While Wednesday marked the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Utah Congressman Chris Stewart quipped that the impeachment process actually began years ago.
“Welcome, I think, to year four of the ongoing impeachment of President Trump,” Stewart said at the beginning of his time to question two career diplomats who served as Wednesday’s witnesses.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee heard from and questioned the two State Department officials about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. At the heart of the inquiry is whether the president withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a political favor earlier this year.
Stewart, Utah’s only representative on the intelligence committee, called the inquiry a “coup.” That’s a reference to a 2017 tweet by an attorney who is now representing the whistleblower who first raised concerns about Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
At one point during his five minutes of questioning, Stewart held up a partial transcript of the call released by the White House.
“There is one sentence, one phone call — that is what this entire impeachment proceeding is based upon,” he said. “And I got to tell you, if your impeachment case is so weak that you have to lie and exaggerate about it to convince the American people that they need to remove this president, then you’ve got a problem.”
While Stewart and other Republicans criticized the inquiry and the process, Democrats support the inquiry and used the public hearing to draw new information from the witnesses.
The White House held up $250 million in military aid to Ukraine earlier this year, though Stewart asked whether that should have been expected, since Congress stipulated that the money required Defense Department certification that Ukraine was fighting corruption.
“Are you surprised that there would be questions about corruption in Ukraine, and it would be discussed [to withhold] some of this aid that’s actually required by law that it be withheld if they can’t certify that corruption has been eliminated or is being addressed?” Stewart asked.
George Kent, a deputy secretary who oversees European and Eurasian affairs for the State Department, said the department was “fully supportive of that conditionality and the secretary had already certified” that it had been met.
Although Ukraine has a history of corruption, Stewart asked whether the witnesses agreed that there are “dozens and dozens” of other nations around the world that are “steeped in corruption.”
“I would say that there’s corruption in every country, including ours,” said William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Like other Republicans on the committee, Stewart also tried to turn the inquiry toward former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.
Stewart alleges Joe Biden pushed for an ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating the company at the time.
“I just think it’s interesting that out of hundreds of corrupt individuals, dozens of corrupt nations, that happened one time, and it happened with the individual whose son was being paid by the organization that was under investigation,” he said. “If someone was a candidate for a political office, even for president of the United States, should they be immune from investigation?”
“No one is above the law, sir,” Kent replied.
The Davis County Republican came under fire earlier this week after the Salt Lake Tribune reported that he only attended about half of the closed-door impeachment depositions. Stewart said he’s attended every hearing that was held while Congress was in session.
Wednesday’s hearing was one of several scheduled in the impeachment inquiry. The committee on Friday will hear from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted from her post earlier this year.