I think I’m a pretty good lawyer and can defend a lot, but I have no idea how I could defend Trump given the testimony today.
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) November 13, 2019
— Republicans for the Rule of Law (@ForTheRuleOfLaw) November 13, 2019
“If they impeach President Trump for blackmail or extortion or making threats or demands, they have to call President Trump a liar to do it.” – John Ratcliffe, setting the bar a little low.
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) November 13, 2019
“A scheme to condition official acts or taxpayer funding to obtain a personal political benefit does not become less odious because it is discovered before it is fully consummated.” – Rep. Schiff in his opening statement
— Hayes Brown (@HayesBrown) November 13, 2019
“They had settled into a strategy many defense attorneys adopt when the prosecution has the goods on their client—confuse the issues and distract the audience from the evidence at hand.” https://t.co/m1bGSLhz5Q
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) November 14, 2019
Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor, whose opinion on such matters is not to be taken lightly:
… I’ve tried many federal criminal cases, and Wednesday’s hearing looked a lot like trials in which the prosecution has the defendant on tape admitting to a crime. When defense attorneys can’t mount a defense on the merits, they raise a lot of peripheral issues in the hope of convincing at least one juror that there is reasonable doubt.
So every time you heard the Republican’s designated counsel ask about Hunter Biden’s language skills or one of the Republican members of the Intelligence Committee ask whether the Obama administration sold Javelin missiles to Ukraine, what you were actually hearing was a defense attorney doing his level best to avoid talking about what his client said on tape. It was chaotic and often unfocused, though not always. In fact, there were moments when members actually executed their playbook with some skill.
But they simply can’t overcome the abundant evidence Democrats possess to prove their central point—that President Donald Trump conditioned military aid to Ukraine on a public announcement that his political rival, Joe Biden, was under investigation.
When prosecutors have overwhelming evidence, as the Democrats have here, it can be tempting to pile on as much evidence as possible. But when too many points are made, the jury has difficulty picking out what is important. It’s better to select a few key points and hammer them over and over.
That’s what Democrats did effectively at the first hearing. They made the most of a rule that permitted an attorney for each side to conduct 45 minutes of uninterrupted questioning. Experienced trial lawyers are better at asking questions than politicians, and it takes time to develop a strong line of questioning, and Democrats chose well turning to an experienced former federal prosecutor who has handled many high-profile cases involving organized crime…
Many commentators have bashed the performance of Republican attorney Steve Castor, openly predicting that he will be mocked on the upcoming edition of “Saturday Night Live.” Certainly his lack of experience trying cases showed. His opening line of questions, which attempted unsuccessfully to get Taylor and Kent to agree to a confusing conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, was particularly choppy. But Castor had very little to work with, and unlike an attorney at a trial, Castor wasn’t allowed to just ask a few questions and sit down. It appeared that he was told he had to fill 45 minutes, which is not easy to do when your side has no legitimate defense on the merits. He tried his best to testify through his questioning and confuse the issues—he spent a lot of time trying to get Taylor to acknowledge that Rudy Giuliani’s “irregular” diplomatic channel wasn’t as irregular as it could have been—but he could have sharpened his questions considerably.
Castor did a much better job, however, than prominent Trump allies Reps. Jim Jordan and John Ratcliffe. Both men appeared to be trying too hard to create a “gotcha” moment, with Jordan in particular speaking at light speed, as if he were trying to squeeze in 15 minutes of content into five minutes of questioning. He would be better off trying to make four minutes worth of arguments in five minutes, by speaking slowly and developing one or two key points…
What hamstrings Republicans most is the psychology of Trump himself. He has refused to admit the quid pro quo and instead argue that it is not an impeachable offense, as many prominent Republicans have advocated. Admitting wrongdoing would take a lot of the air out of the impeachment hearings, but Trump appears incapable of doing so.
So Democrats will remain in the enviable position of proving a point on which they have ample evidence, even though Trump has kept them from getting key documents and witnesses. It’s not hard to tell a compelling story when you hold all the cards, but it won’t be a winning hand unless they can move public opinion.
This – FINALLY – is the point. Very, very clear that the White House finally released the aid only when the whistleblower report was coming to light and the Intel committee was already starting its investigation! They relented because they finally got caught. pic.twitter.com/GiFbOMBKSE
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 13, 2019
The best that can be said of Castor is that he was pretty sober in his questioning and looks super-sane compared to Devin Nunes. The problem is thatTrump is likely furious Castor was pretty sober in his questioning and looks super-sane compared to Devin Nunes. https://t.co/3nKjaUyFF8
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) November 13, 2019
As you watch Bill Taylor testify, remember that he was retired until Secretary Pompeo personally recruited him to become the top diplomat in Ukraine. Skeptical about what happened to Marie Yovanovitch, he was reluctant to take the job, & testified his wife advised him not to.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) November 13, 2019
Rep. Jordan says Congress won’t be able to question the one “who started it all,” referring to the whistleblower.
Rep. Welch: “I’d be glad to have the person who started it all to come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.” pic.twitter.com/nE8Exwn3CG
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) November 13, 2019
That strikes me as the big takeaway from today — Democrats were trying to make a clear case to people on the fence; Republicans were playing to the MAGA crowd. https://t.co/ofJc9lBn3c
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) November 13, 2019
You know who I bet is really enjoying watching this?…
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) October 3, 2019