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Opinion

Column: When it comes to impeachment, Republicans are playing dumb and dumber

Rep. Jim Jordan during Wednesday’s impeachment hearing
House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes and fellow Republican Rep. Jim Jordan question witnesses during the first day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump.
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

There was a moment during the first day of the House’s public impeachment inquiry that sent me reeling back to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearing.

It was when Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, voice raised in faux outrage, began to badger William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who testified that he was appalled by Trump’s attempt to put the squeeze on Ukraine in exchange for a personal political favor.

Oh my God, I thought, Sen. Lindsey Graham must have taken Jordan aside and told him that acting crazy can really turn a hopeless case around, or at least get some major presidential brownie points.

Graham’s gambit during the Kavanaugh hearing was to get hysterical; Jordan’s was to play really, really dumb.

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The former assistant wrestling coach pretended to be hopelessly confused by a damning quote from the revised testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who is expected to testify publicly next Wednesday.

You probably saw it; it was one of the big sound bites out of Wednesday’s hearing.

Jordan, who was put on the committee at the last minute because ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes is presumably too busy suing fake cows to be an effective attack dog, took up the cudgel for his party.

Reading from Sondland’s revised testimony, he pretended to be confused:

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“Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on Sept. 1, 2019, in connection with Vice President Pence’s visit to Warsaw in a meeting with President Zelensky.”

The Ohio congressman added derisively: “We got six people having four conversations in one sentence, and you just told me this is where you got your clear understanding” of a quid-pro-quo? he asked Taylor, whose look of amusement was priceless. “I’ve seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.”

Since Jordan wasn’t able to understand what Sondland was saying, maybe I can help him figure it out. It’s not that complicated.

First a little background: Last month, Sondland, a political neophyte who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, testified behind closed doors to the House committees investigating impeachment. Sondland said he had no knowledge that Trump was holding up security assistance to Ukraine unless Ukraine agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine, and that of his son Hunter, who served on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. (There is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either Biden.)

Later, however, perhaps fearing a perjury charge, Sondland suddenly remembered he not only knew about Trump’s threat, but actually told the Ukrainians about it.

In his amended testimony, he described his involvement in somewhat convoluted terms. As a public service, I will perform a simultaneous translation.

On Sept. 1, 2019, during Vice President Pence’s meeting in Poland with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, I [Sondland] met with Andriy Yermak, a close advisor to the Ukrainian president. I [Sondland] told Yermak there would be no American military aid if Ukraine did not agree to Trump’s conditions.

Later, I [Sondland] I told Tim Morrison, a top Russia and Europe advisor on the National Security Council, about my conversation with Yermak.

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Morrison then informed Taylor what I [Sondland] had told Yermak.

And Taylor, we learned Wednesday, was horrified to hear that the American president was holding up desperately needed military aid to a country that helps provide a check on Russian aggression, which is critical to the security of the United States.

It’s not that hard to understand.

Unless you don’t really want to.

::

I devoured news coverage and commentary about the first day of hearings, and expect to be equally riveted by the rest of it. (Among the witnesses to be called are Sondland and Morrison. Perhaps they will be able to clear up some of Jordan’s confusion.)

It’s far too early to tell what the outcome of the hearings will be, so the need to declare instant winners and losers confounded me, as did the inevitable, entirely unsupported claim that public opinion had not shifted.

How could anyone know that right away?

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The pace at which public opinion shifts is similar to how Ernest Hemingway once described going broke: gradually, then suddenly.

I expect the Republicans to continue to muster the same old arguments against impeachment as the hearings go on: They will say this whole kerfuffle is overblown; that Ukraine eventually got the military aid, that the Ukrainian president never made a public announcement about investigating the Bidens, and said he did not feel pressured by Trump, that the whistleblower’s identity must be made public and that second-hand information, or hearsay, is not credible evidence.

When you cut through that noise, though, this is an easy case for impeachment. Attempted crimes are crimes.

Clearly, the president did threaten to withhold duly allocated American taxpayer funds to an important foreign ally in exchange for dirt to be used on a domestic political opponent.

Clearly, the Ukrainians felt pressure because they were days away from announcing the ginned-up Biden investigations in order to receive their promised military aid. Anguished, they debated whether placating Trump was worth alienating their bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. They were spared that humiliation only because the whistleblower’s report became public, and Congress insisted the money be released.

Graham, always dependable now for the lunatic argument, told reporters that he would not accept a Senate impeachment trial “until I know who the whistleblower is.”

The identity of the whistleblower is irrelevant. As are the whistleblower’s political leanings.

The gist of the report — that the president was holding up aid to Ukraine for personal political gain — has been confirmed by others, by name and on the record.

As New York Times columnist Bari Weiss told a startled Bret Baier on Fox News on Wednesday, “If an informant calls the NYPD and says, ‘There’s a house full of cocaine at the end of the block’ and the NYPD goes there and they find a house full of cocaine, and then we find out that the informant was biased against that homeowner, does it actually matter if the person was biased that the cocaine is there?’”

Baier didn’t have a good answer for that. I don’t think any Republicans on the impeachment committee would either.


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