Opinion: The never-ending impeachment hearing | Opinion | DW | 14.11.2019
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Opinion: The never-ending impeachment hearing

The first public hearing in the impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump revealed few new insights and was more of a marathon political drama, writes DW correspondent Carla Bleiker.

The dividing lines between Democrats and Republicans in the impeachment process are clearly drawn. That was on plain display in the first public impeachment hearings on Wednesday. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a Democratic congressman, said of US President Donald Trump's behavior in the Ukraine affair: "If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?"

Devin Nunes, the highest ranking Republican member of the committee, contrasted this view, saying the "impeachment sham" was a "carefully orchestrated smear campaign" by Democrats against the president. It was a familiar talking point.

The questioning of the first two witnesses probably didn't shift the opinion of Trump supporters and opponents who are entrenched in their positions.

Autorenbild l Kommentatorenbild DW Carla Bleiker PROVISORISCH (privat)

DW Washington correspondent Carla Bleiker

Nonetheless, both sides strived to make their case. The hearing lasted around six hours as the US' top diplomat to Ukraine, William Taylor, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent answered questions from House Intelligence Committee members as well as Democratic and Republican lawyers.

Six hours — more than twice the length of the last superhero film from the Avengers series — but with far less action. Even political enthusiasts in the US capital almost nodded off.

And anyone who was not already well informed about what Trump was discussing over the phone with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland are, and which quid pro quo was or wasn't made, had scant chance to even be able to follow the two opening witnesses' testimony.

The exasperated ambassador 

Not much new information came out of the first day of proceedings. But the testimony of Taylor, a career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Ukraine under President George W. Bush, nonetheless contained revealing details. Taylor said that before he took up his post in June 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had confirmed to him that US aid to Ukraine would not change. And he became more and more concerned as he observed that his government was skirting official diplomatic channels, and according to his testimony, was only willing to help Ukraine if Zelenskiy made a public television statement announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter.

Taylor's statement carried weight, because it was clear to see that he is not a staunch Trump supporter nor a Democrat. Rather, he is an experienced diplomat who was stunned by the behavior of his government and was unable to answer questions from the Ukrainian side.

All hearsay?

A main critique from Republicans was that both witnesses had never personally spoken with Trump and part of their statements was based on hearsay. The information was therefore unreliable: after all, the people who spoke with Taylor or Kent could be wrong or had even lied. However, this argument loses traction considering that the Trump administration has blocked many witnesses who may have first-hand information from testifying.

A Democratic lawmaker suggested after such Republican arguments that Trump himself could testify. It will probably never come to that. Instead, Friday continues with the testimony of Yovanovitch, who Trump recalled from her post in Kyiv in the summer. After the hearing on Wednesday, she can only hope that she gets away in less than six hours. 

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