If you missed Day One of the impeachment hearings, Susan Glasser of the New Yorker has an admirable recap. If you watched the proceedings but found House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes’ opening statement incompressible, Philip Bump of the Washington Post has translated it from the original Wingnutese into passable English. If you want some idea of what it all meant and whether it will make any difference, I’m here to assure you that it’s far too early to tell. As I noted yesterday, the Republicans’ initial line of defense was somewhat effective but doesn’t have much staying power. There are many more witnesses to come who will whittle away at their shoddy ramparts.
Strictly from an informational standpoint, the hearings were most notable for a revelation made by Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.
Taylor also relayed new information that he had not known when he testified in a closed-door deposition on Oct. 22.
The day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, during which he asked the Ukrainian leader to “do us a favor” and look into Hunter Biden, a Taylor staffer was at a restaurant in Kyiv with [Gordon] Sondland when the ambassador to the EU called Trump on a cellphone to report on meetings he had attended that day.
Taylor said his staffer could hear Trump talking loudly enough to understand him and heard the president ask Sondland “about the investigations.”
After the call ended, Taylor’s staffer asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine.
“Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden,” Taylor said.
This isn’t the first time that Ambassador Sondland’s sworn deposition has been called into serious question. He revised his testimony last week to reflect the fact that he had informed Ukrainian officials that a condition of unlocking frozen foreign aid was that they agree to launch politicized investigations against the Democrats. Previously, he had denied this under oath.
Now he will have to explain why the following testimony isn’t perjurious.
That presentation from his opening statement asserts, apparently falsely, that his only phone call with President Trump came before traveling to Kyiv for the July 26 meeting with President Zelensky and that this call did not touch on any of the substance of the call Trump had conducted with Zelensky the previous day. We now have an eyewitness, political counselor David Holmes, who is scheduled to give his own deposition contradicting these claims and adding the additional detail that Sondland considered Trump to be prioritizing a politicized investigation of the Bidens over the interests of our ally Ukraine.
Upon seeing Ambassador Taylor’s revelation about this, Josh Marshall wondered aloud whether Sondland is prepared to go to prison for Trump, but I suspect he will opt instead to do another revision to his deposition. He is currently scheduled to testify in public at 9am on Wednesday, November 20, so he shouldn’t dilly-dally about correcting the record.
When he does testify, he will eliminate a significant element of the Republicans’ first day defense. They put great emphasis on the fact that much of what witnesses Ambassador Taylor and George Kent were saying was secondhand and that neither of them had ever met personally with or talked directly to President Trump. By contrast, Sondland is a firsthand witness who had in-person meetings with Trump as well as, obviously, personal insecure cell phone calls with him that the Russians could hear without the need for much sophisticated technology.
If Sondland tells the truth, the Republicans will have to retreat and dig another Somme-like trench.
The case the Democrats are building is cumulative, meaning that the impact isn’t so much felt in one day or after the testimony of two witnesses. It’s more of a Hundred Day Offensive intended to methodically march the American people forward until they breach Trump’s Hindenburg Line in the Senate.
The World War One analogy strikes me as apt because this really is an attempt by the Democrats, and the Establishment more generally, to overcome the trench warfare that has developed in Washington DC and caused our government to be gridlocked and stalemated into near-total ineffectiveness.
Of course, it is also an effort to uphold the rule of law and the integrity of our elections, as well as to defend against the president’s disastrous Putinphilic, anti-Western policies. However you want to characterize it, this is the main effort. The Democrats may fail as the British initially did on the Somme when they believed the Germans defenses to be destroyed only to march a whole generation of kids into entrenched machine gun fire. Or the Republicans may collapse quickly and unexpectedly as the rot and demoralization in their ranks takes hold.
It’s not hard to know who to root for here, but the outcome is far from certain.