WASHINGTON — Democrats might have thought they were scoring devastating blows on President Trump after eliciting explosive testimony from their final impeachment witnesses.
Then Republicans were like, Hold my beer.
The GOP tried to put former National Security Council member Fiona Hill and diplomat David Holmes on the spot, but instead tripped into a series of face-plants that hurt President Trump as much as anything the Democrats had managed in a week-plus of public hearings that ended Thursday afternoon.
Hill delivered arguably the most brutal statement of the week while answering questions from GOP counsel Steve Castor. She pinned the Ukraine scandal clearly on President Trump as she discussed a fight she’d had with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
“What I was angry about is that he wasn’t coordinating with us. Now I actually realized having listened to his deposition that he was absolutely right — that he wasn’t coordinating with us because we weren’t doing the same thing he was doing,” she said.
“He was being involved in a domestic political errand”
“He was being involved in a domestic political errand and we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.”
That was just one of a string of own-goal moments the GOP committed as they questioned Hill and David Holmes, a career diplomat stationed at in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) sought to weave together a conspiracy theory that Ukraine had orchestrated a campaign against Trump in the 2016 election.
But both Holmes and Hill knocked down his arguments, as they warned he was furthering a conspiracy pushed by Russia to shift blame for the 2016 election interference. Trump has actively entertained that theory — and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani repeatedly traveled to Ukraine to push for evidence for it.
Nunes asked Holmes about the “black ledger” of information that a Ukrainian lawmaker passed along to U.S. officials, expecting him to say that information wasn’t credible as he sought to build evidence for the conspiracy theory that Ukraine undercut Trump.
“The black ledger, is that seen as credible information?” Nunes asked.
“Yes,” Holmes responded.
Nunes seemed caught completely off-guard, asking the question again and saying the information hadn’t been used by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Holmes said it’d been used in other criminal investigations.
Nunes proceeded to claim that the motivation for the Ukrainian lawmaker was “to go after a Trump campaign official and undermine Trump’s candidacy,” while avoiding the fact that the campaign official in question was Trump’s now-jailed former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Holmes’ response was that “it was to expose corruption in Ukraine.”
Members of the GOP also tried to get Hill to raise doubts about her former aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who'd delivered damaging impeachment testimony earlier in the week.
But instead, she reinforced his credibility, calling him an experienced and competent Army officer and foreign policy expert, and that her only question about his judgement concerned whether he’d be well-equipped to navigate the tricky domestic political questions posed by the rise of the shadow campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
Things didn’t get any better from there.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) attempted to grill Holmes about what Jordan implied was an unexplained gap in the testimony of Holmes’ boss, acting ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor — but Holmes’ explanation caused more problems for Trump.
Jordan wanted to know why Taylor didn’t immediately inform the impeachment committees about Holmes’ account of a phone call between Sondland and Trump. Taylor informed the inquiry about the call after his first deposition. Sondland later testified that the phone call took place, and phone records confirmed it.
Holmes said he hadn’t briefed Taylor about it explicitly because, at that point, everyone in the U.S. outpost knew what was going on.
"It was obvious what the president was pressing for," Holmes said.
Republicans seemed rattled, with a number of them declining to question the pair of witnesses completely in favor of delivering their own diatribes.
“I actually have no questions for you that haven’t already been answered,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) declared before making his own statement.
Cover: Ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes (D-CA), minority counsel Steve Castor, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) listen as committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) delivers his closing remarks at the conclusion of an impeachment hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)