Margaret Valenti writes on the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald J. Trump, which took place on Wednesday with three major U.S. news networks broadcasting. This is the fourth time in history a U.S. President will go through a formal impeachment process.
For most of Wednesday, three U.S. news networks tuned into the live impeachment hearings of President Donald J. Trump, the fourth ever President of the United States to ever undergo formal impeachment. Not as many people tuned in as the Democrats hoped, Republicans are still mad that an impeachment against Donald Trump is considered legitimate, and the two diplomats who testified, George Kent and William Taylor, did not add much more to what the public already knows.
Despite the lack of an abundance of new information, their testimonies were compelling and provided more insight into the situation between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the importance of the region to the U.S. and Europe. Their testimonies put the call between Trump and Zelensky into perspective for those who tuned in.
Taylor did testify about a phone call that took place between Donald Trump and Gordon Sondland, where Sondland told Trump that Ukraine was ready to move forward and investigate the Bidens. When Sondland was asked about Trump’s views of Ukraine following this call by a Taylor staffer, he replied that Trump was more concerned about the investigation than the situation in Ukraine.
Much of the rest was a lot of bickering between Democrats and Republicans related to the characterization of the interactions and views Trump held with regard to his dealings with Ukraine during the time period in question.
Quid-Pro-Quo, Bribery, or Extortion?
A lot of the hearing focused on word choice geared towards how each side wants to characterize the President’s actions. Democrats transitioned from “quid-pro-quo” to calling the President’s actions with Ukraine “bribery” and “extortion”. A quid-pro-quo is a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something. The allegation implied within the Ukraine phone transcripts is that Trump expected Zelensky and his people to investigate the Bidens or they would not receive military aid necessary to protect themselves from Russia.
Bribery is the offering of a bribe, which usually has a monetary connotation and would apply since Trump presumably withheld money in exchange for a service beneficial to his reelection campaign. Extortion is bribery but instead of using money or another reward to obtain something, someone feels threatened to do something against their will.
It is true that Zelensky would not investigate the Bidens unless Trump asked, but the language used in the transcripts does not appear to directly link the withholding of aid to the investigation. It seems, at face value, that the actions that took place on the phone call that started the whole impeachment falls into the category of bribery. The Democrats could conclude that withholding military aid amounts to a threat since Ukraine relies on U.S. military aid for their safety and security. A quid-pro-quo implies “I pat your back and you pat mine”, which is not necessarily illegal. However, bribing people, on the scale that Trump discussed with Zelensky, is illegal and there is no doubt about that.
Is Hearsay Inadmissible?
There is also the question of hearsay, which is information received second hand that the giver of said information cannot substantiate. There are still a lot of people who are unknown to the public who talked directly to the people who are providing Congress with this information. Republicans are trying to use the hearsay argument to say that all the evidence brought to Congress so far, aside from the Ukraine transcript and any other official documentation, is inadmissible.
Usually, hearsay is not admissible as evidence. However, hearsay is admissible as evidence if it falls under one of three lawful exceptions. Present Sense Impression is one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule that would apply to the Trump impeachment hearings and allow the hearsay of the Whistleblower or anyone else who testifies to be admissible. The hearsay must describe the speaker’s sense of or explain the event in question and occur during or immediately after the event takes place for it to be admissible under the Present Sense Impression exception.
It is unclear which of the current evidence would be acceptable in a court of law, depending on the dates on which the hearsay took place. The phrasing “immediately thereafter” does leave a lot of leeway for interpretation.
What Else Is New?
It is not clear whether the public will ever get to hear directly from the Whistleblower, but considering Trump and his Republican allies’ threats, that seems unlikely. However, there are multiple officials and staffers expected to testify before Congress, whether they will or not is another story. So far, Congress has not jailed anyone for contempt, and many argue that they should, but that would not be beneficial to the process at this juncture.
Any appearance of bipartisanism would fade and divide the country more. So, they cannot force anyone to testify. Those who are willing to tell the truth and remain non partisan, like Kent and Taylor, are the best hope of formally impeaching Donald Trump in Congress. Even in the best of circumstances, if Congress votes to impeach Trump, the Senate will most likely vote against impeachment and Trump will remain in office and continue to run for President. So, what will all of this have accomplished?
Since there is nothing explicitly stated in the Constitution regarding this specific situation, it seems like Trump is permitted to run for reelection even if he is impeached by Congress. No sitting President impeached in Congress has ever run for reelection so there is no precedent for this situation either. It is uncharted territory.
So, the greatest hope the Democrats have for removing Donald Trump from office is to beat him in the Presidential race, which is the same strategy they had before they ever heard from the Whistleblower or learned of the phone call.