Congressional Impeachment Hearings, December 9, 2019

Members of the media gather before the U.S. House Judiciary Hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., December 9, 2019.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee held its second public impeachment hearings on December 9—the first since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially called upon Congress to draw up articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Thursday, December 5. In the hearing, the committee heard evidence from the investigation into the president’s alleged efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce investigations into his political opponents by withholding military aid and a White House meeting.

Find more on the hearings and other impeachment-related resources on our page dedicated to Trump’s Constitutional Crisis.

5:31 p.m. A telling moment I think merits notice: Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) asked Castor to identify problems in the whistleblower complaints. Here’s Castor’s list:

-The whistleblower wasn’t on the call.

-We don’t yet know who their sources are.

-There’s some confusion about which corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor Trump meant when he said “your very good prosecutor.”

-One official presented a marginally less damning reason for burying the call.

None of those actually has anything to do with the substance of the complaint. That’s because the substance of the complaint—the quid pro quo and the subsequent decision to bury the call on a secret server—was entirely accurate. It’s true that Castor was cut off—but if the substance of the allegation was inaccurate, why wouldn’t he lead with that?

4:22 p.m. Rep. Collins (R-GA): It’s sad that Democrats are saying Zelensky lied about feeling pressured by Trump.

Also Rep. Collins: Trump’s demand that Zelensky announce bogus investigations into Trump’s political opponents was totally legit.

4:20 p.m. It really drives me nuts that there’s no way to dispute absurd or false claims in real time in their hearings. For example: Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) just levied a lengthy complaint about the lack of fact witnesses in these hearings, and nobody gets to point out until several minutes later that Democrats have called fact witnesses, the White House has just blocked almost all of them from testifying.

3:39 p.m. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) just decried the witnesses who compared Trump’s actions to those of a monarch, saying that the real mark of a monarch would be delegating something to Congress then taking executive action when you don’t like the outcome. His example is … Obama signing an executive order on DACA.

To me, though, that sounds a lot more like a description of how Trump overrode not just Congress but also the entire executive branch to withhold congressionally appropriated aid from Ukraine until they did what he wanted.

2:49 p.m. A central irony of today: Trump and his defenders have cited the public announcement of the Russia investigation—which didn’t take place until after he became president—as evidence that it was a politically motivated hit job against him. That was literally just debunked today in the Department of Justice inspector general’s report on the origins of that investigation.
Now, they’re trying to convince the public that Trump’s demands that Ukraine publicly announce an investigation into his political opponents during an election—with no demonstrated interest in what the results of that investigation may be—have nothing to do with politics and instead evince his sincere concern about corruption, of which they still have yet to give another example.

2:39 p.m. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA)—who’s defended Trump’s extortion of Ukraine by arguing that his demands for investigations were entirely reasonable—just characterized Goldman’s debunking of conspiracy theories against Joe Biden as saying that “we can commit basically extortion or put pressure on others as long as we have the international community behind us.” That is literally what Collins and many of Trump’s other defenders have been saying in regards to Trump’s demands—that they’re totally fine because he believed the conspiracy theories he wanted investigated.

2:24 p.m. Callen and Castor are spending an awful lot of time arguing that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, the person Trump picked as the point person for his shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, is entirely unreliable, which raises the question: Why did Trump pick Sondland as the point person for his shadow foreign policy in Ukraine?

2:10 p.m. Callen and Castor are lamenting that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee weren’t allowed to ask Lt. Col. Vindman whatever questions they wanted.

That’s because there were indications and reporting that some members of the committee intended to use their time to try to out the whistleblower, whose complaint kicked off the impeachment investigation.

2:05 p.m. Castor claims that “talk to Rudy” was Trump’s way of passing the buck, of saying he didn’t particularly care about Ukraine and the investigations they wanted opened. Not only does that contradict multiple witnesses’ testimony, it also flatly contradicts the main defense of Trump, which is that he was so genuinely concerned about corruption in Ukraine that he was willing to take drastic steps to force them to correct it.

1:25 p.m. And that’s not even the most unreal thing Castor has tried to claim. He’s also said that it’s not clear from the phone call that Trump—by bringing up the Bidens and then immediately telling Zelensky to talk to Giuliani (who’d been publicly demanding an investigation for months) and Barr—was asking Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.

1:20 p.m. Unreal. Castor is sitting up there claiming that the White House, which is currently suing to block, among other things, Don McGahn’s testimony and multiple entirely legal efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns, is actually complying with congressional investigators.

1:09 p.m. Some midhearing news: The Department of Justice inspector general’s report on the origins of the Russia investigation is out. As expected, it debunks rather than supports the conspiracy theory that the FBI’s decision to open an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia was politically motivated.

