Um, so what? Trump had already released a rough transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he had pressed him for investigations. The overheard call told us nothing we did not already know. Indeed, the only one likely to get in trouble from this revelation is Sondland, who violated operational security by calling the president in public on an unsecure cellphone.
How about former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony? We learned that Trump fired her without explanation (which as president he had every right to do) and besmirched her reputation. Yes, Trump treated her horribly, but being a jerk is not an impeachable offense.
Then, as though to prove the point, Trump attacked her on Twitter as she was testifying, writing, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.” Democrats pounced, trying to turn Trump’s blunder into a new charge of “witness intimidation.” Please. Witness intimidation is defined as “the threatening of a crucial court witnesses by pressure or extortion to compel him/her to not to testify.” Yovanovitch had already been fired as ambassador and was in the process of testifying. No bombshell there, either.
Then on Tuesday, Democrats asked Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman about his assertion that Zelensky had mentioned “Burisma” in his call with Trump, even though the word was not in the transcript released to the public. The suggestion was that the transcript had been doctored. Vindman testified that it was “not a significant omission” and that the career staff who produce the transcripts simply “didn’t catch the word.” In other words, there was no bombshell scrubbing of the transcript.
They got nothing damaging from Vice President Pence’s Eurasia adviser Jennifer Williams, who testified Tuesday morning that investigations never came up in Pence’s meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw. They got nothing from former special envoy Kurt Volker or former National Security Council staffer Tim Morrison on Tuesday afternoon. So after three days of hearings, Democrats have failed to produce anything remotely explosive.
That means they are losing. Polls show the vast majority of Americans agree with Vindman that the Trump-Zelensky call “was inappropriate.” They agreed with Vindman before he testified. But only a minority of Americans say Trump’s conduct warrants impeachment and removal. And the hearings are not changing their minds. Indeed, support for the impeachment inquiry has ticked down since the hearings began, as has the number of Americans tuning in to watch.
That means Democrats are failing to convince Americans that Trump’s misconduct rises to the level of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. In blackjack, the tie goes to the dealer; in impeachment, the tie goes to the president. If Republicans fight Democrats to a draw, Trump wins.
Indeed, Republicans increasingly seem to believe impeachment will help them at the polls next November. A few weeks ago, Senate Republicans were discussing the possibility of a quick dismissal of any charges sent over by the House. They suggested they might follow the precedent set by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) during the Clinton impeachment trial and offer a motion to dismiss the charges soon after the trial begins. They would need just a simple majority to end the proceedings.
Now, Republican senators appear to be moving in the opposite direction. The Post has reported that there is discussion of drawing out the impeachment trial to keep the six Democratic senators who are running for president trapped in Washington and off the campaign trail. If Republicans thought impeachment was hurting them, there is zero chance they would be talking about an extended trial. As long as they show they are taking their jobs as jurors seriously, an impeachment trial can energize their base and help them keep the Senate and hold the White House.
Indeed, impeachment could be to the 2020 election what the Brett M. Kavanaugh hearings were to 2018 Senate midterms — except GOP voters see Democrats smearing not just Trump’s Supreme Court pick but Trump himself.
That is a message on which Trump will happily run.