President Donald Trump wrongly claimed that the two “‘star’ witnesses” from the first day of public impeachment hearings “stared straight ahead with a blank look on their face, remained silent, & were unable to answer” when asked whether Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president constituted an impeachable offense.
That’s not what happened.
Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe asked witnesses William Taylor, the charge d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs in the State Department, if either were there to “assert there was an impeachable offense in that call.” Taylor paused and then attempted to respond. Ratcliffe cut him off, then withdrew the question. But Taylor got an opportunity to respond anyway, saying that neither he nor Kent was there “to decide about impeachment. … This is your job.”
Though Trump asserted on the day of the impeachment hearing that he hadn’t watched “one minute” of it, the following morning on Twitter the president drew attention to the exchange Ratcliffe had with the two witnesses that occurred nearly four hours into the hearing.
Trump claimed Ratcliffe’s question about whether there was an impeachable event in the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stumped Taylor and Kent. Trump then commented, “That would be the end of a case run by normal people! – but not Shifty!” (“Shifty” is the president’s derogatory nickname for Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, who is running the hearings.)
.@RepRatcliffe asked the two “star” witnesses, “where is the impeachable event in that call?” Both stared straight ahead with a blank look on their face, remained silent, & were unable to answer the question. That would be the end of a case run by normal people! – but not Shifty!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 14, 2019
But as we said, Trump is mischaracterizing the exchange.
It began when Ratcliffe asked, “In this impeachment hearing today, where we impeach presidents for treason or bribery or other high crimes, where is the impeachable offense in that call? Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call? Shout it out. Anyone?”
Contrary to Trump’s account that Taylor and Kent “stared straight ahead with a blank look on their face, remained silent, & were unable to answer the question,” Taylor briefly paused and then did attempt to answer Ratcliffe’s question.
Taylor began, “Mr. Ratcliffe, if I could just respond. Let me just reiterate that I’m not here …” But then Ratcliffe cut him off. “I’ve got one minute left,” Ratcliffe said.
According to rules of the House of Representatives, members of Congress are limited to “the five-minute rule during the questioning of witnesses in a hearing until such time as each member of the committee who so desires has had an opportunity to question each witness.” Ratcliffe was concerned his remaining time would be eaten up by Taylor’s answer.
Ratcliffe and Taylor then talked over each other for a brief time, until Ratcliffe said, “I withdraw the question.”
But Taylor kept talking anyway. “I’m not here to take one side or the other,” Taylor said. “That’s your decision.”
After more back and forth of the two talking over each other, Ratcliffe asked for his five-minute clock to be suspended, because he withdrew the question. Schiff allowed the suspension, and Taylor was permitted to answer without it counting against Ratcliffe’s time.
“Mr. Ratcliffe, I would just like to say that I’m not here to do anything having to do with, to decide about impeachment,” Taylor said. “That is not what either of us [he and Kent] are here to do. This is your job.”
That response is consistent with comments Taylor made at the start of his testimony.
Taylor, Nov. 13: I want to emphasize at the outset that while I am aware that the committee has requested my testimony as part of impeachment proceedings, I am not here to take one side or the other or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings. My sole purpose is to provide facts as I know them about the incidents in question, as well as my views about the strategic importance of Ukraine to the United States.
You can watch the full exchange via C-SPAN below.
Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, also tweeted the first part of the exchange, commenting “*crickets*” to suggest the two witnesses had no response to Ratcliffe’s question. The video attached to the tweet captures the pause but conveniently cuts off just as Taylor is about to respond.
.@RepRatcliffe: "Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call? Shout it out."
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) November 13, 2019
Contrary to Trump’s claim, the witnesses did not remain silent when asked whether an impeachable offense occurred. Taylor did respond, and his answer did not vindicate the president.
We should also note, as we have before, there is more to the impeachment inquiry than just the July 25 phone call.
Government officials who have testified in the House impeachment probe have discussed a campaign to pressure Zelensky to make a public statement that he would open an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden and Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden had served. Taylor and others have testified that the pressure included the withholding of U.S. security aid, and the dangling of a White House visit for Zelensky.