Editor’s Note: Douglas Heye is the ex-deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a GOP strategist, and a CNN political commentator. He also worked for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr from 2004-2006. Follow him on Twitter @dougheye. The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own. View more opinion on CNN.
With one tweet Friday morning, President Donald Trump made sure the latest impeachment inquiry hearing would be must-see TV.
Throughout the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings so far, Trump has been the elephant not in the room. So, perhaps it was inevitable that he would somehow insert himself into the hearings as he did Friday with the ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch – using his favorite tool of communication, Twitter.
As Yovanovitch began her testimony, Trump tweeted: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”
Let’s be clear: His tweet was terrible. It was also nonsensical. To blame Ambassador Yovanovitch for the 1990s troubles in Somalia, where she served as a foreign service officer, not ambassador, is so preposterous it can be dismissed out of hand.
Committee Chairman Adam Schiff read the tweet aloud in the hearing and asked Yovanovitch for her reaction. She responded that the tweet was “very intimidating” but could not speak to the President’s intentions.
“Well,” said Schiff, “I want to let you know, Ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”
Whether it constitutes witness intimidation, as Schiff appeared to imply, is debatable. But it certainly got in the way of the Republicans’ plans to both muddy the waters on this hearing and make them so boring that no one would want to tune in.
Further, Trump’s Twitter actions came at the expense of Republican unity. Shortly after the tweet, Republican Congresswoman and House Intelligence member Elise Stefanik said, “I disagree with the tweet. I think Ambassador Yovanovitch is a public servant, like many of our public servants in the foreign service.”
Trump’s tweet also stepped on the GOP’s prime directive: Don’t attack Yovanovitch; she’s credible and has a sterling reputation.
Having to talk about a presidential attack that occurred during the hearing, and to disagree with it, just wasn’t part of the House GOP’s game plan. But it might have been a part of Trump’s.
Trump’s tweet, as his tweets so often do, represents a red cape being waved in front of Congressional Democrats. And now those Democrats want to charge.
If you accept the possibility that Trump might secretly want to be impeached – because it could convince his base of Trump’s argument that the Democrats and the “deep state” were always out to get him – and that he will portray anything short of a Senate conviction as complete exoneration (as he did following the Mueller Report), then the tweet should almost have been anticipated.
Ever since Trump first announced his candidacy for President, there has been an effort among some Republicans to get Trump to simply tweet less, especially given that polls have shown more voters disapprove of Trump’s tweeting than approve. Even Trump’s supporters often wish he’d tweet less.
But we learned a long time ago that was not going to happen, and as this impeachment process continues, if anything, we can expect even more.