By Julie Pace AP Agency
After two weeks of fascinating public hearings in the inquiries for the political trial of President Donald Trump, a mountain of evidence has accumulated that is already out of the question.
Trump explicitly ordered US government officials to work with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on issues related to Ukraine, a country deeply dependent on Washington's help to defend itself against Russian aggressions. The Republican president pushed Ukraine to launch a series of investigations of his political rivals, relying on a discredited conspiracy theory that his own advisors discussed.RELATED
And both US and Ukrainian officials feared that Trump would freeze the much-needed military aid package until Kiev announced that it was launching these investigations. These facts were confirmed by numerous witnesses, mostly government career officials who worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations.
They relied on emails, text messages and notes to support their memories from last year. Putting the puzzle together, the hours of televised testimonials build a portrait of an American president willing to take advantage of his powerful position to force a foreign government to provide him with personal political help. That alone is reason enough for many Democrats to be about to vote on Trump's impeachment before the end of the year, potentially leading to a Senate trial.
However, the testimonies have left an important gap that has allowed Trump and his Republican allies to find a possible salvation. None of the witnesses could personally prove that Trump directly conditioned the delivery of the $ 400 million in military aid for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and the National Democratic Committee.
Some Republicans suggested that although the link can be demonstrated, it would not be enough to support Trump's political trial and dismiss him. And if it can't be proven, the retaining wall of Republican lawyers seems indestructible.
"I have no evidence to prove that the president committed the crime of bribery or extortion," said Rep. Will Hurd, a moderate Republican from Texas, who withdraws from Congress next year and could be a barometer of any sign of weakness in the republican support of the president. Like other Republicans, he made it clear that he felt that Trump's actions were "inappropriate," but that they did not merit a political trial.
The Democrats are now faced with the prospect that the vote for impeachment is divided with partisan criteria. That would reflect the electoral tendencies, which show Americans divided between the two positions, whether or not Trump must be judged for his actions and remove him from office.
Now that public hearings are over, Democrats are urgently plotting ways to move forward with a model for the country's fourth impeachment procedure.
First of all they must decide whether they begin to sketch impeachment articles based on what has been revealed so far or if they prefer to launch a long-range request for testimony from other witnesses who can offer more direct evidence of Trump's actions.
No doubt there are officials who would probably fill some of the gaps. Democrats have asked testimony from chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton, men who have spent many hours near Trump in the West Wing of the White House and whose names appeared repeatedly in memories of other officials.
At a particular time during Thursday's testimony, the former national security official in the White House, Fiona Hill, said she believes that "those who have information that Congress considers relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it."
However, Bolton and Mulvaney seem unlikely to tell their stories in Congress. Invoking the executive privilege, both have filed an appeal to determine whether they should be filed. And the House spokeswoman, Nancy Pelosi, said Thursday that she did not want the next steps of the inquiry to be "at the mercy of a court."
That is fine for most Democrats, who argue that the impeachment barrier has already been lifted, through the methodical construction of the case during the last two weeks. Diplomats and national security officials have testified that they often expressed concern about the government's ties with Ukraine, and described urgent efforts to help Kiev leaders improve their situation with Trump, and secure military aid.
William Taylor, the senior US diplomat in Kiev to open the hearings, vividly represented security assistance as a matter of life and death for Ukrainian soldiers in the hard war against Russia. He said he was deeply disturbed by the idea that the Trump administration could abandon its allies abroad.
William Taylor, the diplomat who testified before Congress. AFP
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, an adviser at the White House on Ukraine, testified dressed in his army uniform, covered in medals, and said it was disconcerting to hear that Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and the DNC in the July 25 call that launched the impeachment request. Vindman, whose family escaped from Ukraine when he was 3 years old, had to defend himself against the charges of Trump's allies, who said his allegiances were divided.
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, advisor to the White House on the matter of Ukraine. EFE
And the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, made it clear that the request to Ukraine to do these investigations was not a secret within the administration. He stated that "everyone was aware."
What the Democrats seek to demonstrate in the coming days, while trying to convince both Republicans and the American people, is that the investigation for impeachment is not just about Trump's future. It has to do with what Americans expect from their president.
When asked what the consequences would be if Congress allows an American president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival, Hill said simply, "It is a very bad precedent."
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