November 14, 2019

Impeachment Hearings Begin

On Wednesday, the House intelligence committee began public impeachment hearings. YouTube

“Lawmakers and lawyers questioned a bow tie-wearing George Kent, the deputy secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, and bespectacled Ambassador Bill Taylor, charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. Both linked the president directly to a pressure campaign on Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left supports impeachment, arguing that the witnesses have offered credible testimony regarding Trump’s abuse of power.

“Fixating on the whistleblower’s identity or motivations seems a little beside the point once we have a record of the call the whistle was blown about, and which confirms the whistleblower’s concerns. The firsthand evidence—unmediated by the whistleblower or any Democratic witnesses—shows Trump telling Zelensky there was a connection between U.S. aid to Ukraine and the Biden/DNC server investigations.”
Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate

“Perhaps the most cynical argument made by Republicans was that neither Mr. Taylor nor Mr. Kent had direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s demand for a quid pro quo, as neither had spoken to him personally or heard his phone call with Mr. Zelensky. Yet GOP legislators know that senior officials who could testify to Mr. Trump’s actions and motives, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, have refused to respond to congressional summons on the White House’s instructions. Firsthand testimony may be heard next week from an ambassador who spoke to Mr. Trump about Ukraine repeatedly. But Republicans who genuinely want more direct evidence should be pressing Mr. Trump to stop withholding it.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

The fact that neither Taylor nor Kent could offer first-hand accounts is part of the problem. They were kept out of the loop on purpose. Republicans have tried to cast Trump and Giuliani’s actions as part of a legitimate, good-faith attempt to crack down on corruption writ large in Ukraine. That assertion is refuted by the available evidence… But it’s also undercut by the way in which Trump and his allies went about the Ukraine scheme… If the president and his allies had genuine concerns about corruption in Ukraine, they could have raised them through normal diplomatic channels—i.e., though Kent, through Taylor, and through Marie Yovanovich, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the time.”
Matt Ford, New Republic

“Testimony depicted a president whose interest in Ukraine was personal, not policy-based. Trump never made an attempt to change American policy toward Ukraine, or to fight corruption broadly. His goal was to extort assistance in his reelection effort from the Ukrainian government… Trump could hardly have been seeking a new, anti-corruption policy in Ukraine. As The Washington Post reported in October, the Trump administration has sought to cut billions of dollars from anti-corruption programs around the world, including in Ukraine.”
David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“Beyond his handwritten notes, Taylor made a contemporaneous electronic record. He texted to European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, ‘Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?’ prompting Sondland's infamous two-word response: ‘Call me.’ Later, Taylor reiterated by text his view on the impropriety of the administration's effort to pressure Ukraine: ‘As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.’ Given these texts, there is no way to argue credibly that Taylor fabricated or embellished his concerns after the fact.”
Elie Honig, CNN

“Imagine that a high school principal expelled the police chief’s son but offered to readmit the boy if the police department would just open a criminal investigation into his ex-wife before their child custody hearing. Or suppose that the head of a public hospital offered to provide free medical care to employees of a construction company if it remodeled his kitchen? Or what if I suggested to a university president that I was planning some glowing columns about his great institution and then asked for ‘a favor,’ noting that my child was applying for admission…

“In [each] case, we might disagree about whether to call this bribery, extortion or a quid pro quo, and might disagree about precisely which statute was violated, but there is no doubt this would be a firing offense and perhaps lead to a criminal investigation. Shouldn’t we hold the president of the United States to as high a standard as… a principal, a hospital director and a journalist?”
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) “insisted the president couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because, in the end, Ukraine got its money without committing to any investigations. This point of view has radical implications for America’s system of justice and overcrowded prisons, if Mr. Jordan in fact truly believes that all inmates convicted of attempted crimes are innocent of wrongdoing… Perhaps the most telling remark was offered by a Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor, who suggested that while the president’s behavior may have been highly irregular, ‘it’s not as outlandish as it could be.’ Here’s a tip: When ‘not as outlandish as itcould be’ is your strongest defense, it’s time to rethink your position.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

From the Right

The right criticizes the impeachment inquiry as a political stunt, arguing that much of the criticism of Trump is really a policy dispute.

