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Impeachment transcripts expose the truth: House Republicans don’t give a damn about protecting America

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David Cay Johnston
David Cay Johnston

Transcripts of closed-door testimony in the Trump impeachment investigation show a disturbing pattern of behavior by Republican lawmakers, not one of whom expressed concern about our national security, White House undermining of our diplomats or their safety.

Maria Yovanovitch, who got a middle of the night call from the State Department telling her to be on the next plane out of Kyiv, told in vivid detail how the Trump Administration’s actions are “hollowing out” our State Department and benefitting our adversaries, notably Russia.

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She predicted that the damage already done will last for decades and may be irreparable, undoing the influence American won with blood and treasure by defeating its enemies in World War II and then building a global community to replace the war-ravaged past.

Republican lawmakers are less concerned about loyalty to country than to their own grasp on power.

Asked if she feels threatened, Yovanovitch said. “Yes.”

Then, bit by bit, the former ambassador was asked to flesh out her concerns. She testified of her worries that she may be under FBI investigation for who knows what, may be fired, may lose her pension.

Q: Do you have concerns about your personal safety?
A: So far, no.
Q: But you hesitate in saying, “So far, no,” or you condition that on what might happen in the future. So what…
A: Well, I would say a number of my friends are very concerned.

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That was of no interest to Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Rep. Mark Meadows, a Trump loyalist from North Carolina, raising a point of order, asserted that “there are no rules that would give the authority of you to actually depose this witness.”

Out of Order

Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, referred Meadows House deposition Rule 11. It states that House committees may “require, by subpoena or otherwise, the attendance and testimony of” witnesses.

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So, Meadows either was a) ignorant of the rules, b) too lazy to read the nearly eight pages of relevant rules or c) acting in bad faith. We’ll go with c.

The Republican effort to derail the deposition continued. Representative Lee Zeldin from outer Long Island, New York, raised the same issue as Meadows. Schiff cut him off: “We won’ t allow any further dilatory motions.”

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When public hearings begin, we can anticipate more such tactics at least until the final date for challengers to file papers in Republican primary elections. Many Republican lawmakers are less concerned about loyalty to country than to their own grasp on power, their conduct shows.

Should any Democrats act this way, we will tell readers all about it.

Meadows shows up later in the transcript (p. 297) trying to put words in Yovanovitch’s mouth. He fails.

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Jordan Plays ‘Gotcha,’  Misses

A few pages later Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, asks how extraordinary, and by implication improper, it is for current State Department officials to discuss Ukraine issues with former State officials.

Jordan, who as a college gym coach claims to be unaware of numerous complaints of sexual abuse of wrestlers, was taken aback to learn that experts in and out of government share information.

Jordan: Has that ever happened before, to your knowledge?
Yovanovitch: I ‘m sure it has.
Jordan: Really?
Yovanovitch: Yeah.

Yovanovitch warned of the State Department being weakened, even ruined.  This is also something I warned about two years ago when I wrote my second Trump book It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

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In the infamous July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine Trump denounced our ambassador, calling Yovanovitch “bad news.”

Yovanovitch testified that diplomats who are posted abroad expect that “our government will have our backs and protect us if we come under attack from foreign interests.”

She continued in words worth reading and pondering:

“That basic understanding no longer holds true. Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership with Congress needs to take action now to defend this great institution and its thousands of loyal and effective employees. We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’ s interest, and the front line of America’ s defense.

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“I fear that not doing so will harm our Nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably. That harm will come not just through the inevitable and continuing resignation and loss of many of this Nation’s most loyal and talented public servants. It also will come when those diplomats who soldier on and do their best to represent our Nation , face partners abroad who question whether the ambassador really speaks for the President, and can be counted upon as a reliable partner.”

The Real Harm

The harm will come when private interests circumvent professional diplomats for their own gain, not for the public good.

The harm will come when bad actors and countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system.

In such circumstances, the only interests that are going to be served are those of our strategic adversaries like Russia, that spread chaos and attack the institutions and norms that the U. S. helped create and which we have benefited from for the last 75 years.”

Yovanovitch testified that no previous White House had done anything like Trump in pursuing a president’s personal and political interests rather than our national interests.

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She also told of baseless news stories about her, the kind Trump never calls “fake news” because they spread falsehoods he favors.

“I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told our embassy team to ignore the President’s orders since he was going to be impeached. That allegation is false. I have never said such a thing to my embassy colleagues or anyone else.”

She also said these words which serve as a reminder of why the rule of law and respect for people who act with decency, dignity and integrity matters:

“Ukraine is full of people who want the very things we have always said we want for the United States, a government that acts in the interest of the people, a government of the people, by the people, for the people. The overwhelming support for President Zelensky in April’s election proved that. And it was one of our most important tasks at the embassy in Kyiv to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves.”

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We can only hope that in the glare of television lights and national broadcasts of the impeachment public hearings that all members of Congress will seek to serve the people and not only themselves.

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