By Ronn Blitzer
Published November 13, 2019
House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., kicked off the first public hearing of the Trump impeachment inquiry Wednesday by dismissing the allegations as a "carefully orchestrated smear campaign" and a "low-rent" follow-up to the Russia investigation, which failed to produce evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
Nunes addressed Wednesday's witnesses, Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and State Department official George Kent, stating that they are being used in a "televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats," after accusing Democrats of selecting witnesses "deemed suitable for television" and auditioning them during the closed-door sessions at the beginning of the inquiry.
"It seems you agreed witting or unwittingly to participate in a drama, but the main performance, the Russia hoax, has ended and you’ve been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel," Nunes said during his opening statement.
The Republican leader expressed cynicism toward the allegations that President Trump pressured Ukraine into investigating Democratic activities during the 2016 election, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
"We're supposed to take these people at face value when they trot out with a new batch of allegations," he said, "but anyone familiar with the Democrats' scorched-earth war against President Trump would not be surprised to see all the typical signs that this is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign."
Nunes said that while Democrats have accused Trump of improper activity involving Russia and Ukraine, the Democrats themselves are the ones who are guilty.
"For years they accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia when they themselves were colluding with Russia by funding and spreading the Steele dossier, which relied on Russian sources," he said. "And now they accuse President Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine when they themselves are culpable."
Nunes concluded by maintaining the president's innocence and insisting the ongoing inquiry is "nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime."
Nunes' statement followed one from Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.. Schiff outlined the parameters of the impeachment inquiry, questioning whether the president sought to condition official acts and "exploit" Ukraine's "vulnerability" for personal political gain.
"The matter is as simple and as terrible as that," Schiff said in his opening statement Wednesday. "Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief."
Schiff described the core of the impeachment inquiry, and said: "If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”
Fox News' Brooke Singman contributed to this report.