By: Jeffrey Winograd
The first week of the impeachment inquiry by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence treated viewers to bloviating members of Congress (almost exclusively Democrats) under marching orders from pseudo-dictator and chairman of the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), and three highly experienced American diplomats who pontificated on their overseas exploits and heroism, as well as their (not the Trump administration’s) blueprints for U.S. foreign policy.
With all the talk, a number of key points may have been missed by viewers or those who rely on the Capitol Hill cadre of inexperienced and/or partisan journalists who are supposed to be reporting on what actually was going on.
So, here is my list of the key takeaways in order of importance:
#1 Politization of a crucial legislative committee.
Talk about undermining U.S. national security!
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) placed the highly partisan inquiry into the collective lap of a panel whose oversight responsibilities can best be described by citing the names of its four subcommittees – Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research (STAR); Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation (C3); Intelligence Modernization and Readiness (INMAR); and Defense Intelligence and Warfighter Support (DIWS).
Why did the House speaker take such a rash decision? For the answer, look no further than the twin fiascos that took place during impeachment-related hearings conducted by the House Judiciary Committee under the gavel of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Those hearings featured Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, and John Dean of Watergate fame. They would have been first-night flops in the Broadway theaters which happen to sit in Nadler’s district.
#2 Obama administration was leery of the Joe Biden-Hunter Biden conflict of interest.
It is common knowledge that President Obama handed the Ukraine portfolio to Joe Biden whose son was sitting on the board of directors of a Ukrainian private energy company called Burisma. It is also well known, as constantly heralded in the testimony of the three witnesses who appeared during week one, that the promotion of strong anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine was a paramount feature of U.S. foreign policy.
Yet, the White House turned a blind eye, at least publicly, to the appearance of a significant conflict of interest given that Burisma and its founder either had been or still were under criminal investigation (a point of big-time controversy) by Ukrainian authorities. According to George Kent, who served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Kiev, he contacted the vice president’s office and raised his concerns about a possible perceived conflict of interest. What was their response? “I have no idea,” he replied to the GOP questioner. He was then asked if Biden’s engagement with Ukraine remained the same. “Correct, because the vice president was promoting U.S. policy objectives in Ukraine,” Kent said.
Two days later, the cat was out of the bag when former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, testifying under oath, was hit with a few probing questions by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). Did the Bidens come up in your preparations to assume the ambassadorship?” Yovanovitch explained how she was rehearsed for her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing and she was instructed how to answer any possible question about the Bidens. “I would refer you to the vice president’s office,” she was instructed to say.
#3 NATO’s relationship with Ukraine deserves scrutiny.
During his opening remarks, George Kent, who has been serving as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs since September 2018, made a comment that was ignored by all the committee members. Stated Kent: “Ultimately, Ukraine is on a path to become a full security partner of the United States within NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization].”
What exactly Kent meant by that is unclear. However, a cursory reading of a NATO publication titled Security Through Partnership hints at a possibility, even though it is unlikely. The publication notes that a special relationship has been developed with Ukraine since 1997. “Steps were taken to deepen and broaden the NATO-Ukraine relationship in November 2002 with the adoption of the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan, which supports Ukraine’s reform eﬀorts on the road to full integration in Euro-Atlantic security structures,” it adds. The publication goes on to say that 10 Partner countries have become Allies, among them the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
Since the three diplomats who testified have left the impression that it is diplomats who create foreign policy and not just carry it out, it might have been the perfect occasion to ask the Deep Staters in the State Department what is really in store for Ukraine, Russia willing.
#4 Schiff’s chicanery with committee rules and procedures undercut his credibility.
Rep. Schiff wielded his chairman’s gavel in a cavalier and disrespectful manner towards his GOP colleagues, and along the way it appears he trampled on a basic courtesy of allowing committee members to request various items be added to the hearing record by unanimous consent. Once the Republicans began requesting such courtesy to add a host of news reports about Schiff saying the so-called whistleblower would be testifying before the committee, Schiff couldn’t stand the heat and put a stop to it. This ultimately forced Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) to change her plans for using her five-minute opportunity to ask questions. Instead, she read aloud more of the stuff Schiff now finds embarrassing and which will appear in the record.
Schiff also used his power to make the deposition of Timothy Morrison, formerly on the staff of the National Security Council, unavailable to the public until Nov. 18. According to applicable House rules, Republicans were unable to use anything from Morrison’s deposition when they were questioning witnesses. They clearly felt there was information in the deposition that Schiff didn’t want them to use. And he was able to stop them.
#5 Elise Stefanik Shines
It was clear that Schiff was afraid of the articulate, self-assured and pugnacious Rep. Stefanik, who, when she had limited chances to speak, was well worth listening to. In fact, when Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the ranking member of the committee, wanted to yield his time to Stefanik, Schiff refused to allow it by invoking his handcrafted rules for the impeachment inquiry.
Schiff may well rue the way he treated the third term legislator from upstate New York. Commenting on Stefanik’s performance, President Trump said, “A new Republican star is born.” Somewhat surprising since Trump is not known for understatements!