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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

The language of impeachment witnesses has been diplomatic to a fault

State Department official George Kent, left, and William

State Department official George Kent, left, and William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, at Wednesday's House hearing. Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

It is easy to forget in the rush of impeachment news that William Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, was selected for the job by President Donald Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

Taylor was assigned to succeed the ousted Marie Yovanovitch. That Taylor was such a highly favored appointee makes it especially striking that he so directly tied the president in his testimony to pressuring Ukrainian leaders via "highly irregular channels."

But as bold as their testimonies on Wednesday may have seemed, Taylor and George Kent, the top State Department official on Ukraine policy, adhered to the cautious linguistic habits and training typical of professional diplomats.

Which is to say, Taylor spoke of "regular channels" and "irregular channels" — the euphemistic phrasing of a State Department bureaucrat. He didn't bluntly call it usurpation or subversion of the U.S. government's proper mission, as he might have.

Charged language was shunned in favor of neutral diplo-speech.

On Friday, Yovanovitch, another career diplomat, is scheduled to step in and tell how she was pushed out.

The purpose of an impeachment investigation, in theory, is to determine if the president acted illegally or unconstitutionally.

Much was made of Taylor's text messages to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, that Taylor thought it “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Taylor also called it "wrong."

Being "wrong" or "crazy" are not breaches of the Constitution.

Former White House counsel Don McGahn told others the president was asking him to do "crazy" things to ward off the Russia investigation. But whether such requests amounted to obstruction remains to be addressed by Congress.

The president has branded Kent and Taylor on Twitter as "Never Trumpers." That overrates their boldness.

State Department witnesses so far have referred to Trump as having pushed them for "investigations." This description of what the president wanted gives him the benefit of the doubt.

Did he really seek investigations of the Bidens and a search for a Democratic computer server — and not simply the public announcement in Kyiv of an ersatz "investigation" that would smear his rivals and help dispel his own taint in the Russian probe?

Common sense might have told Taylor and Kent that these "investigations" might amount nothing more than a Trumpian witch hunt.

Taylor was asked about Trump pushing to have Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky "in a public box."

Taylor said he "understood that to mean that President Trump, through Ambassador Sondland, was asking for President Zelensky to very publicly commit to these investigations — that it was not sufficient to do this in private, that this needed to be a very public statement."

Still unanswered: Why would these probes need to be announced and not quietly carried out?

The House Intelligence Committee also has yet to delve into how a foreign probe by an allegedly corrupt regime might work, and its implications for the rights of U.S. citizens who would be its targets.

Questions mount. The hour is still early.


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