By Mark Tapscott
WASHINGTON—Nothing more clearly illustrated the yawning gulf between Democrats and Republicans related to the potential impeachment of President Donald Trump than the opening statements of their leaders on the first day of public testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).
“This is what we believe the testimony will show — both as to the president’s conduct and as to his obstruction of Congress. The issue that we confront is the one posed by the president’s acting Chief of Staff [Mick Mulvaney], when he challenged Americans to ‘get over it.’”
Schiff then asked:
“If we find that the president of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, or if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts — a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid — must we simply ‘get over it?’ Is that what Americans should now expect from their president? If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”
Congressional hearings are always pre-planned productions, with lead witnesses and the focus of their testimony always determined by whichever party happens to have the majority in the House.
With his opening question, Schiff thus captured the core of the HPSCI Democratic majority’s plan and purpose in convening the first public testimony after holding nearly two months of closed-door hearings that were punctuated by a series of carefully selected leaks to favored journalists: As Schiff put it on Nov. 13, “if this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”
Then came Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the panel’s ranking Republican, who used his opening statement to pose three questions that he contended should have been answered before the hearings began, and that he said, “the Democrats are determined to avoid asking:
- “First, what is the full extent of the Democrats’ prior coordination with the whistleblower and who else did the whistleblower coordinate this effort with?
- “Second, what is the full extent of Ukraine’s election meddling against the Trump campaign?
- “And third, why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden, what did he do for them, and did his position affect any U.S. government actions under the Obama administration?”
Nunes predicted that “these questions will remain outstanding because Republicans were denied the right to call witnesses who know the answers. What we will witness today is a televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats.”
Nunes ended his statement by saying, “This spectacle … [is] nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.”
Nunes was referring to the still-anonymous whistleblower who filed a complaint in September with the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) concerning Trump’s July 25 telephone conversation with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky.
The whistleblower claimed in the complaint, based on second-hand information, that Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate the activities of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, a consultant receiving approximately $50,000 a month from Ukraine’s biggest natural gas producer, Burisma.
When news of the whistleblower’s complaint first leaked to the media, Schiff claimed to have had no prior contact with the individual. He subsequently admitted that, in fact, members of his staff talked to the individual while the complaint was being prepared for submission to the ICIG.
With his second question to the Democrats, Nunes was referring to widespread media reports in recent years about Democrats conferring with Ukrainian sources seeking dirt on Trump, including most recently the activities of Democratic National Committee (DNC) contract opposition researcher Alexandra Chalupa.
Nunes’ third question on why Burisma had hired Hunter Biden referred to the public claim by his father in 2018 to have pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was then investigating the energy company.
Biden gave the Ukrainian officials six hours to fire the prosecutor or else $1 billion in promised U.S. assistance wouldn’t be forthcoming.
Not coincidentally, Schiff denied Nunes’ request prior to the Nov. 13 hearing that Hunter Biden and the whistleblower be included as witnesses during the public hearing.
Schiff claimed he did so to not allow the HPSCI to be used by Republicans to stage “sham investigations into the Bidens or debunked conspiracies about 2016 U.S. election interference that President Trump pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit.”