Trump Impeachment Witnesses, Hearsay, Conjecture, Schiff

Hearsay and Conjecture

Formal public impeachment hearings against the 45th President of the United States began this week. Adam Schiff (D-CA) who is the House chairman of the Permanent Committee on Intelligence is leading the hearings. According to his Wikipedia page, Schiff received a political science degree from Stanford University and a J.D. degree from Harvard Law School. Before becoming a member of Congress representing California’s 28th Congressional district in 2013 Schiff worked as a prosecutor in Los Angeles, assistant U.S. attorney and was a member of the California State Senate. Schiff is currently in his 10th term as a Congressman, having served since 2001.

When you listen to Schiff speak he comes across as intelligent and well-spoken. During his time in Congress, he has served on the House Appropriations Committee, House Foreign Affairs Committee and the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

In 2003 he voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq. In February 2015, discussing how or whether to tailor Bush-era plans from 2001 and 2002 to fight ISIS, Schiff was asked if he regretted voting to invade. He said, “Absolutely. Unfortunately, our intelligence was dead wrong on that, on Saddam at that time. The vote set in motion a cascading series of events which have [had] disastrous consequences.”

In 2014 Schiff was appointed to the House Select Committee on Benghazi to investigate the attacks on the diplomatic compound. Before he was appointed as a Member of the Benghazi Select Committee, Schiff called the establishment of a select committee to investigate the 2012 attack a “colossal waste of time,” and said Democratic leaders should not appoint any members, stating: “I think it’s just a tremendous red herring and a waste of taxpayer resources.” Despite those reservations, he still accepted an appointment to the Committee because if he felt he “could add value, [he] would serve.”

Now that we know more about Adam Schiff’s professional history as a lawyer and politician let’s focus on his decision-making ability. His decision to study law and go into politics has proved fruitful. Besides having a career in public service his current annual salary as a Congressman is $174,000. This does not include any money that is raised during reelection campaigns that are used for his business expenses or taxpayer-funded Congressional trips overseas.

How about his decision to vote in favor to invade Iraq? By his admission the intelligence he received was flawed. He regrets the decision and admits it led to disastrous consequences. He was not alone with his poor judgment as many other members of Congress made the same mistake. His initial denouncement of the investigation into Benghazi, calling it a colossal waste of taxpayer resources and time was also flawed. Through that investigation, we were able to determine that once again, initial talking points provided by the intelligence community were mistaken. The committee’s findings showed that diplomatic facilities across the world lacked adequate security. The Benghazi attack by an Islamic militant group on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 caused the deaths of a U.S. ambassador, an information officer, and two CIA contractors.

While nobody is perfect and hindsight is 20/20 you would think that Schiff and other members of Congress would learn from their past mistakes and be more leery of information they receive from the intelligence community. The old saying fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me should be the first thing they think of before making any actionable decision. Trust that intelligence received is in the interest of national security but verify it to confirm its authenticity and validity.

By evidence or lack thereof provided by the initial three witnesses during this week’s public impeachment hearings, it’s abundantly clear that many members of Congress have failed to learn from previous errors of trusting shoddy information with Schiff being its strongest supporter. None of the three have had any direct contact with President Trump. They were not privy to the conversations held by Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart and have no first-hand knowledge of what was said between the two. The only thing they know is what they heard in passing from someone who spoke to someone who might have been listening in on those conversations.

The problem with their testimony is that it’s based on hearsay and conjecture. The allegations of Trump withholding foreign aid to Ukraine unless an investigation is made into Joe Biden and his son are incorrect. What they claim to have heard has been directly refuted by the released transcripts of those calls from the White House. If hearsay and conjecture by the initial three witnesses’ are what these impeachment hearings are based on, Schiff and the Democrats are going to have a tough time selling impeachment to the American people.

Hearsay is defined as the information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate; rumor. At its core, the rule against using hearsay evidence is to prevent out-of-court, second-hand statements from being used as evidence at trial given their potential unreliability.

Conjecture is defined as an opinion or conclusion formed based on incomplete information. It’s used to create a theory or opinion about something without basing it on facts.

I’m going to give a quick recap of the testimony given by the three witnesses’. Based on the definitions you just heard you should be able to spot out the hearsay and conjecture. Just in case you can’t, I’ll highlight it to point it out to you.

On Wednesday, Bill Taylor, the highest-ranking U.S. official in Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, took questions from lawmakers, detailing their knowledge of efforts by the president and other officials to pressure Ukraine.

Adam Schiff started the hearing by saying the answers to the questions at the heart of the inquiry “will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief.”

In his opening statement Wednesday, Taylor revealed new details about the events immediately following President Trump’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine. Taylor said a member of his staff told him last week about a phone call he overheard between U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland and Mr. Trump on July 26.

“Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations.’ Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he did not know about the conversation when he first testified in a closed hearing on October 22 but reported it to the State Department counsel and to the majority and minority counsel on the House Intelligence Committee once he learned of it.

