If I were to distill the events of Wednesday’s impeachment hearing before the House Intelligence Committee down to one tumbler of 180-proof moonshine, it would be the tiny moment of silence that cloaked the room after Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent answered a late throwaway question about corruption in Ukraine.
When asked if he or his colleagues ever got pushback from some of the more nefarious actors in Ukraine, Kent — Wednesday’s co-star witness alongside top U.S. envoy to Ukraine William Taylor — replied with a verbal shrug: “You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.”
… and for one brief second, you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone present knew Kent wasn’t just talking about Ukraine, but about every shouting Trump defender in the room, along with Trump himself. It was an eloquent one-sentence assessment of politics in the United States today, delivered with a deadpan world-weariness that spoke volumes about Kent’s opinion of the Republican fools he was required to suffer all that long day.
Kent did a masterfully understated job of dismantling the variously convoluted GOP conspiracy theories thrown his way by the likes of Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan, but it was Ambassador Taylor who owned the day. Taylor, his baritone presence a cross between Walter Cronkite and an Ent, oozed “credible witness” from every pore as he meticulously laid out the myriad ways Trump’s self-serving Ukraine mendacities are battery acid in the veins of U.S. diplomacy and the rule of law.
In an exquisitely detailed point-by-point explanation, Taylor worked his way through every facet of the Ukraine scandal that has engulfed the Trump administration. His tone remained steady throughout, and he batted down numerous attempts by both Democrats and Republicans to get him to wade into the political sewer of the affair. “I am a fact witness,” was the refrain, deployed whenever a questioner dangled such bait.
Taylor arrived with a surprise up his sleeve. He recounted a phone conversation his aide heard between Trump and embattled European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland one day after the now-infamous July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymir Zelensky. During that conversation, Trump pressed Sondland for details on “the investigations” into presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. This revelation, which Taylor had not known about when initially deposed, nailed the door shut on Republican claims that Trump was not involved in the dirt-digging demands put to Ukraine which got the impeachment ball rolling in the first place.
Yet, it was Taylor’s overall demeanor that spoke loudest on Wednesday. His outrage over the offenses he was recounting came out of his eyes like high beams, giving even his most terse responses gravity. This was evident in an exchange between Taylor and Daniel Goldman, the superlative prosecutor tapped to ask the lion’s share of the Democrats’ questions:
Goldman: Ambassador Taylor, in your decades of military service and diplomatic service representing the United States around the world, have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the president of the United States?
Ambassador Taylor: No, Mr. Goldman, I have not.
Standing in vivid contrast to Taylor and Kent were their Republican inquisitors, whose collective performance was a thoroughgoing disgrace to the very concept of representative government. Devin Nunes blurted out at least nine bald-faced lies during his opening statement alone, and Jim Jordan — a ballyhooed last-minute addition to the Intelligence Committee — attempted and utterly failed to achieve depth by dint of volume. Chairman Adam Schiff effectively rode herd over serial GOP attempts to throw sand in the gears of the hearing, though his eyes grew wider and wider as the day went on.
Wending their way through every leaf in their well-worn tome of farfetched Breitbart balderdash, Republican after Republican threw everything they could against the wall, praying something would stick. From Hunter Biden to Crowdstrike to Alexandra Chalupa to Barack Obama to the whistleblower and back again, each attempt withered before Taylor and Kent’s bemused ignorance of the GOP’s galaxy of Ukraine conspiracies.
Wednesday was a bad day for Trump and his people, and they know it; the clearest indication of this came when Fox News cut to commercial after Taylor and Kent’s opening statements, before Schiff even asked his first question. Taylor and Kent were only the opening course of this feast, however. On Friday, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch will step up to discuss her impressions of getting railroaded by Rudy Giuliani and threatened by Donald Trump.
“The crooks and the grifters with their hands on the country’s throat did not scare Marie Yovanovitch,” wrote Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce after the former ambassador testified earlier this month during her closed-door deposition. “She saw through the bluster and the fog and the empty threat gestures that are nothing more than another count on the eventual indictments and articles of impeachment. She shone a light through it all, and she showed the way as well.”
Now she gets to testify in public. I strongly suspect Yovanovitch’s appearance on Friday will further augment what is already my favorite part of this portion of the process: Watching strutting half-bright peacocks like Nunes and Jordan walk headlong into the buzz saw of the superior public servants seated at the witness table.
The only good news for Trump on Wednesday? The sun went down. The bad news? It’s coming right back up.