Takeaways from Day 3 of the Impeachment Inquiry.

  I did not watch Day 3 of the impeachment inquiry in its entirety – life happens, but here are some conclusions I gleaned from the evening shows, as well as some of my own conclusions from the 5 hours or so that I did see.

  The morning witnesses, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, appeared at the request of the Democrats. Vindman is a career Army man, delegated from the Pentagon in July 2018 to serve at the NSC as a coordinator for Ukraine policy. Ms. Williams is a career foreign servant serving as aide to VP Pence on Europe and Eurasia. The afternoon witnesses, Ambassador Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison, appeared at the request of the Republicans. Mr. Volker is a long-time diplomat delegated by Trump to Ukraine.  Mr. Morrison took over from Dr. Fiona Hill at the NSC as adviser on Russia and Europe and served briefly in that capacity, from August 2019 until his resignation on October 31. All appeared after receiving subpoenas.

  Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff gave a concise opening statement, which I am trying to reproduce verbatim because it was so good. We are having the inquiry because of

“the president’s scheme to condition official acts (a White House meeting and hundred of millions in military aid to fight the Russians) on a deliverable by the new Ukrainian president, Zelinskiy, 2 politically motivated investigations that Trump believed would help his re-election campaign. One of those investigations involved the Bidens and the other involved a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, was interfering in our 2016 election. [……] PRESIDENT TRUMP PUT HIS OWN PERSONAL AND POLITICAL INTERESTS ABOVE THOSE OF THE NATION. He undermined our military and diplomatic support for a key ally and undercut US anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. How could our foreign diplomats urge Ukraine to refrain from political investigations of its own citizens if the president of the United States was urging Ukraine to engage in precisely the same kind of corrupt and political investigation of one of our own citizens?”

  Devin Nunes, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, used his opening statement to blame the “fake news” which he called “puppets of the Democratic Party”. He impugned the impartiality of previous witnesses Taylor, Kent and Yovanovitch, referred to the “Russian hoax”, implicated Ukraine again in meddling in the 2016 election in support of Hillary. He seems unaware that there is a Whistleblower Protection Act and demanded that the whistleblower testify in open hearing.

  Today did not have bombshell revelations like the call Sondland placed to Trump on a non-secure cell phone in a Kyiv restaurant. We learned, however, that Vindman had taken part in formulating talking points for Trump’s phone calls to Zelinskiy. Corruption in Ukraine was prominent in the talking points, but not mentioned by Trump, who instead insisted on investigations into US citizens and a discredited conspiracy theory. We also learned of the extent of disagreements between the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) led by Mick Mulvaney on one side, and Ambassador Bolton, representatives of the Departments of State and Defense on the other side. On July 10, Bolton abruptly left a meeting with US and Ukrainian officials and referred to the conditioning of aid on investigations into the Bidens and CrowdStrike as a “drug deal”.  It is important to mention that, in March 2019, the Department of Defense had certified Ukraine as having made sufficient anti-corruption progress to qualify for US military assistance. On July 18, Vindman witnessed Sondland expressly formulating the quid pro quo (extortion) and talked to the NSC top lawyer, which he did again a week later after the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelinskiy. Vindman testified that by mid-August the Ukrainians were aware that aid was being withheld.

  The opening statement of Lt. Col. Vindman was poignant at times. He lauded the US military: “We do not serve any political party, we serve the nation.” He described his feelings of gratitude towards the country that gave shelter to his family then fleeing persecution in Ukraine. He thanked his father for making the right decision in taking the family to a democracy like the US where, unlike in the USSR, “[he] will be fine for telling the truth.” That moving testimony did not, of course, prevent Republicans from questioning his loyalty to the US and insinuating that, deep down, he remains mainly interested in pursuing policies favorable to Ukraine rather than the US.

  In the afternoon session, Volker clung tenuously to the narrative that he did not fully understand that the investigations Sondland et co. kept mentioning were investigations into the Bidens and Crowdstrike. His position is that he thought the investigations were only into Ukrainian nationals. Morrison admitted to feeling uncomfortable with the July 25 call between Trump and Zelinskiy, and he consulted with NSC lawyers, but unlike Vindman, his principal concern was putting the transcript of the call into a server that would keep it out of public scrutiny.

  Rep Eric Swalwell (D-CA) elicited from Morrison the words: “I took an oath to obey all lawful orders.” Yet Morrison did not mention investigating the Bidens with any of his Ukrainian contacts. Could it be, then, that he considered the president’s demands for investigations unlawful? Morrison wriggled out of that question with difficulty, saying he was not aware that the investigations were an important policy objective. Swalwell also established that, although Trump cited Ukrainian corruption as a major impediment to his meeting Zelinskiy in the White House, he had no trouble meeting with leaders of corrupt countries, like Putin and Erdogan.

  Another stellar moment came when Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) asked Ambassador Volker why the everyday American citizen should worry about helping Ukraine in its war with Russia. Volker gave an impassioned response which I will, again, try to replicate verbatim:

“Russia is trying to upend security in Europe, it’s trying to re-assert its domination of neighboring countries, whether it’s Georgia or Ukraine, or the Baltic States. It has led to war in Europe. The war in Ukraine has left more people dead in Europe than anything since the Balkans, more people displaced by war in Europe than anything since World War II. These are people who stand up for freedom, for democracy. They want reform, they want to see their country be successful, like Germany, like Sweden, like us, and they are fighting a war of aggression against them designed to hold them back. And if we want to live in a world of freedom for the United States, we ought to be supportive of freedom for people around the world.”

Disclaimer: Marie-Anne wrote this post. If it contains any mistakes, they were made in good faith, and she is solely responsible for them.

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