December 03, 2019
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The impeachment witnesses are the silver lining to this embarrassing chapter in our history

Andrew Harnik | AP
Andrew Harnik | AP
Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill testifies Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

After fidgeting through five days of public hearings, a dozen witnesses and countless political pontificators, Americans should be gratified by the quality of the people who testified and who actually do the nation’s work abroad.

If there was a silver lining to an otherwise embarrassing chapter in our history, it was that we were able to meet and hear from those whose names aren’t well known except to their colleagues. To listen and observe was to have one’s faith restored in America’s image despite the withering damage suffered these past few years.

One after another, the men and women who testified, subjecting themselves to the sometimes-scurrilous scrutiny of political profilers, maintained their focus and their cool. It was grating to hear the screech of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, whose raised voice surely signaled a stretch-and-restroom break for many viewers. While we’re on the subject, can’t the man put on a blazer? Jordan appeared without one, putting in mind a teenager who refuses to play by his parents’ rules.

May I remind him and others that dress codes are intended to show respect for the occasion and for others in attendance. Surely, our congressional leaders owe their constituents — and, in this case, the process — the small personal sacrifice of dressing appropriately. To do otherwise is to telegraph to the world that you think you’re more important than everyone else. Jordan also proved that age and maturity can be mutually exclusive.

There, I got that off my chest. (Parents may clip for personal use.)

Quite apart from the question of whether President Trump should be impeached, viewers of the hearings were privy to history and were beneficiaries of a primer on current events. Often lost in the drama of the impeachment proceedings is the profound importance of Ukraine as a buffer to a resurgent Russian empire. Trump’s withholding of $400 million in military funding from Ukraine during its war with Russia — pending assurances that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would at least say he’d investigate the Biden’s involvement with the gas company Burisma — put Ukrainian lives at risk and signaled to Russia that U.S. support of Ukraine was credibly iffy.

One of the pivotal questions during the hearings was whether America’s diplomatic corps understood that “Burisma” was actually code for the “Bidens,” meaning political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was employed by Burisma. Only two witnesses claimed not to have known about the connection. One was Kurt Volker, a former envoy to Ukraine, who later said he should have caught on sooner. The other was U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, whose claim was deemed “not credible” by witness Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Europe and Russia, and a standout in the lineup of witnesses.

At several junctures, Hill schooled House Intelligence Committee members about the significance of Ukraine and the perils of advancing the false claim that Ukraine and not Russia had interfered with the 2016 election. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” she said. Critical of partisan rancor, she beseeched members to “not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”

As for the inferred quid pro quo between Trump and Zelensky, Hill confirmed Sondland’s earlier testimony that “everybody was in the loop,” including the vice president, the secretary of state and the White House acting chief of staff.

While true that the administration under pressure did release the military-aid funds without Zelensky’s public announcement of an investigation, which Trump had specifically requested, his intentions alone created problems for those serving in Ukraine. In Hill’s words: “[Sondland] was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security, foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.”

Hill’s testimony jibed with earlier testimony by acting Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor that there was a regular policy executed by the diplomatic corps and a “highly irregular” policy run by Rudy “Hand Grenade” Giuliani, whose legacy as former New York City mayor, we should note, has definitively expired.

Whether Donald Trump is impeached remains to be seen. But the shame of his highly irregular behavior in seeking political favors from a foreign entity is softened somewhat by the pride one can feel in our diplomats, experts and fact witnesses to whom we are beholden for their good grace.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

 



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