The historic impeachment probe against President Donald Trump opened to the American public Wednesday, after weeks of hearings held in secret. For weeks House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff conducted those hearings in what Republicans dubbed ‘the secret bunker’ outside public view and has controlled almost every aspect of the hearings.
Rancorous back and forth arguments between Republicans and Democrats continued throughout the day, as witnesses were questioned about the phone call Trump made on July 25, to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The transcript of the phone call was made public by the White House earlier this month, in what administration officials say is clear evidence there was no ‘quid pro quo’ between Trump and Zelensky.
Democrats have argued that Trump attempted to coerce Zelensky into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who was a paid board member of an allegedly corrupt Ukrainian gas company while his father was charged with overseeing foreign policy issues in Ukraine.
Despite the release of the transcripts and the Justice Department’s decision clearing Trump of any wrongdoing, several of the State Department witnesses made speculations of what they believed but offered no proof that Trump had any deal with Zelensky. In fact, Zelensky has vehemently denied that there was ever any discussion of such an arrangement to investigate Biden.
If anything, the Republicans held firm during the hearings and unified.
Democratic witnesses George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine gave their hours long testimony. None of the witnesses had first hand knowledge of Trump’s phone call to Ukrainian president Zelensky but spoke of second or third hand knowledge of the call and the circumstances surrounding Ukrainian aid.
Rep. Jim Jordan was given an interim assignment by Republican leadership to serve on the House Intelligence Committee during the open impeachment hearings. The Ohio congressman is currently the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, and was able to question witnesses as a member of the Intelligence Committee he will be able to question witnesses.He temporarily replaced Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark. on the intelligence panel.
He led a fiery question and answer with the witnesses testifying.
Jordan noted three separate meetings Ukraine’s president held with U.S. officials, and stated that there was never any evidence those involved traded U.S. aid in return for an investigation of Hunter Biden.
Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat agreed with Jordan and confirmed there was no evidence. Taylor also admitted he didn’t know Trump and that the Ukrainian president never announced an investigation into Trump.
“Your clear understanding was obviously wrong, because it didn’t happen,” he said to Taylor, who had alluded earlier that there may have been a quid pro quo.
“I don’t know what President or candidate Trump was thinking about the Ukrainians,” said Taylor.
Moreover, Republicans have complained that the minority has not been able to call witnesses to testify, nor is the most important witness – the alleged whistleblower – been available for cross-examination by the Republicans on the committee.
Despite overwhelming evidence that the so-called whistleblower met with Schiff’s committee prior to filing his complaint with the Intelligence Community Inspector General on Trump, Republicans would not get an opportunity to ask him/her questions.
Schiff stated to the panel of Republican lawmakers at the top of the hearing, that he “will not permit the outing of the whistleblower.” He told Jordan he didn’t even know the whistleblowers name.
“If necessary, I will intervene” to prevent the identity of the whistleblower from being made public, Schiff added. “Otherwise, I want members to feel free to ask any questions they like.”
Close to the four hour mark, Rep. Chris Stewart(R-UT) grew increasingly frustrated with the entire process and it showed during his questioning of witnesses.
“One thing it comes down to. This is the transcript the President has released of this phone call. There is one sentence, one phone call. That is what this entire impeachment proceeding is based upon,” Rep. Chris Stewart opened.
“I gotta tell you, if your impeachment case is so weak that you have to lie and exaggerate about it to convince the American people that they need to remove this president then you’ve got a problem.”
The witnesses confirmed to Rep. Stewart that corruption is indeed “endemic” in Ukraine. They also agreed that it’s present in many other countries around the world.
Rep. Stewart asked, “Can you give me an example, anytime, where the Vice President of the United States shows up and demands that a specific prosecutor be fired and gives him a six hour time limit to do that?”
The witnesses couldn’t provide that example. Then, referring to Biden’s dealings with Ukraine, specifically his son Hunter Biden’s dealings with Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma holdings, Rep. Stewart asked, “If someone was a candidate for political office, even for President of the United States, should they be immune from investigation?”
Mr. Kent responded,”No one is above the law, sir.”
Jennie Taer contributed to this report