Impeachment Trial

Marie Yovanovitch Testifies as Impeachment Hearings Continue

Congressional hearings aren’t exactly known for being entertaining or dramatic spectacles. Nevertheless, one of the major criticisms of the first round of public impeachment hearings was that it was boring, and not exciting enough to capture the attention of the American public. This opinion was offered both by Republicans in an attempt to discredit the hearings as well as certain members of the press, who judged the event as if it were a television spectacle rather than a serious, sober government proceeding. Predictably, these comments were mocked on Twitter and elsewhere on the Internet, with Jonathan Allen’s complaint that the witnesses called on Wednesday lacked “pizazz” drawing significant attention.

It’s harder to make this criticism of today’s hearing, during which lawmakers questioned former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted from her position in Ukraine despite 33 years of highly celebrated public service during which she received numerous awards and being told she had done nothing wrong. Yovanovitch testified that she believed the reason for her ouster was to establish a shadow foreign policy, separate from the official channels of international diplomacy, to allow the president to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation that would hurt Joe Biden and help Trump’s reelection campaign. Yovanovitch’s testimony corroborates Wednesday’s testimonies from Bill Taylor and George Kent, two government officials with experience in similar matters.

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During his opening remarks, Adam Schiff explained Yovanovitch’s relevance to the impeachment hearings in an attempt to make the case that Trump removed Yovanovitch in order to facilitate his bribery attempt of Ukraine. Representative Devin Nunes spent much of his opening statement reciting a transcript released today by the Trump administration of a phone call between Trump and the newly-elected president of Ukraine, which was largely congratulatory and included an invitation from Ukrainian President Zelensky for Trump to attend his inauguration. This recitation bore little relevance to the matter at hand, and was likely performed in order to distract from the substance of the hearing, as the presence of a non-incriminating preliminary conversation does not negate a later, incriminating one.

Despite Trump’s attack on Yovanovitch, Republicans in the House of Representatives were careful not to deride Yovanovitch’s character, instead thanking her for her decades of service and praising the importance of her work.

Donald Trump, despite saying repeatedly that he would not be watching the hearings, was nonetheless active on Twitter throughout, providing commentary and denigrating Yovanovitch’s character. This gave chairman Adam Schiff a rare opportunity to respond to the president in real-time; during his questioning, Schiff mentioned the tweet, posted just minutes prior, which claimed that Yovanovitch’s conduct led to disastrous outcomes in Ukraine and Somalia, and asked Yovanovitch whether those accusations were accurate. She replied that they were not. Schiff suggested comments like these were destructive to the impeachment process, as they would discourage other witnesses from coming forward, and took the opportunity to assure Yovanovitch that the Committee takes witness intimidation very seriously. Notably, Trump’s tweet may form the basis for an additional article of impeachment, as witness intimidation is a crime and facilitates obstruction of justice.

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Despite Trump’s attack on Yovanovitch, Republicans in the House of Representatives were careful not to deride Yovanovitch’s character, instead thanking her for her decades of service and praising the importance of her work. This discrepancy is just one example of the rift between Republicans in Congress, who are doing everything in their power to defend the president throughout the impeachment hearings, and the president himself, who frequently undermines these attempts by publicly contradicting them. As the president is quick to deride anyone who displays the slightest bit of disloyalty to him, even members of his own party who attempt to defend him but don’t do so strongly enough for the president’s liking, this rift has the potential to lead to further isolation of the president even from his allies.

Coincidentally, the trial of Roger Stone, a former advisor to the president, concluded today, and Stone was found guilty of lying to the FBI among other charges. In an obvious display of his anger and frustration, the president took to Twitter to complain about this outcome, and called for the jailing of his political opponents, including Adam Schiff and former special counsel Robert Mueller. Lately, it seems that news breaks every day that damages Trump’s presidency, and today is certainly no exception.


How the World is Reacting to US Impeachment Inquiry

On Tuesday, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would be opening an impeachment inquiry after a whistleblower’s complaint, which alleged that the President had attempted to court the assistance of a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, was confirmed by the White House when it released a memorialization of a phone call with the president of Ukraine. President Trump is now the fourth-ever president to have faced an impeachment investigation, and the first to have been accused by Congress of conspiring with a foreign government to undermine American democracy. Given the historic nature of the occasion, Pelosi’s announcement made headlines not just in the US but around the world, inspiring a range of reactions in essentially every nation on the planet. Because of the significance of the United States in shaping global politics, other nations are keenly interested in how American politics plays out, and this interest has perhaps never been as intense as it is in the present moment.

According to CNN, most envoys and diplomats are concerned by the recent developments in the United States, but have also grown used to the chaos that has unfolded in Washington DC on a near-daily basis. Over the past two years, the US has fallen from being a leading voice on the world stage to being one that offers a vacuum of leadership, as President Trump has failed to impress upon other world leaders and has not been successful in negotiations with countries like Mexico, Iran, North Korea, and China. While many government officials around the world were expecting the president’s time to be largely occupied with re-election concerns heading into 2020, recent developments in Congress lead them to believe Trump will have even less interest in foreign affairs. Many around the world are skeptical that impeachment will result in Trump’s removal from office, and even believe that impeachment will help Trump’s re-election campaign, as it allows the president to continue to portray himself as the victim, a strategy that has worked well for him in the past.

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Much attention has been focused on the fact that Trump unilaterally decided to declassify a memo describing his conversation with the leader of another country, which has led to concern about the secrecy of phone calls with the president. For instance, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov has condemned the president for making the phone call public, and Russia warned the US that there would be negative repercussions if Trump released conversations between the White House and the Kremlin. (According to reports from several news outlets, details about Trump’s incriminating phone call with Ukraine were initially quarantined in a highly classified computer system designed for protecting state secrets, as were conversations involving Saudi Arabia and Putin.) Officials of foreign governments worry that they will not be able to have private conversations with the United States, as Trump’s declassification of details of the Ukraine call establishes a precedent that the White House may arbitrarily decide to release details involving conduct with other countries.

Though many officials predict the White House will be less involved with international affairs as a result of the impeachment proceedings, not every official considers this to be negative. Officials from around the world have long been concerned about the effects of Trump’s haphazard decisions when dealing with other countries, such as his glorification of North Korea, his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, his cancellation of the Iran nuclear deal, and his expensive trade war with China, and sometimes view Trump’s presence in global affairs as a nuisance rather than as an asset. While some are concerned that Trump may pursue war as a distraction from impeachment proceedings, most view this as unlikely, and instead are concerned about the potential impact on global markets. A number of officials who spoke with CNN marvelled at how quickly and how far political discourse in the US has fallen, and Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to the US, characterized Trump’s conversation with the Ukranian president as “appalling.”