Live Impeachment Hearings: Day 2

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

WE start with a Trump tweet:

He makes a rare point about the Foreign Minister of Ukraine’s statement (the President did not say anything). This is what he was referring to:

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said on Thursday that U.S. ambassador Gordon Sondland did not explicitly link military aid to Kiev with opening an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Interfax Ukraine reported.

Trump and his allies are accused by Democrat opponents of freezing nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine to pressure President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open investigations into Biden, Trump’s main rival for the 2020 presidential race.

Trump calls the inquiry a witch hunt.

“Ambassador Sondland did not tell us, and certainly did not tell me, about a connection between the assistance and the investigations. You should ask him,” Prystaiko said about Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

It’s a relevant point, but it comes from an official in a country that is still dependent on US aid. The problem is that it is countered by the transcript summary and other testimony.

Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is up today, and will detail the smear campaign against her by Rudy Giuliani. This is relevant because Yovanovitch was a crusader to stop corruption in Ukraine, except the corruption was pro-Russia and not against anything else. She stood in the way of Giuliani’s scheme, and was removed on the basis of false facts.

I will have live updates below:

Well, we’ve only had opening statements and the Democatic counsel line of questioning, and already there is big news — witness intimidation in real time.

Trump attacked Yovanovitch on Twitter while she somberly testified about getting called home suddenly because the president had lost confidence in her.

Taking a post like Somalia is an act of commitment and courage from a Foreign Service officer—and the idea that a nation would have a civil war because of a single relatively junior U.S. diplomat is in competition for the title of the stupidest thing Trump has ever said. It’s a tough competition, but that statement has vaulted over the bar to enter it.

“Then fast forward to Ukraine.” You know, fast forward through decades of a by-all-serious-accounts admirable career that included stints in Canada, the United Kingdom, Kyrgyzstan, and other places. Just fast forward! “Where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.” Make that: where the new Ukrainian president picked up on Trump’s attacks on her and, as part of his general sucking-up through the call, piled on. Trump called Yovanovitch “bad news,” and Zelensky took it and ran with it. Zelensky was trying to get Javelins and a White House visit and he would have said just about anything to get those things.

Trump’s desperation is showing here. When he goes this low, you know he’s freaking out. 

Adam Schiff read the tweet to Yovanovitch during the questioning, asking for her response. When he read the Somalia part of the tweet, Yovanovitch smiled incredulously. “I don’t think I have such powers,” she said. “Not in Mogadishu, Somalia, and not in other places. I actually think that where I’ve served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.”

Schiff went on to ask Yovanovitch about the intimidation effort in the tweet, and what effect it will have on other witnesses. “It’s very intimidating,” she said. “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.” 

“Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” Schiff responded.

They are now on break for a House vote.

I was listening on Fox News and even they agreed that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was moving, credible, and compelling.

The White House has released the first phone call transcript between Trump and Zelensky back in April, long before Trump turned on a dime on his Ukraine policy.

The White House readout, a summary of the call released hours after it occurred, claimed Trump “underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity—within its internationally recognized borders—and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”

Such statements are nowhere to be found in the transcript of the call .

Aaaand after a long break for House business, we are back at 12:20 pm

Castor, the Republican counsel. is getting nowhere. If Democrats were mostly focused on the broader arc of Yovanovitch’s story and the consequences of what happened to her, Castor and the Republicans are diving down into the nitty-gritty. Asking about specific Americans and specific Ukrainians, who most of the public do not know. But he’s asking questions that he doesn’t know the answer to, and she’s getting a chance to tell her story again.

Castor’s line of questioning is building a case that the Ukrainians were working to hurt candidate Trump in 2016, sometimes with Democrats. Yovanovitch is not really helping him with this. In the Republican view of all this, it is reasonable for Trump to want Ukraine to investigate what happened in 2016.

She says it. “Just because people in Ukraine were critical of Trump does not mean they were conspiring against him in the election”

Damage control from the White House:

Weird questioning from Republican ??? Turner. He went WAYYYYYYY down a rabbit hole to try to claim a single meeting about AIDS 15 years ago between a Kerry campaign person and a Ukrainian official is precedent for Rudy getting an Ambassador fired. That was weird.

The ever-evolving GOP position now seems to be that since Trump did eventually give the aid to Ukraine (after he was caught withholding it), everything’s cool. Get over it.

Republicans in these hearings love to refer to Ukraine as “the Ukraine” and the powers granted to the President under the Constitution as his “rights.” Both are throwbacks to antiquated and overthrown systems of government in Ukraine and North America, respectively. Republicans in these hearings love to refer to Ukraine as “the Ukraine” and the powers granted to the President under the Constitution as his “rights.” Both are throwbacks to antiquated and overthrown systems of government in Ukraine and North America, respectively.

Rep. Chris Stewart just asked one of those hilarious back-firing questions the GOP specializes in. He asked if it was appropriate to investigate Ukraine corruption, allowing Yovanovitch to point out that Trump went outside normal channels to go after Biden.

Republicans complaining about not being able to talk to whistleblower.

Amb. Yovanovitch sits quietly for about seven minutes of declarations from Rep. Stefanik, Rep. Jordan, and Rep. Swalwell about the Whistleblower, the committee shifting course on calling that person to testify, and the president’s public efforts to at intimidation.

SWALWELL: “This anti-corruption crusader, Pres. Trump, who my colleagues have touted out as having such a great interest in anti-corruption, in both the calls that have been referenced … isn’t true that the president never mentions corruption?
YOVANOVITCH: “Yes, that’s true.”

Rep. Will Hurd of Texas tells Yovanovitch: “you’re tough as nails and you’re smart as hell” after reading a list of her awards and accolades. This exchange could be interesting. Hurd is former intelligence, and a potential impeachment wildcard in the GOP — he is retiring at the end of his term. But he stuck with the party line on the impeachment inquiry vote.

Hurd questions end quickly.

Rep. Jordan brings up Fusion GPS — the research firm that developed the Steele dossier, the infamous compilation of unsubstantiated allegations about Mr. Trump that a British former spy compiled in 2016 for Fusion. It is a favorite bogeyman of the Republicans, who believe the firm spread unfounded allegations about Trump.

Jordan suggesting it was legitimate for Trump for be concerned about sending tax dollars to Ukraine because he was concerned they didn’t like him. The problem is that isn’t up to Trump. Congress appropriated the funding. It isn’t Trump’s to withhold as he wishes.

Just now, in a press gaggle, Trump said he did not tamper or try to intimidate the witness. He said “tampering is when a guy like shifty Schiff doesn’t let us have lawyers“ and “Republicans were given no due process.”

Note: There is a GOP lawyer asking Qs today & Yovanovitch says she felt intimidated by Trump tweets.

It is winding down as we approach 3:30, but I think this is the story:

Schiff: This is a story about an effort to coerce a foreign country into doing the President’s dirty work….

Schiff: The fact that they failed in this solicitation of bribery doesn’t make it. any less bribery. It is appalling that colleagues want to out whistleblower so he or she can be punished. While you’re beginning, you’re not the end, effort to get you out of the way.

Schiff: Read the transcript. Trump praises the corrupt (Konsenko) and condemns the good (M. Yovanovitch)

Yovanovitch gets a huge round of applause as she leaves the room. The crowd is cheering and giving Yovanovitch a standing ovation as she leaves. I’ve never seen that before.