The New Yorker:
After five days, twelve witnesses, lots of shouting, and dozens of angry tweets from the President, the House Intelligence Committee’s public impeachment hearings into Donald Trump’s Ukraine affair ended on Thursday with one unequivocal result: a Republican stonewall so complete that it cannot and will not be breached. The G.O.P. defense, in essence, is that facts are irrelevant, no matter how damning or inconvenient, and that Trump has the power to do whatever he wants, even if it seems inappropriate, improper, or simply wrong. Recognizing this, Democrats on Thursday evening signalled that they will move ahead with impeachment by the full House anyway, and soon. It was a grim choice, made with the knowledge that the case against Trump will likely proceed without any Republican votes, or even testimony from key Administration witnesses who have obeyed the President’s command not to appear.
A couple of weeks ago, before Dr. Fiona Hill, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, and Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch showed Americans what it means to speak unapologetically wonkish truth to Trumpian power, before the Republican donor turned diplomat Gordon Sondland gave a bad name to rich-guy dilettantes everywhere and tried to redeem himself by throwing Trump and his senior advisers under the bus, I wondered whether President Trump was already winning. From the start of the inquiry into his scheme to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations for his personal political benefit, the President has defined winning as making sure that impeachment remained an entirely partisan issue, with Democrats pushing it and Republicans standing with him to oppose it. By that standard, he was winning before the hearings—and he is still winning after them. If anything, his political hand is now even stronger as Republicans, presented with incontrovertible facts, have chosen not to accept them—and to become even more vociferous in Trump’s defense.
On Thursday morning, in what was meant to be the powerful culminating moment of the hearings, Hill gave a searing statement to Republican members of the panel about the big lie behind Trump’s demand that Ukraine investigate its own alleged intervention in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, an obsession of the President’s because he hoped to disprove the massive Russian interference on his behalf in that campaign. Trump and his defenders, she made clear, are simply trafficking in Russian-fuelled conspiracy theories. It is a “fictional narrative,” Hill told the committee calmly and authoritatively, a hoax “perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.” What’s more, Russia’s sweeping effort has been confirmed by the U.S. intelligence community, as well as by Congress and the very Intelligence Committee holding the hearing. “The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016,” Hill, who served as Trump’s top National Security Council expert on Russia until she announced her resignation, in July, said. “It is beyond dispute.”
Republicans, though, chose to dispute it. They had accepted this fact in the past, but now it was politically inconvenient for the President. Trump did not want to believe it, and so Republicans wouldn’t, either. If anyone thought that Hill’s stirring insistence on the facts would have any effect, that notion was quickly dispelled. By 11:23 a.m., the Trump campaign had sent out a “rapid response” to its e-mail list, with the subject heading “Ukrainian election interference.” It was a two-sentence missive, introducing a new conspiracy linking the House Intelligence Committee’s chairman, Adam Schiff, to the one that Hill had just so eloquently debunked. “There’s a simple reason Adam Schiff wants to deny Ukraine interfered in U.S. politics,” the e-mail said. “He was willing to collude with them.”
For hours afterward, Republicans on the panel dismissed Hill. Some of them yelled at her. Some of them refused to ask her any direct questions. Some made false equivalences between Russia’s massive state-sanctioned campaign in 2016 and Ukrainian expressions of dismay that Trump publicly backed the country with which they are at war and employed as his campaign chair a man who had worked for their ousted corrupt, Russian-backed leader. Confronted after the hearing with Hill’s unequivocal statement that Ukraine had not interfered in the U.S. election, the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, a man who once mocked Trump for being in the pocket of Vladimir Putin, simply refused to accept it. “I think they did,” he told reporters. On Friday morning, Trump called in to “Fox & Friends” and repeated the Russian conspiracy theory about Ukraine all over again on live TV.
The denial was telling. If Republicans were now willing to disavow a fact they had previously acknowledged, it seemed more and more apparent that they could not be swayed by any of the actual evidence against Trump. On Wednesday, Sondland told the committee that Trump had personally directed him to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to force Ukraine’s hand on the investigations, leveraging a White House meeting sought by Ukraine’s new President. “Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland testified. “The answer is yes.” But many committee Republicans simply twisted that statement around, repeating Trump’s misleading words to Sondland that there had been “no quid pro,” as if the President’s denial were the only proof needed of his innocence. As Thursday’s hearing wound down, Will Hurd, a retiring Texas representative who was once seen as a possible Republican vote for impeachment, used his questioning time not to engage with Hill but to announce that he saw “no evidence” of impeachable offenses. There was no one left to persuade, at least in the House of Representatives. It was a surprisingly definitive moment.
There is, of course, another narrative of the hearings, a nobler one, a patriotic and inspiring and surprisingly feminist one. This is the version of impeachment in which, whatever the result, America and the body politic are better off for the process and the chance it afforded to observe the personal courage of Yovanovitch, who was smeared by the President but not intimidated by him, and the unyielding conviction of Hill, as she dismantled the conspiracy theorists arrayed before her and did not back down when they hectored her. Hill and Yovanovitch were fierce, smart, and uncompromising in their insistence on facts. They came to the center of political attention as genuinely apolitical experts who have remained nonpartisan over their long careers, which was almost inconceivable to the partisan warriors who dismissed their sworn testimonies because accepting their nonpartisanship would mean having to accept that there is a world beyond the you’re-with-me-or-against-me one that Trump has imposed upon the Republican Party.
The journalist in me longs to write about this other version of the hearings: the one that is all about the evidence and the unfolding investigation, about who was a strong witness and who was not, about where there are holes in the case and what new information was gleaned. This is the version that those who listened closely came away with, the one that led Julie Pace, the Washington bureau chief of the Associated Press, no bastion of editorializing, to conclude the “mountain of impeachment evidence is beyond dispute.”
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