By Theresa Whitfield
The impeachment hearings for President Trump became public last Wednesday, November 13th. Before examining the content of the hearings and the key witnesses, it is important to understand the factors leading up to these hearings.
At the federal level, impeachment is the process by which the House of Representatives brings charges of alleged crimes against the president. As stated in Article I, Section II of the Constitution, “The House of Representatives. . . shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” However, only the Senate has the power to remove the president from office, and “no person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the members present,” according to Article I, Section III of the Constitution. Currently, the Republicans hold the majority in the Senate.
In the history of our country, only two presidents have been impeached. The first was Andrew Johnson in 1868, and the second was Bill Clinton in 1998. Neither were removed from office. In 1974, Richard Nixon faced the threat of impeachment and removal from office for his involvement in the Watergate scandal and the subsequent cover up. However, he resigned before he could be impeached.
The impeachment inquiry for President Trump began after a whistleblower from the Intelligence Community reported a complaint that the President used his political office for personal gain. The impeachment hearings are investigating a possible quid pro quo campaign which involves President Trump withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating his 2020 election opponent, Joe Biden.
Currently, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) is conducting the hearings. Chairman Adam Schiff is leading the questions for the Democrats. Schiff has represented California’s 28th congressional district since 2013. Member Devin Nunes is leading the questions for the Republicans. There are currently twelve Democrats and eight Republicans in HPSCI.
Before the hearings went public, the Committee engaged in a series of secret, closed door depositions to gather facts. Many Republicans were outraged by this because it is not how impeachment cases have been handled in the past. It is important to note that the precedents set by Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were handled differently because the complaints against them “involved domestic rather than foreign matters, and included criminal complaints, which shaped those proceedings differently,” reported The Christian Science Monitor.
Republicans are also upset about the lack of transparency throughout the process. On October 24th, Senator Lindsey Graham, along with fifty Republican cosponsors, introduced a resolution to condemn the proceedings’ lack of transparency. Once the House decided to vote to move forward with the hearings, not a single Republican voted in its favor.
The first day of the public hearings began with opening statements from Schiff and Nunes. After each side gave their remarks, the two witnesses of the day spoke. The first witness was William B. Taylor. Taylor is the acting ambassador to Ukraine. The New York Times reported that the highlight of his testimony was how “he repeatedly discussed how concerned he was by Mr. Trump’s actions.” He did not consider himself a “star witness”.
“I’m not here to take one side or the other or to advocate any particular outcome,” Taylor said.
The second witness was George Kent, who is a senior state department official. The key takeaways from Kent were that he was “bothered by” President Trump’s personal attorney, “Rudolph W. Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy,” according to the Washington Post. He also stressed that the US should not “ask other countries to engage in selectively politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power.”
Day two of the hearings featured testimony from the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanavitch. In her testimony, she spoke on the importance of our relationship with Ukraine and how she sees President Trump to be ruining that relationship. One of the most notable parts of this day’s hearings was a move by Chairman Schiff to read the president live tweets where he criticized Yovanavitch.
On the third day of hearings (this past Monday), White House aides who were present on President Trump’s July 25th phone call to Ukraine President Zolensky testified. Jennifer Williams and LT COL Alexander Vindman, both present for the phone call, highlighted that “the President was acting on his own in the July call in asking for the investigations and was provided with no talking points to back that up,” according to CNN.
American diplomat Kurt Volker and Republican political advisor Tim Morrison were the two Republican witnesses. In his testimony, Morrison said he never “asked his Ukrainian counterparts to investigate the Bidens because ‘it was not a policy objective,’”reported CNN. However, CNN also reported that “they described their unease at Rudy Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and their skeptical view of efforts to launch an investigation into Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company.”
The newest hearings included star witness Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Out of all the witnesses so far, he will be the most important because he has had the most direct contact with President Trump regarding the causes for the hearings.
Before this point, most of the witnesses, while critical of President Trump’s conduct towards Ukraine, have not added spoken much concerning the direct causes for the impeachment. This changed with Sondland. He revised his closed door deposition testimony “to state that he told an adviser to the Ukrainian president that U.S. aid would not be provided unless Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an anti-corruption statement,” according to PBS.
Notable responses on the impeachment hearings on Catholic University’s Campus came from College Republicans President, Michael Klein.
“Impeachment has been sensationalized to the detriment of our nation as a whole,” Klein said. “As Congressional Democrats continue their charade it helps no one but our adversaries.”
Ultimately, these hearings will play a large factor in the 2020 election. With the evidence presented thus far, it is likely the president will be impeached. However, because the Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, it is unlikely that he will be removed from office.