When the Watergate hearings were televised in the early 1970s, it was gripping drama. Even if you weren’t alive at the time, you know many of the highlights. John Dean flipping on Nixon. The revelation that there was a tape-recording system in the Oval Office. “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
This time around, if the first day of public testimony in the President Donald Trump impeachment inquiry was anything to go by, we’re in for something more resembling comedy.
But first, what we were going to get was repetition. William Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, had already testified behind closed doors and we’d been appraised of most of what he had to say — partially because of his opening statement and partially because of leaks.
There was one new wrinkle in his public testimony on Wednesday in which he revealed the existence of a call between President Trump and the American ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on July 26, one day after Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump asked about “the investigations” in Ukraine.
There’s one slight issue with this: Taylor didn’t actually hear the call himself. Instead, the call was relayed to him by one of his aides who says he overheard it.
In other words, it’s hearsay. Nor was it the only instance of hearsay during Wednesday’s hearing. Neither Taylor nor Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent — the witnesses during the first day of public testimony — actually had much contact with the president. Almost everything they testified about was second-hand at best.
But that’s all right, according to Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois who said “hearsay can be much better evidence” than, you know, not-hearsay.
Yes, you had to wait for the comedy, but the Democrats certainly delivered.
So, to give you some context on this quote, Rep. Quigley was questioning Kent about conversations he’d had regarding the two investigations President Trump had allegedly predicated military aid to Ukraine on. Unsurprisingly, neither involved talking with the president.
“So the entire discussion about a public statement about the two investigations President Trump wanted was done in what you have described as an irregular channel, involving Ambassador Sondland and [Kurt] Volker and the task to take on Ukraine policy by the president. Isn’t that correct, Mr. Kent?” Quigley asked.
“That would be my understanding,” he responded.
“And I guess to close primer on hearsay, I think the American public needs to be reminded that countless people have been convicted on hearsay because the courts have routinely allowed and created needed exceptions to hearsay,” Quigley said.
”Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct, as we have learned in painful instances and it’s certainly valid in this instance.”
At that moment, somewhere in the Capitol, a loud sound of unknown origin which resembled a gavel being banged repeatedly was heard echoing through the marble halls. Sources say that was actually Nancy Pelosi hitting her head against the wall of her office.
That’s pure hearsay, of course, but I’ve been reliably informed hearsay can be much better evidence than direct.
Donald Trump Jr. was similarly unimpressed.
Can you believe this insanity? “Heresay can be much better evidence than DIRECT EVIDENCE” according to Democrat Mike Quigley. Are you fricken kidding me? 3rd and 4th party info better than hearing it yourself? pic.twitter.com/K8WVcPhv7v
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 13, 2019
I can’t admit to being gobsmacked by Quigley’s solecism inasmuch as it’s the case the Democrats will have to make if they’re going to make a serious go at impeachment, at least one that doesn’t pass the House on a party-line vote and arrive in the Senate chambers moribund on a stretcher.
Unless someone in the president’s inner circle turns and openly admits that, yes, Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine contingent on certain investigations and yes, the only reason for these investigations was his political aggrandizement, this is nothing but another political Rorschach test, something Democrats will wail is tantamount to treason but won’t induce more than a shrug out of Republicans.
So yes, this is the Democrats’ party line: For this to succeed, hearsay will have to be treated with the same gravity as direct evidence. But you don’t say that out loud, dude!
By the way, Tim Pearce at the Washington Examiner had a dryly humorous coda to his report on Quigley’s words in which he pointed out just how wrong the Illinois Democrat was: “Courts do not typically allow hearsay evidence because it does not allow defendants to cross-examine the person who made the statement or check for its accuracy, but the rule does come with exceptions, such as statements made that show the subject’s emotional state.”
Then again, that’s a pretty good indication this is hardly a court, the inquiry is hardly being conducted in accordance with accepted procedures of jurisprudence and Quigley is probably unfamiliar with what the rules for either would entail.
Well, whatever. If anything, Quigley’s anti-donor clip bodes well for the fact that this will be an entertaining few months. I can’t wait for the next “bombshell” conversation to be revealed: “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Sondland call Volker at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.”
Imagine standing trial before this guy.
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