Last week the House Intelligence Committee held the first two sessions of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and I watch every minute of them. If you are looking for a recap of the events I suggest you consult one of the three American major global newspapers (the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post). If you want a brief review of some of my major takeaways, let’s explore.
Wednesday the witnesses were Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent. I hope I got the titles correct; the bottom line is that they are career, non-partisan, patriotic civil servants or what right wing mythology would term members of the Deep State. Taylor is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a 1969 top 1% graduate of West Point. Kent comes from a family of diplomates. They were testifying as fact witnesses in the impeachment inquiry of rookie office holder Cadet Bone Spurs.
Adam Schiff chairs the committee and did an admirable job of keeping a lid on an unruly group of Republicans. Before Schiff could get more than seconds into the “ground rules” John Ratcliffe of Texas interrupted with an inquiry on the rules. Schiff then made an opening statement worthy of a prosecutor before a jury. Ranking Member Devin Nunes of California followed with an opening statement that included the Mueller Report and Steele Dossier along with a plethora of long debunked right wing myths.
As soon as the witnesses were sworn in but before they could commence delivering their opening statements Elise Stefanik of New York interrupted. She was joined by Mike Conaway of Texas and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Schiff quickly and calmly restored order.
In Kent’s opening statement he cited the constraint he was under because the State Department refused to release his notes. Taylor was very forceful in an opening statement that nailed the quid pro quo with the revelation of a phone call Ambassador (and seven figure Trump financier) Gordon Sondland had on an unsecured cell phone while in a Kiev restaurant full of customers (some of which were almost undoubtedly covert agents) with President Trump.
The call took place at lunchtime in Kiev. Let’s assume the lunch took place between noon and 2pm; with the seven hour time difference that means between 7pm and 9pm Washington time. Trump claims to hardly know Sondland yet he takes his call in the evening at the White House.
The opening statements ended at 11:33am and were followed by a break. The facts, while being supplemented and verified were well established prior to the public inquiry. What remains to be seen is if crucial public opinion can be swayed. Schiff, by controlling the Republicans and the narrative, won the battle before viewership inevitably fell off after the 20 to 25 minute break.
Next up was the “battle of the attorneys”. Schiff and Daniel Goldman acted like a good legal tag team. Nunes was joined by Counsel Stephen Castor. Castor was annoying and ineffective. In his defense he was presented with an impossible mission. He appeared to be incompetent (at best) often taking several minutes to get to his point which the witnesses then quickly refuted. His major “accomplishment” appears to be getting Taylor to agree that Trump’s action wasn’t, “Too outrageous”.
When it came to members’ questions the afternoon produced little other than taking up time and a goof laugh line from Democrat Peter Welch of Vermont. Late addition to the Republican roster Jordan was supposed to be the effective attack dog. He was an obnoxious attack dog, but he was far from effective to any viewers with a triple digit IQ.
Please think back to the forming of the 116th Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had her members named to the committee as of January 16, 2019. Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy needed until January 30th. Yet McCarthy needed to have a last minute temporary substitution to the committee’s roster for these hearings.
Friday the witness was Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch. She was our ambassador to Ukraine until Trump recalled her. She was instructed to fly home immediately and departed Ukraine on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Inauguration Day. Being kind, pulling the American ambassador on the inauguration day of the foreign head of government is bad form. Yovanovitch was helping fight corruption in Ukraine while it appears Trump and his minions are trying to profit from it. In other words she was a problem for Trump. Trump needed someone in place who would be complicit or at least turn a blind eye.
For a month the position remained completely open with the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Rick Perry effectively running American policy in Ukraine. (Remember there is a hot war with Russia going on in Ukraine.) After a month William Taylor moved into the embassy with the highest diplomatic rank but not the rank of Ambassador. In fact Trump has yet to even nominate an Ambassador to Ukraine. As Taylor began to get a good grip on what was happening he became less cooperative with what John Bolton would have called “the drug deal” and effectively turned government witness.
Friday the Republicans reminded me of a pitcher who gives up a home run on an inside fastball only to start that same hitter off with an inside fastball his next time at bat. Nunes gave a basic replay of his Wednesday opening statement. They actually brought Stephen Castor back as their counsel. (Couldn’t he have called in sick or something?) Lead by Stefanik for some unknown reason – except possibly that she is the only female member of the Republican committee delegation – they tried to rattle Schiff with repeated interruptions. It didn’t work. My suggestion to the Republicans is that perhaps instead of playing to Trump their cause would be better served if they actually read the rules of the hearings before the next session – Schiff obviously has.
Trump actually tweeted falsehoods about Yovanovitch during the hearings which Schiff brought to the nation’s attention. That may well result in an additional article of impeachment for witness tampering. In any event it didn’t play well.
The fact that Yovanovitch acquitted herself well was underscored by the standing ovation she received from all but the Republican contingent as she exited the hearing room at the hearing’s conclusion.
Trump suffered a plethora of losses last week and one of them was certainly on the impeachment front!
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One thought on “Two Days In November”
The seven hour time difference would have made it five to seven AM in Washington. And Trump is grumpy in the morning.
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