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How Trump’s Impeachment Plays Out on TV

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With a deep, resonant voice that summoned memories of the most authoritative newscasters—his name and Walter Cronkite’s were trending together on Twitter shortly after his testimony began, though Edward R. Murrow’s smoky baritone also came to mind—Taylor methodically detailed his view of how “the official foreign policy of the United States” and vital aid to a struggling young democracy were undercut by the “irregular efforts” of a shadow diplomacy led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. In response to the first round of questioning from the committee’s Democratic chairman, Adam Schiff, Taylor eloquently summarized the high stakes of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian territorial aggression—and its need for American support—casting the case as a cause far above petty partisan squabbling.

“It affects the world we live in,” Taylor testified. “That our children and grandchildren will grow up in. This affects the kind of world we want to see. That affects our national interests very directly. Ukraine is on the front line of that conflict.”

And when the committee’s Democratic counsel, Daniel Goldman, asked Taylor, “in your decades of military service and diplomatic service representing the United States around the world, have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the president of the United States?” Taylor answered flatly, “No, Mr. Goldman, I have not.”

Whether Taylor’s testimony moves the needle of public opinion any more than Mueller’s did remains an open question. As Taylor spoke, the Drudge Report featured ominous headlines: “Trump Nears Defining Hour,” “State Department Faces Biggest Crisis Since McCarthy,” and “Plan to Sacrifice Rudy,” but Breitbart News’s swift verdict on the hearing was dismissive: “BORING: 90 MINUTES BEFORE QUESTIONS BEGIN.” On Fox News, former Whitewater Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr was unmoved. “This is all hearsay,” he judged.

The committee’s Republican members stuck to expected talking points: that Taylor himself never met with Trump; that the aid ultimately flowed to Ukraine; that Taylor acknowledged having been repeatedly told by Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, that Trump did not want a quid pro quo (even as Sondland acknowledged to Taylor in the next breath that a White House meeting and the aid were directly linked to Ukraine’s investigation of the Bidens and of a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election). At one point in the hearing, the ranking Republican member, Devin Nunes of California, simply walked out.

But even aggressive, rat-a-tat-tat interrogation by Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, whom the House Republican leadership specifically added to the committee for just such a purpose, couldn’t rattle Taylor, who spent 18 months with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. “I’ve seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this!” Jordan exclaimed as he read a sworn affidavit from Sondland recounting multiple officials’ shared and sometimes secondhand recollection of Trump’s demands, and dismissed Taylor as the committee’s “star witness” for impeachment.

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