Former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s public testimony on Friday was, by far, the most dramatic moment to date of the ongoing impeachment inquiry. It was, I believe, the pivot point when the sheer emotional nastiness, as well as the misogyny, of the Trump presidency truly hit home for viewers who, somehow, might not previously have been paying too much attention.
Yovanovitch, one of the most senior women in the U.S. diplomatic corps, spoke clearly and precisely about the campaign of character assassination launched against her by Giuliani and his confederates, as well as by Trump himself. When Trump then tweeted further insults, in real time, as she was addressing the members of Congress, the vast moral distance between the crude, sneering tone of the president’s tweets and the quiet dignity of the ex-ambassador needed no interpretation. It all spoke for itself. Nothing the GOP could do subsequently, whether it was Jim Jordan trying to discredit her testimony or Will Hurd praising her service to the rafters, could erase the foulness, the rancid aftertaste, of Trump’s intervention.
The GOP has been spinning these hearings as both irrelevant and boring to the general public. Clearly neither is true. Attorney General Barr’s extraordinary claim that the hearings are nothing but a putsch by leftists intent on undermining the election results of 2016 — a claim he made in a speech last week to the Federalist Society — is similarly ludicrous.
Whether or not Trump’s actions vis-a-vis Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rise to the criminal threshold of bribery, they clearly speak volumes to his character and to his lack of suitability for high office. The longer these hearings continue, the clearer it becomes that Trump has abused his office significantly enough to justify a vote of removal.
Increasingly, the public agrees. With the exception of one Monmouth poll, all recent polls show more Americans want Trump both impeached and removed from office than want him to continue on as president. The daily drip — and sometimes flood — of news showing just how much Trump has debased and corrupted the policymaking process will only further this trend.
The conviction of Trump’s close friend and adviser Roger Stone on Friday showed just how embroiled the Trump inner circle was in coordinating with WikiLeaks to get Clinton’s emails leaked during the election, and just how far his team was prepared to go to protect him from legal consequences. The string of court rulings against Trump regarding the release of his tax returns, and Trump’s frantic appealing of these rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court, highlight just how much Trump has to hide about his personal finances. And the publication of A Warning, a book written by an anonymous insider with regular access to the president, paints a brutal picture of a president consumed by spite and increasingly beholden to a white nationalist agenda. Just one of the book’s revelations: Trump apparently wanted to declare undocumented immigrants to be enemy combatants, thus allowing them to be held in Guantánamo Bay.
Meanwhile, in the one election since the inquiry went from closed door sessions to public, televised hearings, Trump’s fabled ability to convince Red State voters to support his chosen local candidate fell horribly flat. In Louisiana, a state that voted for Trump over Clinton by almost 20 percent in 2016, voters re-elected a Democratic governor, despite Trump flying down several times in recent weeks to support the GOP candidate at political rallies and to play to the base at football games. As happened earlier in the month in Kentucky and in Virginia, voters came out in record numbers for an off-year election, and the suburbs gave a Bronx cheer to yet another Trumpist politician.
As for the general public being bored, the ratings simply don’t support this. Three marquee witnesses testified last week: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, acting Ambassador William Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch. Others obeyed subpoenas and came to testify off-camera. This week, there will be back-to-back hearings three days in a row. Millions are tuning in each day to watch. A camera phone video taken on a plane during Yovanovitch’s testimony showed every seat-screen showing the hearings. That video, in turn, went viral.
All of this is extremely bad news for the GOP, which made a bet early on in the impeachment process that the hearings would be a snooze, and would therefore shore up GOP support and expose the Democrats to charges of vendetta politics and inquiry overreach. Instead, GOP protests and stonewalling and insults notwithstanding, independent voters seem to be breaking for the Democrats in their interpretation of these historic events. Since September, support for impeachment among independents has increased from 33 percent to nearly 45 percent. While Trump’s support has held fairly steady in some key battleground states, other polling from those same states suggests that suburban voters, and especially women, are turning against Trump and the GOP by huge margins.
Over the course of this week, the public will be watching testimony by eight more witnesses in the impeachment hearings: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s (NSC) Ukraine expert; Vice President Mike Pence’s aide Jennifer Williams; former special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker; Tim Morrison, White House aide with the NSC; Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland; Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia; David Hale, the undersecretary of state; and Fiona Hill, the NSC’s former senior director for Europe and Russia.
Trump has already started tweeting insults about some of the witnesses. Given recent history, it’s more than likely Trump’s torrent of abuse and intimidation will continue throughout the week. By the time Hill, the last of these witnesses, finishes testifying on Thursday, it’s entirely possible Democrats will have added witness intimidation to the list of impeachable offenses they argue that Trump has committed.