Upon watching the hearings yesterday, I wanted to share my thoughts in here. Once again, if you have not yet watched the hearings, I encourage you to do so. Below is a breakdown of my overarching takeaways from George Kent and Bill Taylor’s testimonies as well as what I saw from the Democrats and Republicans.
Overarching takeaways: The first main takeaway I had from their testimonies is that Kent and Taylor kept very detailed notes. They had nearly everything time stamped and knew when they learned certain details of information, etc. I think that part bode really well for them.
Secondly, we learned something new that we didn’t know after the closed door hearings. Namely, that Bill Taylor’s aid overheard a phone call between Gordon Sondland and Donald Trump at a restaurant in Ukraine in which Taylor’s aid heard Trump ask Sondland explicitly about the investigations into Biden and the 2016 election. That raises the stakes for Sondland’s testimony next week. Note: The Associated Press has since learned that a second U.S. official in Kyiv also heard the call.
Third, Kent and Taylor both made it clear that in their eyes, Trump was putting his own personal interests ahead of those of the United States. Taylor talked about two channels. A regular/official channel about the United States and their diplomacy towards Ukraine and an irregular/back channel being run by Rudy Giuliani and his crew. What worried them was seeing the irregular channel start to take a life of its own that was not in harmony with the regular channel and United States’ interests. Taylor feels Trump cared more about the investigations into the Bidens than he did Ukraine.
Fourth, both Kent and Taylor did a really good job of explaining why the United States has been so interested in helping out Ukraine over the years. They explained why the United States and the rest of the world for that matter, needs Ukraine to finally break away from the grip of the Soviet Union that has held them back over the past decades.
Democrats: I thought the Democrats as a whole did a good job of asking the right questions that get to the heart of why we’re having these impeachment proceedings in the first place. Their chief prosecutor Daniel Goldman really took the reins and did a fabulous job. I felt the Democrats were able to get Kent and Taylor to explain what happened. Which is that President Trump put pressure on Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce that he was investigating Joe Biden and Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election if they wanted their much needed congressionally approved aid to fight Russia.
The goal coming in for Democrats was to get Kent and Taylor to explain what happened. They did a good job of accomplishing this goal. If you watched the hearings, it’s pretty hard to not understand what happened. At least in the eyes of Kent and Taylor.
One final note is I thought Adam Schiff did a good job of setting the stage and explaining why these hearings are so important: Our democracy is at stake. He shared a quote from Benjamin Franklin about our country being a republic only if we can keep it. I thought that was pretty powerful.
Republicans: I’ll be honest here. I don’t really know where they were going. Devin Nunes started off with a tirade about this is a bogus witch hunt and that there’s nothing to see here, which I find to be absurd. If you read the transcript of the call it’s clear there’s a lot to be alarmed about. On top of that, Nunes made a host of ridiculous claims like the Democrats accusing Trump of being a Russian agent. That is not true. Also, Republicans (I believe it was Jim Jordan), accused Adam Schiff of knowing who the whistleblower is. Schiff made it clear that he did not know who the whistleblower is, but wanted to protect his identity.
As for Stephen Castor, the Republicans’ chief prosecutor, tried to make this all about the Bidens and add credibility to the claim that Ukraine was actually the country that meddled in the 2016 election. What hurt him is the fact that Kent and Taylor made it explicitly clear that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden and that it was in fact Russia that meddled in the 2016 election.
Jim Jordan from Ohio went on a tirade and acted all confused, as if what happened is so hard to follow. If you listen to Kent and Taylor, it’s pretty simple to understand what happened. It’s not complicated. Him acting confused was just a way for him to avoid asking any questions of substance. Jordan also went on the attack accusing Kent and Taylor of being “star witnesses” of the Democrats. Kent and Taylor made it clear that they were not picking sides and were only there to relay the facts as they see them. He tried to paint Kent and Taylor as partisan hacks, which quite honestly backfired. Especially when you consider their resumes.
Other Republicans squawked as well. Mostly notably John Ratcliffe, who represents the 4th district of Texas. He said he thought every single question Goldman asked was ridiculous and got his shorts all up in a bunch. He tried to go for a slam dunk but missed when he asked Kent and Taylor where the impeachable offense was since they were there to get Trump impeached. Kent and Taylor didn’t fall for his ploy and once again made it clear that they were just there to relay the facts as they saw them.
The strongest Republican talking point in my view is that the Trump administration has been providing lethal assistance to Ukraine, unlike the Obama administration. They should hammer this point home more often, but they have so far failed to do so.
They also can argue that the aid did come, that Zelensky said he felt no pressure, and that Zelensky didn’t actually announce any investigations. The problem is that the aid didn’t come until after the whistleblower complaint had been filed, Zelensky clearly is in a vulnerable position compared to Trump, and even though Zelensky didn’t actually go through with those investigations, does it really matter if Trump was pushing for it to happen?
Conclusions: Overall, I feel like the Democrats had the better day. They got Kent and Taylor to clearly explain what happened in their eyes. Kent and Taylor came prepared, able to pinpoint specific dates for when they learned about different events, etc. What Gordon Sondland says next week will be very interesting to follow. Especially with the news that he was on a call with Trump that was overheard by two U.S. officials in which Trump asked about the investigations.
As for the Republicans, they gotta find a way to bring more substance to the table. So far, they’re only doing a good job of keeping Trump’s base and those in their echo chamber happy. They gotta do more to get independents and moderate Democrats on board with their position. If they continue on the path they’re on, they’ll fall flat on their face.
Looking ahead to Friday, we’ll hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. It’ll be interesting to see what she says as well. We learned something new from Bill Taylor after his closed door testimony. Will we learn something new from her? We’ll just have to see.