With House impeachment hearings going public today, we offer a few general observations and caveats regarding likely testimony and the furious political spin you’re sure to hear. Our advice: Recognize what’s Russian-styled distraction and disinformation as opposed to relevant and sober testimony from career State Department professionals with precious little to gain by testifying.
If you’re a Trump disciple, never fear. President Trump will not be convicted. Republicans are right: House Democrats, many moved more by disdain for Trump than the latest allegations of wrongdoing, will vote as a partisan bloc to impeach this president. What Republicans don’t say is that Republican lawmakers will vote as a partisan bloc against any articles of impeachment. And they’ll vote as a partisan bloc to acquit the president in any Senate trial.
Hearings should ideally pivot on strictly relevant points: Did the president hold up congressionally approved military and state aid for a U.S. ally already mauled by a hostile adversary? Republicans have acknowledged that Trump is guilty of this much: They’re the ones who, stunned to discover this funding had been shelved, forced the president to belatedly allocate it to Ukraine. Till then, Trump — wittingly or not — again played into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has stoked unrest in neighboring Ukraine and even “annexed” part of it.
If Trump was truly concerned about corruption in Ukraine to the extent he defied Congress, what formal analysis or review of such corruption did the White House produce during the time military aid was shelved? It’s a fair question. The White House rough draft of Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows Trump pressing Zelensky to address corruption — yet Trump can only single out Joe Biden — a 2020 political rival — and a dog-eared conspiracy theory about Ukraine hacking the Democratic National Committee that U.S. intelligence dismisses as poppycock. (Russia proved the guilty party; even Republicans say so.) So can Trump’s defenders prove he was not using $391 million in aid as leverage for his personal and political gain?
Republicans want to focus on Vice President Biden who they claim pressed a very similar quid pro quo deal with Ukrainian officials during the Obama administration regarding an ineffectual Ukrainian prosecutor. Only problem: This was an official administration policy developed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Trump’s holding up crucial aid to Ukraine was not only contrary to his own White House policy but, again, politically self-serving regarding his 2020 reelection bid. It’s important to remember that the Ukrainian energy company with which Joe Biden’s son was associated was not under investigation at the time of Biden’s supposedly inappropriate quid pro quo ultimatum.
Not that any of this will matter in terms of overall impeachment or national shifts in opinion. Any testimony, no matter how damning, treasonous or vindicating, is unlikely to change American minds after three years of this particular president.