For eight years, House Republicans searched for a “smoking gun” that could unravel the presidency of Barack Obama. They presided over hundreds of oversight hearings, issued more than 100 subpoenas, held the attorney general in contempt of Congress, and even formed a special select committee devoted exclusively to one investigation, on Benghazi. As someone who spent five years working alongside Republicans on the Oversight Committee, I can tell you that we never found a “smoking gun” like the testimony that was provided yesterday from the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William B. Taylor.
Ambassador Taylor delivered a 15-page opening statement that detailed the “confusing and unusual arrangement” involving the nongovernment employee Rudy Giuliani’s “irregular” role in making aid to Ukraine conditioned on the promise to investigate the family of one of President Donald Trump’s political rivals, Joe Biden. Taylor testified that Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had ordered an Office of Management and Budget staff member to “hold security assistance to Ukraine,” even though the Defense Department had determined that the “assistance was effective and should be resumed.”
Taylor also testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland told him that “President Trump had told him that he wants President [Volodymyr] Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma [the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat] and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.” Taylor further said that following Trump’s September 7 phone call with President Zelensky, a National Security Council aide told him that Trump insisted that “President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.”
As I read through Taylor’s statement, which was given under oath, I couldn’t help but think to myself how my former Republican colleagues would have reacted if similar testimony had been given by a career diplomat during the Obama administration, especially during the Benghazi investigation, which produced 33 hearings in two years.
In June 2016, Representatives Jim Jordan and Mike Pompeo—yes, the same Jim Jordan who is now the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee and the same Mike Pompeo who is now the secretary of state—declared that “it is our belief that many of [the Benghazi] failures were the result of the administration’s obsession with preserving a political narrative.”
The reality is that if Pompeo, Jordan, and House Republicans had received the kind of bombshell testimony we heard from Taylor yesterday, they would have immediately moved to impeach the president.
In a blatant display of hypocrisy, Pompeo has refused to cooperate with Congress’s impeachment investigation and has blocked other State Department officials from testifying. Jordan has spent his time attacking the impeachment proceedings, bizarrely suggesting that the Democrats have something to hide.
Of course, when they were investigating Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Pompeo and Jordan made “note of the disappointing fact that the administration did not cooperate with our committee’s investigation from the very beginning. In fact, they obstructed our work from day one.”
During the Obama years, obstruction of Congress was a great concern among House Republicans, many of whom have become Trump’s chief public defenders. Representative Doug Collins is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, but when he was a member of the Oversight Committee in 2014, he defended congressional investigations as being “not about partisan politics, it’s not about witch hunts, this is about the people.”
Another one of Trump’s fiercest defenders, Representative Mark Meadows, was singing a very different tune in 2014, when Republicans opened a barrage of investigations targeting the Obama administration in the run-up to the midterm elections, by saying, “Really what most Americans want is that justice is served.”
Five years later, a top diplomat was testifying that the president saw aid to Ukraine as a mechanism to extract a promise from a foreign leader to investigate one of his top political opponents. The acting head of the Office of Management and Budget is refusing to testify about why the White House chief of staff blocked the release of the aid. And Pompeo, Jordan, Meadows, and Collins aren’t saying a word about obstructing Congress. They aren’t on cable news defending our constitutionally protected system of checks and balances. They aren’t demanding that members of the executive branch who ignore Congress’s oversight authority be held in contempt. They aren’t calling for the creation of a special select committee to investigate aid to Ukraine. Instead, they are burying their heads in the sand, hoping to avoid the smoke.