Rep. Chris Stewart predicts impeachment hearings will turn Americans to support Trump

(Alex Brandon | AP) Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, questions former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as she testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, during the second public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart predicted Friday that the American people would be less supportive of impeaching President Donald Trump after hearing from witnesses – despite continued revelations from career diplomats.

Stewart, a Utah Republican who has played the role of a staunch defender of Trump, reiterated his belief that Democrats have been trying to undermine the president since before he was elected and that in the end, it wouldn't work.

“I think that public support for impeachment is actually going to be less when these hearings are over than it is when the hearings began, because finally the American people are going to be able to see the evidence and they're going to be able to make their own determination regarding that,” Stewart said.

The Utah congressman on Friday was named an honorary campaign co-chairman of Trump’s state campaign, along with colleague Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee. (Lee, like Stewart, predicted the impeachment inquiry will only help Trump’s standing among voters.)

Polls have shown Americans are split about impeaching Trump, though it’s unclear how the process will affect voters as it moves into a more public phase with witnesses discussing Trump’s attempts to get a foreign government to launch investigations into political rival, Joe Biden.

Some 48 percent of Americans support impeachment, according to political handicapper FiveThirtyEight, with 44.4 percent opposing it. That’s fairly similar, the outlet found, from a month prior with 49.3 percent supporting impeachment and 43.5 against it.

Stewart said Americans are seeing through the Democrat-led inquiry.

“The American people know this is nonsense,” he said Friday during the second of many hearings scheduled to dive into Trump’s role in U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine. “The American people know this is unfair.”

Stewart apologized to the witness, former U.S ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, for being “drugged” into appearing – Stewart clearly meant dragged – and blasted what he said was three years of investigations into whether Trump’s team colluded with Russia to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

“For three years, we’ve heard these outrageous and frankly unbelievable accusations regarding Russian collusion, accusations that we now know are absolute nonsense,” Stewart said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find enough evidence to say the president’s campaign worked with Russia to meddle in the election, though he stopped well short of clearing the president of any wrongdoing.

In questioning Yovanovitch, who Trump removed at the bequest of his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, witnesses have alleged, Stewart zeroed in on the main contention Democrats have said would lead to Trump’s impeachment.

“Madam Ambassador, as you sit here before us, very simply and directly, do you have any information regarding the president of the United States accepting any bribes?” Stewart asked.

“No,” Yovanovitch responded.

“Do you have any information regarding any criminal activity that the president of the United States has been involved with at all?”

“No,” she stated.

Stewart later retweeted a White House post of a clip of him asking those questions that noted, “In 30 seconds, @RepChrisStewart got the answers that House Democrats have spent 7 hours trying to avoid. 7 hours that Congress could’ve spent working for you—on drug price legislation, USMCA, immigration reform, or infrastructure—instead of for their own political careers.”

USMCA is a reference to a trade deal among the United States, Mexico and Canada meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Yovanovitch had been removed from office before news broke that the Trump administration was withholding hundreds of millions in military aid for Ukraine and a potential White House visit by Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, unless he investigated former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

The former ambassador learned of those efforts later through news reports.

She testified Friday that she was “shocked” and “devastated” by how Trump spoke about her in a phone call with Zelensky. Under pressure after a whistleblower complaint, the White House later released a memo about the call.

While Trump’s supporters cheered Stewart’s questioning of Yovanovitch, the Utah congressman took heat on social media, including for his use of “drugged” instead of “dragged.”

“Congressman Stewart to witness Ambassador Yovanovitch. ‘I’m sorry you got drugged into this.’ ‘Drugged?’ Was she given drugs?” wrote state Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, a retired high school English teacher.

Norm Ornstein, a political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute, tweeted dismay at Stewart's line of questions.

“Chris Stewart keeps trying to win the award of most embarrassing Republican on the Intelligence Committee, although the competition is so stiff,” Ornstein wrote. “He apologizes for Yovanovitch being dragged into this. Who dragged her in? Trump!”

In an appearance on Fox News on Friday, Stewart said he wasn’t sure why Yovanovitch was testifying since she doesn’t have any firsthand knowledge of the president’s actions.

I think she was very sympathetic and I think her story was very credible,” Stewart told the cable channel. “But it doesn’t really relate at all to the impeachment inquiry. I mean, she left her post months before any of the incidents regarding impeachment even occurred.”

The Utah congressman also disputed the idea that a tweet during her testimony by the president — saying “everywhere” Yovanovitch served “turned bad” — was meant to intimidate her as a witness.

“I don’t think she’s intimidated at all by this,” Stewart told Fox News. “I think it’d be, frankly, kind of insulting to suggest that she would be. She’s a professional. She’s a strong individual. I think she’s been. She’s faced many more challenges in her life than a tweet.”

Stewart made the comments despite Yovanovitch saying during the hearing that the real-time presidential tweet was "very intimidating.”

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat leading the inquiry into Trump, later said that president’s tweet could be grounds for an article of impeachment.

The president’s attack on a witness today is not something we view in isolation,” Schiff said, according to The Washington Post. “This is part of a pattern to intimidate witnesses.”