations in one sentence,” said Jordan, astonished. “I’ve seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.”
Jordan further verified Taylor’s distance from Ukrainegate’s action.
Jordan: “You didn’t listen in on President Trump’s call and President Zelensky’s call?”
Taylor: “I did not.”
Jordan: “You’ve never talked with Chief of Staff Mulvaney?”
Taylor: “I never did.”
Jordan: “You never met the president?”
Taylor: “That’s correct.”
Kent, also a stranger to Trump, admitted that he had “never in 27 years been on a call made by a President of the United States.”
Representative Mike Quigley (D., Ill.) triggered coast-to-coast head scratching when he declared: “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct, as we have learned in painful instances and it’s certainly valid in this instance.”
- Taylor confirmed that Ukraine received the pertinent security assistance after a 55-day pause. Compare this to the 1,066-day, fruitless wait for lethal military aid between Russia’s February 20, 2014 invasion of Ukraine and the pillow-wielding Obama’s January 20, 2017 departure from office.
“And isn’t it the case that the Trump administration has indeed provided substantially to Ukraine in the form of defensive lethal aid, correct?” asked Representative Elise Stefanik (R., New York).
“That is correct,” Taylor replied.
“And that is more so than the Obama administration, correct?” Stefanik inquired about “defensive lethal aid.”
Taylor answered: “Yes.”
- George Kent’s opening statement deflated the notion that America simply donates foreign aid in exchange for nothing. Thus, even if the $391 million in military assistance included a quid pro quo, that would not have been unusual.
“There are and always have been conditionality placed on our sovereign loan guarantees for Ukraine,” Kent said. “Conditions include anti-corruption reforms, as well as meeting larger stability goals and social safety nets. The International Monetary Fund does the same thing. Congress and the executive branch work together to put conditionality on some security assistance in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.”
- Kent also recalled that he blew the whistle about Hunter Biden’s ties to Ukraine’s largest natural-gas company while his father policed U.S./Ukraine policy.
“I became aware that Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma,” Kent explained. “Soon after that, in a briefing call with the national-security staff in the Office of the Vice President, in February 2015, I raised my concern that Hunter Biden’s status as board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest.”
- Democrats whine that President Trump recalled Marie Yovanovitch as his attaché to Ukraine on April 24. Indeed, today’s performance of Impeachment! featured the premier of Yovanovitch’s solo ballad. Schiff cast her as the highest-profile female victim of this extravaganza’s hiss-inducing villain: Trump.
But Schiff’s bad guy was entitled to sack Yovanovitch, never mind how much Foggy Bottom loves her.
“The President has the right to have Ambassadors serve at his pleasure,” Kent conceded Wednesday. This echoes his deposition: “All ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President and that is without question. Everybody understands that.”
- Yovanovitch left Ukraine before Zelensky was elected. She was not on the July 25 Zelensky/Trump call and does not know President Trump. Yovanovitch complained today about the inelegant circumstances of her withdrawal from Kiev, which was well within Trump’s constitutional powers to order. Though unceremonious, her dismissal was, at worst, a presidential parking ticket — not treason, bribery, or a high crime or misdemeanor.
Indeed, when invited to detail Trump’s supposed lawlessness, Yovanovitch could not.
“Do you have any information regarding the president of the United States accepting any bribes?” Representative Chris Stewart (R., Utah) asked.
Yovanovitch replied: “No.”
“Do you have any information regarding any criminal activity that he has been involved with at all?” Stewart wondered.
Yovanovitch said: “No.”
While Yovanovitch was removed as ambassador to Kiev, she is hardly scraping by on food stamps. She now teaches diplomacy at Georgetown University, my alma mater, on assignment from the State Department. This is hardly a one-way trip to the poor house.
And, to the Democrats’ likely discomfort, Zelensky confirmed that the Obama State Department’s briefing book for her 2016 confirmation hearings included background on Hunter Biden and Burisma, in case senators quizzed her about that arrangement. (She was advised to direct such queries to Vice President Biden’s office, which suggests that his aides knew more than nothing about Hunter and his prey.) Yovanovitch confessed her reaction at that time: “I think that it could raise the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Democrats have made much of Trump’s 10:01 a.m. Twitter message in which he wrote:
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian president spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. president’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”
Trump’s first three sentences here were distracting and unhelpful, as they handed Democrats a rock to hurl at him. And they did, calling this intimidation, witness tampering, and even grounds for a fresh article of impeachment.
This is all absurd.
Yovanovitch was unaware of Trump’s comments until Schiff interrupted the hearing, read her these remarks, and asked for her response. If Schiff had not raised this matter, Yovanovitch would have known nothing about it until at least when he recessed the hearing.
And, if Yovanovitch found Trump’s words intimidating, she could have trembled beneath the hearing-room table or simply fled the Longworth House Office Building. Instead, she stayed in her chair and testified for a soporific five hours and 20 minutes.
Impeachment! is off to a shaky start. Democrats, especially those from the 31 congressional districts that Trump won in 2016, must be squirming in their seats and wondering if they bet the House on this season’s biggest flop.