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As walls close in on President Trump, Republicans in Congress continue to dig in

Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON — The first three days of the House Democrats’ impeachment case against President Trump have provided further evidence of his complicity in seeking political dirt on 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden. But the Republicans on Capitol Hill show no signs yet of abandoning him.

Tuesday’s witnesses, returning Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council and Jennifer Williams, a Russia adviser for Vice President Mike Pence, offered additional confirmation of previous reports that Trump held up nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to obtain political dirt on former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who formerly was a board member of Burisma, a giant Ukrainian energy company.

Both Vindman and Williams testified they were aware of what has been characterized as a quid pro quo, in the wake of another U.S. diplomat, David Holmes, testifying that he had heard Trump on a phone call to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. Trump asked Sondland if Ukraine agreed to play ball on the Bidens, and Sondland answered in the affirmative. Sondland later told Holmes that Trump’s prime interest was “the big stuff” — getting Ukraine to investigate the Bidens — rather than pursuing corruption in Ukraine, which Joe Biden had been working to root out during the Obama administration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has charged Trump’s actions were bribery, an impeachable offense specifically mentioned in the Constitution as a “high crime or misdemeanor” that could become an article of impeachment. The aid funds were eventually released to Ukraine, but there was no such Ukraine inquiry, leading the Republicans to claim no deal ever was consummated.

The defending Republicans on the special House impeachment committee dismissed the newest evidence as more “hearsay.” But Holmes insisted on Friday he had clearly recognized Trump’s voice on the call to Sondland in a Kiev restaurant.

The Democrats’ case was further reinforced by a withering Trump tweet Friday against former American Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich, whom the president fired amid the quid pro caper.

Special committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff of California told reporters thereafter he had just heard “witness intimidation in real time” in Trump’s tweet, suggesting it too could constitute an impeachable offense.

In Tuesday’s hearing, the Republican committee counsel cross-examined Vindman, a naturalized U.S. citizen who immigrated from Ukraine as a small child and who became a decorated combat soldier. As part of a campaign to question Vindman’s American patriotism, the Republicans’ counsel made a point of noting that Vindman recently had been offered the post of Ukrainian defense minister. Vindman said he quickly rejected it, noting his commitment and long military service to his adopted country. It was a particularly ugly moment in the session.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, continued earlier efforts to cast the impeachment inquiry as a naked partisan campaign to deprive Trump of his duly elected presidency. He accused the majority Democrats and Chairman Schiff of colluding with the original and still anonymous whistleblower on Trump’s alleged malfeasance in office. Nunes called for subpoenaing the whistleblower to testify, whereupon Schiff reaffirmed the committee’s determination to shield his or her identity under the federal protection law.

Meanwhile, the Democrats continue to hope the wide exposure via national television of the testimony by veteran distinguished foreign policy professionals, coupled with Trump’s brutal tweets against Yovanovich, will eventually shake loose enough GOP support in the Senate to make Trump only the third American president impeached. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House but were acquitted by the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required to convict.

This time, the issue is so much a domestic one as it is the conduct of foreign policy. Trump has run roughshod over normal standards and practices that successfully guided American policy in leading the Western alliance after World War II, through the Cold War against communism to the present time of threatened Russian global resurgence. In going after Biden, a potential 2020 challenger, the president again demonstrated there is no limit to what he will so to hold onto his office.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.