New York, Nov 13 : The hearings for US President Donald Trump’s impeachment moved from an underground secret chamber to national television on Wednesday with two diplomats testifying before a Congressional committee investigating allegations against Trump.
Adam Schiff, the Chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, started the hearings by charging Trump with affecting US national security interests by undermining Ukraine, a US ally, in its confrontation with Russia by withholding military aid and asking for a favour in return for the aid.
The ranking member of the Republican Party on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, denounced the impeachment process asserting that there were no grounds for it.
Only three impeachment proceedings have taken place against a US President — Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998.
Following Schiff’s line, the two diplomats put the focus on Ukraine’s conflict with Russia and how it was important for the US to unequivocally back Kyiv.
William Taylor, the top diplomat dealing with Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, George Kent, testified defying Trump’s edict against administration officials testifying.
After holding secret hearings examining officials and other witnesses, the Democrats, who control the House, agreed to hold the hearings in public after demands from the Republicans.
The transcripts of the hearings were later released after selective leaks during the hearings.
But a Politico/Morning Consult Poll found that 62 per cent of the voters said that they have made up their minds and the impeachment hearings won’t change them.
Fifty per cent of voters support the impeachment inquiry while 41 per cent oppose it.
It also found that 51 per cent of the voters believe that the House will vote to impeach Trump, but the Senate will not convict him.
Even if the impeachment hearings in the year leading to the 2020 presidential election are unlikely to lead to Trump’s removal from office, the Democrats hope it will undermine him in the elections.
The impeachment is the first step in the constitutional process to remove a President and it is basically the filing of a chargesheet against him for the Senate to hold a trial with the presiding Supreme Court Chief Justice.
The Democrats control the House and the chargresheet known as the Articles of Impeachment is expected to be passed. But the Republicans control the Senate, where a two-third majority is required to convict and remove Trump, and it is very unlikely that there would be enough votes to convict him.
Trump tweeted, “The most powerful tool the legislative branch has, Impeachment, & they’ve turned it into a political cudgel, which is not at all what the Founders intended.”
Laying out the charges against Trump, Schiff said that he is guilty of “high crimes” and “bribery” because he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenski to investigate Vice President Joe Biden and his son over business dealings there.
That amounts to getting a foreign country involved in US elections because Biden is a front-runner to challenge Trump in next year’s election and that he had tried to withhold military aid as a condition for holding an inquiry into the Bidens, Schiff said.
Biden’s son Hunter had landed a $50,000 a month directorship of a Ukrainian gas company with no prior experience in the energy field and as Vice President, Biden had pressed Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who may have been investigating the company.
The Democrats have turned attention away from it by putting Trump on the defensive by making it a case of Trump misusing his office against a political rival.
The Republicans want to question Biden’s son Hunter during the investigation, but Adam Schiff, the chair of the Democrat-controlled Intelligence Committee, has resisted the demand saying that the hearings are not about him.
The Republicans also want to question a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer who started the whole impeachment process by complaining that he had heard from other sources at the White House that Trump had made an improper request to Zelensky in a July phone call to him.
The Democrats don’t want him to testify because they say it could endanger him. Officials and the mainstream media have kept his identity secret.
Nunes crticised how the secret inquiry had been conducted “as an audition” for the public one.
He also alleged that Schiff had sought nude pictures of Trump from Russian broadcasters.
The Republican defence has been at two levels. Nikki Haley, a former Trump cabinet member and UN ambassador, has said that although it may not be proper to ask for favours from a foreign official, it is not impeachable. She added that impeachment is like a “death sentence” for a public official.
The other defence by Republicans is that since the aid was released, there was no Ukrainian inquiry.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)