Witnesses tie Trump to Ukraine demands
The House of Representatives’ first public impeachment hearings commenced this week with testimony from a top American diplomat that President Trump was deeply invested in efforts to pressure Ukraine for investigations that would help his re-election campaign. William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, revealed that his staff overheard Trump asking European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland about “the investigations” on a phone call, with Sondland telling Trump the Ukrainians were “ready to move forward.” Taylor said this call came after Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had been pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Taylor also said that Sondland told his staff that Trump “cares more about the investigations of Biden” than anything else involving Ukraine.
The damaging new revelations came in addition to Taylor’s earlier closed-door testimony that State Department officials were told that investigations into Biden were a precondition for Trump releasing nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. George Kent, another senior State Department official in Ukraine, testified that Trump wanted “nothing less than [for Ukrainian] President Volodymyr Zelensky to go to a microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton.” The New York Times reported that after months of pressure, Zelensky agreed to make such a statement in an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN on Sept. 13. But the interview was abruptly canceled after a whistleblower came forward to complain about a call Trump made to Zelensky, and a bipartisan group of senators successfully pushed the Trump administration to release the aid.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that if the hearings show that Trump “sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his re-election campaign,” then the House has no choice. “If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” Republicans sought to redirect the focus to Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine, where he served on the board of natural gas firm Burisma, complaining that he should be called to testify. Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking GOP member of the House Intelligence Committee, called the impeachment hearings the “low-rent Ukrainian sequel” to the Russia investigation.
What the editorials said
“Over the next few weeks, the only question that matters is whether Trump’s actions meet the constitutional threshold for impeachment,” said The Boston Globe. Already, the public has heard damning testimony that it does. Offering to exchange the release of $400 million in military aid for personal political favors is not only a gross abuse of power but also a clear act of bribery, which the Constitution specifically cites as an impeachable offense. In insisting he did nothing wrong, Trump “is not asking for forgiveness; he’s demanding approval.” If Congress gives it to him, “there’s no going back.”
Public hearings don’t make the Democrats’ so-called inquiry “any less of a farce,” said the New York Post. Instead of conducting genuine fact-finding, Democratic leaders are making the process “as scripted as possible” by only calling witnesses who’ve already testified in secret. GOP members won’t be allowed to call Joe Biden and his son and grill them about their conduct in Ukraine, which could show Trump’s genuine interest in fighting corruption there. “It’s a disgrace.”
What the columnists said
The claim that Trump actually cared about corruption in Ukraine is laughable, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. Ignoring official diplomatic channels and dispatching your personal lawyer and two goons with links to the Russian mob to twist arms for political favors is not something you do “if you’re looking to fight corruption.” Trump’s henchmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were actually pushing for a piece of Ukraine’s energy import business at the same time they were shaking down the country for investigations into the Bidens. Trump’s only interest in corruption was to use the word to smear a political rival.
Trump’s conduct was certainly “blameworthy,” said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com, but he didn’t break any law. Removing a duly elected president “requires a national consensus to get the two-thirds vote to convict in the Senate.” To get there, Democrats can’t just say what the president did was “troubling and wrong.” They need evidence of acts “shocking to the conscience.”
What we’ve learned should shock the conscience, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post. As Taylor’s testimony clearly showed, Trump was treating military aid as his “personal political tool” while our Ukrainian allies were fighting a desperate war against Russian proxies that has cost 13,000 lives so far. “People died while Trump played games” with aid Ukrainians needed to defend themselves from Russian tanks. And don’t forget about Trump’s continued stonewalling, said Neal Katyal in The New York Times. Every government official who has stepped forward to testify has done so against the orders of the White House, which is refusing to let Cabinet officials such as Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton testify. “Trump’s brazen contempt of Congress” is in itself “an impeachable offense.”
“Democrats hope the public hearings make the details of the Ukraine scandal more digestible for voters at home,” said Steven Shepard in Politico.com. But so far, most voters “remain unmovable” in their views of impeachment. Americans are almost equally split on impeachment, with a recent poll showing 49 percent of voters support the House impeaching Trump and 48 percent support the Senate removing him from office. And 62 percent of all voters say there is “no chance” they could change their mind about impeachment. Americans are watching the hearings unfold in two different worlds, said Eric Lach in NewYorker.com. As Taylor gave his opening statement, Fox News ran text boxes quoting the White House incorrectly describing him as a “Never Trumper” with “no first-hand knowledge” of Ukraine aid. In coming weeks, the White House will rely on Fox “to present the impeachment hearings as a matter of interpretation.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from AP, Lilium, Getty ■