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5 takeaways from the House impeachment hearing

Daniel Goldman, counsel to the House Intelligence Committee,

Daniel Goldman, counsel to the House Intelligence Committee, left, speaks during an impeachment inquiry hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Credit: Bloomberg/Andrew Harrer

WASHINGTON — The gap couldn’t have been any wider between the staff counsels arguing over the case to impeach President Donald Trump in Monday’s hearing: The Democrat said it showed a “clear and present danger”; the Republican called it “baloney.”

The two sides battled in a contentious daylong House Judiciary Committee hearing where Daniel Goldman, Democratic counsel for the House Intelligence Committee, argued the case for impeachment and Republican staff counsel Steve Castor argued against it.

Here are takeaways of from the hearing.

Goldman: Read the Transcript

Goldman held up a July 25 call memo as clear and convincing evidence that Trump pressed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic rival, as he withheld a coveted White House meeting and $391 million in U.S. security aid. He highlighted a Zelensky comment in the call to show he understood there was a quid pro quo: “I also wanted to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington, DC. On the other hand, I also wanted to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and we will work on the investigation.” On the one hand, a White House visit, on the other a promise to investigate, Goldman said. But Castor said Zelensky expressed no concern in the call. “Simply put,” he said, “the call is not the sinister mob shakedown that some Democrats have described.”

The “Giuliani factor”

Goldman put Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on stage, both as the key figure in carrying out Trump’s plan to tarnish Biden and as a reason to impeach Trump now. Giuliani knew the allegations against Biden were bogus, according to Ambassador Kurt Volker’s testimony, Goldman said. But he continues to push it. “Just two days ago President Trump stated publicly that he hopes that his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, will report to the Department of Justice and to Congress the results of Mr. Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine last week to pursue these false allegations,” Goldman said. “President Trump's persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security.” Castor downplayed Giuliani’s role, saying Volker and a top Zelensky aide “denied that Mayor Giuliani was speaking on behalf of President Trump as his agent” — and was merely a “conduit” to Trump.

What was Trump thinking?

To defend Trump’s withholding of the White House visit and U.S. security aid to Zelensky, Castor probed the president’s “state of mind.” He said that analysis undercuts Democrat’s assertion of his “malicious intent.” Castor cited Trump’s “deeply rooted, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine stemming from its history of corruption.” He spoke of Trump’s skepticism of “U.S. taxpayer-funded foreign assistance” and allies should share more of the burden. And, he added, “Ukrainian politicians openly spoke out against President Trump during the 2016 election.” But when the Democrats’ counsel Barry Berke asked him if Trump believed Biden was a top potential presidential challenger after tweeting about him 25 times and talking about him often at rallies between January and the July 25 call, Castor demurred. “I don't know what President Trump believed or didn’t believe,” he said.

Calling out phone numbers

Republicans ripped into Goldman, and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) in absentia, for publishing phone records — obtained with a subpoena — of calls made by members of Congress, staff members and journalists in the Democrats’ impeachment report. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) demanded, “Who ordered it? You or Mr. Schiff?” Angry the report identified calls by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Collins said, “It was a gratuitous drive by that you wanted to smear the ranking member.” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said it was worse than Sen. Joe McCarthy’s red baiting in the 1950s. “Folks, you have made Joe McCarthy look like a piker,” he said. Goldman defended what he called a standard investigative practice: “It just so happened that people who were involved in President Trump's scheme were communicating with the president's lawyer.”

Where was Mueller?

Democrats dropped broad hints in recent days that they might expand their impeachment to include more than Trump’s treatment of Ukraine, but also the Mueller report. Yet almost the only lawmakers to bring up special counsel Robert Mueller's report were Republicans. Collins brought it up to demonstrate that Democrats had preordained impeachment, but that the Mueller report didn’t deliver the chargeable goods. In the lengthy hearing Monday, Democrats stuck closely what Goldman called “the overwhelming evidence of this scheme … described in detail in a nearly 300-page document entitled the Trump Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report.” The week ahead will reveal if Democrats will limit their articles of impeachment to Trump’s treatment of Ukraine.

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