Washington – U.S. Rep. Jim Himes began his questioning at the first public impeachment inquiry hearing by criticizing his Republican colleagues for trying to discredit State Department witnesses and the Democratic-led investigation of President Donald Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine.
“One thing that is startling about the proceedings is that faced with serious allegations of presidential misconduct, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not engage or defend that conduct, and rather they spin theories of black ledgers and Steele dossiers and startling revelations that the Ukrainians might have been upset when a presidential candidate suggested that perhaps he would let the Russians keep Crimea,” Himes said.
Himes, D-4th District, was referring to GOP discussions about a ledger found in Ukraine that detailed millions of dollars in payments to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a dossier written by a former British intelligence officer they say is a fabrication that was used to begin the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
Himes also knocked the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, for attacking the media “and most disgustingly attacking the extraordinary men and women of the State Department and the FBI.”
In his opening remarks at Wednesday’s hearing, Nunes called the impeachment inquiry “a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”
Nunes said Democrats “turned on a dime” after the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and then focused on Ukraine. He also called the hearings “an impeachment process in search of a crime.”
But Democrats stayed on script, pursuing a line of questioning aimed at establishing that Trump pressured Ukraine for personal political gain — not with the aim of rooting out corruption.
Himes asked State Department official George Kent, one of two witnesses testifying Wednesday, what a “real anti-corruption effort” would look like in Ukraine.
Kent replied that “if we are doing a systemic, holistic program,” the United States needed to depend on institutions with integrity in Ukraine and “that is going to start with investigators and then goes to the prosecutors and the courts and the corrections system.”
“Which is what we did in 2014,” Kent said.
He detailed past efforts of the United States to prod Ukraine toward reform, including the establishment of an “anti-corruption team” to look into “unusual wealth” and an “anti-corruption council,” as well as the installation of prosecutors and investigators “that could not be bought and focused on the high level of corruption.”
Himes then read part of a memo released by the White House of the now-infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the president asked Ukraine’s leader to coordinate with U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
“When you hear that, do you think the president is requesting a well thought out, fully calibrated corruption program?” Himes asked.
“I do not,” Kent replied.
Kent and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor told lawmakers they had concerns about Trump’s Ukraine policy.
Taylor testified to a “highly irregular” foreign policy that was led by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and was at odds with both official U.S. policy and interests in Ukraine.
“There appeared to be two channels of U.S. policymaking and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular,” Taylor said.
He also testified about a July 26 phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that was overheard by a member of Taylor’s staff. During that call, Taylor said Trump asked about the status of Ukraine’s Biden investigation, tying the president more closely to the attempt to probe his political opponents.
Taylor also testified about his concern when he learned U.S. military aid was being conditioned on a Ukrainian investigation and said he was told by Sondland that Trump cared “more about the investigations of Biden” than about Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Trump released a video Thursday that called the impeachment hearings the “single greatest scam in the history of American politics.”
Several Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee sought to delay the hearing by focusing on the identity of the whistleblower and requesting the individual testify behind closed doors.
At the start of the hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, claimed Schiff knows the identity of the whistleblower — a statement Schiff immediately disputed.
Jordan also mentioned a Sept. 5 visit to Ukraine by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Ron Johnson, where the senators and Taylor met with Zelensky, and two previous meetings between the Ukrainian president and Taylor as proof there was no quid pro quo that linked U.S. military aid to the investigation of Joe Biden and his son because “no linkage” was discussed in those meetings.
“Three meetings with the president of Ukraine, but no linkage,” said Jordan.
Taylor said the Ukrainians were unaware U.S. aid had been held up when the first two meetings were held, but knew about the hold up by the time the third meeting with Murphy and Johnson took place.
But the ambassador agreed with Jordan that there was “no linkage” at that meeting.