The House Intelligence Committee held its first public impeachment hearing with Ambassador Bill Taylor as the first witness.

Taylor is the acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, provided testimony last month to the House Intelligence Committee. His written statement was released as well.

I don’t find his testimony alone particularly compelling other than it put the spotlight on Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, because his testimony coupled with the testimony of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, National Security Council Director of European Affairs, contradicted what Sondland originally told the committee.

Interesting, worth exploring, but I wouldn’t consider it a silver bullet by any stretch of the imagination.

Outside of the written statement we don’t know what was said to the committee in his first hearing behind closed doors.

Today, the public did get to hear from Ambassador Taylor where he reiterated on two occasions that his understanding came only through people he spoke with.

Republicans given the opportunity to cross-examine pushed back. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, pointed out that what Taylor said in an earlier statement was his “clear statement” did not come to pass.

“Were you wrong when you said that you had a ‘clear understanding’ that President Zelensky had to commit to an investigation of the Bidens before the aid got released and the aid got released and he didn’t commit to an investigation?” Jordan asked.

“I was not wrong about what I told which is what I heard that’s all I’ve said, I told you what I heard,” Taylor answered.

“And that’s the point,” Jordan responded. “What you heard did not happen. It didn’t happen. You had three meetings with the guy (Zelensky) he could have told you. He didn’t announce he was going to do an investigation before the aid happened. It’s not just could it have been wrong, the fact is it was wrong because it didn’t happen. The whole point was that you had a clear understanding that aid will not get released unless there was a commitment. Not maybe, not I think the aid might happen, it’s my hunch it’s going to be released. You used clear language, clear understanding and commitment and those two things didn’t happen.”

He was also questioned by U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, who pointed out that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s insistence to the world media that he was not feel pressured to investigate the Bidens.

Taylor said he had no reason to doubt Zelensky when he said that. Watch:

Ultimately this boils down to Sondland again. Taylor and  Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent who testified later about how they were disturbed by the “irregular” policy channel used with Ukraine.

I don’t like it either. I don’t think the President’s personal attorney should be involved in foreign policy. I think it’s wise to loop in the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine.

All of that is irrelevant to the question at hand: Was there quid pro quo? Did President Trump want a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens in exchange for releasing military aid?

Democrats have a long way to go to demonstrate that. They may get there, but today was a weak start. The Republicans playing the role of defense attorneys cross-examining Ambassador Bill Taylor during the impeachment hearing effectively raised doubts.

3 comments
  1. “All of that is irrelevant to the question at hand: Was there quid pro quo? Did President Trump want a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens in exchange for releasing military aid?”

    If the information we’ve heard about the closed door hearings largely plays out like Wednesday’s open hearing did, I think we’re most of the way there in confirming the fact of the quid pro quo. The next fallback in the GOP playbook is “Sure, aid was withheld to pressure Ukraine to provide cover for investigation of a US, domestic candidate, and that block to aid going fully against the intent of Congress, is it really a serious crime or misdemeanor?” To be fair, a number within the Congressional GOP have already tried that strategy, but that’s pretty clearly where most will ultimately go.

    And the answer to the latter question is “Yes, it is a serious crime and fully impeachable offense.”. If this was all posed as a purely hypothetical question about what should lead to impeachment of a “generic” President, I think the overwhelming majority of Congresspeople and legal scholars would conclude that this case should. It’s clear to most that the GOP at this point is engaging in a largely Machiavellian exercise. For the party, it’s not so much about “Is this wrong?” so much as “What happens to our political hold if we concede v.s. if we continue to deny?” This is largely following the same trajectory as the Nixon hearings. What’s different that I can see is the number and reach of disinformation outlets today.

    1. Outside of the written statements we know very little about the closed hearings.

      Frankly, though, most of the testimony centers around policy disagreements are utterly irrelevant. They need to stick to the relevant question, and they need to get first-hand testimony. The other stuff can be decided in the election. (And I disagree with President Trump’s approach to Ukraine.)

      1. Well, Sonderland has already modified his earlier statements regarding quid pro quo. He’s likely to ‘remember’ more during public testimony. And while there certainly are unknown details of the closed-door meetings, the basic facts are really not being disputed. However, with the attempts to shield key officials with additional first-hand knowledge from testifying, we may be able to include the administration’s obstruction as an additional impeachment cause.

        I agree that policy disagreements are mostly distraction. I’m not sure many of GOP reps in the room want to stick to the ‘relevant’ question and so they’re not being terribly useful there.

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