The impeachment hearing, opening salvos

I was able to watch the first hour and a half of today’s impeachment hearing until a prior, far more enjoyable commitment took precedence. I saw the opening statements of Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes, plus the opening statements of today’s two witnesses, George Kent and Bill Taylor.

Here are my impressions:

Schiff devoted his opening statement to a summary of what he says the evidence will show. He presented his statement in measured-sounding tones, a welcome departure from his previous attempt to put words in President Trump’s mouth.

Most of the facts Schiff presented are supported by documents and/or testimony. However, Schiff wouldn’t be Schiff if he didn’t take some liberties and, true to form, he mischaracterized Mick Mulvaney’s statements along the lines I described here.

Schiff ended with an over-the-top argument that what Trump is accused of doing is a major threat to the Constitution. It isn’t. Any abuse of power (and I believe one occurred) was limited and short-lived.

Schiff also said that if Trump’s conduct isn’t an impeachable offense, nothing is. That’s rubbish, of course. It’s easy to think of other offenses that would be impeachable if this one is not. An actual denial of aid to Ukraine, as opposed to the temporarily withholding of it, in retaliation for not investigating Joe Biden might be.

Nonetheless, I thought Schiff’s presentation was largely based in fact. It advanced his case.

Unlike John, I found Nunes’s presentation disappointing. He tried to shift the focus away from Trump’s conduct. Indeed, he had almost nothing to say about the underlying allegation that Trump, for a time, conditioned military aid to Ukraine on an investigation of Joe Biden.

Nunes’s main talking point was that the Democrats spent more than two years trying to bring down Trump with phony allegations of colluding with Russia. This is true.

It’s also relevant background information. There can be no doubt that many Democrats are intent on impeaching Trump. If they don’t have a good reason for doing so, they will invent a bad reason.

Still, the fact that there was nothing to the alleged Russian collusion scandal doesn’t mean there is nothing to the alleged Ukraine “quid pro quo” scandal. It’s a fallacy to think otherwise.

Nunes’s opening salvo suggests to me that Trump’s House backers have little to say that contradicts the facts stated by Schiff. But maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.

In any case, Nunes’s statement was better calculated to stir the emotions of Trump supporters than to win over people who are on the fence about impeachment.

George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, gave the first witness statement. I wasn’t too impressed.

Kent talked about his family’s history of service to America, and then launched into a spirited defense of Ukraine. More than once, he compared the Ukrainians who are fighting Russia to the American patriots who fought the British.

I understand Kent’s passion on the subject, as well as the perceived need to portray the matter of military aid to Ukraine as a big deal (though it wasn’t for President Obama). I agree with the gist of Kent’s presentation on the subject.

However, President Trump is not required to subscribe to the views of Kent and others in the foreign policy establishment (or me) about Ukraine. Kent’s presentation played into the hands of Republicans who say that the root of this dispute is a policy disagreement between unelected bureaucrats and the elected President of the United States.

It isn’t. This dispute is not about what the correct policy towards Ukraine is or who should make that determination. It’s about whether Trump withheld aid to Ukraine for policy reasons, personal political reasons, or a mixture of the two. Kent’s statement confused the issue.

Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, went next. He mostly avoided the pitfalls that, in my opinion, tripped up Kent.

Taylor spoke only briefly about his service to the country. He did plug Ukraine, but did not make this the focus of his statement. Rather, he promoted Ukraine only to the extent needed to provide background for his presentation of facts.

Taylor’s presentation of the facts as he understands them was impressive. He provided names, dates, and details, and did not appear to embellish.

Taylor says he did believe until late in the day that there was a quid pro quo between aid and an investigation of Joe Biden (though he concluded early on that there was a quid pro quo between Ukraine’s president getting an invitation to the White House and such an investigation). When Taylor finally concluded that aid depended on investigating Biden, he seems to have had a solid basis for this belief.

Taylor made it clear when he was providing first hand information and when he wasn’t. In the latter cases, other witnesses (or documents) will be needed to corroborate his testimony.

However, even just the things Taylor says he knows first hand take the Democrats pretty far. Taylor’s statement went a good ways towards substantiating the claims Schiff made in his opening remarks.

I don’t know how Kent and Schiff did in response to questioning. I’ll get a feel for this by watching at least some of the questioning if/when C-SPAN replays it tonight.

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