Republicans Who Demanded Public Impeachment Hearings Are Still Not Happy

This week's first public impeachment hearing failed to satisfy Republican senators, who continued to dismiss bombshell witness testimony as simply "hearsay."

One of the key objections Republicans have raised against the House impeachment inquiry over the past month is the way Democrats have run it: secretly, behind closed doors and without sufficient opportunities for President Donald Trump to defend himself.

But now that House impeachment investigators have begun holding public hearings, with a handful more scheduled next week, Republicans say they’re still not satisfied.

“It looks to me like, so far, the [Democrats] are going to give about as much due process to the president as the federal government gave our Japanese-American friends during World War II,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Tuesday, comparing the impeachment process to the tragic forced relocation and incarceration in concentration camps of people of Japanese ancestry.

Republican lawmakers in Wednesday’s blockbuster impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill were allowed to question witnesses, as they did during closed-door proceedings, and make motions to call their own witnesses. Trump’s lawyers were not allowed to participate, but Democrats say the president will be represented once the probe reaches the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over articles of impeachment. White House lawyers will also be allowed to defend the president during a Senate trial if the House impeaches Trump.

Republican senators also weren’t swayed by the substance of the testimony given at the hearing on Wednesday by Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian affairs. Both Taylor and Kent gave information corroborating allegations initially made by an intelligence community whistleblower that Trump attempted to withhold U.S. military aid to Ukraine until the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his 2020 rivals.

Ambassador William Taylor, right, speaks, along with George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for Euro
Ambassador William Taylor, right, speaks, along with George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, during an impeachment inquiry in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 13, 2019.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) insisted Trump did nothing wrong by urging Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, however. The senator called the veteran civil servants “nice guys” who “probably mean well.” But he, too, dismissed their testimony, arguing that they disagreed with Trump simply because they found his style “too out of the box” and because the way the president operates “violates what they believe about their own superiority.”

Under questioning on Wednesday, both Taylor and Kent denied being “Never Trumpers,” as Trump has alleged on Twitter. Both officials are widely accomplished diplomats who have served both Republican and Democratic presidents.

But Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said he found Taylor and Kent “credible only in the sense that I think they interpreted this the way they saw it,” disagreeing with their belief that Trump held up aid to Ukraine while pushing an investigation into the Bidens. He further called the hearing “a bad day for the folks who were trying to build a case” for impeachment because it allowed Republicans to voice their objections in public.

Throughout the impeachment hearing on Wednesday, House Republicans remarked that Taylor and Kent’s testimony can’t be taken seriously because they are not direct witnesses of any wrongdoing by Trump. Republican senators echoed that argument when pressed for their views on the matter. 

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), for example, dismissed their accounts, stating that the hearing seemed like “it was more hearsay than anything else.”

In reality, however, the White House has blocked witnesses who might have firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing from testifying before impeachment investigators: officials like former national security adviser John Bolton, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Asked Thursday if he wanted to hear from someone with firsthand knowledge of the matter, a witness who could offer a defense of Trump and clear up any questions senators may have about the freeze on Ukraine aid, Cramer said he agreed with the White House decision to invoke executive privilege and block top administration officials from testifying.

“It doesn’t get more firsthand than the transcript of the call,” Cramer said, arguing that Trump’s July 25 call summary with Zelensky shows no quid pro quo involving Ukraine aid.

“I think it’s appropriate to exercise it in whatever the case might be,” he added of the invocation of executive privilege.

Several more witnesses are scheduled to testify in public in the coming week that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine as he pushed a probe into the Bidens, including former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, National Security Council official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Trump’s European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland, and Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser to the White House.