Wednesday, seven weeks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the “official impeachment inquiry” into alleged misdeeds committed by President Trump, the Democrats leading that probe finally emerged from the bowels of the Capitol building to convene a hearing in the light of day. They made the odd choice to devote their first public hearing to a couple of Foggy Bottom diplomats, William Taylor and George Kent, from whom they have already taken testimony. Neither of these gentlemen have firsthand knowledge of the storied conversation during which Trump is supposed to have demanded that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky open a political investigation in return for U.S. aid.
The most conspicuous feature of their testimony was that both Taylor and Kent were in a state of consternation concerning the supposedly sinister implications of the Trump–Zelensky call, about which they learned secondhand from a Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. The latter is one of the only witnesses who actually listened in on the fabled phone call, but his testimony to Adam Schiff’s select committee contains no explicit claim that Trump requested any quid pro quo arrangement, much less engaged in the kind of “extortion” and “bribery” that have now become staples of Democratic impeachment talking points. This is probably why Wednesday’s hearing featured Taylor and Kent rather than Vindman.
The hearing commenced shortly after 10 a.m. when Chairman Adam Schiff introduced the proceedings with his trademark admixture of bombast and innuendo. He began with a gratuitous account of the historical antipathy between Russia and Ukraine and quickly proceeded to a rote recitation of the evidence-free charges he and other Democrats have been leveling against the president since the mystery whistleblower filed his original complaint. Schiff then spent several minutes attacking Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, accusing him of blackmailing Ukrainian officials and spreading “debunked conspiracy theories.” At long last he finally got to the point of the exercise:
The questions presented by this impeachment inquiry are whether President Trump sought to exploit that ally’s vulnerability and invite Ukraine’s interference in our elections. Whether President Trump sought to condition official acts, such as a White House meeting or U.S. military assistance, on Ukraine’s willingness to assist with two political investigations that would help his reelection campaign. And if President Trump did either, whether such an abuse of his power is compatible with the office of the presidency.
Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) opened by recounting the unrelenting attacks on the president. He pointed out that, even after the collapse of the incompetent Mueller investigation, the Democrats remained determined to move forward with their coup and thus invented the Ukraine scandal. He reminded the voters that Chairman Schiff and his fellow Democrats had routinely lied about the amount of evidence they possessed proving Trump’s collusion with the Russians, read transparent fabrications into the congressional record, accused the president’s son of colluding with WikiLeaks, and illegally leaked classified information to the media, ad infinitum. He then raised the inevitable point:
And yet now we’re supposed to take these people at face value when they trot out a new batch of allegations.… Though executive branch employees [including State Department officials] are charged with implementing the policy set by our president, who is elected by and responsible to the American people, elements of the civil service have decided that they, not the president, are really in charge.… This spectacle is doing great damage to our country. It’s nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.
Not long thereafter, the process started to go downhill for the Democrats, particularly the chairman. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked Schiff, “Do you anticipate when we might vote on the ability to have the whistleblower in front of us … you are the only member who knows who that individual is.” Schiff actually claimed, “I do not know the identity of the whistleblower, and I’m determined to make sure that identity is protected.” This howler was followed by what seemed like eons of soporific questions from Democrat Counsel Daniel Goldman and evasive answers from our friends from Foggy Bottom. At one point Taylor said, “What I can do here for you today is tell you what I heard from people.”
This is where it really went south for Chairman Schiff, et al. The Republicans started peppering these two witnesses about the specifics of what they actually know firsthand. Rep. Jordan questioned Ambassador Taylor concerning why, despite three separate meetings with the Ukrainian president during the 55-day period the “security aid” was held up, neither President Zelensky nor anyone else brought up a connection between that assistance and any investigation of Burisma or the Bidens. Taylor confirmed that that question wasn’t raised, whereupon Jordan pressed him on his claim to know that the aid had been held up pursuant to Zelensky’s failure to agree to a quid pro quo:
Three meetings, face to face with President Zelensky, no linkage. Yet, in your deposition you said this, and you said it again during the first hour to the majority, “My clear understanding was security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the investigation.” No, with all due respect Mr. Ambassador, your clear understanding was obviously wrong. Because it didn’t happen.… So, what I’m wondering is, where’d you get this clear understanding?
The answer, of course, is that Taylor got it through hearsay. Once Jordan got him to admit that, the congressman quoted the document from the U.S. ambassador to the European Union from which Taylor got his “clear understanding”: “Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Mr. Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 1, 2019, in connection with Vice President Pence’s visit to Warsaw and a meeting with President Zelensky.” Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) further pressed Taylor and Kent on their investigation tale by asking if Zelensky was an honest man. Naturally, they answered in the affirmative. Ratcliffe then pointed out:
The Ukrainian president said to the world press and repeatedly, consistently, over and over again, interview after interview, said he had no knowledge of military aid being withheld, meaning no quid pro quo, no pressure, no demands, no threats, no blackmail, nothing corrupt.… Mr. Taylor, do you have any evidence to assert that President Zelensky was lying to the world press when he said those things? Yes or no?
Taylor responded, “I have no reason to doubt what the president said.” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) followed up by making sure that everyone watching the hearing understood what she called the two most important facts: “No. 1: Ukraine received the aid. No. 2: There was in fact no investigation into Biden.” She also got Mr. Kent to admit that he and his State Department colleagues were very concerned about corruption at Burisma and among its board members: “You were also aware, and you testified today, that Hunter Biden worked on the board of Burisma.… You also testified that you were concerned about the appearance of conflict of interest. Correct?” Kent responded, “That’s correct.”
In other words, according to one of the two witnesses called by the Democrats to the hearing, the possibility that the Bidens were involved with a notoriously corrupt organization is not a “conspiracy theory.” Indeed, according to Mr. Kent’s written testimony as read in Wednesday’s hearing, “When the State Department evaluates foreign assistance, it is appropriate for them to look at levels of corruption in countries. Issues of corruption have been part of high-level dialogue between U.S. leaders and Ukrainian leaders regardless of who is the U.S. leader and who is the Ukrainian leader, and that is a normal level of diplomatic discussion at the highest level.” The Democrats showed no interest in these facts.
And so the long day wore on. Despite the lipstick that has been applied by the Democrats and the media, Wednesday’s hearing had a distinct porcine aroma about it. And nothing that Taylor or Kent offered neutralized the stench. Wednesday tended to prove what Devin Nunes said when the committee convened: “By undermining the president who they are supposed to be serving, elements of the FBI, the Department of Justice, and now the State Department have lost the confidence of millions of Americans.” The voters can smell the rot. And they will fumigate the swamp in 2020.