Impeachment inquiry: It's a question of who should run the show

Many will debate the substance of the public impeachment testimony against President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE. To me, each of the Democrats’ witnesses of the past two weeks appeared to be well-intentioned and hard-working, and seemed genuinely to believe they know what’s best.

But a picture also emerged of U.S. diplomats who appear to believe they, rather than the U.S. president, have the ultimate authority to determine our foreign policy. And if the president doesn’t go along? He clearly must be wrong — in their view. Or, even worse, he’s a traitor. He’s to be obstructed. Taken down. 

In an odd turnabout, they actually make the case for President Trump’s mantra that we need to “drain the swamp.”

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One can first look at the language witnesses used as they vented about Trump’s tutelage in ways that veered far from relevance to the impeachment allegations. They conveyed hurt feelings, bruised egos and strong differences of opinion. At times, the testimony sounded a bit like a human resources conference or psychotherapy session.

The diplomats testified that they were “shocked and devastated” to learn that Trump and Ukraine’s new president did not have faith in them. They complained that, under Trump, “foreign service professionals are being denigrated and undermined” and the State Department isn’t getting the “attention and respect” it deserves. They expressed “disappointment” that Trump had the nerve to defy the federal agencies by not discussing “any of our interagency agreed-upon talking points” in Trump’s first call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. They were “embarrassed” in front of Ukrainians when they didn’t have answers about U.S. policy. 

Former Ambassador William Taylor called the team that Trump relied on the “irregular channel.” Taylor was among those who described feeling excluded or left out, at times, along with former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, diplomat George Kent, and Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanImpeachment sets up Ukrainian Americans for 2020 political role Director of National Intelligence Maguire should stand for the whistleblower Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings MORE, the U.S. national security adviser who oddly confirmed under oath that he’d been repeatedly approached and offered the job of defense minister in Ukraine earlier this year.

It was hard not to notice that virtually the entire U.S. diplomatic staff never spoke about executing U.S. foreign policy as determined by the president of the United States — the man in charge, according to the Constitution. Instead, they spoke as if their primary mission was to advocate for Ukraine and its new, unproven president whom President Trump was sizing up. They spoke of protecting “longstanding” or “official” policy — against Trump’s wishes. When Trump differed with their assessments and relied on his chosen adviser, his personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiNunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records Meadows: 'I don't see a single Republican defecting on impeachment' Inventing the 'Deep State' and draining the real one MORE, they collectively lost their minds.

Strangely, these diplomats seemed determined to prevent, at all costs, President Zelensky from making a real commitment to investigate corruption, even when it allegedly involved U.S. money, U.S. elections and/or U.S. political figures. Strange, because that seems at odds with admissions by the same diplomats that corruption is a major problem in Ukraine, that a corruption probe into the Ukrainian company Burisma was stopped midstream in 2014 — just before the company hired then-Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Buttigieg 'doesn't have significant black support even in his own city' Biden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE’s son, a hire that raised broad concerns about the appearance of a possible conflict of interest — and that Ukraine should resume its investigation into Burisma.

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Stranger still, these diplomats judged President Trump’s motivations to be purely political despite the fact that most had neither met nor spoken to him. They closed their minds to the notion of Ukrainian interference in U.S. elections in 2016, calling it a “debunked conspiracy theory,” and dismissed Trump’s concerns — while acknowledging under questioning they didn’t have full information about the allegations and none had personally investigated them. Strange, since Democrats are among those who long have pressed President Trump to pledge to “get to the bottom” of foreign interference in the 2016 elections and claimed he will be to blame if it happens again in 2020. 

It was startling to hear Ambassador Taylor testify that he hadn’t even been aware of the allegations that a Democratic National Committee consultant worked with the Ukrainian embassy (among others) to “undermine Trump’s candidacy” in 2016. True or not, one would think Taylor should at least be aware of an international news story that directly involves his area of responsibility. What’s the harm in an investigation if the president of the United States and others argue it’s warranted? If there’s nothing to find, the investigation presumably would put to rest any concerns.

At each step, the diplomats spoke with determined confidence about the path the U.S. ought to take with Ukraine — or else. They expressed no room for discussion or differences of opinion, even when it comes from the president. He’s to be convinced, not to be listened to. He’s not to be directing foreign policy but to be brought into line with the diplomats’ views.

Maybe they are correct. But maybe they’re not. They’re not infallible. In 2015, Fiona Hill co-authored an opinion-editorial against the U.S. providing “lethal weapon” assistance to Ukraine, only to later decide she’d been completely wrong about that. Some of these same diplomats never saw Russian interference coming under the Obama administration in 2016 but today believe themselves to be unequivocal experts on all such matters.

Finally, at the same time these diplomats declare President Trump’s motivations to be nefarious, they paradoxically provide evidence to the contrary. For example, they testified that Trump’s skepticism toward Ukraine and concerns about corruption were genuine. They testified that they thought if only they could get Presidents Trump and Zelensky in the same room, the two men would approve of one another and the wall of separation would fall away. If Trump’s motivations were purely rooted in certain self-serving political demands, why would meeting Zelensky remedy the matter?

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One can begin to understand why President Trump might have worried that his diplomatic and national security corps were not only refusing to execute his wishes, but also actively working behind his back to undermine them.

Whatever else politicians and ordinary Americans conclude that the public impeachment hearings have revealed, they’ve exposed diplomats substituting their own opinions, judgments and agendas for that of the elected president. 

In the end, the hearings provided an accidental forum in which establishment bureaucrats showed America that they think they run the show.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”