Hawai‘i Lawmakers Talk Week-Old Impeachment InquiryNovember 17, 2019, 1:19 PM HST (Updated November 17, 2019, 1:19 PM)
It’s been a week since the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee began conducting interviews as part of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
The accusations prompting the proceedings are that Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to produce damaging information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter who formerly worked in the Ukraine, leveraging US aid to the country as a means of ensuring Zelensky’s compliance.
It is illegal under US law to enlist the help of foreign entities toward the goal of winning an election.
While millions in foreign aid to the Ukraine was withheld for a period of time, it has since been released. President Trump has denied any wrongdoing, saying the aid was not conditional to a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens.
Another important defense for Trump is that Zelensky has said he felt no pressure from the president to open an investigation. Democrats leading the impeachment charge contend that Zelensky has no choice but to say he felt no pressure from Trump, as the relationship with the White House is crucial to the Ukraine due to an ongoing military conflict with Russia.
Federal legislators in Hawai‘i have been largely supportive of the impeachment inquiry into Trump, with Democratic candidate for president Tulsi Gabbard becoming the last to endorse the proceedings in late September.
“Up to this point, I have been opposed to pursuing impeachment because it will further divide our already badly divided country,” Gabbard then said in an official statement of support for the impeachment inquiry.
“However, after looking carefully at the transcript of the conversation with Ukrainian President, the whistleblower complaint, the Inspector General memo and President Trump’s comments about the issue, unfortunately, I believe that if we do not proceed with the inquiry, it will set a very dangerous precedent,” she continued. “Future presidents, as well as anyone in positions of power in the government, will conclude that they can abuse their position for personal gain, without fear of accountability or consequences.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) offered comments of his own before the proceedings began last week.
“It is a solemn time for our country, and it is unfortunate that it has come to this,” Schatz said. “But we take solace in the fact that our founders wrote into the Constitution a remedy for the behavior that was exposed. Although impeachment and removal are severe consequences, so are the high crimes being alleged.”
“The safeguards built into our Constitution only work if we have the courage to use them,” he continued. “The path forward is clear: We must honor our oath, present the facts to the American people and hold the president accountable.”
William Taylor, the ranking US diplomat to the Ukraine, testified this week that a member of his staff overhead a call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union.
Following the call, the staff member asked Sondland what the president’s attitude was toward the Ukraine. Taylor’s staff member told Taylor that Sondland said President Trump was most concerned with investigations into Biden.
Senior State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy George Kent testified that attempts to initiate “politically motivated investigations” affected US policies in regards to Ukraine.
Republican defenders of Trump dismissed those pieces of testimony as hearsay.
Later in the week, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch spoke to the Intelligence Committee and asserted Trump had engineered a smear campaign against her, which ultimately led to her removal from that position.
During her testimony, Trump sent out a Tweet that Democrats say amounted to witness intimidation.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a US President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”
Republicans disagreed that the Tweet was tantamount to witness intimidation.
Impeaching inquiry proceedings will continue next week.