The House Democrats’ impeachment investigation circus moved into its televised public hearing phase, presided over by ringmaster House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. The public hearings began on Wednesday. The way things are going, the Democrats will need all the comfort they can get from the therapy dogs who were brought to the Hill by Pet Partners, a therapy-animal registration organization, and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. The Ukraine case narrative the House Democrats have been trying to build against President Trump, centering on his July 25, 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Trump’s alleged use of “irregular” channels to Ukrainian officials to push his personal political agenda, is turning into a quagmire. As Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University who testified as a constitutional expert in the Clinton impeachment hearings, wrote, “Democrats want to move forward on a barely developed evidentiary record and cursory public hearings on this single Ukraine allegation.” He added, “If Democrats seek to remove a sitting president, they are laying a foundation that would barely support a bungalow, let alone a constitutional tower. Such a slender impeachment would collapse in a two mile headwind in the Senate.”
The Democrats are trying to establish what some of their more outspoken members have charged variously as President Trump’s “abuse of power,” “extortion,” “bribery” and a “shakedown.” They base their accusations of presidential “crimes” on the shaky allegation that President Trump used the leverage of withheld security assistance and the dangling of a White House meeting to improperly advance the president’s personal political interests over the national security interests of the United States. What has emerged so far, and will likely continue, is a desperate attempt by the Democrats and their friends in the mainstream media to make a mountain out of a molehill, using mainly hearsay and circumstantial evidence from witnesses in the foreign policy and national security establishment who don’t like the direction of President Trump’s policy towards Ukraine.
The Democrats have some fundamental problems that undermine their case. Much of their case relies on secondhand, thirdhand and even fourth-hand hearsay evidence. The bizarro world they inhabit is illustrated by this nugget from Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley, describing his understanding of what constitutes credible evidence: “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct … and it’s certainly valid in this instance.”
More substantively, the facts we know of so far run contrary to the Democrats’ narrative. President Zelensky was not aware that any security assistance had been withheld at the time of his July 25th call with President Trump. President Zelensky and Ukraine’s foreign minister have backed up President Trump’s denial of any improper linkage of the release of the security assistance to opening investigations in Ukraine of the president’s political opponents. President Zelensky said publicly that he did not feel “pushed” by President Trump. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said, as reported by Reuters, “I have never seen a direct relationship between investigations and security assistance. Yes, the investigations were mentioned, you know, in the conversation of the presidents. But there was no clear connection between these events.” In any case, the security assistance was released less than two months after the July 25th call with no investigation strings attached. President Zelensky did not make any public announcement committing to open the investigations that President Trump had requested during the call involving reported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the role of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter with the corrupt Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was serving as the Obama administration’s point man in Ukraine.
The House Democrats’ first two witnesses testifying before the television cameras on Wednesday were William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state. They each recounted their understandings of what they characterized as efforts by the president himself and by back channel intermediaries on his behalf to improperly pressure the Ukrainians to open investigations for President Trump’s personal benefit. If their testimony is any indication of things to come, the House Democrats are hurtling towards a totally partisan impeachment that will get nowhere in the Senate. Yet, in a vain effort to make something out of nothing, the House Democrats’ rising socialist star, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, turned the truth on its head as she usually does when she tweeted, “Today’s hearings put Trump’s own fingerprints all over the scene of the crime.”
House Democrats banked on their star witnesses’ credibility, based on their years of public service during Republican and Democrat administrations. However, whatever we may think of the two experienced diplomats’ credentials and professed patriotic desire to serve their country, their testimony revealed no firsthand evidence regarding President Trump’s actions or intentions. They both admitted during cross examination that they never spoke directly with President Trump. They did not listen themselves to the July 25th call. They had no firsthand knowledge of the president’s motives in temporarily withholding security assistance from Ukraine, which in any case was not mentioned at all during the July 25th call according to the call memo.
