The Democrats’ effort to take down President Trump over his dealings with Ukraine consists of three stages. The first stage was to develop the evidence that Trump withheld aid for a period of time as a way of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. The second stage is to present that evidence to the public through good witnesses. The third stage will be to press the argument that what Trump did warrants impeachment.
The three stages are connected. The better the evidence the Democrats develop, the better their presentation is likely to be. The better the evidence and the more impressive its presentation, the greater the likelihood that Americans will think impeachment is the remedy.
The first stage has gone well for the Democrats. Documents and testimony leave little doubt that Trump did in fact withhold aid for the purpose of getting Ukraine to investigate his chief political rival. The aid eventually was released, after news of the hold became public and people started asking questions. However, this doesn’t negate (though it might mitigate) the fact that Trump tried to use military aid as a lever to cause harm to a domestic opponent.
This week, we move into the second stage, presentation. Democrats will put on three witnesses in televised hearings.
The first witness, as I understand it, will be Bill Taylor, the Trump administration’s chargé d’affaires for Ukraine. He will be followed by George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine until she was removed in May.
We don’t know how any of the three witnesses will perform or what impression any will make. However, there is reason to believe that Bill Taylor will be a good witness for the Democrats.
Taylor is a West Point grad and a Vietnam vet who earned the Bronze Star. He was ambassador to Ukraine under George W. Bush and, for a few months, Barack Obama. Mike Pompeo brought him back to the diplomatic corps to serve as chargé d’affaires under Trump.
Taylor’s testimony before Adam Schiff’s committee brought positive reviews from members of both parties. What stood out was his unwillingness to go beyond the facts. He declined invitations from Schiff to draw conclusions about whether the facts he presented added up to wrongdoing. This unwillingness — the “just the facts” approach — adds to his credibility.
Taylor’s credibility is also bolstered by the fact that Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the EU, changed his own testimony to bring it into line with Taylor’s. Sondland said that Taylor’s testimony refreshed his recollection. I doubt this would have happened if Taylor’s testimony had been false or slanted.
One never knows for sure how a witness will perform and how he will be perceived. However, I expect that Taylor will perform well and be perceived as truthful.
It’s interesting to compare Taylor to another would-be star witness, Alexander Vindman. A decorated Army officer, he’s impressive on the surface. And at his deposition, Vindman dressed to impress, appearing in full dress uniform.
During his deposition, however, Vindman was the anti-Taylor. According to Byron York, he did not stick to the facts and, indeed, did not have many to add. In lieu of facts, he offered adverse opinions about Trump’s conduct. Worst of all, according to Byron, Vindman withheld important information from members of the committee.
Vindman will not appear during this week’s hearings. According to Byron, he hasn’t yet been scheduled to appear publicly at all.
This is not a coincidence. House Democrats have held a number of well-publicized hearings designed to injure Trump. They have backfired, especially the Robert Mueller hearing.
The Democrats can’t afford another dud. Unfortunately for President Trump, they may finally have found their man in the understated Bill Taylor.