WASHINGTON — For nearly two months, Republicans in Congress have been arguing that impeachment hearings — if they had to be held at all — needed to be held publicly. The depositions going on behind closed doors, they argued, were a “Soviet-style impeachment inquiry” happening in a “chamber of secrets.”
On Wednesday, their wish was granted. At 10 a.m., live on television, the first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry began. By lunchtime, the new GOP line had emerged: The hearings are boring.
“I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to stay awake and listen to all of this,” Rep. Mark Meadows, a close ally of President Donald Trump’s, told reporters when he emerged from the room just before 12:30 p.m.
“This is horribly boring... #Snoozefest,” Eric Trump, the president’s son, tweeted about two hours into the hearing.
Breitbart, a far-right website, proclaimed it on its homepage. “BORING: 90 MINUTES BEFORE QUESTIONS BEGIN,” it read. “First Hour Fail: Democrats’ ‘Blockbuster’ Opening Hour Fizzles.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted, “This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money,” noting that Trump was “working” rather than watching the hearings and “the dems should follow his lead!”
Trump, for his part, said he was “too busy to watch it,” he told reporters, though his Twitter account was active and retweeting Republican supporters in Congress who were defending him.
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There was at least one bombshell moment in the early hours of testimony and questioning, however.
For the first time, Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed that a member of his staff overheard Trump on the phone with Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, asking about “the investigations.”
“Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward,” Taylor said, recalling new information he was given by a staffer last week after he testified in an initial closed-door hearing last month.
He said the staffer had asked Sondland after the call what Trump thought of Ukraine. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor told Congress on Wednesday.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, followed up, asking if that meant Trump cared more about the investigations he requested than security assistance to Ukraine against Russia.
“Yes, sir,” Taylor responded.
Asked about the substance of the public hearings so far when he emerged from the room, Meadows was quick to dismiss it altogether.
“I can say that it's hearsay because that's the testimony that I just came out from listening,” he said. “Everyone has their impression of what truth is.”