Ambassador Taylor conceded, in response to Rep. Jim Jordan’s questioning, that there was no mention of any linkage of security assistance dollars to investigating Burisma or the Bidens during three meetings with President Zelensky in which Ambassador Taylor testified that he did participate. Ambassador Taylor has previously admitted during his closed-door deposition that the Trump administration’s decision to provide the Ukrainians with lethal military weapons was a “substantial improvement” over what had been provided previously and “was a demonstration that we support Ukraine.” (p. 155) If President Trump resolved to condition military assistance to Ukraine on first receiving help from the Ukrainians for his personal political benefit, it makes no sense that he would have significantly expanded the military assistance program before receiving what he was after from the Ukrainians. Yet that is precisely what happened, undercutting a key element of the Democrats’ narrative.
As to the corruption problem in Ukraine, Deputy Assistant Secretary Kent stated during his public testimony that the “pervasive and longstanding problem of corruption in Ukraine included exposure to a situation involving the energy company Burisma.” Mr. Kent admitted that he had been concerned about Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma and had raised the issue of a perceived conflict of interest with a member of then-Vice President Biden’s staff. Nothing happened. Hunter Biden remained on Burisma’s board. Mr. Kent further testified that Ukraine should still investigate Burisma’s corruption, which is precisely what President Trump has been asking for. Whether Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy might be affected by such an investigation, because it could involve Hunter Biden’s connection to Burisma while his father was vice president, should not be a reason to scuttle a thorough investigation. Yet the fallacious premise of the Democrats’ case seems to be that it was somehow inherently wrong for President Trump to ask for the reopening of the Burisma corruption investigation because he might be running against Joe Biden next year. In other words, following this premise to its absurd conclusion, Joe Biden deserves immunity as long as he is a presidential candidate. Talk about corruption!
When both witnesses were asked during their public testimony whether they believed that President Trump had committed an impeachable offense, they ducked.
Since much of what we heard from Ambassador Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kent was a secondhand rehash of what has already been reported, the mainstream media and Democrats had to pretend that there was a new “bombshell” during the testimony that they must relentlessly track down. This is likely to be the pattern, as Democrats desperately hope that repetition of unsubstantiated charges and the addition of a few hyped pieces of peripheral evidence will finally turn their molehill into a mountain.
The so-called “bombshell” was Ambassador Taylor’s revelation that a member of his staff told him last week he overheard President Trump on a phone call with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland last July. The staffer was at lunch with Ambassador Sondland at the time. “The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations,’” Ambassador Taylor testified. The staff member then reportedly asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. “Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Ambassador Taylor said. The staffer has been identified as David Homes, a counselor for political affairs at the embassy in Ukraine, who will testify in a closed session on Friday.
Even if what Ambassador Taylor’s staff member first reported to him, more than three months after the overheard conversation, happened exactly as he said, so what? It adds nothing of substance to the Democrats’ case. The memo of President Trump’s July 25th call with President Zelensky already revealed President Trump’s interest in having the Ukrainians open “investigations” into the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine as well as into reported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election. At the end of the day, whatever his frustrations with Ukraine were that President Trump shared privately with Ambassador Sondland, he lifted the security assistance suspension at issue without any strings linked to the investigations. Considering Ambassador Sondland’s direct communications with President Trump and his role as an “irregular” channel on the president’s behalf to Ukraine’s leaders, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Prystaiko’s statement on Thursday about his interactions with Ambassador Sondland is highly instructive: “Ambassador Sondland did not tell us, and certainly did not tell me, about a connection between the assistance and the investigations.”
There is no real bombshell here. There has not been any bombshell since the House Democrats began their travesty. Instead, the House Democrats’ political theater is turning into a bomb that Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, described as a “low-rent Ukrainian sequel” to the Russian collusion hoax. Yet the Democrats are persisting with more scheduled public hearings, including an appearance on Friday by Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S.’s former ambassador to Ukraine. Several other witnesses are expected to testify next week. The Democrats and their media pals can spin all they want. Their manufactured narrative of alleged wrong-doing by President Trump is collapsing under its own weight.