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.