Facing diplomats rather than Democratic Party rivals, Republicans stall

Impeachment hearings will be won on Capitol Hill, not on Twitter

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 13, 2019 US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with  Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a group of Republican senators in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. Congress can request nearly a decade of Donald Trump's tax filings, an appeals court said on November 13, 2019, striking a new blow to the US president as he attempts to keep his financial records out of Democrats' hands. The decision marked the second time an appeals court has denied Trump's attempt to avoid a House subpoena that calls for him to turn over eight years of accounting documents.
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It was only day one of public hearings but what did Americans – and the rest of us – learn from the impeachment inquiry?

There was evidence of a new telephone call. In it, President Donald Trump spoke with his Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, about whether Ukraine was going to investigate Joe Biden. They would fall in line, the US president was told, according to the testimony of William Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine. Mr Trump is said to have “cared more” about damaging Mr Biden than he did about providing $391-million for Ukraine's defence against Russian tanks.

Mr Sondland will next week be questioned about the telephone call. A hotelier by trade his appointment as an ambassador was payback for $1-million given to Mr Trump's presidential campaign. Having already changed his evidence once his reliability is under the microscope. If he does not corroborate the phone call we can expect one or more people who heard the discussion, at dinner in a restaurant of all places, to arrive on Capitol Hill. Unlike Mr Sondland, no one – not even Mr Trump's strongest defenders – has questioned Mr Taylor's evidence.

But if Mr Sondland is an important figure in establishing if Mr Trump wanted a probe into the Bidens, he is a bit part player compared to Rudy Giuliani.

The freewheeling former mayor of New York was frequently mentioned on Wednesday. Acting as Mr Trump's personal lawyer he has reportedly been assembling dirt on Mr Biden and his son Hunter Biden since January. On Friday, the main casualty of his “irregular” and “unhelpful” diplomacy, as Mr Taylor and George Kent, the State Department's top official on Ukraine called it, will be giving evidence.

Marie Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled from her post as ambassador to Ukraine in May. Evidence for the reasons why points to Mr Giuliani. He pushed for Ms Yovanovitch's removal such was the likelyhood that she, another State Department veteran, would be a barrier to the shadow diplomacy being carried out to benefit Mr Trump politically. She had been doing a good job. Mr Taylor and Mr Kent spoke of their admiration of her efforts to combat corruption, despite opposition from within Ukraine.

“You can't promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people,” Mr Kent said.

Such a candid answer revealed the fury that lingers over the politicisation of diplomacy under the Trump administration. But it also showed that testimony under oath has greater value as evidence that tweets that are never put to the test.

Mr Taylor and Mr Kent repeatedly said US policy should centre on national security interests, helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia, which invaded in 2014. Decisions should not be calculated for anyone's personal political gain.

Testimony from knowledgeable, non-partisan and deeply experienced witnesses seemed to have a tranquilizing effect on Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee. The motormouth delivery of the shirt-sleeved member for Ohio Jim Jordan, and others, fell flat. Mr Jordan's leading argument was that no crime was committed because Ukraine eventually got military aid and there was no investigation of the Bidens.

On that illogical basis – attempted bribery is not a crime – America's prisons would be much less crowded.

The test for Democrats, as well as Republicans in the Senate, is whether voters are prepared to make the same judgment.