The much-anticipated impeachment hearings of Donald Trump began yesterday in the House of Representatives, chaired by California Rep Adam Schiff. The first two witnesses, Ambassador George Taylor and Diplomat George Kent, were highly credible and went out of their way to remain non-partisan despite an attempt by Republicans to cast them as Never Trumpers.
On balance, yesterday’s testimony bolstered what we already knew about Trump’s attempted extortion of Ukraine, and Ambassador Taylor also added a previously unknown piece to the puzzle. According to Taylor, one of his staff was present when EU Ambassador Sondland called Trump on an unsecured cell-phone and overheard Trump asking Sondland about whether Ukraine had agreed to an investigation of Biden. This report destroys the GOP talking point that Trump didn’t know what his people were doing in Ukraine–aside from the horrifying breach of security and protocol of having a high-level unsecured cell phone call in Ukraine! (But her emails!)
Republicans keep revising their defense of the president as the facts and evidence mount against them. First, they said there was no quid pro quo. But the original summary of Trump’s phone call–along with testimony in the closed-door depositions–proved them wrong. Then they said all of the witness testimony was second-hand. But the testimony of NSC Head Colonel Vindman, and later Pence staffer Jennifer Williams, proved them wrong. Then they said Trump couldn’t be directly connected to the pressure on Ukraine. But today’s testimony by Taylor proved them wrong. The GOP endgame is increasingly clear. They will be forced to say that while Trump extorted Ukraine for dirt on Biden in exchange for US military aid, it doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Which leads us to two questions. If Trump’s extortion isn’t impeachable, what is? And if Trump can extort foreign governments to help him with elections, what will the next president do, perhaps to his or her Republican opponents? What will stop future presidents from extorting with impunity? Is such unscrupulous behavior something that Congress wants to sanction?
I’m not hopeful that anything the House Democrats do can move the Trump cult away from Trump, and that includes Senate Republicans. It’s hard to imagine any scenario that sways McConnell and his caucus to abandon Trump. But the impeachment process is important. It’s an exercise in morality under the most morally bankrupt president and administration in modern history. It will be a useful cudgel to bash Republican Senators in swing states next year. And it will continue to weaken Trump’s support at the margins.
Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office” if he isn’t removed first.