Mr. Kent testified that Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, conducted a smear campaign against the United States ambassador to Ukraine and led an effort to “gin up politically motivated investigations, according to a copy of his opening statement. In his opening statement, Mr. Kent said that he concluded by mid-August that Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to open investigations into Mr. Trump’s rivals “were now infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine, leveraging President Zelensky’s desire for a White House meeting.”

Mr. Kent also assailed what he called a “campaign to smear” American officials serving in Ukraine, which succeeded with the ouster of Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine. “It was unexpected, and most unfortunate, however, to watch some Americans — including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas — launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine,” Mr. Kent said in his opening statement. “In my opinion, those attacks undermined U.S. and Ukrainian national interests and damaged our critical bilateral relationship.”

In her opening statement Friday, Yovanovitch described the role of Foreign Service professionals and talked about the sacrifices they make, risking their lives for America and answering “the call to duty to advance and protect the interests of the United States.” She also suggested to lawmakers that the State Department’s lack of a response to the attacks on her and others was a sign the institution is being “degraded.”

“I remain disappointed that the Department’s leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong,” she said. “This is about far more than me or a couple of individuals. As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded. This will soon cause real harm if it hasn’t already.”

Yovanovitch said the attacks “are leading to a crisis in the State Department. As the policy process is visibly unraveling, leadership vacancies go unfilled, and senior and mid-level officers ponder an uncertain future and head for the doors. The crisis has moved from the impact on individuals to an impact on the institution.”

“The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage,”she added. “This is not a time to undercut our diplomats.”

Ranking member Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, questioned why Yovanovitch was called to testify in the first place, given the fact that she had been removed from her post before the events that are central to the Ukraine scandal“I’m not exactly sure what the ambassador is doing here today,” Nunes said. “This is the House Intelligence Committee that has now turned into the House Impeachment Committee.” Nunes said the hearing “seems more appropriate for the subcommittee on human resources at the Foreign Affairs Committee.”

Now if all of that doesn’t summarize the lack of evidence of quid pro quo of which the President is being accused of the following interaction between Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Ambassador Taylor will bring this impeachment inquiry based on hearsay and conjecture home. If this is what we have to look forward to and is what Trump’s opponents are building their impeachment case on they should stop the public hearings now and restart them when they have credible witnesses with firsthand knowledge of criminal offenses. Not testimony from third and fourth-party political appointees who are not fans of the President’s foreign policy.

JORDAN: He didn’t do a tweet, didn’t do anything on CNN, didn’t do any of that. President Zelensky, excuse me. And then what you have in front of your is an addendum that Mr. Sondland made to his testimony that we got a couple of weeks ago.

It says, declaration of Ambassador Gordon Sondland. I, Gordon Sondland, do hereby, swear and affirm as follows. I want you to look at point number two, bullet point number two, second sentence.

Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 1, 2019, in connection with Vice President Pence’s visit to Warsaw and a meeting with President Zelensky. Now, this is his clarification.

Let me read it one more time. Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 1, 2019, in connection with Vice President Pence’s visit to Warsaw and a meeting with President Zelensky.

We’ve got six people having four conversations in one sentence and you just told me this where you got your clear understanding. Which I — I mean, even though you had three opportunities with President Zelensky for him to tell you, you know what, we’re going to do these investigations to get the aide, didn’t tell you three different times. Never makes an announcement, never tweets about it, never does a CNN interview. Ambassador, you weren’t’ on the call, were you? The president — you didn’t listen in on President Trump’s call and President Zelensky’s call?

TAYLOR: I did not.

JORDAN: You’ve never talked with Chief of Staff Mulvaney?

TAYLOR: I never did.

JORDAN: You never met the president?

TAYLOR: That’s correct.

JORDAN: You had three meetings, again, with Zelensky and it didn’t come up?

TAYLOR: And two of those they had never heard about as far as I know. There was no reason for it to come up.

JORDAN: And President — President Zelensky never made an announcement? This — this is what I can’t believe, and you’re their star witness. You’re their first witness. You’re the guy.

TAYLOR: Mr. Jordan —

JORDAN: You’re the guy, based on this — based on — I mean, I’ve seen — I’ve seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this. Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told — now again, this is, I hereby swear and affirm from Gordon Sondland. Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 1, 20 — this all happens, by the way — this all happens by the way in Warsaw, where Vice President Pence meets with President Zelensky.

JORDAN: And guess what, they didn’t talk about any linkage either.

TAYLOR: The only response — I have two responses, Mr. Chairman, thank you, and Mr. Jordan, glad to take those questions. Let me just say, that I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything.

TAYLOR: As I — I think I was clear about, I’m not here to take one side or the other, or to advocate any particular outcomes. Let me just restate that. Second thing is that my understanding is only coming from people that I talk to.

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