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Trump impeachment drama hits prime time

Carla Bleiker Washington
November 13, 2019

For the first time on Wednesday, hearings for the impeachment investigation into Donald Trump will be held in public, on live TV. Those testifying are unlikely to have anything good to say about the president.

A TV showing Trump on the floor of the NYSE
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Drew

Donald Trump is angry. The US president is at the center of hearings that could lead to an impeachment procedure. So far the hearings have taken place behind closed doors — but that all changes on Wednesday when witnesses testify in front of TV cameras

The president, however, doesn't like this at all. "They shouldn't be having public hearings," Trump told reporters last Friday.

In recent history, US presidents facing a possible impeachment had to resign themselves to the fact that the public could follow damaging testimony live on television. In the cases of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, there were both closed and public hearings. The process that begins on Wednesday is therefore nothing special, at least when compared to the two previous impeachment hearings.

But the upcoming hearings are nonetheless extraordinary, says Michael Cornfield, associate professor of political management at George Washington University. "It brings everything else to a standstill and they're historic events."

Three hearings are planned for this week — two on Wednesday and one on Friday. It is not yet clear what the next steps will be after that. What is certain, however, is that the process will attract attention like a black hole. Despite the live broadcast on television, Cornfield does not believe the impeachment hearings will serve only as an entertainment spectacle for the masses. "People know what this is about," the political scientist says. "The absence of commercials, except during breaks, will impart a tone of seriousness."

Protesters in DC calling for Trump's removal: USA
The impeachment drama has only further galvanized an already divided US electorateImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. L. Magana

Taylor, Kent, Yovanovitch: Not a good word for Trump

Wednesday starts off with testimony from Bill Taylor, the US' top diplomat in Ukraine. Taylor took the reins of the embassy in Kyiv after the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was recalled in May 2019. It is Taylor's second statement on the events in the Ukraine affair. In October, he testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the Trump government was willing to release military aid to Ukraine only if the Ukrainian president publicly announced corruption investigations against the son of Trump rival Joe Biden. It is precisely this "quid-pro-quo" exchange that Trump denies to this day.

George Kent, a high-ranking US diplomat, also testifies on Wednesday. He, too, faces questions about the Ukraine affair for the second time. Behind closed doors last month, Kent made serious accusations against Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, saying Giuliani led a "campaign of lies" against Yovanovitch and contributed significantly to her being recalled by lying for months. "His assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period," Kent said.

Yovanovitch testifies in public on Friday. At her first hearing, she said she was "shocked" by the campaign waged against her by Giuliani and others Trump trusted, adding that she received no support from the US State Department. Yovanovitch told impeachment investigators that when she asked the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, for advice, he suggested she praise Trump on Twitter because that is what the president likes.

Marie Yovanovitch walking on Capitol Hill
Yovanovitch said she was 'shocked' by the campaign waged against her by Giuliani and other Trump alliesImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. S. Applewhite

But even Sondland, a loyal Trump supporter and donor, has since acknowledged the controversial quid-pro-quo exchange took place. In a major reversal to his closed-door testimony, Sondland last week revealed that it was he himself who told an adviser to the Ukrainian president that there would be no US military aid until Kyiv publicly announced investigations against Biden.

Hearings harm Trump's 2020 campaign

Cornfield says Trump can't escape the facts that have been revealed from the hearings so far — and this will only be amplified by the public testimonies that every US citizen can follow on television. "The facts are all incriminating. He has no defense on the facts. The only thing he can argue is that what he did did not constitute an impeachable offense."

The professor also firmly believes the public hearings will have an impact on Trump's re-election bid. "It might be that the president resigns before the election, or that he hurts his own cause," he said.

Carla Bleiker
Carla Bleiker Editor, channel manager and reporter focusing on US politics and science@cbleiker