Live commentary on the impeachment hearings

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8:51 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Republicans were spinning, bobbing and weaving

If there’s one big takeaway from today’s impeachment hearings, it would be this: It’s a highly partisan, political affair, in which the facts don’t appear to matter to Republicans one bit.  In fact, all that matters is the “R” label that they wear across their chest.

If these were traditional times, there would be bi-partisan outrage over any US President conditioning a White House meeting and aid to a foreign government upon the investigation of a political opponent. But the Trump administration has been far from traditional.

The top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor -- who has served this country in various capacities and administrations -- commanded the room in his opening statement, and in his responses to questions by committee members.

In so doing, he made clear that he was not there to pass judgment on anything or anyone, but merely to recite the facts. 

He highlighted the significance of the US alliance with Ukraine in protecting it from attacks by Russia, and the fact that US security assistance was crucial to Ukraine’s defense. 

Taylor further spoke of the need for the US to be a reliable strategic partner. He was mystified by the two differing channels of US policy — one of which was formal and strategic, and the other which was highly irregular, and led by Rudy Giuliani.

America’s strategic interests were being diminished, confidence in our commitment to Ukraine was being shaken and undermined, soldiers were dying, but no aid was flowing. 

What has been the Republican’s defense to this? First, they say that Ukraine got the aid anyway so it doesn’t matter. That’s like saying you can try to kill someone, but as long as you don’t succeed, no harm no foul. Second, they insist that Trump’s plan of conditioning aid on the investigation was not immediately known by the Ukrainian President so why should it matter.  In other words, as long as a person is unaware of your criminal intentions, those intentions are excusable and irrelevant.  

Instead of the Republicans' defenses getting any better, sadly they got worse. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes doubled down on a familiar Trump claim and told the public that Trump actually provided Ukrainians with missiles while former President Barack Obama gave them blankets, which is not the whole truth. (Obama gave much more than blankets.)  So, in other words, since Trump gave Ukraine more weapons, why should anything else matter?  Republicans say that Trump was really concerned about the corruption of Ukraine.  That argument is actually pretty funny given the amount of indictments we’ve seen associated with Trump in the last three years.

And here’s a Republican favorite: The Ukrainian President said he felt no pressure. Ah, as if the person who depends upon millions in aid from the US to protect his country from Russian annihilation, and has no clue as to whether Trump will get reelected, will publicly rail against a President who delights in the agony of his enemies.

Last but not least, the Republicans love to talk about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and his board seat on Burisma and the $50,000 monthly fee he received. Every time I hear that, it makes my eyes roll as it’s just another effort to deflect and distract from the facts. And ironically, I think of the Republican hero Ronald Reagan telling Walter Mondale in the 1984 Presidential debate: “There you go again.”

Corruption used to be something everyone was concerned about. Nowadays, it just ain’t so. So, I expect more of the same moving forward: Democrats pointing to the facts and laying them bare, with the Republicans spinning, bobbing and weaving saying “who cares”— the President did nothing wrong. And that’s a shame. 

Joey Jackson is a legal analyst for CNN and HLN, and a partner at New York City-based Watford Jackson, PLLC.

8:48 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

We saw the rot that has infected the GOP

We heard a lot from House Republicans in today’s historic impeachment inquiry hearing. 

We heard them whinge about the unfairness of the process – even though they had as much time to question witnesses as the Democrats did. 

We heard them attack the anonymous whistleblower, even though his/her allegations have been corroborated. We heard them attack Joe Biden’s son for doing business overseas, even though Trump’s children – and Trump himself – have business interests around the globe. 

We heard them accuse the witnesses – nonpartisan, patriotic career diplomats – of trafficking in hearsay. Even though potential witnesses, who had direct conversations with the President and could confirm or deny the hearsay, have been blocked from testifying by Mr. Trump. 

What we heard – and saw – was the death of the Republican Party’s commitment to truth, principle, dignity, and the Constitution. They have surrendered the party of Lincoln to a con man, the party of Reagan to a Russian stooge, and the party of Eisenhower to a cult of personality. 

