Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan led the Republican attack against Democrats and impeachment witnesses on the first day of public hearings

Eliza Relman
impeachment hearings devin nunes republicans

Associated Press/Susan Walsh

  • Republicans attempted a wide variety of defenses and lines of questioning during the first day of public impeachment hearings in Washington on Wednesday. 
  • Some attacked the two witnesses personally, others argued that without testimony from the government whistleblower, the process would be a sham. Still others distracted from the testimony with attacks on Democrats. 
  • In recent weeks, the GOP has promoted dozens of different defenses of Trump's actions regarding Ukraine. 
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Republicans attempted a wide variety of defenses of President Donald Trump and lines of questioning of the two witnesses during the first day of impeachment hearings on Wednesday. 

In one line of defense, Republicans attempted to characterize extensive testimony from Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, as inaccurate hearsay.

Several Republicans argued that the witnesses were simply repeating theories they'd gathered about Trump's actions from other unreliable sources, rather than from the president himself. GOP Rep. Jim Jordan argued that because nearly $400 million in US security aid to Ukraine was eventually released in September, there's no way Trump could've used it as leverage to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. 

"What you heard did not happen," Jordan told Taylor. "It's not just could it have been wrong, the fact is it was wrong, because it did not happen."

The administration released the aid on September 11 — after the White House learned that a CIA whistleblower filed a complaint alleging the president was involved in a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly planned to announce the investigations into Trump's political opponents in a CNN interview on September 13.

Career Foreign Service officer George Kent, left, and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor testify during an impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday Nov. 13, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Associated Press

In recent weeks, the GOP has promoted dozens of different defenses of Trump's actions regarding Ukraine. 

Some lawmakers also brought up the whistleblower, who filed a complaint in August about a July 25 call between Trump and the president of Ukraine, where Trump discusses the Bidens and an unsubstantiated claim about Ukraine and the 2016 election and asks for "a favor." The whistleblower complaint helped spur the impeachment inquiry. A summary transcript of the call was released by the White House in September.

Republican lawmakers argue the whistleblower should testify, despite his protected right and desire to remain anonymous. 

"We will never get the chance to see the whistleblower raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth," Jordan said. "And more importantly, the American people will never get the chance."

Attacks on Democrats were sprinkled generously throughout the Republicans' statements and questions on Wednesday. Rep. Devin Nunes, the highest-ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, promoted Trump's unsubstantiated claim that the Ukrainian government colluded with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to help Hillary Clinton. 

"They accuse President Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine when they, themselves, are culpable," Nunes said during his opening statement. "The Democrats cooperated in Ukrainian election meddling and they defend Hunter Biden's securing of a lavishly paid position with a corrupt Ukrainian company."

Some attempted to humiliate Wednesday's witnesses, both of whom are long-serving, non-partisan career diplomats.

impeachment hearings bill taylor george kent

Reuters/Erin Scott

Nunes said Taylor and Kent had, "wittingly or unwittingly," been "cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel" to the "Russia hoax." And he argued that career diplomats were part of a "politicized bureaucracy" undermining the president that had "lost the confidence of millions of Americans who believe that their vote should count for something."

The lawyer for the Republicans, Steve Castor, elicited chuckles from Taylor when he asked if the "irregular channel" established by the Trump's personal lawyer between the administration and Ukrainian officials wasn't as irregular as it could've been. 

"This irregular channel of diplomacy — it's not as outlandish as it could be, is that correct?" Castor asked

The GOP's strategy seemed to be to confuse and distract with a myriad of different defenses. The goal for both sides during the public hearing phase of the impeachment inquiry is to sway the American public, the majority of which support holding the proceedings.

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