Much of the first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday, Nov. 13, was consumed by opening statements from Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee; its ranking Republican member Devin Nunes; and the two witnesses, William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs.
The tension between the Democrats and Republicans was clear in these opening statements by Schiff and Nunes and partisanism was on the agenda as the probe began on Trump and the extent to which he abused his power and engaged in a “quid pro quo” with President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
It should be noted that neither Taylor nor Kent were on the infamous phone call between Trump and Zelensky on July 25. Only with the interrogation by Dan Goldman, the panel’s senior adviser, did the public learn of something it may not have known.
According to Taylor, whose testimony was hardly riveting, an aide overheard Trump ask Ambassador Gordon Sondland about the “investigations,” and that Sondland related that Trump “cares more about the investigations of the Bidens” than U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
The entire impeachment process will center on this point, and Taylor’s testimony, much like Kent’s, seems dependent on what somebody had told them rather than what they were personally involved in or witnessed themselves. What they have heard second-hand is sure to be part of the defense by the Republicans, and Nunes disclosed portions of it in his opening remarks.
So far the proceedings have revealed little that hasn’t been chewed to death in the media, and if Taylor and Kent are the best witnesses the House Judiciary Committee will have little substance to deliver to the Senate. In effect, the probe at this point is like a grand jury that is gathering information to move the process forward, unlike the previous impeachments of Nixon and Clinton in which a special prosecutor led the way.
One of the good things about the public hearings is that it nullifies the Republican charge of a behind-the-door interviews and interrogations, and the public gets a chance to see the process themselves.
On Friday, the second round of interviews will continue and perhaps testimony will rise to a level to make the Trump administration a bit more nervous about the outcome—and at the end of the inquiry it may “affect future presidencies” as Schiff indicated.