Here’s what we did not hear Republicans say today:

  • “Donald Trump is innocent.”
  • “President Trump would never leverage life-saving, taxpayer-funded military aid to extort and bribe an ally.”
  • “Wait. Ambassador Taylor: you say a close aide heard the President personally pushing for investigations into the Bidens? Well, that’s a new piece of evidence, and I must say it is troubling.”
  • “I am going to keep an open mind about this until all the facts are in.”
  • “The only way the Republican Party could be mortally wounded by this scandal would be for the public to think that we Republicans don’t have the courage, the stamina and the determination to clean our own house.”  That’s what Howard Baker, a principled Republican, said of Watergate. 

That we cannot even imagine Republicans saying any of these things shows the rot – moral, intellectual, political – that has infected the GOP. In addition to impeachment, Republicans need a fundamental ethical reboot.

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.

6:49 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

The 'Watergate' warning to Trump's defenders

Watching the impeachment hearings, the echoes of history should be ringing in the ears of President Donald Trump’s most devoted defenders, and especially in those of the people pondering whether or not to keep their secrets to protect the president.

The evidence today strongly pointed to grave misdeeds by Trump and his collaborators. Anyone watching with an open mind knows that is the truth.

It’s an easy guess that Trump expected his presidency to make history. Now he has secured that historic spot, but not quite the way he had hoped: In the nearly two-and-a-half centuries since the nation came into existence, only three US presidents have faced impeachment. And judging by what transpired on Wednesday -- and by Congressional party arithmetic -- Trump is all but sure to be impeached. Removal, with the Senate in Republican control, remains only a distant possibility.

There’s not much historic precedent for this event or for this administration. Trump, his administration, and his businesses are involved in a dizzying number of scandals (he denies such allegations against him, often reverting to claims that these amount to presidential harassment). This may just be the most corrupt administration in American history. Still, the president maintains a powerful hold on his party. Republicans are afraid to turn on him.

For those who have incriminating information about the president’s actions to reveal to Congress and, more importantly, to the country, patriotism and integrity may not always be the most powerful motivator. Perhaps they should look to history for guidance.

The Watergate scandal didn’t just lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Nixon avoided jail, but 40 government officials were eventually indicted or jailed in connection with Watergate, a scandal that seems trivial when compared to the accusations being leveled against President Trump.

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis

4:53 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Mystery of the July 26 call

5:27 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

The only question that still remains

The facts in the investigation remain consistent and incredibly damaging. There has been very little that undercuts the basic revelation of the administration holding aid to Ukraine hostage for President Donald Trump’s own political needs. The fact that the President was the one on the call asking for an investigation that could benefit his campaign is pretty powerful evidence about what he knew and when he knew it. It seems like the only problem, in his mind, has been that someone blew the whistle.

The testimony of high-level diplomats who were clearly shocked and scared about what was happening was on full display Wednesday. It was hard for Republicans to paint them as partisan attack dogs because it was clear that they are not. 

Day one will only bolster the Democratic resolve to vote for articles of impeachment. As of now, the only question remains whether any Republicans are willing to conclude -- through actions rather than words -- that this presidential abuse of power requires a congressional response. 

Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the forthcoming book, "Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party." Follow him on Twitter: @julianzelizer.

5:13 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Democrats are obsessed with unseating the President

The public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump is proving to be a repeat of Democrats’ efforts to unseat him for alleged Russia meddling.  Democrats set a level of expectation of corruption on the part of President Trump that they failed to meet with the Mueller report. Now, so far, they have failed to meet those expectations with regards to the Ukraine call. This will prove more damaging to Democrats than to the administration.

President Trump’s July 25th comments to the Ukrainian president were inappropriate and ill-advised; however they were not worthy of impeachment. The consequences of the inappropriate comment should be up to the voters in 2020, not a politically motivated House of Representatives.

The Democrats’ star witnesses -- Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent -- have impressive credentials and admirable careers in public service. Both referred to the July 25th call as “cause for concern.” That being said, they are not policymakers. They are policy implementers. 

In that role, they have two options:

1) Implement policies as dictated by the President.

2) Resign. If they don’t like the policy, they are free to leave. 

The American people voted for President Trump knowing full well that he would be in control of the administration’s foreign policy objectives. If that policy is contrary to the US interest, it’s US citizens who should be the ones to remove him from office, not an impeachment-obsessed Congress.

Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator, a resident fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President.

