Day Five, Trump Survives
It's Day Five of the House impeachment circus and Donald Trump is still president of the United States. In spite of the media's breathless reporting, these hearings have been largely devoid of substance, and the headlines have been devoid of facts.
Yesterday's hearing with Ambassador Gordon Sondland provided excellent examples of what's wrong with this process and with the press.
Sondland delivered a lengthy opening statement before the committee. It was 23 pages long. He made blaring headlines for suggesting that there was a "quid pro quo" between the Trump White House and Ukraine. This headline from Politico was a common theme among the media, "Sondland: There Was A Quid Pro Quo, And Everyone Knew It."
But as we noted in yesterday's report, Sondland's testimony took a dramatic turn later in the day when he recounted a phone call he had with Trump in which the president told him, "I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo."
Curiously, Sondland's recollection of that phone call escaped his lengthy opening statement. Rep. Jim Jordan was livid at Sondland's omission, and rightfully so.
Former Independent Counsel Ken Starr was "stunned." Starr told Fox News:
"Why did [Sondland] leave out of the opening statement -- we were all scrambling with the opening statement -- the most salient presidential comment to you directly? . . . I'm stunned that that comment would have not have come out in the opening statement.
"Why? Are you trying to be fair? Are you trying to be complete? There is no excuse for this ambassador appointed by this president to leave [it] out. [It's] such a material omission."
Rep. Mike Turner was also baffled by Sondland's lack of candor. During his questioning of the witness, Turner noted how Rep. Adam Schiff recessed the hearings immediately after Sondland's opening statement and ran to the nearest microphone. Consider this exchange:
TURNER: "After you testified, Chairman Schiff ran out and gave a press conference and said he gets to impeach the president of the United States because of your testimony. And if you pull up CNN today, right now their banner says, 'Sondland Ties Trump To Withholding Aid.'
"Is that your testimony today, Ambassador Sondland? That you have evidence that Donald Trump tied the investigations to the aid? Because I don't think you're saying that."
SONDLAND: "I've said repeatedly, Congressman, I was presuming."
TURNER: "So, no one told you? Not just the president, Giuliani didn't tell you, Mulvaney didn't tell you, nobody, Pompeo didn't tell you? . . . Is that correct?
"No one on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying this aid to the investigations? If your answer is yes, then the chairman is wrong, and the headline on CNN is wrong. No one on this planet told you that President Trump was tying aid to investigations. Yes or no?"
Watch the exchange here.
Sondland Smears Pence Too
I have heard some people question the point of the impeachment effort, and even whether it's ultimately harmful to conservatives. "After all, if the left succeeds, they get President Pence." Or so the argument goes. But that completely misses the point.
As we have noted before, this isn't about Donald Trump. Maxine Waters has repeatedly targeted Mike Pence. (Here and here.) And Michael Moore put it bluntly when he said:
"Job one . . . is to make sure that we not only get rid of Trump or Trump's replacement, but we get rid of that which gave us Trump. That's really what the real issue should be."
He's talking about YOU, my friends. More than 63 million Americans "gave us" Donald Trump.
The left won't be satisfied with "President Pence." It's clear that the Deep State is trying to take down everybody. It's trying to reverse the 2016 election. Period.
During his testimony yesterday, Sondland also said that he informed Vice President Pence about his impression of the quid pro quo before the vice president's September meeting in Warsaw with the president of Ukraine.
Numerous papers today have stories with headlines like this one: "Sondland Acknowledges Ukraine Quid Pro Quo, Implicates Trump, Pence, Pompeo and Others."
I have the advantage of having a long, personal relationship with Mike Pence. He does not lie. Nor does he allow his staff to lie in his name.
Responding to Sondland's smear, Marc Short, the vice president's chief of staff, told reporters that Sondland was "never alone" with the vice president during the Warsaw trip and that the alleged conversation "never happened."
Former Independent Counsel Ken Starr today offered his summary of the impeachment hearings, saying:
"My assessment of the evidence [thus] far? Nowhere close. . . So, the record at the end of the day is likely to be ambiguous at best, conflicting at best . . . and you shouldn't charge and you cannot convict a sitting president on the basis of conflicting and ambiguous evidence, and destabilize the American government."
Starr went on to say that while Democrats may not like the way Trump conducts his foreign policy, "It is not the stuff of impeachment."
Meanwhile, the president and his Senate supporters are obviously feeling confident. There is breaking news that the White House and Senate Republicans have agreed that if the House approves articles of impeachment there will be a full Senate trial "of some length" in order to provide for "a factual affirmative defense on the merits."
Congress Confronts China
Late yesterday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The vote was 417-to-1. The Senate had already unanimously approved the bill, and it is now heading to the White House for President Trump's signature.
The legislation requires an annual review by the State Department to determine whether political conditions in Hong Kong continue to warrant the special status that city currently enjoys when it comes to trade and commerce.
In other words, if the communist regime in Beijing suppresses free speech, religious liberty and other rights in Hong Kong, then the United States may revoke Hong Kong's status and treat it the same way it treats mainland China. The legislation also allows for sanctions against government officials who are responsible for human rights violations.
Beijing's bosses are furious. The People's Daily, the official Communist Party propaganda outlet, warned in a front-page editorial, "If the U.S. side obstinately clings to its course, the Chinese side will inevitably adopt forceful measures to take resolute revenge."
In its own way, the success of the legislation is a tribute to President Trump. Just a few years ago, the "free trade uber alles" mentality dominated Washington. The bipartisan consensus was that China must be appeased.
But Donald Trump has truly put the spotlight on China over its unfair trade practices, massive espionage, human rights abuses and gross violations of religious liberty. Because of the president's leadership, members of Congress finally feel free to call out China's communist dictators.