If viewers liked what they saw on Wednesday’s first exciting episode of Schiff: NCIS, they’ll love the follow-up. Today the House Intelligence Committee will take public testimony from former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who got removed from her job early after a concerted effort to oust her by Rudy Giuliani and his allies. We can expect to hear similar testimony from Yovanovitch as was given by George Kent and William Taylor about their unhappiness with the policies being pursued, and we can expect the same gaps in Adam Schiff’s case as well:
Yovanovitch, a 30-year veteran of the diplomatic corps, had already been ousted by the time Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25. But the circumstances surrounding her departure in May have been a focal point for House impeachment investigators as they seek evidence that Trump abused his office to extract political benefit from a foreign ally — and steamrolled anyone who might thwart him.
“[Yovanovitch] was kneecapped by the grimy political and financial interests of the president and Mr. Giuliani,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview.
Maloney added that Yovanovitch was a witness to the early efforts by Giuliani “and saw this develop in real time.”
Democrats are seeking to portray Yovanovitch as a victim of Trump and Giuliani’s effort, which she said ran counter to the anti-corruption efforts she and the rest of the State Department were advocating.
It does seem pretty clear that Yovanovitch got caught in a political vise, and she had already been all but bypassed on Ukraine anyway by the “Three Amigos.” Trump recalled her with three months left on her tour, a decision fully within his authority, but this is less about her removal than it is about her testimony regarding what she saw before it. Unfortunately for Schiff, that’s a dry hole when it comes to his theory of an impeachable act.
Why? Like Taylor and Kent, Yovanovitch never talked to Trump. And like the previous two witnesses, Yovanovitch had never heard of any quid pro quo demand before or after her departure — not even from her Ukrainian contacts:
As I noted at the time, this is significant in two ways. First, it means that Yovanovitch isn’t a witness at all, at least not in the sense Schiff has been selling. But also, Yovanovitch was the official ambassador from the US to Ukraine. If Giuliani, Gordon Sondland, and/or Rick Perry had been demanding a quid pro quo tying aid to a Biden investigation, the Ukrainians would have turned to Yovanovitch in an attempt to straighten it out. She has already testified that she never heard a word about it, officially or unofficially, even after she returned to the State Department in the US until after the publication of the Sondland-Taylor texts.
That’s not the only problem facing Yovanovitch and Schiff this morning. Yesterday, Ukraine foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko categorically denied any tie between aid and an investigation of the Bidens, a point Republicans will surely raise on television repeatedly in this hearing:
“Ambassador Sondland did not tell us, and did not tell me exactly, about the relation between the [military] assistance and the investigations. You should ask him. I do not recall any conversation with me as with foreign minister. It was not we, the Ukrainian officials (who were told this),” Prystaiko told the journalists in Kyiv on Thursday.
“I have never seen a direct link between investigations and security assistance. Yes, investigations were mentioned, you know, in a presidential conversation. But there was no clear connection between these events,” Prystaiko added.
It took a few hours, but Trump finally got around to highlighting that development on Twitter:
It’s not dead, but it’s not living much at the moment either. So far Schiff hasn’t found any direct evidence or testimony about Trump at all on Ukraine-Gate, and viewers won’t see any from Yovanovitch either. The Prystaiko statement will make this look even more like a policy dispute and a comportment issue rather than a momentous crime requiring the removal of a duly elected president. And that, as I warned earlier this week, will cost Schiff what he needs most … viewers:
The hearings will definitely have the capacity to draw a large audience. In 1974, PBS broadcast the Nixon hearings out of necessity, as commercial networks focused on their usual programming and no other option was available for national access to the events. This time around, all of the major broadcasters have committed to live coverage, as have the cable networks, especially C-SPAN, which routinely broadcasts Congress’ operations. C-SPAN’s reach likely outstrips that of PBS in 1974, which means there will be plenty of people who can watch the proceedings without commentary. Combine that with all of the online platforms that will either carry the proceedings live or record for later consumption, and the saturation level will go well past anything imaginable in 1974.
But just because more people than ever before can watch these hearings doesn’t mean they will. While in 1974, Americans were somewhat limited in their viewing options: It was either the hearings, or the soap operas and game shows that populated the dial. Today, most Americans have hundreds of choices for their viewing pleasure, and even under the best of circumstances for the most hopelessly addicted news junkies, committee hearings are anything but pleasurable viewing. If Democrats can’t make a dramatic case immediately for staying tuned, viewers will “touch that dial” and move on. …
None of this adds up to a compelling case for abuse of power, even if the witnesses might have criticisms (legitimate or otherwise) of Trump’s policies and deportment. House Democrats will ask viewers to slog through hours of committee protocol, arguments, speeches, and Beltway minutia without much of a payoff except to amplify Democrats’ general complaints about Trump that they have made since his election three years ago.
As long as the House continues to hold hearings, there is always the danger of damaging revelations. The media will cover that when it happens, so it’s not terribly incumbent on anyone except the most committed members of La Résistance to keep watching Hearsay Abbey.
Update: The House GOP is way ahead of Trump on the Prystaiko statement. It’s on the left:
GOP props set up for Yovanovitch hearing pic.twitter.com/DM6cLPmmyZ
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 15, 2019
They might have bumped up the font a bit for the identification of the quote, but otherwise, good work.