Let’s give Rep. Chris Stewart a little credit: At least he bothered to show up Wednesday for the first public impeachment hearing.
That’s better than he had done for half the depositions of senior officials who have laid out how President Donald Trump withheld aid to Ukraine unless the new president announced a corruption investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son that would help Trump politically.
So at least he gets participation points this time.
And we’re lucky he was there. By parroting the Trump talking points, it spared us all from having to read the same trash on the president’s Twitter feed.
“Welcome, I think, to year four of the ongoing impeachment of President Trump,” said Stewart, being clever and maybe glossing over the fact that less than four years ago he had compared Trump to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
It was a thoroughly unsurprising and punchless performance by Stewart, accusing Democrats in a nationally televised hearing of conducting their business in private and insisting that the only piece of evidence that matters is the White House summary of the phone call Trump had with the Ukranian president.
“This is what the entire impeachment proceeding is based upon,” Stewart said, holding up the summary of the phone call, “and I gotta tell you, if your impeachment case is so weak you have to lie and exaggerate about it to convince the American people they need to remove the president, then you’ve got a problem.”
Stewart is the one with a problem, though, in that his assertion is a weak exaggeration — a lie, even.
The phone call is pretty bad in and of itself. And it gets even worse in the context of the events surrounding it — withholding military aid and a promised White House meeting to apply pressure on Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponents. And while that aid was withheld, Russian fighters killed some Ukranian soldiers.
It’s also now about White House attempts to lock down damaging information, Republican efforts to smoke out a whistleblower, interfere with Congress learning of the complaint, and refusal to provide any testimony or documents to a congressional committee undertaking a core constitutional function.
None of that may matter to Stewart, but it should matter to normal Americans who want — no, are entitled to — answers to questions about the entire episode.
The only useful information that Stewart elicited during the hearing was actually not helpful to the case he was trying to make. Quoting from a 2019 defense bill, he noted that aid could be withheld until the U.S. government could “certify that corruption has been eliminated or is being addressed.”
Senior diplomat George Kent stepped in and noted that his office was supportive of the language in the bill and the secretary of defense had, in fact, “already certified that condition had been met” well before the White House ordered the aid withheld — supposedly, Republicans would have us believe, to root out corruption.
We have known all along where Stewart stands. Based on a photo the congressman tweeted of himself visiting the Oval Office last week, he stands awkwardly about 6 feet away from the president, looking like he’s Pinocchio hoping that just maybe Trump would see fit to turn him into a real boy.
To be somewhat fair, there has been plenty of partisan grandstanding on the Democratic side of the aisle, as well. But anyone who watched the hearing had to be struck by the forthrightness, professionalism and record of service of the two men — Kent and Ambassador William Taylor — who were the witnesses.
If you cut through the rhetoric and spin, the picture they painted of an effort orchestrated by the White House to apply pressure to an important ally was crystal clear.
Taylor even offered a new detail — a call overheard by his deputy between European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Trump directly in which Trump inquired about the Biden investigation.
Republicans countered that it was just hearsay, which is true and emphasizes the point: The country needs to hear directly from the officials the White House is preventing from testifying.
We don’t know what they’ll say if they testify, but we do know what we’ll get from Stewart: whatever Trump tells him to say.
“As he demonstrated again today, Chris Stewart has become one of Washington’s biggest enablers of Trump’s corruption and indecency, a poor representation of the values of Utah and his district.”
That was the response from Evan McMullin, who ran against Trump in 2016, warning us what would happen if he was elected. McMullin not only lives in Utah, but he lives in the district Stewart represents — poorly.
It’s not the first time McMullin has criticized his congressman for being a Trump apologist, and it’s important to have constituents holding Stewart’s feet to the fire.
What would be better? If the Republican and former CIA officer pulls the trigger and runs against Stewart — whether it’s as a Republican, independent or United Utah Party (which honored McMullin last weekend).
I have no idea if it will happen (McMullin hasn’t responded when I’ve tried to ask him about the possibility), but if Stewart is going all-in on his defense of Trump — who only won 46% of the vote in Utah’s 2nd District — then make him own it and, when presented with a better choice, we’ll see where Utah voters line up.