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UPDATE: The House on Thursday voted along nearly party lines to authorize the next phase of the impeachment inquiry.
It is a sign of the panic among Donald Trump's congressional Republican sycophancy that there are now calls to move away from attacking the process House Democrats are using in their impeachment inquiry to attacking the facts underlying their inquiry -- the smoking gun known as the Ukraine scandal.
Good luck with that.
Republican attacks on the process made for tasty sound bites, but little headway beyond the Fox News echo chamber because Democrats, backed by court rulings, have been going by the book and are now moving on to the next phase of the inquiry -- public testimony by many of the 11 witnesses to date who defied the president and have been deposed by impeachment investigators behind closed doors. At least four more witnesses are scheduled to be deposed.
The depositions have been devastating, and implicating Trump all over again under the harsh glare of television lights will make mounting an effective Republican defense all the more difficult because the scandal has been so thoroughly documented, including multiple confirmations that Trump made desperately needed military aid to Ukraine to fight Russian aggression contingent upon the beleaguered democracy launching a public probe into Joe Biden and his son.
Inquiry witnesses have been credible nonpartisan career diplomats, State Department and national security officials while Trump's witnesses lack credibility to speak to the substance of the case against him, notably the perjurious Gordon Sondland, who bought an ambassadorship for a $1 million Trump inauguration contribution and suffers from memory lapses, while other pro-Trump witnesses like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are refusing to testify on the president's orders and would make a further hash of things.
Then there was the testimony Tuesday of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient and top National Security Council official who gave a devastating firsthand account about Trump's infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, testifying that the president pressured Zelensky to investigate his rivals and undermined national security, while he was not permitted to add key words and phrases that had been omitted from a rough transcript of the call that would have made it even more damaging.
Republicans were left spluttering about the Iraq war hero's patriotism because his family emigrated from the Soviet Union when he was 3, some called him a Ukrainian spy and the president referred to him as a"Never Trumper."
Add to all that two other Democratic-driven developments:
The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry will no longer wait for courts to rule on their various lawsuits, in effect motoring around the stonewall the White House has erected in refusing subpoenas and providing documents in the service of accelerating the inquiry to keep it from extending too far into the 2020 election year.
And Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will vote on Thursday to formalize the next phase of the inquiry, a step the House speaker said was necessary "to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing" investigators.
Under the next phase, interviews being conducted behind closed doors and additional evidence collected by chairman Adam Schiff's Intelligence Committee will be shared with the Judiciary Committee in the form of a report, witness transcripts and the additional evidence. The Judiciary Committee will weigh all evidence, while Trump's lawyers will be allowed to present a formal defense of him and cross-examine witnesses once the Judiciary Committee begins debate over whether to impeach him and produce articles of impeachment to send to the full House.
The Judiciary Committee procedures would empower chairman Jerrold Nadler to block Trump's lawyers from cross-examining witnesses if the president continues to try to prevent any of the four committees conducting impeachment-related investigations from gathering information from the executive branch.
"The evidence we have already collected paints the picture of a president who abused his power by using multiple levers of government to press a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election," the four House committee chairmen involved in the inquiry wrote in a statement. "Following in the footsteps of previous impeachment inquiries, the next phase will move from closed depositions to open hearings where the American people will learn firsthand about the president’s misconduct."
While these developments are poison for Republicans, none will silence the congressional sycophancy, let alone mute it, although the prattling against a "deep state" conspiracy is wearing exceedingly thin in the face of the growing mountain of evidence against the president, while dithering among the president's advisers about how to fight back beyond stonewalling and profanity-laced tweets is deepening the sense of panic.
Given the Republican stranglehold on the Senate, where an impeachment trial would be held, these developments will allow the Democrats to submit their powerful case against the president to the public more expeditiously and more directly, further undercutting his claims of absolute authority. And drawing in undecided voters while energizing the party's base in the run up to the election may be the most important task of all.