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This round of impeachment hearings is over. What did we learn, and what happens next?

This week's impeachment recap

The question before Congress is: Did President Trump commit an impeachable offense when he allegedly pursued a politically charged quid pro quo? He is accused of withholding U.S. military aid and a White House visit from Ukraine unless its president announced two investigations: one into Burisma, a Ukrainian company that employed the son of Mr. Trump's 2020 rival, Joe Biden, and another into unfounded claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Mr. Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Here are the highlights from the impeachment inquiry this week — followed by analysis:

That's a wrap

Nine more witnesses testified this week, concluding the public hearing portion of the impeachment process. Most of them expanded on their closed-door testimony. If you don't have time to watch more than a day's worth of questioning, read/watch the highlights for:

Mr. Trump, who claims that his due-process rights are being violated in this impeachment process, was invited to testify. He did not. 

"Everyone was in the loop"

The testimony that was the most revealing and changed the most from closed-door sessions was that of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. If there is a key witness, it's Sondland. Other witnesses identified him as the messenger for Mr. Trump's requests for investigations. 

In his public hearing, he said, "Was there a 'quid pro quo?' As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes." But as regards the U.S. military aid to Ukraine, he said he initially didn't know why it was withheld but "later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma."

He also said that the desire for Ukraine to open investigations into the Bidens was "no secret," and that "everyone was in the loop," including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. "We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump's desires and requirements."

The 2016 Ukraine theory

Republicans and Mr. Trump repeatedly claim that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But the U.S. intelligence community has consistently denounced this claim. Fiona Hill, a former senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, took some time in her testimony to drive home the point that the theory is "a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves." 

Nevertheless, Senator Lindsey Graham requested documents this week related to Ukraine, the Bidens, Burisma and the 2016 election. 

Undermining GOP arguments

Cooper's testimony cast doubt on Republicans' assertion that there couldn't be a quid pro quo because Ukraine didn't know aid was being withheld. Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs, amended her earlier testimony to say that she has since learned that Ukrainian officials asked about a possible holdup on aid as early as July 25 — the day of the now-infamous Trump-Zelensky phone call. Cooper and Hale both said the aid was held up at the direction of Mr. Trump himself.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the Republicans "who say that no serious wrongdoing was committed because the military assistance to Ukraine was eventually released." In a letter to Democrats, she said, "The fact is, the aid was only released after the whistleblower exposed the truth of the president's extortion and bribery." Congress was first formally notified of the whistleblower's complaint on September 9. Two days later, the White House — which had been aware of the complaint since August — lifted its months-long hold on the aid. 

Most of the witnesses' testimony also undermines the argument that Mr. Trump had bona fide concerns about corruption in Ukraine. According to Cooper, the Pentagon did review corruption in Ukraine and found no reason to withhold aid. The president ignored those conclusions. Furthermore, Hill said that by July 10, "'Burisma' had become code for 'the Bidens.'" and Sondland admitted to saying that Mr. Trump didn't "give a sh*t" about Ukraine and only cared about "the big stuff" like "the Biden investigation" — not the war in Ukraine.

And Mr. Trump himself has praised a former prosecutor in Ukraine after he was fired for not investigating corruption among the country's politicians.

"A great day for Republicans"

Unlike most of the witnesses, Morrison and Volker defended many of the president's actions and held different interpretations of them. Volker denied that he had any knowledge of Mr. Trump asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and said that he never considered Giuliani "to be speaking on the president's behalf." After their joint hearing, Mr. Trump declared it "a great day for Republicans." 

Republican strategy

Republican members of the Intelligence Committee spent the majority of their time questioning witnesses trying to discredit the investigation, figure out the identity of the whistleblower and accuse diplomats and Trump officials of being "never-Trumpers."

Deny, deny, deny

Mr. Trump and the officials in his administration who have been implicated as participants in a quid pro quo are denying most of the accusations — and denying knowing the accusers. That's the response from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. After Sondland's hearing, Mr. Trump quoted a part of his testimony that — if considered in a vacuum — would exonerate him. Sondland said the president told him on September 9: "I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo [from Ukraine.]" That conversation happened the day that the House Intelligence Committee learned of the whistleblower's complaint.

"I'll be fine for telling the truth"

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who is the director of European affairs at the National Security Council, said that since reporting his concerns about the July 25 call, he's been excluded from some meetings where he would normally be a participant. He received a rare round of applause after reading this part of his opening statement: "Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here. Don't worry. I'll be fine for telling the truth. … Because this is America. … And here, right matters."

What happens next?

The House Judiciary Committee will decide whether there's sufficient evidence for a full House vote on articles of impeachment. If the House passes them, the president has been impeached — but not removed from office. The Senate would then hold a trial overseen by the Supreme Court's chief justice. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't expect a potential trial until after Christmas. But he said he "can't imagine a scenario which President Trump would be removed from office." That would require the support of 67 members of the Republican-dominated, 100-person Senate.

Trump pushes back against impeachment inquiry after second week of public hearings

Perspective

"Tell the lawyers"

"Drug deal"

"Hand grenade"

"Quid pro quo"

"Domestic political errand"

"False narrative"

"Two plus two equals four"

"Oh for three"

"Big stuff"

"Unusual"

"Inappropriate"

"Here, right matters"

"Which is nothing"

"No one on planet Earth"

There. I think I've made a good start on a House impeachment bingo board. If I have failed in that, I'm pretty sure these are among the phrases that will festoon this Sunday's talk-show exercise in testimonial compression. They will also loom large, I predict, in video retrospectives hence.

