- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2019

House Democrats will use a marathon of impeachment hearings this week to inch allegations of bribery closer to President Trump, gambling that the parade of witnesses voicing concerns or distrust about his actions in Ukraine will finally move the needle of public opinion against the president.

The steady drip of leaks and transcripts from closed-door testimony and last week’s public hearings have had little impact so far on those backing Mr. Trump, though Democratic lawmakers appear locked on course to an impeachment vote anyway.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Monday that the case against Mr. Trump is airtight and slammed Republicans for saying the impeachment push was too close to the 2020 presidential election.

SEE ALSO: Democrats summon nine key players in bid to take down Trump

“The facts are uncontested that the president abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests. The weak response to these hearings has been, ‘Let the election decide,’” Ms. Pelosi wrote in a letter to her Democratic colleagues. “That dangerous position only adds to the urgency of our action, because the president is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections.”

Still, Democrats are in search of a made-for-TV moment to help sell the anti-Trump case to the American public.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Monday showed 51% of voters said the president’s actions on Ukraine merit impeachment — a thin majority that has not significantly changed since the hearings went public.

SEE ALSO: Democrats push streamlined ‘fact sheet’ ahead of three-day impeachment hearing marathon

House Republicans plan to keep highlighting the partisan tilt of the inquiry and step up challenges to the credibility of the witnesses, Republican aides told The Washington Times.

First up will be Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testifies Tuesday morning.

Republicans on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is conducting the hearing, will zero in on Col. Vindman’s relationship with his boss, National Security Council official Tim Morrison, and question his trustworthiness.

Col. Vindman, a decorated soldier, told lawmakers in an earlier closed-door deposition that he feared Mr. Trump risked national security by pressing Ukraine to investigate Joseph R. Biden, President Obama’s vice president and a top 2020 Democratic Party presidential contender.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin opened the assault on Col. Vindman in a memo to fellow Republicans.

“A significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their ‘turf’,” Mr. Johnson wrote to House Republicans. “They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile.”

One House Republican aide said the lieutenant colonel “talks a lot about the chain of command and his respect for the chain of command and whatnot, but he never went to his boss with his concerns. And in the military your chain of command is everything. And he sort of abandoned that idea at the NSC.”

But Republicans will tread carefully in cross-examining the Purple Heart recipient. Trump allies who tried earlier to portray the career U.S. military man as a loyalist to Ukraine came under fierce blowback.

With the hearings heating up, Mr. Trump said he would “strongly consider” testifying in the investigation.

Noting that Mrs. Pelosi publicly urged Mr. Trump to testify under oath or to at least submit written testimony, the president said in a Twitter post, “Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!”

Although the president couldn’t afford to let Mrs. Pelosi’s challenge go unanswered, people in the president’s camp said he wouldn’t engage in a process that he has labeled a sham.

He also has nothing to gain by testifying.

Mrs. Pelosi’s offer, Trump confidants said, signaled that Democrats don’t have a strong case against the president.

“It’s a trap,” said an informal adviser to Mr. Trump. “If he does testify, they’ll accuse him of lying no matter what he says.”

Two new members of the White House’s team fighting impeachment, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh, visited the Capitol on Monday and briefed Senate Republican aides on strategy. Mr. Sayegh reportedly said the president was simply keeping his options open by suggesting he might testify.

Mr. Trump is accused of withholding $391 million in military aid until Ukraine launched an investigation into Mr. Biden.

Mr. Trump wanted an investigation of the former vice president and his son Hunter, who got a high-paying job at a Ukrainian energy company while his father spearheaded Obama White House policy in the graft-riddled country.

He also asked Kyiv to investigate Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Democrats’ case for impeachment likely hinges on testimony scheduled for Wednesday from Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. He was working as a go-between for Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The ambassador told lawmakers that he assumed the president linked military aid and a White House visit to the investigations and passed along that information to the Ukrainians.

Relying on Mr. Sondland’s testimony is a gamble.

“Democrats are in danger of putting all of their eggs in a Sondland basket and saying when he says what he’s going to say, and that’s over the public airwaves, then game over,” said Jennifer Victor, a political science professor at George Mason University.

“But if they do that and the public needle still doesn’t move, I don’t know what other tricks they use,” she said.

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