Schiff brings lip-reading witnesses and angry bureaucrats into impeachment theater

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The impeachment circus remains in full swing on Capitol Hill, with the Democrats’ latest star witness apparently overhearing an incriminating phone call and raging at Trump daring to set his own foreign policy agenda.

David Holmes, a low-level staffer at the US embassy in Kiev, appeared on Capitol Hill for questioning on Thursday. Holmes provided no direct evidence of a ‘quid-pro-quo’ arrangement between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but told lawmakers that he managed to overhear Trump demand “investigations” into Joe Biden while in a restaurant in Kiev.

Holmes claimed that on July 26, he overheard an enraged Trump shout down the phone to US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, demanding that Zelensky investigate the Biden family’s business dealings in Ukraine. Though the call took place at an open-air cafe in the busy city, Holmes claimed he could hear Trump perfectly well on the speaker of Sondland’s cell phone, and that afterwards, Sondland told him that Trump had specifically asked him to investigate the Bidens.

Holmes admitted that he didn’t take notes on the call, however.

The only problem with Holmes’ testimony is that Sondland denied on Wednesday that Trump had never mentioned the Bidens. Sondland also testified that Trump told him he “wanted nothing” from Zelensky, specifically “no quid pro quo.”

Democrats, like House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-California), claim that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kiev reopening an investigation into Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who was on the board of Burisma, a notoriously corrupt gas company.

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Ensconced in the White House, Trump live-tweeted throughout Holmes’ testimony, blasting the former staffer for his apparent superhuman sense of hearing.

“I have been watching people making phone calls my entire life,” he tweeted. “My hearing is, and has been, great. Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!”

Asked whether Trump froze the aid package in exchange for the investigation, Holmes simply told Congress that he had the “clear impression” this was “likely.” The Ukrainians, he said, would have put two and two together and assumed the hold-up had something to do with the investigation.

Impressions, assumptions, and overheard phone calls are unlikely to provide solid evidence of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” necessary to impeach a president, however. In the absence of any smoking-gun proof, Schiff has been left to compile testimony from bureaucrats and functionaries who heard second- and third-hand accounts of a now-infamous phone call between Trump and Zelensky, which in itself did not reveal any quid-pro-quo deal between the two leaders.

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One thing the witnesses have been united on is their distaste for Trump’s foreign policy decision-making, and belief that they should be running the show instead. On Thursday, Holmes echoed the complaints raised by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman earlier in the week, telling lawmakers he was “deeply disappointed to see the President raised none of what I understood to be our inter-agency agreed-upon foreign policy priorities in Ukraine” with Zelensky.

Also before the committee on Thursday was Fiona Hill, a British-born ‘Russia expert’ at the National Security Council. Hill reasserted the theory that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and accused Republicans of promoting “politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.” 

Hill has a long history of crying wolf when it comes to Moscow: she penned a critical biography of Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012, and once worked with former British spy Christopher Steele, whose dossier of unproven and scandalous allegations against Trump helped kickstart the FBI’s ‘Russiagate’ investigation.

Though Schiff’s committee can call more witnesses, Holmes and Hill most likely represent the last chance for Democrats to milk enough information to bolster their case against Trump. After this, it will be the turn of Jerry Nadler (D-New York) and his House Judiciary Committee to decide whether to draft articles of impeachment based on Schiff’s findings.

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