Wednesday was the first day of the public phase of the President Trump impeachment inquiry, with William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. The next hearing will be Friday, when US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies. Some takeaways from Wednesday:
- Surprises can still happen. Both witnesses had already provided extensive testimony in closed-door hearings, so one of the big surprises was that there was a surprise, writes Susan Page at USA Today. Taylor told lawmakers that he had recently found out that a Kiev embassy staffer overheard Trump ask about "the investigations" during a phone call with Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union. The Taylor aide quoted Trump as saying he cares more about the investigation of the Bidens than Ukraine itself. Sondland will testify next week.
- The importance: The revelation is "an example of Trump personally involving himself at the ground level with the push to have the Ukrainian president announce these investigations," per Axios. It would make it harder to say Rudy Giuliani had "gone rogue." Trump supporters, though, say a second-hand report of an overheard phone call is pretty thin.
- But beyond that: Despite the Sondland surprise, there was nothing on the first day of the inquiry likely to swing public opinion in favor of impeachment or sway any skeptical Republicans, the Hill notes.
- Civility ruled. The proceeds were relatively solemn and while there was some grumbling from Republicans in the audience, there "was a distinct lack of bickering and over-the-top burns that have become the hallmark of congressional hearings during the Trump presidency," the AP notes. "Boring," tweeted Eric Trump during the proceedings.
- Democrats have learned from previous hearings. The hearing was the "polar opposite" of the hearings the Democrats had for Robert Mueller, the New York Times observes. Trained lawyers, not lawmakers, pursued "substantive questioning," and Adam Schiff maintained a "controlled environment" while limiting "interjections from Republicans."
- Ukraine in the spotlight. Both witnesses stressed that Ukraine is a vital US partner, not a pawn, and that US foreign policy had been "hijacked," the Washington Post reports. Taylor said there was "a rancorous story about whistleblowers, Mr. Giuliani, side channels, quid pro quos, corruption, and interference in elections. In this story Ukraine is merely an object." He added: "But there is another Ukraine story—a positive, bipartisan one. In this second story, Ukraine is the subject."
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