The impeachment hearing of the 45th President of the United States began Wednesday with tedious opening statements, two old-school bureaucrats rehashing Ukrainian history. They droned on for almost an hour; if a high percentage of Americans weren’t channel-switching by then, they are to be admired for their forbearance.
The media tried to jack up the drama to Watergate proportions, but for the most part, day one was a dud. There were no viral moments. The one big news revelation was based on a second-hand account of an overheard phone call.
Only a slim majority of Americans support this impeachment process to begin with. Its credibility problem is enhanced by the fact that it appears to be strictly a partisan exercise wherein the outcome – Donald Trump loses in the House but is acquitted in the Senate – is pretty much a foregone conclusion.
The challenge for the Democrats is to convince a public, conditioned to Mr. Trump’s delinquencies, of the gravitas of his duplicitous dealings with Ukraine.
On points the Democrats won the first day, but narrowly. Though Republicans don’t have much of a case to work with, they deployed enough disinformation to likely keep their supporters satisfied.
The two witnesses, acting Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor and senior national-security official George Kent, left no doubt that they believed the charge against Mr. Trump that he threatened to cut off military aid to Ukraine unless it opened an investigation into political rival Joe Biden.
The big reveal was Mr. Taylor’s testimony that one of his staffers reported to him that he overheard a phone conversation between Mr. Trump and European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland. In it, Mr. Trump apparently asked him how the investigation was going. What else was said is unknown, as is the name of the aide.
Despite the story’s hearsay nature, liberally inclined media outlets labelled the information “startling.” Right-siders sloughed it off.
Ambassador Taylor was believable. He had the look and vocal intonation of renowned old-time journalist Sam Donaldson. In his decades of experience as a diplomat he said he’d never seen anything like a president withholding security assistance for help with a political campaign. It was a “crazy” thing to do, he said.
The Republicans had a few good moments. One came with respect to Hunter Biden, who served on the board of an allegedly corrupt Ukraine energy company – this while then-vice-president Joe Biden was heavily involved in negotiations with Ukraine to rid their system of corruption.
The bow-tied Mr. Kent revealed that he raised concerns with Mr. Biden’s national security staff in 2015 that the younger Biden’s position “could create the perception of a conflict of interest.” He said he did not receive a response. The Republicans, strangely enough given their campaign to discredit the Bidens, did not follow up on that line of questioning.
They did try selling their conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine at the behest of the Democrats rather than the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election campaign. This is regarded as wacko by American intelligence agencies, and the witnesses gave the same impression. There was no basis in fact for such a claim, said Mr. Kent.
The GOP also made a big deal out of the fact that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has said repeatedly that he was not pressured by Mr. Trump to do any investigating of the Bidens. But with his country so dependent on American aid, do Republicans really think he would throw the President to the wolves by admitting to such?
A surprise was that the hearing was largely civil, not the circus many anticipated. But that doesn't mean it won’t become one. Mr. Trump feels it is in his interest to make it so. He said he was too busy to watch Wednesday’s proceedings, though it didn’t prevent him from tweeting that the whole thing was a “witch hunt,” a “hoax” and, as if that wasn't enough, a “joke.”
The facts in the case, as revealed by several parties to it, were stacked against the President before the public hearings began, and Wednesday’s testimony added to the pile.
Mr. Trump’s hope lies in the fact that his Republicans can muddy the waters enough with bogus information so as to keep the impeachment story entirely in the partisan realm.
That’s where it stands now. Unless there are revelations in these hearings more alarming that what came forward on day one, that’s where it will likely remain.
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