The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are still complaining that they weren’t allowed to bring all the witnesses that they requested for the impeachment hearings. The Democrats did grant three of their requests: Ambassadors Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale. Unfortunately, none of those witnesses were very helpful and Sondland actually provided the most damaging evidence so far.
The witnesses that were denied were largely irrelevant to the central charges. In the case of the original whistleblower, his report has been corroborated six ways to Sunday. The remainder of the denied witnesses were supposed to justify President Trump’s antipathy for Ukraine or, in Hunter Biden’s case, embarrass Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The basic defense here is that Trump’s concerns about Ukraine trying to “bring him down” during the 2016 campaign were a rational and a reasonable justification for keeping the country and its new president at arm’s length, including by denying them an official visit to the White House and delaying or outright denying them military aid legally mandated by Congress.
This defense was eviscerated by former National Security Council official Fiona Hill during her opening remarks on Thursday. She explained then, and also under subsequent questioning, that the president was regurgitating talking points and conspiracy theories that originated with the Kremlin. She accused Republican members of the committee of doing the bidding of the Kremlin by giving credence to these storylines and then amplifying them on the president’s behalf. She also reminded them that the Russians are still seeking to interfere in the 2020 election, weaken and divide America in any way they can, and drive.a wedge between America and Ukraine. In other words, falsely accusing Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 election is tantamount to doing Putin’s bidding.
Left unsaid is that this is exactly what Trump has been doing throughout 2019.
One thing the hearings have made painfully clear is that everyone in our government responsible for our Ukraine policy was aware that Trump did not like Ukraine, did not want to support Ukraine, did not want to send a high level delegation to President Zelensky’s inauguration, did not want to host Zelensky in the White House, did not want to maintain the current level of foreign aid to Ukraine, and was not authorizing the release of military aid to Ukraine. Witness after witness has described their efforts to change the president’s mind on these matters. Many have blamed Rudy Giuliani for putting negative thoughts about Ukraine in the president’s head, and some concluded that the only way to make Trump relent or change his positions was to first convince Giuliani that the conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and Burisma were not true, that the Ukrainians were serious about rooting out corruption, that Zelensky was actually a fan of the president, that our relationship and official policy with Ukraine was correct and important. But Giuliani appears to have been unconvinced, and certainly the president remained unconvinced.
This was the basic problem throughout 2019. Official policy, which is also Trump’s policy, was being thwarted and undermined by Trump. He never attempted to actually change the policy. He just threw sand in the gears of the policy and destroyed its effectiveness. If we wanted to support anticorruption efforts in Ukraine, we actually did the opposite. If we wanted to show support for the new president and parliament in Ukraine, we did the exact opposite. If we wanted to send a message to Putin that our commitment to Ukraine was strong and unshakeable, we utterly failed to do so. All of this damage has already resulted irrespective of whether or not delayed military aid had any impact on the battlefield. And Trump is completely responsible for creating this harm.
If he doesn’t want our country to be aligned with Ukraine or to work with them to build up their institutions and maintain a military deterrent to further aggression from Russia, he should let all the people at the Pentagon and the State Department and the National Security Council know this so they can stop wasting their time trying to implement a policy that no longer exists. He might want to let Congress know this too, so they can stop appropriating funds for Ukraine. But he hasn’t done any of these things, and the result is a foreign policy that is utterly ineffective and that suits Russia far better than it suits the United States or Ukraine.