President Donald Trump, your stonewall to the impeachment inquiry is crackingOctober 22, 2019
Two weeks ago, the White House attempted to erect a wall of defiance against an impeachment investigation. There would be no cooperation whatsoever. No witnesses. No documents.
“President Trump and his administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to House leaders in an Oct. 8 letter about their inquiry, a constitutional process that a defiant Donald Trump obscenely compared Tuesday to a lynching.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the stonewall, thanks to the courage of career government officials willing to share their knowledge of any abuse of presidential power when Trump pressed Ukraine for political dirt.
Military aid to Ukraine
The latest and possibly most significant breach came Tuesday as the highest ranking U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Vietnam War veteran Bill Taylor, testified in private before House investigators. Taylor said he was “alarmed” to be told by Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, that nearly $400 million in military aid was contingent on Ukraine announcing it would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.
“Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” Taylor said in his opening statement. Burisma is the energy company that employed Biden’s son Hunter as a member of its board of directors.
Bill Taylor, the highest ranking U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, arrives on Capitol Hill on Oct. 22, 2019. (Photo: Michael Reynolds/epa-EFE)
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Taylor’s testimony followed that of Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who defended her appearance by citing 33 years of service under six presidents and her oath to “support and defend the Constitution (and) bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
Other officials who’ve talked to the investigators include Sondland; Fiona Hill, once Trump’s Russia adviser; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and Michael McKinley, ex-senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Four more high-ranking officials are slated to appear in the days ahead.
A road map has emerged of a president withholding military assistance and a White House visit from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, unless Zelensky agreed to investigate the Biden family and the debunked theory that casts doubt on Russia’s role in 2016 election interference. Orchestrating the effort behind the scenes, according to testimony, was private Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
None of this is what the White House had in mind as officials repeatedly tried to block witnesses like Taylor from testifying, only to see them quickly subpoenaed by House leaders and deposed.
The White House has been left sputtering. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney labeled the witnesses “career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘You know what? I don’t like President Trump’s politics, so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt that they’re undertaking on the Hill.’ “
Who’s abusing power?
Americans can read the witnesses’ résumés and their records of nonpartisan service and judge for themselves who is abusing their power.
House leaders have shrewdly marshaled their efforts, quickly issuing subpoenas in the face of Oval Office resistance, selectively leaking deposition testimony to showcase key findings, and promising — at some later point — to release transcripts and hold open hearings.
Now, top Democratic leaders need to treat the proceedings with the historical gravity they deserve. This means holding a vote to formally approve the impeachment inquiry, even without a constitutional requirement to do so. It means sticking to the evidence and avoiding “parodies” like the one Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, performed of Trump’s phone call in July with Zelensky. And it means refraining from using the impeachment inquiry for tacky fundraising appeals.
In the end, Americans will have been well served by the rank and file of government — from a whistleblower who saw something wrong and reported it, to current and former officials willing to testify about what they witnessed. It’s the best pathway to truth and accountability.
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