The first day of the impeachment hearings were a big win for the Democrats as their counsel, Dan Goldman, and the majority members on the House Intelligence Committee held firm and steadfast to the facts, laying out an intricate timeline and clearly articulating the illegalities and political unruliness of withholding military and security assistance to Ukraine, an ally fighting and dying for sovereignty against Russian aggression.
It was also a big win for our patriotic and dedicated government officials. Ambassador William Taylor and State Department Deputy Secretary George Kent, through their unbiased, honest, and forthright testimony, represent the finest of the unsung heroes of diplomats and government officials. These professionals work selflessly through dedication and commitment on behalf of the interests of the United States and the unbridled cause of democracy. They, unlike their leader, put America first.
Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the Intelligence Committee, was also a winner. He was methodical, sober, unruffled, coherent, and straightforward. He also was able to introduce the two witnesses, Taylor and Kent, in an admirable, honorable, and nonpartisan way. He caught on fast to the revelation of a phone call that was overheard by one of Taylor’s aides allegedly tying the president to withholding military aid in exchange for political investigations against his opponents. He wrapped the day’s hearings up in a bow, getting to the bottom line and sticking to the facts. And despite the Republicans repeatedly trying to say Schiff knew the whistleblower’s identity, Schiff calmly called them out each time, saying that he didn’t know the identity without taking their bullying personally. His demeanor reflected the seriousness of the issue and the investigation, and his committee’s members showed that as well.
The same cannot be said for the Republicans. In his opening statement, Congressman Devin Nunes, the ranking minority member on the committee, bizarrely tried to highlight debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election and allegations that the Bidens did something wrong. His questioning had nothing to do with the issues at hand, and his lackadaisical and disorganized leadership of the minority members of the committee was indicative of how they approached the hearing. Unlike with the Democrats, it was a flurry of fables, fluff, and fabrications that left the viewers — and witnesses — befuddled.
And talk about befuddled, it wasn’t exactly clear what Republican counsel Steve Castro was doing and emanating. His questions left Taylor, Kent, and probably anyone watching baffled. More than once, each of the witnesses asked for clarification, and the WTF looks on Taylor's and Kent's faces while Castro was speaking was worth the price of admission. Similarly, Castro’s facial, hand, and head distortions were reminiscent of a Jim Carrey outtake.
Representative Jim Jordan was inserted into the committee by the Republican leadership before the start of the hearings. Almost ignoring Nunes, Jordan became the de facto committee chairman. He dominated the questioning, but in a way that obfuscated and obstructed the intent of the hearing. His mishmash of questioning was more of a series of subtle taunts to the witnesses about the fact that they never spoke to the president. He lamented over and over and over again that the committee wasn’t hearing from witnesses who talked directly to the president. He undercut his own questioning by the fact that indeed the two people who did speak to the president, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Advisor John Bolton, both were subpoenaed to testify, but have been prohibited from doing so by the White House. Hiding something perhaps? And his obsession with having the whistleblower testify was at once a distraction and revulsion. There are laws that he helped write that protect whistleblowers.
The whistleblower also was a big winner of the first day of hearings. The Democrats, with the acknowledgement of Kent and Taylor, were able to show that if it had not been for the whistleblower’s report being exposed, vital military and security aid to Ukraine might not have flowed. The majority on the committee, under Schiff’s and others' questioning, was able to show that while the administration took pains to illegally shield Congress from the whistleblower’s report, once it was finally revealed to Congress, military aid was miraculously and suspiciously released the next day. Had it not been for the whistleblower coming forward, who knows what might have transpired with regard to the aid and the underlying threats of withholding it.
Then there’s Donald Trump. He was too busy to watch the hearings, but then he critiqued them during a news conference with the Turkish president. Remember only weeks earlier, Turkey invaded Syria when Trump pulled U.S. troops out. What a juxtaposition! The fight for freedom, democracy, and our allies on one side of Pennsylvania Avenue, and Trump lavishing praise on a wannabe dictator on the other.
Recently, Trump said he barely knew European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who is now smack-dab in the middle of this impeachment process. Yesterday, Trump tried to say that he talked to Sondland briefly, once, and that he told Sondland "no quid pro quo." Um, OK. Sondland had to change his testimony last week to admit he told Ukrainian officials that there was a quid pro quo. There’s only one person he could have got that edict from. And it looks like someone was privy to a call (not the only one!) between Trump and Sondland talking about investigations and aid. Trump was also frantically tweeting and retweeting during parts of the hearing — over two dozen times — so maybe that's why he was too busy to watch.
Finally, the American public is a winner. We now have the opportunity to hear, see, witness, and try to understand what was going on while a shady and shadowy Rudy Giuliani and his ilk, seemingly directed by the president, kept Ukrainian military aid hostage by extorting the country to get involved in a partisian U.S. political matter. The alleged revelatory phone call with Sondland and Trump about the investigations prompted Schiff to ask if Trump was more concerned about the investigations than about Ukraine. Ambassador Taylor responded in the affirmative.
That, in itself, should be a reminder to the American public about what the Trump presidency is all about. Trump before anyone else. Trump political survival before anything else. Trump properties and money before any and all.
Why would Trump care about Ukraine? Because has no properties there, and no interest in investing there. Why would he care about helping Ukraine defend against Russian aggression? Because Russia has been bankrolling Trump for years. Why would he stand proudly with a “crooked” Turkish President Erdogan yesterday at the same time he’s being investigated for impeachment? Because Trump has properties in Turkey, so he doesn’t care about perception. Why would Trump say he barely knew Sondland? Because Sondland gave him money, then became his pawn, and now has been exposed, so Trump dumps him. Why does Trump keep saying “perfect call,” “no quid pro quo,” “Never Trumpers”? Because those are all lies meant to protect Trump, and everyone else be damned.
We’re likely to see even more of examples of Democratic dignity, Republican ridiculousness, and Trump first and foremost in the coming weeks. Let’s hope the American people, and especially Congress, do the right thing and put America first moving forward.
John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.