I have unfortunate news: All I’ve been able to think about for the past five days of impeachment proceedings is the American horror punk musician Wednesday 13’s first live album, Fuck It, We’ll Do It Live.
Let me explain: This was the first week that the House Intelligence Committee held public impeachment hearings — on live television for all the world to see. Previous witnesses provided testimony in bipartisan closed-door sessions in the basement of the Capitol building. We didn’t know much about what happened beyond the transcripts the House released of those hearings; in fact, there’s still a lot we don’t know. But let me fill you in on what we do know.
To catch you up:
During a July 25 phone call, President Donald Trump allegedly asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on his potential political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump also asked Zelensky to investigate Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm that conducted an analysis of the hack of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election and was involved in the FBI inquiry of Russia’s 2016 election interference. Trump allegedly dangled $400 million in aid to the country and a personal meeting between the two leaders as leverage. After a whistleblower sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and California Representative Adam Schiff detailing the call, the White House released a memorandum (read: not an exact transcript) of the call confirming pretty much all of this.
In the following weeks, the House of Representatives launched into a formal impeachment inquiry of the president; multiple White House staffers resigned; and Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, two associates of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who worked to dig up dirt on the Bidens, attempted to leave the country and were consequently arrested. A bipartisan committee began calling in witnesses for questioning, hearing from the likes of Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine; Fiona Hill, Trump’s top Russia advisor; Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a staffer and top Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, and more.
For the most part, these investigations were kept between the individuals testifying and the committee interviewing them. Last week, though, many of the full interview transcripts went public. And this week, a few of them gave live testimonies.
Before we get there, something happened on Saturday (November 9) that didn’t make it into last week’s impeachment roundup: Republican lawmakers released a list of witnesses they want to testify publicly. According to the New York Times, not all of the people on this list will make it to public hearings, but the list includes Hunter Biden; Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine; Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council official; and, of course, the whistleblower. (Making the whistleblower testify publicly would be outing them: Don’t do that.)
So what happened this week?
Monday, November 11
Investigators released the interview transcript of the testimony of Laura Cooper, the Pentagon’s top Russia and Ukraine official. In her deposition, she said the Trump administration’s decision to delay military aid to Ukraine was shocking and that the White House asked about the aid a month before they froze the funding.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, asked last week to join a lawsuit filed by John Bolton, the former national security adviser, who is currently seeking a ruling on whether or not he should have to testify. Bolton’s lawyer said absolutely not, and on Monday, Mulvaney withdrew his effort, the Washington Post reported. In layman’s terms? Get your own lifeboat!
Finally, Trump said the transcripts of the interviews that were released last week were “doctored.” Reader, as far as we know, they were not.
Tuesday, November 12
Politicos spent most of Tuesday preparing for Wednesday’s live hearings; as part of that, House Republicans reportedly circulated a memo that laid out a strategy for defending the President as public hearings start. The memo, according to the New York Times, told Republicans to say Trump did nothing wrong and follow that up with an attack on the lawmakers, politicians, and bureaucrats questing the President’s conduct.
“Democrats want to impeach President Trump because unelected and anonymous bureaucrats disagreed with the president’s decisions and were discomforted by his telephone call with President Zelensky,” the memo’s author’s wrote, according to the Times, which is not technically wrong. A lot of people were alarmed by the phone call! That’s why the whistleblower blew the whistle! But the author also issued this talking point: “The president works for the American people. And President Trump is doing what Americans elected him to do.”
Wednesday, November 13
Hello, and welcome to the day everyone has been waiting for. Drumroll, please: It’s the live testimonies! We heard from the first-ever public witnesses of the impeachment inquiry: Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official. They were questioned primarily by Daniel Goldman, the Democrats' lead counsel, and Steve Castor, the Republicans’ lead counsel. According to NBC News, both lawyers also led the questioning of the closed-door depositions. They each spent 45 minutes questioning witnesses on behalf of their respective sides.
Before we go onto what we heard today, it’s important to point out that one of the folks watching in Congress was Drag Queen Pissi Myles, who was reporting on the hearings for Happs.
Most of the six hours of good, good television simply solidified what we already knew, including Kent’s affinity for that bow tie. For instance, Taylor was questioned about quite a few of the texts and emails that were sent between Ukrainian officials and U.S. officials, including when he directly asked: “Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meetings are conditioned on investigations?”
Taylor also shared a new story that he learned of following his closed-door testimony: On July 26, one of Taylor’s aides told him he overheard Sondland call Trump on the phone at a restaurant. Taylor said his aid told him that Trump asked Sondland about “the investigations,” and Sondland said that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” After the call, the aide asked Sondland what Trump thought of Ukraine, and Sondland said that “President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
After the hearings, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said the session “corroborated evidence of bribery” by Trump.
Thursday, November 7
Mark Sandy’s lawyer said he would appear for a closed-door deposition on Saturday if he is subpoenaed. Sandy, a high-ranking official from the Office of Management and Budget, worked under Mulvaney at the OMB, which played a key role in holding up the military aid to Ukraine.
Friday, November 8
The White House released a memorandum (read: not a verbatim transcript) of Trump's first phone call with Zelensky on Friday morning. It didn’t contain the same requests for investigation he made in the July 25 call but laid the groundwork for a relationship between the two world leaders. Trump promised reporters he would release this memo back in September, saying that the call would bolster his claim of innocence, CNN reported. But, in reality, it was primarily a call for Trump to congratulate Zelensky on winning the election, a fairly common interaction when someone wins an election.
We also heard from Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was allegedly ousted amidst pressure from Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. She said she felt threatened by Trump, who used the hearing as a perfect opportunity to attack her on Twitter.
After the President began live-tweeting an indictment of Yovanovitch’s work during her time as ambassador to Ukraine, ranking Democrat Adam Schiff pointed out that he was doing so in real time, and asked her to respond. (Yep, things got meta.) She said: “I don't think I have such powers ... I actually think that where I served over the years I and others have demonstrably made things better.”
Trump, however, might have made things worse for himself. As a number of pundits pointed out, witness intimidation is itself an impeachable offense.