The impeachment inquiry commenced on November 13, 2019. The first public witnesses to testify before the House Intelligence Committee were William B. Taylor Jr., an American diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Representative Adam B. Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, expressed the significance and weight of the inquiry before the witnesses’ statements: “If we find that the president of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, or if he sought to condition, coerce or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts, must we simply get over it? Is this what Americans should now expect from their president? If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” After his speech, Mr. Schiff opened the floor to the witnesses.
Both men began their testimony in a similar manner, emphasizing their nonpartisanship. Mr. Taylor stated, “It has been a privilege for me to serve our country and the American people for more than 50 years. I’m nonpartisan and have been appointed to my positions from every president, from President Reagen to President Trump.” Mr. Kent also similarly stated he is a nonpartisan, not on the Democrat or Republican’s side but on America’s side.
The hearing was five and a half hours, and besides what information was already known, some details were newly revealed.
- Mr. Taylor explained that Trump had withheld Ukrainian aid and did insist “President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.” Despite Trump’s denial of committing a quid pro quo, this action comes across as intent to bribe the Ukrainian President.
- Mr. Taylor recounted a story he recently learned about: on July 26, one of his aides was in a restaurant with Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union. Sondland phoned Trump, who could be heard through the phone asking about the investigations; Mr. Sondland told Trump “that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” Discussing confidential matters in public settings aside, this further proves that Trump cares more about the Biden investigation than endangering thousands of lives in Ukraine that continue to resist Russia’s colonialism of the region.
The House Republicans’ main defense when questioning the two witnesses consisted of the witnesses being unreliable because they had a secondary source information of the events that took place—they did not have direct contact with Donald Trump—and Trump’s intention of a quid quo pro was not an impeachable offence as he did not completely go through it. In mid-september, the hold on Ukraine’s aid was lifted, though no explicit reasons were provided for its release and hold in the first place. It is important to note, however, that the aid was released to Ukraine after the whistleblower’s complaint became public.
Day two of the impeachment hearings was on November 15. At the onset of the hearing, tension rose amongst the lawmakers. Republicans repeatedly interrupted Chairman Schiff, seeking a point of order to question the rules and the process of the inquiry. Representative Elise Stefanik asked, “Will the chairman continue to prohibit witnesses from answering Republican questions, as you’ve done in closed hearings, and as you did this week?” Mr. Schiff dismissed her point of order and continued forward with the hearing. The witness, Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, answered questions about her tenure.
Daniel Goldman, Democrat’s lead counsel, reviewed excerpts from the phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky discussing former ambassador Yovanovitch. Trump called her “bad news,” and stated, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.” Yovanovitch expressed in her testimony that she was “very concerned,” and noted that the president’s statement “didn’t sound good, it sounded like a threat.” After several more accounts of her response to Trump’s attempts at smearing her reputation, Ranking Member Devin Nunes questioned Yovanovitch about her role in Trump’s plot with Ukraine. It was noted that the witness, like the previous ones, did not have first-hand knowledge of the Ukraine phone call.
After she denied involvement in more key events relevant to the inquiry, Mr. Nunes stated, “I’m not exactly sure what the ambassador is doing here today. This is the House Intelligence Committee that’s now turned into the House Impeachment Committee. This seems more appropriate for the subcommittee on Human Resources at the Foreign Affairs Committee.” Mrs. Yovanovitch was suddenly recalled and ousted from her position as ambassador in May 2019. No one, in the moment, had explained to her the reason, but it was later claimed that she was a victim of disinformation tactics used to smear the reputation of U.S. officials. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giulliani, worked with Ukrainian corrupt officials and spread disinformation that ambassador Yovanovitch was badmouthing Trump, blocking corruption investigations, and preventing the investigation of the Bidens. It was claimed she was an obstacle to Trump’s plan to pressure Ukraine into intervening in the United States’ political climate. Therefore, she was identified as a witness to the impeachment inquiry.
During her testimony, Trump tweeted at her, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.” The tweet was mentioned by Chairman Schiff, who asked Yovanovitch what affect this has on her and what affect it may have on other witnesses to come forward. “It’s very intimidating,” she responded. “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but the effect is to be intimidating.” Some officials have taken to publicly denounce Trump, once again, and accuse him of witness intimidation, which is a crime.
Day three of the impeachment hearing will be held on Tuesday, November 19. Jennifer Williams, Department of State official who has served as the special advisor to Vice President Mike Pence on European and Russian affairs, will be testifying and explaining what she believes to be inappropriate and unusual actions from the Trump administration.