As I scan the above, I see meandering plot lines of a mid-20th century political pot boiler.

But we live in the televised present, where wall-to-wall network and cable coverage is augmented by the digital pile driver of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As witness testimony piled up and Americans had to sort through byzantine bureaucratic references (NSCPDM4 being a real page-turner) and no end of Ukrainian names (Yermak, Lutsenko, Zelensky, Poroshenko, Shokin, etc.), I wondered if there was anything I could find that might simplify the tale to the casual observer. I found nothing to simplify the tale. I found something, though, to simplify the take ... the partisan take, the way Republicans and Democrats built predictable conclusion upon predictable conclusion in their fortresses of conceptual certainty.

Believe it or not, I found something in the American songbook and in the voice of a once-treasured but somewhat forgotten torch singer named Peggy Lee.

In 1943, Lee released a hit record called "Why Don't You Do Right?" That would be the Democrat's take.

In 1969, Lee released another hit record, this one titled "Is That All There Is?" That would be the Republicans' take.

The lyrics to both songs are mildly helpful.

From "Why Don't You Do Right": If you had prepared twenty years ago/ You wouldn't be a-wanderin' now from door to door/ Why don't you do right, like some other men do?/ I fell for your jivin' and I took you in/ Now all you got to offer me's a drink of gin/ Why don't you do right, like some other men do.

The notion that Trump is unprepared for the presidency fits with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's description of him as "imposter" and with Schiff's as a "charlatan." Neither adjective reinforced the sense that either key player remained neutral on the evidence or outcome — a bone of impeachment contention that Republicans relentlessly gnawed upon. Similarly, Democrats have hinted and suggested that some Trump voters fell for his antics and were taken in and left with little more than recklessness and possible criminality. "Why Don't You Do Right?"

From "Is That All There Is?": There were clowns and elephants, dancing bears/ And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads/ As I sat there watching, I had the feeling that something was missing/ I don't know what/ When it was all over I said to myself/ Is that all there is to the circus?

The White House called the impeachment inquiry a "circus." Other Republicans called it a "sham," "charade" and impeachment-palooza. You get the point. No there there. Recollections, notes, conversations, meetings, directives, overheard conversations that — combined in various ways and fit together dully at first but intricately over time — led seasoned professionals to conclude, infer or presume that something awful was afoot. Democrats said it all looked like a smoking gun. Republicans saw no gun and no smoke. Inferences and presumptions, they said, amounted to "nothing." A circus. "Is That All There Is?"

Still, questions linger. There are facts not contested by Republicans or Democrats:

The Trump administration never contacted Interpol about any issue regarding corruption at Burisma generally or Hunter Biden specifically.

The Trump administration never initiated a Justice Department investigation of this matter.

The pre-Zelensky Prosecutor General in Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, was corrupt.

Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, peddled falsehoods from Lutsenko to smear the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Trump-appointed officials tried to impress on Trump that the incoming Zelensky administration was not corrupt and faced persistent resistance.

Portions of congressionally appropriated military aid totaling $391 million are suspended, and no one in Trump's national security/diplomatic universe could find out why – except officials from the Office of Management and Budget who said the order came from Trump via acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Zelensky "desperately" wanted an Oval Office meeting with Trump. Still does.

In two calls with Zelensky, Trump never mentioned long-standing U.S. efforts to reduce corruption in Ukraine.

On September 9, the inspector general for the Director of National Intelligence notified the House Intelligence Committee of an "urgent matter" relating to a whistleblower complaint and that it was credible. Three House committees announced probes into whether there was a Trump attempt to launch "politically motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity."

"Why Don't You Do Right?"

"Is That All There Is?"

Let the music play.

Brine the turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving.

— Major Garrett

What comes next in the Trump impeachment inquiry?


Political risk

At this point, it's hard to dispute the general outline of what happened here. We heard from multiple people who were either witnesses or participants in an effort to pressure Ukraine to open investigations that would benefit President Trump politically. The question now is whether you think that's an impeachable offense, and whether Democrats think it's a good idea to pursue Articles of Impeachment knowing that they're unlikely to convince any Republicans to vote with them.

There's more political risk for Democrats than Republicans if this impeachment process continues. 

But it's unlikely that Democrats will try to backtrack now. They've repeatedly said this is about principle and it's worth pursuing, even without Republican support. Their constituents are very invested, and it's something several many of the Democrats been signaling they would pursue for months. 

We really don't have a sense yet of who the House Judiciary Committee will invite to testify. Republicans want House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to testify because they argue that he's hiding the identity of the whistleblower. It's unlikely, though, that Chairman Jerry Nadler would acquiesce to that request. 

Rather than witnesses, we're more likely to see the Judiciary Committee call a panel of constitutional scholars to testify about the concept of impeachment in general and answer questions like what counts as bribery?

It is a wish among many Democrats that they can get this all done before the campaign season heats up in 2020, but the likelihood of that is low. 

Nancy Cordes

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