The first public hearing in the Democrats’ impeachment investigation took place on November 13th and, by any objective measure, the status of the case against President Donald Trump remains unchanged. Both Republicans and Democrats could argue that this day was a good one for their side but, until now, the latter had largely controlled what information gets out to the public. For Republicans, though, the hearing provided the first opportunity on national TV to expose the weaknesses of the Democrats’ case – and they did not pass up that chance.
Both of the two witnesses who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee have already testified behind closed doors and neither one provided any new information. Those two individuals are George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus and William Taylor, United States Chargé d’affaires for Ukraine.
A Tale of Two Taylors
Of note was the demeanor of William Taylor, who smoothly answered inquiries from the Democrats without hesitation, second thoughts, or any failure to fully understand the questions being asked. After Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) cautioned Taylor about answering questions from Republicans that were not based upon known facts, though, Taylor immediately began to act confused. The diplomat suddenly appeared unable to comprehend certain questions and refused to answer several of them because he was unwilling to speculate or draw conclusions.
Taylor had answered numerous questions posed by counsel for the Democrats which began in a manner similar to: “So, it was your understanding that … ?“ Though it would be entirely unfair to say that Taylor came across as having a clear political bias, as he did not display such a preference, it was notable that he was happy to allow his Democrat questioners to lead him to hypothetical or theoretical conclusions but refused to do the same when questioned by Republicans.
To say that Taylor may have been groomed or instructed by Schiff’s staff prior to the hearing, would be nothing more than unfounded speculation – but, then again, that appears to be in line with the basis for the entire case against Trump.
Issues For and Against
From the perspective of the president’s political enemies, a common theme running through the Ukraine-related hearings is the concern that many Department of State officials had about two separate and, at times, competing channels of diplomacy. While the president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is intent upon extracting from Ukraine information that exonerates his client, with regard to the phony Russian collusion investigation that targeted him, his (Giuliani’s) involvement in U.S.-Ukraine relations has, without doubt, muddied the waters.
On the other side, Democrats have yet to establish satisfactory explanations for some of the gaping holes in their allegations against the president. First and foremost is the fact that the Ukrainians – until a report in Politico made them aware – had no idea that military assistance from the U.S. had been held up. Second, that the aforementioned aid was released some weeks later, even though the Ukrainians had done nothing to meet any of the conditions Trump had allegedly imposed in exchange for receiving the aid.
Another point that should not be forgotten is that the Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, has publicly stated, on more than one occasion, that he had been put under no pressure by Trump to do anything.
The Democrats have insisted Trump offered Zelensly a quid pro quo – an exchange of military aid and an invitation to the White House for a Ukrainian investigation into possible 2016 election interference and into Joe and Hunter Biden’s dealings with Ukraine. If such an arrangement existed, the Ukrainians would have been made aware, upfront, that U.S. aid would be withheld until this condition was fulfilled. The aid would not have been released until the Ukrainians launched the requested investigation. The Ukrainian president would not have clearly and publicly stated that Trump had not pressured him to do anything.
A Case Based on Hearsay
The facts of what actually happened, then, bring us back to Taylor and Kent. Neither man has provided any first-hand knowledge of any event pivotal to the impeachment effort: During this first public hearing – as has been the case with every other individual who has so far testified – neither man was able to offer anything more than what he had heard from others, what he had assumed, or what he had suspected.
Arguably, the most important development coming out of this hearing is that a Republican request for the intelligence community “whistleblower” who filed the complaint that sparked the impeachment investigation be called to testify was scuppered. A party-line vote tabled the motion to call the individual. That Democrats refuse to allow this person – whose identity has been widely reported but who remains, officially, anonymous – to testify even behind closed doors is telling, given that this person would, ultimately, be the key witness in any potential impeachment trial of the president.
Read more from Graham J Noble
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