Damning testimony at impeachment inquiry triggers Twitterstorm

David Holmes, a career diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, testified that he overheard a phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, during which the president pressed for updates on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s willingness to “do the investigation” — intended to tarnish a political rival in the 2020 election.

Trump sought to withhold military assistance and an Oval Office meeting until Zelensky announced investigations into discredited allegations about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

Holmes explained that he could hear the president’s voice through the phone, because Sondland held the earpiece away from his head because it was so loud.

The account of the new call has thrust a new fact witness with firsthand information into an impeachment inquiry that Republicans have attacked as lacking primary source evidence.

Trump also apparently tried to intimidate a witness by posting a disparaging tweet about former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch while she testified before the House impeachment panel.

Trump defended his apparent witness tampering at an afternoon event in the Oval Office by saying, “I have the right to speak.”

Yovanovitch testified that she was the target of a “campaign of disinformation” that involved Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.

She also told the House’s impeachment inquiry that she felt threatened by the way Trump talked about her to the Ukrainian President on a July 25 call.

As Yovanovitch testified, some of the president’s supporters flooded social media with coordinated messaging that consisted of about 12,600 tweets, retweets, mentions and replies.

Less than an hour into Yovanovitch’s testimony, Trump wrote: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” citing her posts in Somalia and Ukraine.

It landed like a thud. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff read the tweet during the hearing, and said during a recess that it could amount to “witness intimidation in real time.”

Many Republicans distanced themselves.

“I disagree with the tweet,” Rep. Elise Stefanik said during a break. When questioning resumed, many Republicans went out of their way to praise Yovanovitch’s service, with one calling her “tough as nails” and “smart as hell.”

Disinformation researchers found one line in particular gained traction on Twitter: “I hired Donald Trump to fire people like Yovanovitch.”

Many of the accounts defending Trump were created in January 2017, pointing to the possibility of a centralized campaign.

Some pro-Trump news outlets are singling out other federal employees that have worked for decades in government outside of the spotlight and accusing them of trying to sabotage the president.

Outlets such as Fox News, Breitbart or Conservative Review, routinely publish stories seeking to disgrace public servants among the federal government’s 2.8 million civilian workers.

National Security Council Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, previously said he was alarmed by Trump’s apparent extortion of the foreign leader.

“In the Spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency,” said Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, in testimony before the House impeachment inquiry Tuesday. “This narrative was harmful to U.S. government policy. While my interagency colleagues and I were becoming increasingly optimistic on Ukraine’s prospects, this alternative narrative undermined U.S. government efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine.”

Trump’s interactions with Ukraine support a case for impeachment based on abuse of presidential power.

The White House released a rough transcript of a phone call Trump made to Ukraine’s just-elected leader in April that differs in key areas from how the White House described the call at the time.

The President ignored directives from his National Security Council staff to bring up corruption during his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, despite the White House’s claim that fighting corruption was his reason for withholding the military aid.

“The President continues to push for transparency in light of these baseless accusations and has taken the unprecedented steps to release the transcripts of both phone calls with President Zelensky so that every American can see he did nothing wrong,” said deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, despite the fact that the transcripts prove Trump is guilty.

During the July call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

Vindman testified that the contrast between the April and July calls was striking and rapidly apparent.

“The atmospherics, the tone, indicated that [the July 25 conversation] was not going to be as positive a call as the April 21st call,” Vindman said.

Vindman testified that he reported concerns about Trump’s July 25 call to the top National Security Council lawyer within hours, and said he was told later not to discuss the call with anyone else.

Impeachment has always been, first and foremost, a constitutional defense against executive misuse of power.

Since the British invented impeachment in the 14th century as a parliamentary weapon against royal overreach and official misconduct, abuse of power has been on the short list of behaviors meriting impeachment.

Trump’s behavior is a classic example of abuse of presidential power for personal or political gain, and is therefore impeachable, according to Frank O. Bowman, III, the Floyd R. Gibson Missouri Endowed Professor of Law at the University of Missouri School of Law and Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown Law Center.

Friday’s hearing only amplified the questions for Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, who is scheduled to appear Wednesday.

In her testimony, Yovanovitch described the unusual role Sondland held in the Ukraine policy: he claimed to have oversight, even though Ukraine isn’t in the European Union.

“I would say that all EU ambassadors deal with other countries, including aspiring countries, but it is unusual to name the US ambassador to the EU to be responsible for all aspects of Ukraine,” she said at a contentious moment as a Republican member of Congress sought to cut her off.

Yovanovitch testified that her career suffered at the hands of Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who lobbied for her removal.

She also detailed Sondland’s advice to “go big” in her public praise of Trump in an attempt to keep her job.

Yovanovitch testified that could not follow Sondland’s advice, because a career foreign service officer must remain apolitical. Sondland is a Trump political appointee and is close to the President after donating handsomely to his inauguration.

Four White House officials — including John Eisenberg, deputy counsel to the President for national security affairs — were scheduled to testify Friday, but none of them showed up.

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