President Donald Trump — an avid cable news consumer — contended Wednesday he is “too busy” to watch the first public impeachment hearing, but he dismissed it as a made-for-television “hoax.”
The White House-Republican strategy for providing a counter message to testimony from acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent about two quid-pro-quos with Ukraine’s new president orchestrated by Trump began to unfold in the hearing’s first two hours.
The Republican National Committee blasted out emails that tried to paint both diplomats as too poorly connected within the Trump administration to know just what the president wanted and was demanding.
“Taylor doesn’t have relationships with any of the players involved. He has previously testified that he did not have direct communication with President Trump, Rudy Giuliani or Mick Mulvaney,” the RNC wrote in one email, also referring to the president’s personal attorney and the acting White House chief of staff.
Another RNC email tried to paint Taylor, seen as one of Democrats’ strongest and most credible witnesses, as a loyal member of the Trump team.
“Taylor testified moments ago that he was pleased that President Trump provided lethal aid to Ukraine while [former President Barack] Obama did not. And Taylor also said President Trump put stronger sanctions on Russia than Obama,” the GOP organization wrote.
But Taylor offered most of the morning’s most critical and damning testimony against Trump’s claim he did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
For instance, he told the House members that Trump cared more about his desired investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden, as well as the Democratic National Committee, than broader corruption problems in Ukraine, Taylor told lawmakers. Trump has claimed in recent weeks those broader corruption issues were his main concern in holding up a nearly $400 million military aid package Zelenskiy wanted for his country’s conflict with Russia.
Taylor also described a “regular” policy process within the Trump administration to set and implement Ukraine policies, as well as an “irregular” one run by Giuliani. The latter hindered what he described as career diplomats’ efforts to conduct foreign policy as it had been conducted under previous presidents, Republican and Democratic.
What’s more, Taylor’s deep voice grew even deeper when he described what he called a second quid pro quo: White House officials’ reluctance to grant Zelenskiy a White House meeting with Trump that the Ukrainian leader desired to boost his credibility at home — and with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’s one thing to leverage a meeting in the White House,” he told lawmakers. “It’s another thing to leverage the military aid,” noting it was meant for an American ally “at war” with Russia. Holding up the aid package in the alleged pursuit of Trump’s personal political benefit was “much more alarming,” Taylor said.
Meantime, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham focused mostly on the sizzle of the hearing’s opening hours, leaving the steak (read: substance) to others.
In a tweet, she slammed the “sham hearing” as “boring” and a “colossal waste of taxpayer time & money.”
This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money. Congress should be working on passing USMCA, funding our govt & military, working on reduced drug pricing & so much more. @realDonaldTrump is working right now-the dems should follow his lead!
— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) November 13, 2019
Asked to clarify her remark, Grisham responded “My point, which I made in the tweet is that this is a waste of taxpayer time and money. There is nothing new here.”
She also tweeted that lawmakers instead should be addressing Trump’s proposed trade pact with Mexico and Canada, striking a government shutdown-averting deal and working on legislation to pare drug prices.
“@realDonaldTrump is working right now-the dems should follow his lead!” she tweeted minutes before Trump was slated to welcome Turkish President Recep Erdogan to the White House for meetings and a joint press conference.
It became clear minutes later when Trump took questions from reporters that the White House plans to portray the president as ignoring the hearing in an attempt to undermine its credibility and that of House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff and other Democrats.
“I’m too buy to watch it. It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax, I’m too busy to watch it. So, I’m sure I’ll get a report. There’s nothing — I have not been briefed,” he said alongside Erdogan. “There’s nothing there. I see they’re using lawyers that are television lawyers, they took some guys off television.”
That was a dig at Daniel Goldman, the staff attorney and former federal prosecutor conducting questioning for House Democrats on Wednesday who has worked as an analyst for MSNBC.
While he might not be watching live, Trump, as always, also had a dig for Schiff.
“You know. I’m not surprised to see it,” he said of Goldman’s role, “because Schiff can’t do his own questions.”