Live commentary on the impeachment hearings

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4:03 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

We need to hear from Bolton and Mulvaney

Today’s hearing demonstrated two different approaches at work. The Democrats are pursuing a simple line of inquiry to establish basic facts: That President Trump intended to condition aid to Ukraine on an announcement by Ukraine of an investigation into the Bidens and 2016 election interference; that this undermined longstanding US policy; and that Trump was acting to further private, not national, interests.

Republicans have struggled to find a clear line of defense that engages with the substance of the allegations against Trump, and have instead tried to distract from the main issue. One thread they have pulled, however, has been effective: their efforts to drive home that neither of today’s witnesses spoke directly with Trump, which can help create doubt as to whether Trump acted with corrupt intent.

This, of course, only underscores the necessity of having former National Security Advisor John Bolton and Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — both of whom who have firsthand knowledge of Trump’s intentions towards Ukraine — testify. Trump, however, has blocked both from providing testimony, undercutting Republicans’ implication that their testimony would exonerate the President.

Asha Rangappa is a senior lecturer at Yale's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. She is a former special agent in the FBI, specializing in counterintelligence investigations. Follow her @AshaRangappa_

3:45 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Taylor's testimony highlights fact vs fiction

The case against President Donald Trump is strong and reality-based. The Republican effort to defend him is weak and based on fiction. 

That’s what we’ve seen today, as the supremely impressive witnesses laid out a clear narrative of a President disregarding the national interest, and subverting American foreign policy and the security of a vital friend for his personal political gain.

Ambassador Bill Taylor, in particular, explained just how important Ukraine is for US national security in the face of an aggressive Russia. Then he told the astonishing story of how the United States under Trump has had two foreign policy channels, "one regular, and one highly irregular.” The latter, according to Taylor, was used by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, along with Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, and others, whose goal was not to look after the interests of their country but those of the President. 

Taylor testified that a member of this channel, Volker, "planned to make clear what President Zelensky should do" in order to get a meeting at the White House. He went on to state that, according to Volker, Trump wanted cooperation from Ukraine "on investigations to 'get to the bottom of things.'" Among those "things" that Trump wanted investigated were Joe Biden and the conspiracy theory made popular on Fox News and other conservative and far-right media, claiming that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 US election. 

The 2016 election interference has been thoroughly investigated by US intelligence, including the CIA, NSA and others. The Republican 'intelligence,' which apparently drives some of Trump’s foreign policy, is a fiction. 

In keeping with one of the most appalling traits of this President, Trump’s defenders are building their case on lies and fabrications. Maybe that’s the best they could come up with, considering the facts.

America deserves better. 

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis

4:02 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

This is an impeachment media sideshow

Will the national media pick up on the rich irony of posturing by House Democrats in Wednesday’s impeachment hearing? Democrats insisted that weapons aid was vital for Ukrainian and US interests under President Donald Trump, yet it was the Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration that turned down Ukrainian requests for weapons and ammunition, instead sending nonlethal equipment like night goggles, small reconnaissance drones, radios and military ambulances. 

Security assistance to Ukraine “demonstrates our commitment to resist aggression and defend freedom,” William Taylor testified today. It was the Trump administration that actually sent lethal aid, Taylor confirmed

Democrats and their friends in the media claim that President Trump wrongly pressured the Ukrainian government to launch investigations into his political rivals and used hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid for the country as leverage. Yet Taylor previously testified that to his knowledge, no one in the Ukrainian government was aware of a supposed hold by President Trump.

“Do you have any firsthand knowledge of United States aid to Ukraine ever being connected to the opening of a new investigation?” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) previously asked George P. Kent, another witness from today, during a closed-door deposition earlier this month.

“I do not have direct knowledge, no,” Kent then replied.

While it's true that testimony today did indicate pressure might have been applied, no one provided evidence that it came directly from the President. Further, given that no Republicans crossed over to support the House resolution to proceed on impeachment, it’s basically impossible that the Senate will convict. Conservatives know today’s hearings are a politically-contrived stunt designed to replace the faux scandal of the Mueller report.

President Trump has led the way in making progress on preventing opioid overdoses, defeating ISIS, helping create an environment for millions of new American jobs. But these serious policy questions are getting swallowed up in an impeachment media sideshow.

Carrie Sheffield is national editor for Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog organization.

6:45 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Devastating statements against Trump

The opening statements from Bill Taylor and George Kent this morning were devastating to the President because of the two career diplomats' stature and the powerful way in which they delivered their remarks. 

It’s almost impossible to dispute that there was a deal on the table that would trade the release of aid to Ukraine for Ukrainian investigations that would help Trump win the next election. It’s indefensible behavior on the part of the President and I doubt Republicans will spend a lot of time trying to defend it.

