For six weeks the hearings in Congress took place behind closed doors. But today is a new phase in the impeachment investigation into President Trump. The Congressional Inquiry Committee will now hear witnesses in public.
These interrogations are broadcast live on all American news channels. For the first time, voters and journalists can listen to what witnesses have to say in the Ukraine scandal. The Democrats want to make an impression and that is why they let the American top diplomat Bill Taylor immediately start the afternoon.
His earlier testimony behind closed doors caused shockwaves in Washington’s politics in October, when his detailed opening statement leaked. He was the first to state that Trump had frozen military aid to put pressure on Ukraine for personal purposes.
The White House wanted Ukraine to publicly declare that it would launch an investigation into Trumps political rival Joe Biden. Later this week, diplomat George Kent and former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testify.
For the Democrats, public hearings are a necessary step. To dismiss the president, a two-thirds majority is required in the Senate. To achieve that, you need at least twenty Republican senators who lose their own president. But Republicans will only move if there is a significant shift in public opinion.
The Democrats see public interrogations as a crucial factor in this information war. Since the start of the investigation, support among the American public for deposition has grown steadily.
Up to mid-September, between 35 and 40 percent of Americans were in favor of an investigation. That changed when the news about the Ukraine scandal came out. According to the latest polls, 49 percent are now in favor and 46 percent against.
Yet it is probably not enough to change Republicans in Congress. The formal vote on the continuation of the investigation on 31 October spoke volumes. All Republicans in the House of Representatives then voted against. Trump remains unbelievably popular with his supporters and only a small minority of Republican voters are in favor of the investigation.
The President has a firm hold on the Republican Party. The Republicans are on the eve of an election year in which the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are re-elected. Everyone knows that with a simple tweet, Trump can make or break your candidacy. There are as yet few Republicans who dare to defy the presidential wrath.
Yet you see that Republicans in Congress struggle to defend the president in the Ukraine scandal. Their arguments have gone in all directions in recent weeks. For a long time the Republicans sang very loudly in the Trumpian choir: “No quid pro quo!”, Trump was not after a deal. But several witnesses have stated that there was indeed a ‘what-should-be’ thing about the telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president.
Those witness statements have been particularly consistent so far. Trump put pressure on Ukraine by withholding military aid worth $ 391 million, witness testified after witness. And that help would not be resumed until Ukraine publicly announced that it would launch an investigation into Trumps political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
You will hardly hear the Republicans say anything about the content of the infamous telephone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky and the various witness statements.
They focus on procedural aspects. The sediment investigation is unconstitutional, they argue. They also question the integrity of the witnesses. The Republicans have also called on Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who started the issue as witnesses to testify in public. It is intended as a smokescreen to divert attention from the role of the president in the scandal.