WASHINGTON — The impeachment inquiry came out of the shadows and into the light during public hearings on Capitol Hill Wednesday, but the political divisions remained the same.
Ambassador Bill Taylor and fellow U.S. diplomat George Kent provided details supporting a whistleblower’s complaint that President Donald Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate political opponent Joe Biden. Each said the Trump administration froze aid to the Ukrainian military, creating a national security threat.
“The meeting (Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigation” into Biden, Taylor testified. “I said, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
“It was unexpected and most unfortunate,” Kent said.
House Democrats, who are moving the inquiry forward, say the testimony shows abuse of presidential power.
“Have you ever before seen an instance where an ambassador was forced out by the president following a smear campaign?” Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., asked.
“I have not,” Kent replied.
“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., wondered.
The diplomats say they were only there to share facts and not to specifically support impeachment. Regardless, House Republicans said they didn’t make a clear case.
“We’ve got six people having four conversations in one sentence and you just told me this is where you got your clear understanding,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said.
“This spectacle is doing great damage to our country,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, said.
Republicans called the hearing political theater.
“It’s drama,” Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, told Nexstar outside the committee chamber. “We’re going to end up in the same place.”
“Why are we doing that and why are we wasting the people’s time?” wondered Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn.
At the White House, Trump called it a hoax, saying “there’s nothing there.”
But Democrats say the evidence speaks for itself.
“I think that we’ve got to see what the witnesses are going to say,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said.
The hearings continue Friday.