4 Key Moments From First Public Hearings Of Impeachment Inquiry

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Members of the House Intelligence Committee and their counsels listen to testimony from top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. as members of the press work during the first p... WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Members of the House Intelligence Committee and their counsels listen to testimony from top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. as members of the press work during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS

As House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) banged his gavel, a monumental day in a historic impeachment inquiry got underway Wednesday. A bow-tied Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and solemn Ukraine diplomat Bill Taylor raised their right hands and the first public hearing of the inquiry began.

Throughout the hearing, Taylor in particular was sharp and articulate in recalling with specificity episodes from the Ukraine scandal, many of which he recorded in contemporaneous memos.

When it was the Republicans’ turn, Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) sought to guide the discussion away from the heart of the issue, diving down rabbit holes like CrowdStrike or the fake Hunter Biden conspiracy.

Here are the big moments from the day-long hearing:

Taylor unveils new information damaging to Trump

In his prepared remarks, Taylor revealed information that he said he wasn’t aware of until after his first deposition.

He said that on July 26, while he was in Kyiv, a member of his staff was with U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland at a restaurant. There, the staffer overheard a cellphone conversation Sondland had with President Donald Trump about the meetings happening in Ukraine. Per Taylor, the staffer could hear Trump asking about the “investigations” over the phone.

Afterward, the staffer asked Sondland what Trump thought about the situation in Ukraine. Sondland allegedly responded that Trump was more interested in the sham investigations into the Bidens that Giuliani was spearheading.

While Republicans will surely spin the nugget of news, this revelation makes it harder for Trump to claim that he wasn’t a primary pusher of the phony Biden scandal.

Primary Republican tactic? Ignore the witnesses and change the subject

Nunes and GOP staff attorney Steve Castor largely chose to ignore the witnesses and expound on their own conspiracy theories, checking in with Taylor or Kent every now and again to maintain the facade of the questioning format.

They brought up everything from CrowdStrike to President Barack Obama’s 2012 hot mic to Hunter Biden’s credentials — none of which either of the witnesses knew anything substantive about.

Taylor and Kent seemed to have few weaknesses for the Republicans to exploit. Both were articulate, well-versed on the information and are serious career diplomats. So rather than try to undermine their testimonies, Republicans mostly tried to go around them, muddying the process with fantastical digressions.

Taylor shoots down acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney

Toward the end of the first round of questioning, the Democrats’ staff attorney asked Taylor if he had ever “seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the president of the United States?”

“No, Mr. Goldman. I have not,” responded Taylor.

This harkens back to a disastrous press conference Mulvaney helmed last month. When a reporter pressed Mulvaney on how the U.S. leveraging military aid in exchange for Ukraine’s investigation into a 2016 conspiracy theory could be considered anything but a quid pro quo, Mulvaney retorted: “We do that all the time with foreign policy.”

Taylor is a career State Department official who already logged three years as the ambassador to the Ukraine in a prior stint. The jab will not be a welcome one to Mulvaney, who has reportedly been in hot water with Trump since that disastrous press conference.

Predictable Republican antics — but spearheaded by an usual member 

As even the most casual political observer could predict, Republicans infused the hearing with interruptions and baseless intimations that the Democrats have been conducting the inquiry in corruption-drenched secrecy.

A few of them entered motions from the start about when Schiff would act on their desired list of witnesses, including Hunter Biden and the whistleblower.

Schiff responded to their request on Saturday, saying that he’d give it “due consideration,” but would not allow the inquiry to become a “vehicle” for more “sham investigations,” like that which Rudy Giuliani and his lackeys tried to stir up against the Bidens.

The primary Republican agitator was Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), an unusual choice for lead pitbull with the perennially shirtsleeved Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) literally bouncing in his seat to get a chance to speak.

Stefanik is a solid Trump ally legislatively, but has occasionally staked out a position of opposition. She has called on the President to release his taxes, for example.

She tends to have a more restrained temperament than the likes of ranking member Nunes or Jordan, the latter of whom was specifically swapped onto this committee to play a starring role in the hearings.

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