The right criticizes the impeachment inquiry as a political stunt, arguing that much of the criticism of Trump is really a policy dispute.

“The first public hearing in the impeachment investigation of President Trump produced more heat than light… just as the complaint filed in August by the ‘whistleblower’ lacked first-hand information, the testimony today lacked any concrete, direct evidence of the ‘bribery’ or ‘shakedown’ on which Democrats appear to be hanging their impeachment hopes. The witnesses referred to their impressions, speculations, and opinions. They related what others had told them — or that others had told others who then told them — as well as their understandings and assumptions.”
Thomas Jipping, Washington Examiner

“It is valuable for the American people to know that the president was conducting a two-track foreign policy based partly on a cockeyed theory that Ukraine had been trying to destroy him in 2016. I share the dismay at Trump’s willingness to embrace preposterous conspiracy theories. But these aren’t impeachable offenses… Taylor and Kent were poor leadoff witnesses because their most potent and authoritative complaints really were about how the president exercised his constitutional authority as the head of the executive branch. Their complaints are worthy of a hearing. They are worthy of being discussed during the reelection campaign. But they don’t deserve airing in an impeachment…

The foreign policy of the US government doesn’t exist apart from the president. It doesn’t have its own independent track. Therefore, the idea that Trump was using Rudy Giuliani and two confirmed US ambassadors to conduct a ‘shadow diplomacy,’ as Rep. Val Demings charged Wednesday, is absurd on its face. The president’s diplomacy is American diplomacy. Now, is Trump’s foreign policy flighty, hard to follow, malleable, changeable and maddening? Yes. But this is literally what he promised the country he would do as president during his run for office.”
John Podhoretz, New York Post

“If you’re disgusted by the Trump-Giuliani Ukraine back-channel, don’t vote for him. If you think Mr. Trump’s protectionism and isolationism are bad for America’s future, don’t vote for him. It would have been valid as well if the Democrats had chosen to conduct normal oversight hearings into the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint—with witnesses called and questioned by both sides and the public allowed to watch and decide. But why are Americans being forced to endure the elevation of the Ukraine saga into the current impeachment melodrama?”
Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal

“What we saw on display Wednesday were two dedicated, experienced career foreign policy officials who had been desperately trying to figure out what the president wanted — and inferring his intentions based on snippets of information from others. But their efforts to divine Trump’s desires presume that the president knew what he wanted. It’s not clear he did. His handling of Ukraine seemed less the execution of an intelligible plan than a chaotic mishmash of constantly changing urges and demands. According to Sondland, ‘President Trump changes his mind on what he wants on a daily basis’…

“At one point Wednesday, Taylor testified that then-White House aide Tim Morrison told him the ‘president doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.’ That means Trump, at one point, was considering not delivering the Ukraine aid, period — regardless of what they did on ‘the investigations.’ Throw in Trump’s long-standing concern about burden-sharing by our European allies, and his anger over now-disproved charges that he had conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 election, and the result is the mess we see before us… it looks as though the entire Ukraine debacle may be the result less of intent than incompetence. And unfortunately for Democrats, incompetence is not an impeachable offense.”
Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post

“There is no underlying crime here. Democrats have given up calling it a ‘quid pro quo,’ which must not have played well in polling. Instead they are using ‘extortion’ and ‘bribery’ to suggest a crime without citing any specific statute…

“[But] American Presidents have long asked foreign leaders for actions or policy cooperation that serve a President’s personal political interest. Recall when President Obama was caught in 2012 on a hot mic telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to ask Vladimir Putin to give him diplomatic ‘space’ until after Mr. Obama’s re-election when he would have more room to maneuver on the issue of missile defenses. He was under fire from Republicans for being soft on Russia, so that surely was a request in Mr. Obama’s personal political interest. Appropriate requests to foreign leaders include reducing corruption... Joe Biden and Hunter Biden don’t have immunity from such a probe simply because Joe Biden is running for office against Mr. Trump.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

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