Trump cannot gaslight his way out of impeachment

Last week, as the public phase of the impeachment inquiry started, I wrote in this space that it was important for Americans to pay attention to the hearings. It turns out they were more important, more illuminating than I imagined they would be. This week promises to be even more impactful.

After last week’s testimonies and revelations, Republicans are in a quagmire as to just how to defend the indefensible actions of a president who sought to withhold congressionally mandated military aid to Ukraine unless that country’s government initiated an investigation into Trump’s main political rival, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump shakes up WH communications team The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic The Intercept's Ryan Grim says Cuomo is winning over critics MORE, and his son, Hunter Biden.

Their main talking point before last week was that everything the witnesses described was “hearsay.” They complained that none of the witnesses thus far had listened in on President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE’s phone call to Ukraine’s president and that those witnesses didn’t have firsthand knowledge from the president about the issues surrounding aid to Ukraine.

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That point went up in smoke after the testimony of David Holmes, the aide to acting ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor. Ambassador Taylor had mentioned his aide in his public testimony last week as having heard firsthand of Trump’s intentions. Holmes, according to Taylor, had overheard a conversation between Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandTrump takes heat for firing intel watchdog during pandemic White House withdraws nomination for Pentagon budget chief who questioned Ukraine aid hold Juan Williams: Will the GOP ever curb Trump? MORE, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, and Trump.

Afterwards, Sondland described Trump as “not giving a shit about Ukraine, only about the big stuff” — meaning the investigation of the Bidens that Ukraine was supposed to undertake in exchange for $400 million in military aid Congress had already approved.

While the majority of Holmes’ testimony was behind closed doors, his opening statement was made public, and it’s worth paying attention to.

The other bombshell testimony last week was from former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchAmerica's diplomats deserve our respect House panel says key witness isn't cooperating in probe into Yovanovitch surveillance President Trump's assault on checks and balances: Five acts in four weeks MORE, who was recalled and let go from her duties after a concerted smear campaign apparently led by Trump’s private lawyer gone rogue, Rudolph Giuliani, as he pranced around Ukraine badmouthing her

Ambassador Yovanovitch was the epitome of composure, professionalism, non-partisanship, patriotism and dedicated public service. And what did Trump do in the middle of her somber testimony? He tweeted misogynistic attacks against her that were very clearly designed to intimidate her and to undercut her testimony. The illegality of Trump’s witness-tampering (in real time) aside, what he did was despicable; it suggested he was terrified of what the ambassador had to say.

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The public testimony of another diplomat, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, combined with Taylor’s and Yovanovitch’s, underscored the value of these diplomats’ accounts in helping Americans to understand just how Trump tried to manipulate the issue of military aid to Ukraine in order to extort an investigation of the Bidens.

Sometimes infused with drama — but always straightforward and apolitical — the testimonies of these three dedicated public servants helped paint a picture of how the Giuliani maneuverings around U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine helped to muddy the waters and swing the pendulum of priorities towards Trump’s private political obsessions, instead of the interests of the country he was elected to lead.  

Voters need to understand that Trump is not interested in furthering U.S. foreign policy — only in furthering his own political interests.

Contrary to another ridiculous Trump and GOP talking point, the president has no interest in rooting out corruption. If he did, he would have discussed corruption with the president of Ukraine. His only interest was to gain political advantage over Joe Biden, the person he sees as his most dangerous political rival in 2020.

Viewers are hearing and seeing testimony this week from Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceStates battle each other for equipment in supply chain crunch Watch Live: Trump, White House coronavirus task force press briefing The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump gets new press secretary in latest shake-up MORE, who has testified privately that she heard the phone call between Trump and Zelensky. She said that “Trump's request for investigations into the Bidens struck her as “unusual and inappropriate” and that it “shed some light on possible other motivations” Trump had to halt aid to Ukraine. 

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Her testimony has already been ripped by Trump, who is clearly upset that she is daring to testify; it shows yet again how afraid Trump is of the truth. They will hear from a much-anticipated witness, Amb. Sondland, who could be in some legal jeopardy if he does not come clean to Congress about what he discussed with Trump on the call David Holmes overheard.

If Sondland testifies truthfully, it will be perhaps the most damning testimony to date for Trump, and one that may prove that Trump specifically asked Zelensky for an investigation of Biden before the U.S. would approve the disbursement of the $400 million in military aid that Ukraine so desperately needed.

Per House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Mattis defends Pentagon IG removed by Trump Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash MORE (D-Calif.), if this is proven through firsthand testimony, it could describe Trump’s attempt to bribe a foreign power — a clearly impeachable offense, according to the Constitution.

The truth is powerful, and no amount of gaslighting or spin from a frightened Donald Trump can hide the reality that the president tried to abuse his powers. Americans should stay tuned in. If they do, they will understand the importance of taking that power away from him in 2020.

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.