Perhaps the most significant testimony, though, was about US foreign policy. Both Kent and Taylor warned against abandoning our commitment to Ukraine as an important strategic ally. To do so would be the latest example of the President tilting US foreign policy in the direction of helping Russia at the expense of our traditional allies. Whether it was Trump's servile turn at the Helsinki press conference with Vladimir Putin last year, or his abandonment of our Kurdish allies in Syria or his trying to bully our allies into readmitting Russia to the G-8, the message has been clear.

Both Kent and Taylor make the important point that it’s not just abuse of power, it's the reorientation of US foreign policy toward Russia and against America's national interests.

Joe Lockhart was White House press secretary from 1998-2000 in President Bill Clinton's administration. He co-hosts the podcast "Words Matter." 

3:01 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Bill Taylor is everything Democrats hoped Robert Mueller would be

US diplomat Bill Taylor ended up being everything Democrats hoped special investigator Robert Mueller would be -- a daring patriot who emerges from the halls of American government, a man of the law driven by his deep desire to deliver the truth and save American democracy.

Taylor’s testimony today before the House Intelligence Committee demonstrated that he was indeed that man.

Taylor testified that Gordon Sondland said President Donald Trump cared more about investigations of the Bidens than he did about Ukraine. Taylor’s testimony left no room for ambiguity and made it clear to the House that Ukrainians face a lethal threat at home from Russia.

The damage that Taylor did to the Trump administration was what many hoped Mueller’s report would do -- but ultimately didn’t.

Speaking for myself, Taylor is the patriot I’ve been waiting for – right down to his attention-grabbing radio voice.

Anushay Hossain is a journalist and political analyst based in Washington. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

1:14 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

The questions that linger

12:53 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Devin Nunes stayed on brand  

In his opening remarks at Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, Rep. Devin Nunes stayed true to his partisan brand: distract, deflect and discredit. 

His comments were a jumble of past and present Republican talking points about the Mueller investigation and the ongoing Ukraine scandal. To ensure that the waters were muddied, he threw in mentions of the “impeachment sham,” Hunter Biden, and the Steele dossier. He accused Democrats of being the “last people on earth with the credibility to hurl more preposterous accusations at their political opponents.” Aside from the idiocy of such overreaching bombast, has he forgotten that President Donald Trump recently called his Republican political opponents “human scum?”  

 

The impeachment hearings are a gravely serious matter. Nunes nonetheless disparaged the process as a “televised theatrical performance.” He welcomed Ambassador Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent as witnesses who had passed “star-chamber auditions,” sardonically informing them that they have been cast in a “low-rent Ukrainian sequel” to the ”Russia hoax" drama. 

This was a disgraceful way to speak to two State Department officials with decades of experience in protecting America’s interests abroad. Given that Republicans and the press have found absolutely no evidence of these two gentlemen having any political ax to grind, Nunes' "welcome" to Taylor and Kent was insulting.   

 

If Nunes hoped to somehow put the Democrats on the defensive with his opening statement, he failed. The public heard nothing new -- nothing that they could not have heard any given night on Fox News. Nunes' words were embarrassing, unseemly, and notably lacking in any proactive defense of the President. This was his chance to frame day one of the hearings, to lay out a solid case against impeachment, and to explain why and how the President’s actions were allegedly being mischaracterized. That Nunes was unable to do so speaks volumes and exposes the absence of any acceptable explanation for Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine.   

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.

12:34 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

How this looks for Sondland

12:33 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Will this keep the attention of TV viewers?

The Trump presidency has been good for television ratings. But whether the impeachment hearings can keep the attention of viewers who have been saturated with White House drama for three years is an entirely different question.

As hearings kicked off Wednesday morning, all three networks broke into their daytime programming to air the House Intelligence Committee hearings. But did regular viewers of The View, for example, stick around in the absence of their favorite show for a lengthy recitation of Ukraine’s geopolitical history and US diplomatic interests in Kiev? Last week over 3 million people watching The View saw the contentious appearance of Donald Trump Jr. -- a recent ratings high. We’ll find out shortly how many people tuned in to learn about the funding of Javelin anti-tank missiles and counter-battery radar -- but I have my doubts.

Of course, most Americans still get their news from television -- local television, cable news and national evening news. Although that number has been falling over the last few years, when broken down by age demographic, television dominates among older Americans who also have the highest voter turnout. According to Pew, 81% of those over 65 years old often get their news from television and according to census data are almost twice as likely to vote as their youngest cohorts.

This is all to say: when it comes to impeachment hearings, both Democrats and Republicans would be wise to remember that for most voters, the medium is the message. 

Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She has worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School.