Public impeachment hearing reveals new phone call confirming Trump conspiracy
Career Foreign Service officer George Kent and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, right, are sworn in to testify during the first public impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, Wednesday Nov. 13, 2019. Testimony revealed a new phone call confirming that Trump was directing the Ukraine-Biden investigation conspiracy from the top. | Andrew Harnik / AP

WASHINGTON—The nation watched the opening of public hearings yesterday in which, for only the fourth time in U.S. history, an imperiled president faced the prospect of impeachment and removal from office.

William B. Taylor, Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, the State Department employee officially in charge of Ukraine policy, testified. Both men had been pushed aside by Trump operatives who were manipulating U.S. policy in Ukraine without them and doing so in the personal and political interests of the president.

Taylor yesterday dropped a new bombshell by saying his aide overheard Trump in a phone call with U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland this past summer demand a report on the status of Ukrainian “investigations” into alleged corruption on the part of the Bidens.

The new revelation buttresses the idea that the entire conspiracy has been directed from the top by Trump. Taylor testified that the aide told him Sondland confirmed to Trump that the Ukrainian government was ready to move ahead on his push for a Biden probe.

GOP claims that it is merely secondhand testimony will not hold up because the Democrats have already arranged for that aide to provide them with direct firsthand testimony. The Associated Press reported that the aide in question is David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Kiev.

When questioned about the phone call by reporters during his meeting with the president of Turkey yesterday, Trump played dumb, saying, “First I’ve heard of it.” Instead of refuting the details of the new revelation, the president returned to his standard responses: “It’s a witch hunt. It’s a hoax.”

Other testimony, including about the backdoor diplomacy by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was also of no concern to GOP committee members yesterday. They tried to twist facts into fantastic theories. Trump was busy investigating overall corruption in Ukraine, they claimed, not focusing on the Bidens.

Those positions were particularly laughable, coming as they do after the U.S. public has learned that Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, was in that country strong-arming the government to put major GOP campaign donors on the board of Ukraine’s largest energy company.

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Incredibly, Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, after hearing hours of testimony yesterday corroborating everything in the whistleblower complaint, made the diversionary and illegal motion that the House Select Committee on Intelligence Affairs subpoena the anonymous whistleblower to testify.

Democrats oppose such a move not just because the testimony would now be redundant but because federal law requires that the identity of whistleblowers be kept secret. The Conaway motion went down 13 to nine.

Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, said at the end of the session that the main issue for the impeachment inquiry is to answer the question: “Did Trump abuse his official powers for his own re-election and if so, is it OK for presidents to do that?”

He was forced to make that clarifying statement because Republican strategy yesterday was to attempt to replace the key question mentioned by Schiff with other irrelevant ones. Rep. Devin Nunes, for example, the ranking Republican member of the committee, said at the end of the session that the impeachment hearings should be suspended entirely until the question of whether Democrats had “prior coordination” with the whistleblower is answered.

The Nunes question was absurd because the intelligence community’s inspector general had told Congress on Sept. 9 about the complaint’s existence and the inspector general noted at that time that the administration knew about the complaint. That, of course, meant that Trump was withholding the complaint from Congress at the time lawmakers learned about it on Sept. 9—making the Nunes question about collaboration with the Dems as irrelevant as his demand that the whistleblower appear for testimony.

Try as they did, Republicans could not get around the fact that everything in the whistleblower complaint has now been corroborated by the sworn testimony of reputable individuals appearing before Congress and the American people.

In the five-minute spots given to lawmakers, GOP committee members used their time to grandstand. They essentially made short speeches in an attempt to set up new, often irrelevant storylines that had little to do with the facts put forward by the actual witnesses. Often they did little more than lob what they thought were “gotcha” lines at Democrats.

They repeatedly demanded that the whistleblower appear before Congress.

Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas demanded of Schiff an answer to the question of whether the whistleblower will actually testify and he demanded that Schiff tell him whether Democrats would respond to GOP demands for information about their interactions with the whistleblower—interactions the Democrats never had.

Conferring on how best to distract: Ranking GOP committee member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., talks to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, right, as Steve Castor, Republican staff attorney for the House Oversight Committee, center, listens during the House Intelligence Committee public impeachment hearing. | Susan Walsh / AP

The Democrats pressed on, however, with Schiff carefully avoiding all their attempts to suck him into a diversionary fight. In response to Ratcliffe, for example, Schiff politely reminded the representative to get his questions back on track so he would not lose the valuable time available that he had left.

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan tried ranting and raving against the entire impeachment inquiry. Even as he sinks deeper into a high school sex scandal in which, as an Ohio school wrestling coach he ignored student complaints, Jordan ranted and raved yesterday not at a criminal president but at Democratic lawmakers trying to bring that president to justice. “This is a sad day for this country,” Jordan said. “You think about what the Democrats have put our nation through for the last three years,” he said. Why can’t we hear from the whistleblower? The members of Congress should hear from the person who started it all.”

Democratic Vermont Rep. Peter Welch declared, in response: “I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify,” he said. “President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”

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CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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