Ever since texts from the behind-the-scenes State Department efforts to induce Ukraine into investigating President Donald Trump’s political opponents were released, it’s been clear that the House’s impeachment inquiry desperately needed to hear from acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor.
While much of what is publicly known about the Trump administration’s machinations with Ukraine is already impeachable, texts sent by Taylor, first provided to the House by U.S. envoy Kurt Volker, showed an even darker scheme at work. And they also suggested that Taylor, of all the people involved in the efforts, was most alarmed about and willing to speak out with regard to Trump’s wrongdoing. In one particularly memorable text, Taylor told another official of Trump’s Ukraine plot: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” This implicated the president directly in criminal, and undoubtedly impeachable, activity.
With Taylor set to appear at a closed session of Congress on Tuesday, expectations for his testimony were high. And while his comments have not yet been made public as of this writing, Democrats were already sending strong indications that his testimony was explosive, with one lawmaker calling it “incredibly damaging to the president.”
Republicans, too, were sending corresponding signals of panic for their own side — though these indications were far more muted.
Perhaps most significant of all, the Trump administration tried to stop Taylor’s testimony from moving forward on Tuesday, just as it has tried to stop other hearings from proceeding, according to CNN’s Manu Raju. Democrats in Congress responded by issuing a subpoena, and Taylor agreed to testify. But the efforts to block his appearance show that Republicans are worried about what he has to say. If they thought his testimony would actually explain away his texts as less damning than they appear, Republicans would have been delighted to have the hearings move forward.
And as the hearings proceeded Tuesday and Democrats made clear in various vague public comments that Taylor’s testimony was a trainwreck for the president, Republicans’ vigorous defenses of the president were nowhere to be found.
Instead, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio — typically a strong defender of the president willing to twist every trivial detail of a proceeding into a vindication for Trump — only praised the GOP counsel in the hearings, according to Politico’s Kyle Cheney. Cheney described the Republicans in the hearing as “tight-lipped.” He reported that New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin said that Democrats who think Taylor’s testimony is damning must have missed the previous depositions — suggesting that he took the testimony of other witnesses, some of whom were, from all appearances, complicit in Trump’s schemes, at face value.
But these meager defenses just showed the even Republicans recognized that Taylor’s testimony was as damaging to Trump as the Democrats claimed and that they’re struggling to find some way to spin the facts in the president’s favor.
I was an impeachment skeptic. Here’s why I’m now convinced Trump must be removed
Despite all the uncertainty surrounding impeachment, we can capture the current moment succinctly: President Trump’s fate hinges on whether Republican senators are more fearful of losing in a primary or in the general election. Now that the live impeachment hearings are about to fuel nationwide prime-time programming, those senators’ fears are likely to intensify.
While that dynamic will determine whether Trump will be removed from office, it doesn’t tell us whether he should be. I am generally an impeachment skeptic. My recent book—Impeaching the President: Past, Present, Future—argues that impeachment should be regarded as a last resort that, as a general proposition, is inappropriate in a president’s first term. The American people are capable of rendering judgment and should be given the first crack.
‘The mess right in front of us’: Impeachment hearings reveal as much about dishonest congressional GOPers as Trump
If the point of Wednesday's public testimony opening impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump were meant to show off credible accounts from straight-laced, super-patriotic, service-oriented diplomats, they were bulls-eyes.
If the point of Republican questionings was to make a mockery of the proceedings, they may have boomeranged—the Republicans are the ones who come across as partisan nitpickers intentionally trying to misdirect the point, underlying meaning and urgency of these proceedings.
If the overall tone, as Democratic leaders insist, was supposed to reflect somber, serious, sober consideration, well, they did that and more. Indeed, they made it downright scary to learn that Donald Trump and his team are running around in ways that show little respect for other nations, no understanding of diplomacy and no ability to actually handle appropriate communications within his team.
First day of impeachment hearings makes it damningly clear how much Trump’s actions in Ukraine benefited Putin
In his opening remarks on the first day of public impeachment hearings, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a hardcore Donald Trump lackey, tried to sell Republican claims that the president is the victim of a Democratic conspiracy. Nunes declared, "After the spectacular implosion of their Russia hoax on July 24, in which they spent years denouncing any Republican who ever shook hands with a Russian, on July 25 they turned on a dime and now claim the real malfeasance is Republicans’ dealings with Ukraine."