4:03 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

We need to hear from Bolton and Mulvaney

Today’s hearing demonstrated two different approaches at work. The Democrats are pursuing a simple line of inquiry to establish basic facts: That President Trump intended to condition aid to Ukraine on an announcement by Ukraine of an investigation into the Bidens and 2016 election interference; that this undermined longstanding US policy; and that Trump was acting to further private, not national, interests.

Republicans have struggled to find a clear line of defense that engages with the substance of the allegations against Trump, and have instead tried to distract from the main issue. One thread they have pulled, however, has been effective: their efforts to drive home that neither of today’s witnesses spoke directly with Trump, which can help create doubt as to whether Trump acted with corrupt intent.

This, of course, only underscores the necessity of having former National Security Advisor John Bolton and Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — both of whom who have firsthand knowledge of Trump’s intentions towards Ukraine — testify. Trump, however, has blocked both from providing testimony, undercutting Republicans’ implication that their testimony would exonerate the President.

Asha Rangappa is a senior lecturer at Yale's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. She is a former special agent in the FBI, specializing in counterintelligence investigations. Follow her @AshaRangappa_

3:45 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Taylor's testimony highlights fact vs fiction

The case against President Donald Trump is strong and reality-based. The Republican effort to defend him is weak and based on fiction. 

That’s what we’ve seen today, as the supremely impressive witnesses laid out a clear narrative of a President disregarding the national interest, and subverting American foreign policy and the security of a vital friend for his personal political gain.

Ambassador Bill Taylor, in particular, explained just how important Ukraine is for US national security in the face of an aggressive Russia. Then he told the astonishing story of how the United States under Trump has had two foreign policy channels, "one regular, and one highly irregular.” The latter, according to Taylor, was used by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, along with Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, and others, whose goal was not to look after the interests of their country but those of the President. 

Taylor testified that a member of this channel, Volker, "planned to make clear what President Zelensky should do" in order to get a meeting at the White House. He went on to state that, according to Volker, Trump wanted cooperation from Ukraine "on investigations to 'get to the bottom of things.'" Among those "things" that Trump wanted investigated were Joe Biden and the conspiracy theory made popular on Fox News and other conservative and far-right media, claiming that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 US election. 

The 2016 election interference has been thoroughly investigated by US intelligence, including the CIA, NSA and others. The Republican 'intelligence,' which apparently drives some of Trump’s foreign policy, is a fiction. 

In keeping with one of the most appalling traits of this President, Trump’s defenders are building their case on lies and fabrications. Maybe that’s the best they could come up with, considering the facts.

America deserves better. 

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis

4:02 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019

This is an impeachment media sideshow

Will the national media pick up on the rich irony of posturing by House Democrats in Wednesday’s impeachment hearing? Democrats insisted that weapons aid was vital for Ukrainian and US interests under President Donald Trump, yet it was the Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration that turned down Ukrainian requests for weapons and ammunition, instead sending nonlethal equipment like night goggles, small reconnaissance drones, radios and military ambulances. 

Security assistance to Ukraine “demonstrates our commitment to resist aggression and defend freedom,” William Taylor testified today. It was the Trump administration that actually sent lethal aid, Taylor confirmed

Democrats and their friends in the media claim that President Trump wrongly pressured the Ukrainian government to launch investigations into his political rivals and used hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid for the country as leverage. Yet Taylor previously testified that to his knowledge, no one in the Ukrainian government was aware of a supposed hold by President Trump.

“Do you have any firsthand knowledge of United States aid to Ukraine ever being connected to the opening of a new investigation?” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) previously asked George P. Kent, another witness from today, during a closed-door deposition earlier this month.

“I do not have direct knowledge, no,” Kent then replied.

While it's true that testimony today did indicate pressure might have been applied, no one provided evidence that it came directly from the President. Further, given that no Republicans crossed over to support the House resolution to proceed on impeachment, it’s basically impossible that the Senate will convict. Conservatives know today’s hearings are a politically-contrived stunt designed to replace the faux scandal of the Mueller report.

President Trump has led the way in making progress on preventing opioid overdoses, defeating ISIS, helping create an environment for millions of new American jobs. But these serious policy questions are getting swallowed up in an impeachment media sideshow.

Carrie Sheffield is national editor for Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog organization.