- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2019

House Democrats will take their historic impeachment hearings in front of television cameras and the public for the first time Wednesday to make the case that President Trump broke the law in dealing with Ukraine, but the president insisted the effort to oust him is “going absolutely nowhere.”

Mr. Trump, who is the fourth president in U.S. history to undergo an impeachment push, predicted the move would backfire with voters who don’t want to risk Trump-era prosperity because of a murky power play in Ukraine.

Chairman Adam B. Schiff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will gavel open the impeachment hearing at 10 a.m. with two witnesses — William Taylor, the former U.S. charge d’affaires in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who oversaw Ukraine policy. Both men have told lawmakers behind closed doors that they were concerned Mr. Trump was politicizing U.S. policy in Ukraine.

Mr. Schiff, the California Democrat whose earlier attempt to impeach Mr. Trump over alleged Russia collusion fizzled, promised colleagues in a letter Tuesday that he will treat the president fairly.

“We intend to conduct these hearings with the seriousness and professionalism the public deserves,” Mr. Schiff wrote. “The process will be fair to the president, the committee members and the witnesses. Above all, these hearings are intended to bring the facts to light for the American people.”

In an interview with NPR, Mr. Schiff said no decision on whether articles of impeachment should be brought against the president has been made, but testimony thus far has suggested impeachable offenses such as bribery and “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

He also said the impeachment inquiry will be worth the political consequences of it failing to remove the president from office.

“If [impeachment] deters further presidential misconduct, then it may provide some remedy, even in the absence of a conviction in the Senate,” Mr. Schiff said.

Mr. Trump, who will host the president of Turkey at the White House Wednesday, said Democrats are fixated on the impeachment inquiry instead of working for the good of the country on issues such as a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

“Democrats in Washington would rather pursue outrageous hoaxes and delusional witch hunts, which are going absolutely nowhere,” Mr. Trump told business leaders in a speech to the Economic Club of New York Tuesday. “Don’t worry about it.”

The White House and its allies plan to confront the accusations aggressively, hoping to portray the spectacle as a partisan goal in search of a crime.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, which would consider any articles of impeachment, called on Democratic Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York to set up “drastically different” rules than those crafted by Mr. Schiff. They demanded any evidence that Mr. Nadler may already have.

“Without it, America will be left to wonder what Chairman Schiff chose to keep to himself,” the Republicans wrote.

Republican lawmakers are pushing for testimony from the anonymous government whistleblower who first complained about Mr. Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine.

“If the House Democrats are going to use any evidence from this so-called whistleblower, they need to make this secret witness available for public cross-examination,” said GOP legal strategist Mike Davis, whose name has been floated as a possible White House tactician for the impeachment proceedings.

He called the impeachment hearings “a charade.”

“Read the transcript [of the phone call]. And even if everything that the House Democrats allege is true, it does not amount to quid pro quo corruption under any scenario,” he told The Washington Times.

House Republicans also plan to emphasize that Mr. Trump did not condition U.S. military aid to Ukraine on his request for an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden; that Ukrainian officials were not aware the military aid was on hold at the time of the call; and that the funding was delivered in September without any move by Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden.

The president is also reminding the public what’s at stake, particularly his economic leadership that has brought record high employment and prosperity from his agenda of tax cuts and deregulation. He said there’s no sensible alternative to him among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, and said the bigger risk facing the country is the economic downturn ahead if any of his “crazy” Democratic opponents win the presidency.

“I think the biggest risk is the election,” Mr. Trump said at the Economic Club. “I think we’re going to do very well, I think we’re going to win it. I think we’re going to win it hopefully easily, but it doesn’t matter as long as we win it by a vote. Our country is strong. Our country is great. Our economy is probably the best it’s ever been. And we want to keep it that way.”

Pointing to Democrats’ emphasis on renewable energy and their urgent concerns about climate change, the president said, “I think these people have gone totally ‘loco.’”

“They will kill our industry,” Mr. Trump predicted. “Tell Texas there will be no more drilling, there will be no more oil and gas. We’ll put hundreds of thousands of people out of work. We won’t fuel our factories, and now you’re talking about millions and millions of people. You’re talking about a country that couldn’t even exist. These people —I almost don’t know, is this politics? Because I think it’s bad politics.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, again challenged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring up for a vote the trade deal with Canada and Mexico, saying it will boost an already strong economy.

“House Democrats have enough time to continue their three-year-old obsession with impeaching the president, but they cannot find the time to pass a landmark trade deal that would create 176,000 new American jobs,” Mr. McConnell said.

Democratic aides working on the impeachment inquiry expressed eagerness Tuesday for the public to hear televised testimony of the president’s guilt, after six weeks of closed-door questioning of witnesses.

“We think it’s going to be a phenomenal week,” one Democratic aide said. “The American people will hear evidence for themselves.”

Mr. Schiff said Mr. Taylor, Mr. Kent and former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch — who is scheduled to testify Friday — “will begin to flesh out the details of the president’s effort to coerce a foreign nation to engage in political investigations designed to help his campaign, a corrupt undertaking that is evident from his own words on the July 25 call record.”

“They will describe their own experiences and how American policy towards Ukraine was subverted to serve the president’s personal, political interests, not the national interest,” Mr. Schiff said.

Democratic aides described Ms. Yovanovitch, who was removed from her post in Kyiv, as “the first victim of the president’s scheme.”

In his October testimony, Mr. Kent told lawmakers that he was bothered by the role of the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, in Ukrainian foreign policy and the smear campaign that targeted Ms. Yovanovitch both on social media and within the State Department.

Mr. Kent said he was alarmed by the effort to get Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, and the 2016 election. But he also repeatedly told the inquiry that there wasn’t a “quid pro quo” transaction of U.S. military aid for those sought-after investigations.

What’s more, he said he raised red flags in 2015 about Hunter Biden serving on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings. Back then, he was rebuffed by one of then-Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s staffers.

Behind closed doors, Republicans zeroed in on what basis could justify the president’s interest in the investigations — and are likely to do so again on Wednesday.

“The question really isn’t were they in fact corrupt? You can also view the question as: Is it possible for the president to have a good faith belief that there’s something really nefarious going on,” Samuel Dewey, a lawyer at McDermott Will and Emery who used to lead congressional investigations, told The Washington Times.

But Mr. Schiff has warned that he won’t allow Republicans “to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens” or Mr. Trump’s contention that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 election.

Mr. Taylor is a key witness for Democrats — being the first official to say he believed military aid and a White House meeting were linked to Ukrainians opening an investigation into Mr. Biden.

He detailed what he understood to be two channels of foreign policy — an official one he operated in which he focused on “institution building,” and an irregular channel led by Mr. Giuliani that focused specifically on the 2016 election and the Biden family’s connection to Ukraine.

The diplomat testified that he heard this from Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who was working to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But Mr. Taylor also acknowledged in his testimony last month that he didn’t hear the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian president, he didn’t see a transcript of the call until it was released in late September, and he has never spoken to Mr. Trump or Mr. Giuliani.

“Ultimately this is a very simple story,” a Democratic aide said. “The president abused his office and his presidential powers to force and pressure a foreign government to interfere with our election on his behalf.”

Ryan Lovelace and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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