After intensely following the riveting testimony before the House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearing from Nov. 13 to Nov. 21, it is an excellent time to provide some observations.
The twelve witnesses included three requested by Republicans and nine by Democrats.
What did all of the witnesses have in common?
They all agreed on the same storyline. They all confirmed that President Donald J. Trump sought to have the Ukrainian leadership open an investigation into Trump’s political rival.
Some of the witnesses became extremely alarmed when they became aware of the, as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman described it, “demand” by the president.
These witnesses included, in addition to Lt. Colonel Vindman, Ambassador William Taylor, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, Advisor to Vice President Mike Pence Jennifer Williams, former member of the National Security Council (NSC) Fiona Hill, current member of the embassy in Ukraine David Holmes and Defense Department official Laura Cooper. Although these are all democratically selected witnesses, even Republican witness Tim Morrison, who succeeded Hill on the NSC, expressed his concern about the Trump request as did another Republican witness, Ambassador Kurt Volker.
Most damaging to the Republican defense of Trump may have come with the testimony of current Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.
Ambassador Sondland directly implicated Trump as having personally directed the “demand” to have the newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky make a public announcement of the opening of the investigation of Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. He also confirmed that the withholding of almost $400 million of sorely needed military aid and a much sought after meeting between the new Ukraine president with the president of the United States was conditioned on making that public announcement about the investigation. To put it another way, Ambassador Sondland made it clear that, in his words, “There was a quid pro quo!”
So, then, what is the defense by Republicans on the House Intel Committee?
Well, the Republican defense included that the president was well within his rights and responsibility to ensure the investigation of corruption was a condition for the release of the previously congressionally appropriated military aid.
Regardless of the fact that the Department of Defense had completed the required review and found the Ukraine to have met the requisite standards as confirmed by Cooper in her testimony AND, regardless of the fact that even if Trump did question the degree to which Ukraine met the standards, he would have to had notified Congress of his intent to hold back the release of the aid. Let’s for arguments sake imagine that Trump’s motives were “pure.”
Let’s imagine that he really was concerned about Ukraine investigating corruption even though the “demand” that the investigation be announced publicly would lead one to believe the motive was “purely” political.
Let’s accept, then, for now, the Republicans’ argument that Trump was within his authority as president to hold back the military aid. If this explanation was at all legitimate, then these next questions must also be answered: Why, then, was the military aid released two days after the issue went public?
Why then was the Ukrainian president no longer required to make that public announcement? Why did the fact that the “demand” by the president of the United States of the the new president of the Ukraine to open up the investigation of Trump’s political opponent, Joe Biden, no longer a requirement for the military aid or the presidential meeting simply because the demand was now uncovered and made public?
Why the concern about the optics? Why were these optics now followed with the other Republican excuse for not finding fault with the actions of this corrupt president, namely “no harm, no foul?”
At the same exact time that the Republicans on the Intel Committee were claiming that the president had every right to be concerned about the actions being taken by the Ukrainian government to address corruption and to withhold release of the military aid until he was satisfied, these same Republicans also claimed that there was no wrongdoing because the military aid was eventually released and released without the Ukrainian president making that public announcement demanded by Trump as confirmed by Sondland in his John Dean-like testimony.
Is there any better example of speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth at exactly the same time? I don’t think so. Jim Jordan and the rest of the Republicans on the committee would make Paul Winchell proud. Knucklehead Smith would fit right into this crowd.