After the first two days of Trump impeachment hearings by the House Intelligence Committee, it seems few people have changed their minds about whether the president should be impeached. We need to settle back in our seats because neither side is giving an inch.
Did the Democrats strengthen their case against President Trump? Who were the winners and losers? Did former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch have it right when she testified Friday that she can’t say if President Trump bribed anyone or committed a crime?
Time will tell, but here are my seven takeaways and some winners and losers from the first week of public impeachment hearings, held Wednesday and Friday.
The stock market doesn’t care
All of the U.S. stock exchanges are at or near all-time highs. Could it be that the bull market assumes that the impeachment hearings will amount to nothing? Or that investors know Trump is not going to be removed from office by the Republican-controlled Senate, and therefore there is no threat to the markets in the year ahead? It would seem so.
The hearings are a political TV show
The Watergate hearings considering the impeachment of President Richard Nixon truly uncovered facts. The House Intelligence Committee hearings chaired by Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., now underway are not fact-finding hearings.
All of the witnesses that Schiff has called or will be calling to testify have had their depositions taken. That means the Democrats already know exactly what their witnesses will say in advance of the public hearing.
As a result, Democrats have scripted their leading questions to score political points – not to uncover facts. Republicans are also able to undertake cross-examination based on what they already know.
This is not an inquiry. This is a made-for-TV political event.
Most Americans don’t find the hearings all that interesting
To their credit, the cable TV news networks are providing full coverage of the hearings. Americans have full access, yet the ratings so far are lower than the congressional hearings for former FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year.
Does that mean that public interest in impeachment is lukewarm? That the public doesn’t trust the impeachment process? Or that most people already have their minds made up on whether Trump should be impeached, as 70 percent said in a recent poll? Or does it mean that most Americans are getting tired of Washington political battles?
Frankly, it is likely all four. Regardless of the exact reason, lukewarm ratings aren’t indicative of a coming rise in support for impeachment.
Do policy differences warrant impeachment?
Three State Department officials have testified so far. A huge percentage of their testimony has been about their opinions and feelings about the Trump administration’s foreign policy goals and conduct. Since when are policy differences the basis of impeachment?
New facts not coming out
There are not many facts in play. If there were, why would Yovanovitch have no information on the call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted the impeachment inquiry, or events thereafter? Why were the first two witnesses “hearsay” witnesses who were barely involved?
Devoid of new facts, the Democrats sought Friday to portray President Trump as a bad guy who was grossly unfair to ambassadors. Is that impeachable?
The imperial Schiff
The late Rep. Peter Rodino, D-N.J., only reluctantly oversaw impeachment proceedings against President Nixon in the House. In contrast, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Schiff has been going after President Trump for the past two years.
Schiff has lied about the facts related to the Trump-Russia collusion investigation and lied about his panel’s contacts with the whistleblower regarding the Trump-Zelensky call on Ukraine. Now he has designated himself the inquisitor in chief in the Trump impeachment inquiry.
Schiff and the partisan counsel for the committee, who pushed the Steele dossier and the lies about Trump’s conduct, have repeatedly asked leading questions chock-full of “facts not in evidence.”
Yet, Schiff warned witnesses this week not to answer Republican questions that included “facts not in evidence.” Meanwhile, he continues to block the testimony of the whistleblower and refuses to give Republicans the transcripts of certain witnesses.
In short, Schiff is running an unfair hearing. Don’t expect that to change as he continues to deny Republicans the right to call certain witnesses, including the so-called whistleblower, despite the assurances of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schiff that the whistleblower would be a witness.
More proof that this is a staged event – not an actual inquiry.
A political brawl
Given all of that, and the last three years of attacks on President Trump, can anyone be surprised that the president tweeted and spoke poorly of a witness – former Ambassador Yovanovitch?
Always remember that President Bill Clinton and his team relentlessly attacked witnesses and Independent Counsel Ken Starr in the Clinton impeachment – including two women who made sexual misconduct accusations against Clinton.
As for the current impeachment hearings, they are designed to politically wound President Trump at the least – and at most remove him from office. From all we know of Donald Trump, you could well expect more of punching back from this President – all to the delight of his supporters and to the benefit of his fundraising.
Winners & Losers
Winner: Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., for standing up to Schiff on the Intelligence Committee. She wouldn’t be silenced by Schiff and read old tweets from him in which he said the Ukraine whistleblower would testify before the committee – a position Schiff now rejects. Republicans have found a young star. The Democrats must be worried about Stefanik because they are already attacking her.
Loser: Democratic presidential hopefuls. They are all being pushed off the front page because of impeachment coverage, and those serving in the Senate will be sidelined attending Trump’s Senate trial if he is impeached in the House.
Winner: Ukraine. It is getting so much attention that it must seem to be the center of the world for many TV viewers.
Loser::Former Vice President Joe Biden. The witnesses have made clear that Ukraine is a swamp and that his son was highly paid to serve on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. This was – at the very least – a conflict of interest. Every day Biden is tied to Ukraine is not a good day for his already sliding campaign.
Loser. Due process. In the context of these hearings, that assumes equal treatment, reciprocally applied. That is not happening and apparently will not happen. That is the worst thing of all for everyone.