Donald Trump has mocked the “blank look” on the faces of two US diplomats who testified in the first public impeachment hearings of his presidency as he shared a string of personal attacks on the witnesses.
With the fallout from Wednesday’s hearing dominating cable news headlines on Thursday morning, Mr Trump posted a string of messages on Twitter which picked holes in the performance and evidence of the two officials.
One tweet shared by Mr Trump saw a Fox News host call Bill Taylor and George Kent, two State Department officials with more than 75 years of public service between them, “no-name diplomats”.
Another shared a clip from the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off showing a high school girl gossiping about a classmate, effectively likening the two men’s evidence to sharing second-hand information – a key Republican attack line.
Mr Trump also wrote his own comment about the two men’s evidence, poking fun at a response when one Republican congressman asked them to name what the president had done that warranted impeachment.
“John Ratcliffe asked the two ‘star’ witnesses, ‘where is the impeachable event in that call?’,” Mr Trump wrote in one tweet.
“Both stared straight ahead with a blank look on their face, remained silent, & were unable to answer the question. That would be the end of a case run by normal people!"
The president did not detail Mr Taylor’s actual response to the question, where he said it was not his job to “decide about impeachment” but that of US congressmen themselves.
The criticisms, which echoed through the Conservative media landscape in the 24 hours after the hearing, appeared to be an attempt to limit the political damage from the hearing.
One Rasmussen poll taken after the testimony offered encouraging signs for Mr Trump, with the proportion of respondents approving of the president’s job performance rising two points to 48 per cent.
A second day of public testimony will take place on Friday with Marie Yovanovitch, the former Ukraine ambassador ousted after an alleged “smear” campaign by Trump allies including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, taking to the stand.
Another eight witnesses will appear across three days next week, including Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union who is accused of being a conduit for Mr Trump’s push for an investigation by Ukraine of his political rival Joe Biden.
Articles of impeachment against Mr Trump could be voted on as early as mid-December, the next formal step for attempting to remove him from office.
What exact articles the Democrats choose remains to be seen. But Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, where the impeachment inquiry is happening, offered a hint during a press conference yesterday.
While insisting the party had not yet decided to propose articles of impeachment, she suggested there was evidence of “bribery”. The US constitution names as the ground for impeachment “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.
Ms Pelosi said of Mr Trump’s actions towards Ukraine: “The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance, in return for a public statement of a fake investigation, into the elections. That's bribery.”
Away from Mr Trump’s Twitter feed, allies were turning up the heat on the witnesses, especially Mr Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine who served in Vietnam and is at the heart of the Democrats’ case for impeachment.
John Dowd, Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer, described Mr Taylor to The New York Times as "a pitiful, ignorant, insubordinate gossip with no trustworthy information”.
Mark Levin, a conservative talk show host, likened Mr Taylor and Mr Kent during an appearance on Fox News to “two homeless guys” for their performance before the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading the impeachment inquiry.
New information has also emerged about the call Mr Trump is alleged to have made to Mr Sondland where he asked for an update on “the investigations”, which was revealed in Wednesday’s hearing.
The Associated Press reported that a second US official in Ukraine overheard the call where Mr Trump is said to have made the comment. The president has said he does not remember the conversation.