12:58 p.m. I expected a lot more of this last week, but it is certainly striking today just how hard the Republican committee members are working to derail this hearing via procedural nonsense.

12:42 p.m. Republicans are taking pains to suggest the testimony and news accounts are “conflicting,” but they are not. The most remarkable thing about this impeachment inquiry is the extent to which the witnesses all tell an overwhelmingly consistent story about how the president conditioned military aid and a head-of-state meeting on investigations into his political opponent.

12:32 p.m. It’s alarming how central “he said he didn’t do it” is to the defense of Trump, as if a) no criminal has ever denied that they’re committing a crime and b) Trump doesn’t have an incredibly extensive history of lying about literally every subject under the sun.

12:17 p.m. I don’t know about you, but the defense that Trump actually believed the debunked, Putin-pushed conspiracy theories he wanted investigated makes me more convinced that he’s unfit for office—not less.

12:12 p.m. Castor just said, “Witnesses who testified in the inquiry have denied having awareness of criminal activity or even an impeachable offense.”

That’s because it wasn’t their job to discuss whether Trump’s actions were criminal or impeachable—they were asked to provide facts. When legal experts were called, they clearly said that Trump’s alleged behavior was impeachable—even the one the GOP called, who said, “The use of military aid for a quid pro quo to investigate one’s political opponent, if proven, can be an impeachable offense.”

12:02 p.m. Castor’s starting again. What is the over/under on how many minutes before he actually tries to dispute a single fact?

11:53 a.m. I wanted to use the opportunity of this recess to drill down on something to which Goldman alluded. Trump’s defenders have done a good job of laundering the conspiracy theory he and Giuliani were pushing to make it sound much more reasonable than it actually is. They make it sound like Trump wanted Zelensky to connect the dots of a handful of (unconnected) Ukrainian officials or citizens who said mean things or uncovered damaging information about him in 2016. But what Trump actually asked about—and what Giuliani’s been hammering on TV for months—is CrowdStrike, which is the centerpiece of a sprawling conspiracy theory that starts with the myth that Russia didn’t actually hack the DNC; that the DNC sent its (nonexistent) server to Ukraine to cover up … something; and that Biden pressed Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general not just to protect his son but also to cover for the DNC. Needless to say, this is an even less believable conspiracy theory than the (demonstrably false) allegations Trump’s defenders have advanced—which is probably why they’ve worked so hard to sanitize it for public consumption.

That is what makes Trump and Giuliani’s push utterly incompatible with the consensus that Russia hacked the election. You can’t say that both Russia and Ukraine tried to interfere on different sides in 2016 because the crux of the Ukrainian interference conspiracy theory is that Russia was effectively framed in a bank-shot attempt to implicate Trump and torpedo his candidacy.

10:49 a.m. If the Trump administration is as innocent as the minority counsel claims, why haven’t they produced any documents? It would seem that documents might be useful, assuming there are any exculpatory documents in existence.

10:35 a.m. A question neither Castor, nor anybody else trying to defend Trump, has ever bothered even trying to answer: If Trump cared so much about corruption in Ukraine, why did he not tell anybody in his administration that was why he was withholding aid? Why didn’t he give any explanation? And why did he not bring up corruption in either of his conversations with Zelensky, despite his briefers repeatedly suggesting he do so?

10:22 a.m. We’re more than 10 minutes into Castor’s opening statement so far, and I have yet to hear him contest a single fact or allegation about Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine. He has, however, listed several other examples of Trump’s abuses of power, including his conflicts of interest and the conduct outlined in the Mueller report, which are arguably impeachable offenses in their own right.

10:11 a.m. If Trump’s defenders were so concerned about President Trump’s motives being impugned by witnesses, maybe they should take that up with Trump, who’s given witnesses (and the American people) every reason to believe that his motives were corrupt.

10:09 a.m. Berke is bringing in a key point from the Mueller report: Trump has invited foreign interference on his behalf before, when he asked Russia to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing” in 2016. And Russia tried to do exactly that, attempting to hack into Clinton’s email server within hours of Trump’s request. That’s an incredibly important precedent to keep in mind as Trump tries to do it again.

9:48 a.m. It’s important to remember that the key facts at issue in this impeachment inquiry remain undisputed. And that remains true no matter how much shouting the minority does.

9:36 a.m. At some point, you’d think that one of the many congressional Republicans who continually complain that they haven’t heard from any fact witnesses will have to acknowledge that the reason there have been so few fact witnesses is that the White House has blocked at least a dozen of them from testifying

9:31 a.m. It’s really a galaxy-brain take that the effort to stop President Donald Trump from inviting foreign interference in the 2020 election is itself an illegitimate attempt to interfere in the 2020 election, but that’s what Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) is going with, I guess.