The House of Representatives on Wednesday began holding public hearings on Donald Trump’s impeachment investigation.
The key to the decision, explains Adam Schiff (D-CA), is whether Trump used his position as POTUS to pressure the Ukrainian government to open investigations for personal political gain.
“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” said Schiff, who is leading the impeachment proceedings. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief.”
The event was the fourth such hearing in US history and the only one to be broadcast on social media.
President Trump phoned his Ukrainian counterpart on July 25th and asked him for a favor: to investigate the Bidens and to look into a conspiracy theory that Ukraine (not Russia) interfered with the 2016 elections. Trump has been accused of linking the request to $400 million in military aid for Ukraine, a sum that was frozen shortly before the phone call.
The situation is reminiscent of Joe Biden’s 2016 threat to withhold $1 billion in aid from Ukraine unless the country fired a prosecutor who was investigating the energy company for which Hunter Biden worked.
The key difference here is that Biden was successful in pressuring Ukraine to do what he wanted and Trump was not. The transcript of Trump’s phone call includes no mention of conditionality between the two leaders; but even if it had, the call cannot be defined as “quid pro quo” because the deal never happened. Ukraine received military aid from the US and did not announce an investigation.
Nonetheless, Democrats are attempting to portray the phone call as bribery (an impeachable offense).
“The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Thursday.
Complicating matters is the testimony from US diplomat Bill Taylor, whose staff claimed to have overheard Trump ask UN Ambassador Gordon Sondland about “the investigations” he wanted Ukraine to pursue. Sondland allegedly told Trump that Ukraine was ready to move forward with “the investigations.”
Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) described Taylor’s testimony as “hearsay” and Trump said he didn’t remember making the call.
“Neither of Rep. Adam Schiff’s witnesses testifying today listened to the original Ukraine call,” tweeted Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN). “Both admitted ZERO firsthand knowledge of a ‘quid pro quo.’ They have as much inside knowledge about Ukraine call as you and me, since we can all read the transcript.”
Also of note from Wednesday’s hearing was the absence of Acting WH Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who has been identified by witnesses as a key player in the decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine. Mulvaney has ignored a subpoena to appear in closed testimony.
Also absent from the hearing was the whistleblower who filed the initial complaint about Trump’s phone call. Adam Schiff has vowed to keep the whistleblower’s identity a secret and claims he does not know the person even though his staff met with him/her.
The next public hearing will be held Friday, November 15th.