If you were lost in the maze of hearsay and speculation during the first day of the impeachment inquiry, you can certainly be forgiven for your confusion. The sharp contrast between the vague stream of guesses and characterizations on the one hand and the melodramatic expressions of alarm and concern on the other, as expressed by U.S. Representative Adam Schiff’s (D-Calif.) marquee witnesses, was disconcerting. Acting Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent were the two main actors in this schizophrenic display.
Throughout the performance, Republican lawmakers repeatedly made the point that neither witness had any first-hand knowledge of the events they described. Instead, these “witnesses” offered only their opinions on the transcript but little new information about what the president actually did or said.
Schiff began the proceedings with a whopper so outlandish that Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) can be seen in a split screen shot attempting to stifle a guffaw. Schiff claimed on live television not to know the identity of the whistleblower.
Is there a “five Pinocchio” rating at the Washington Post?
Among the “bombshells” alleged to have detonated during the show was a revelation that an unnamed staffer for William Taylor suddenly remembered overhearing a cell phone conversation to which he was not a party and in which he claims he heard the president (who he “believed” was on the other end of the call) ask about investigations in Ukraine. “Investigations”? What “investigations”?
Taylor “believed” that Trump was demanding an investigation into the Bidens. Speculation about a hearsay account of a phone call that went unreported or unremembered until weeks later? It went downhill from there.
Both Taylor and Kent used their opening statements to make the case for an aggressive, interventionist policy in Ukraine. American security interests, they argued called for a whole, free, and peaceful Europe which could not happen without a whole, free, and peaceful Ukraine. Taylor recounted how he had not been invited to attend the call with the Ukrainian president and how he surmised from an aggregation of snippets of gossip and rumors that the president leveraged Ukraine aid for his political benefit.
During cross-examination, Taylor was asked about the legitimacy of the president’s interest in Hunter Biden’s work on the Ukraine energy company Burisma and Ukraine’s interference in the American 2016 election. Critical to the Ukraine impeachment farce is the received wisdom that the president’s interest in both topics was merely to gin up opposition research for the 2020 election. Taylor and Kent expressed their pious concern for the president asking about both topics in an official phone call with the president of Ukraine (he really only asked about the 2016 interference and only mentioned the Bidens).
Did Hunter get a no-work job at Burisma to influence his father? Did Ukraine interfere in the 2016 election? On these topics, these Ukraine “experts” appeared to know nothing and had even less curiosity. Neither seemed to have any knowledge or concern about the Ukraine-originated black ledger that was used to take down Trump’s campaign manager in the critical summer months before the 2016 election. The ledger turned out to be a fraud.
Somebody in Ukraine produced the forged ledger to take down Trump’s campaign manager and interfere in the election. Who? Neither Taylor nor Kent bothered to acquaint themselves with the widely-reported incident. Although Taylor expressed concern about Biden’s involvement in Ukraine while his son was on the board of Burisma, the conflict of interest was never addressed to his knowledge.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) used his five-minute cross-examination to extract an admission from Ambassador Taylor that the president of Ukraine denied any improper conduct by President Trump during the phone call. Taylor conceded the president of Ukraine was telling the truth. Ratcliffe noted that the entire impeachment effort focused on Trump’s July 25 phone call. So then what “high crime,” “treason,” or “bribery” took place during the call? Ratcliff asked “Shout it out. Anyone?” He implored both of the witnesses.
The pair responded with stunned silence followed by a stammering three-way argument between Ratcliffe, Taylor, and Schiff. Finally, Taylor gathered his wits, “I’m not here to decide about impeachment. That is your job.”
Both witnesses admitted to Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) that corruption was a problem in many nations of the world. Taylor testified, “I would say there’s corruption in every country, including ours.”
“So in these nations where there are probably hundreds of corrupt government officials, can you give me an example of any time where the vice president shows up and demands that a specific prosecutor be fired?” Both admitted they had never heard of it happening before.
Stewart then observed: “I think it’s interesting that out of hundreds of corrupt officials in dozens of nations, that happened one time, and it happened with the individual whose son was being paid by the organization that was under investigation.”
Stewart (at long last) made a crucial point: “if somebody is a candidate for political office, even for president of the United States, should they be immune from investigation?” After a long pause, Kent replied, “No one is above the law, sir.”