Impeachment Hearings Begin their First Week What has happened so far, and what’s coming next
Last week the first public impeachment hearings began, placing the impeachment inquiry of President Trump squarely in the public’s view. These impeachment hearings serve the purpose of providing House Democrats the opportunity to make the case for impeaching the President. The investigation was launched after recent revelations that he attempted to coerce the Ukrainian President into opening investigations in Joe and Hunter Biden, as well as Ukraine’s possible involvement it the 2016 U.S. election through withholding millions of dollars in military aid. The United States’ military assistance is vital to Ukraine, who is engaged in an active conflict with Russia. If the House determines that what Trump has done was a “high crime or misdemeanor,” they will draft articles of impeachment which are a list of charges brought against the President. Those articles will then be voted on by both the House of Representatives and the Senate to determine whether or not the President will be impeached.
The first witnesses were heard on Wednesday the 13th, with William Taylor, the current acting head of the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, and George Kent, a member of the U.S. State Department being called in to testify.
Taylor testified on two separate channels of policymaking in Ukraine, one public and one private, as well as his shock at learning that the President had threatened to withhold military assistance to Ukraine until Ukraine’s President Zelensky would cooperate and began the investigation of his political rival. While Republicans had claimed that Ukrainians had no knowledge of the money being withheld, Taylor asserted that Ukraine was aware of it, and that the Ukrainian National Security Advisor told him that President Zelesky “did not want to be used as an instrument in a U.S. reelection campaign.” Taylor also included some information not mentioned in his deposition last October. He mentioned how an aide of his claimed to have overheard a phone call between President Trump and current Ambassador Sondland in which Trump asked how the investigation was going. This call happened shortly after Trump’s initial call with Zelensky, but Taylor was not notified about it until the 8th of November. Republicans have questioned the validity of this statement, calling it hearsay and pointing out that it had not been heard by Taylor himself, but indirectly through an aide.
Kent, who has had years of experience working in Ukraine, provided testimony relating to Trump’s request to President Zelensky for an investigation into Ukraine’s possible interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. He claimed that “to my knowledge, there is no factual basis” that it was Ukraine who interfered in the 2016 election.
On Friday, the former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified, detailing how she was removed from her position after a “smear campaign” headed by Rudy Giuliani and his Ukranian associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman last May. With her removal, the stage was set for the president to apply pressure to the newly appointed President Zelensky in July.
During the hearing, Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee Chairman, temporarily paused the questioning to read aloud portions of a tweet that Trump had posted while Yovanovitch was testifying. The tweet attacked Yovanovitch, claiming that “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” referencing her work in Somalia as well as Ukraine, and adding that “the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.” In the tweet he also emphasized his power to remove ambassadors from office.
When asked how she felt about the tweet, Yovanovitch said that she disagreed with the President’s claim that “everywhere she went turned bad,” and admitted that the tweet made her feel intimidated as a witness. In response, Schiff told Yovanovitch that “Some of us here take witness intimidating very, very seriously.” Trump has since defended his tweets as protected under his right to freedom of speech.
Much of what was said in the first week of the hearings is already known to those who have been keeping up with the depositions from October, but for those who haven’t been keeping up with the story, this is the first time the impeachment inquiry has truly been open to the public view. More testimonies are scheduled for the coming weeks as House Democrats work to present a picture of the President’s wrongdoing and House Republicans work to prove the opposite.