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(As it may be relevant as context, I'm German living in Germany, and I am not associated with one of the parties in the US. I tend to agree more with the Democrats)

In the impeachment hearings for Donald Trump, the central topic is the interaction with the Ukraine. What happened seemed pretty clear from the start, because it was admitted by Trump and well documented.

I would expect that very few witnesses are required to conclude whether it is a reason for impeachment.

Why are there more than two or three witnesses heard? Many of the witnesses expose details that were not known previously. But are those details relevant at all for a decision?

  • What do you mean by "it" in "it it a reason for impeachment"? (I assumed it's the quid-pro-quo regarding aid, but others seem to think otherwise reading your question.) – Fizz Nov 22 '19 at 1:28
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    @Fizz he has admitted to holding back aid, but not for the reason that is alleged to make up the quid pro quo. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 22 '19 at 1:31
  • Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please post a real answer. For more information on how comments should and should not be used, please review the article on the commenting privilege in the help center. – Philipp Nov 22 '19 at 21:09
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You say that

it was admitted by Trump and well documented.

As far as I know, Trump didn't admit to predicating the aid on the Biden investigation.

Proving that turned out more difficult that you might have expected. Insofar the highest-ranked witness (in the informal sense of access to Trump), Sondland (who said he had about 20 meetings with Trump, not all on Ukraine), only said that he thought the president was conditioning aid on the investigation, but that he didn't actually hear that from the president. Hence the whole 2+2=4 (yeah, they literally called it that) in his hearing.

As the BBC summarized:

'Two plus two equals four'

Mr Sondland said he believed military aid was held up to put pressure on Ukraine. He said he had never directly heard Mr Trump link the withholding of military aid from Ukraine with his desire for the country to launch investigations that might benefit him but said he could draw that conclusion.

What he said: "President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from (Trump's personal lawyer Rudy) Giuliani was that the Burisma and 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting. The aid was my own personal, you know, guess, based again on your analogy two plus two equals four."

Analysis: Sondland was very clear in his testimony that a White House visit by Ukrainian President Zelensky was conditioned on Ukraine launching investigations that could be politically helpful to Trump.

"Was there a quid pro quo?" Sondland asked. "As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."

What Sondland said he did not initially understand, however, was that US military aid to Ukraine was also being held to increase pressure on Ukraine.

Under questioning, he testified that while he was not directly told why military aid was being held up, it eventually became as obvious to him as "two plus two equals four".

Republicans say that this is unfounded speculation on Sondland's part and fiercely contest the conclusion. That's because while it would be troubling if a White House visit was being used to pressure Ukraine, it's significantly more serious if congressionally authorised aid to a nation fighting a war for its survival was at play, as well.

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    It maybe that the "admitted by Trump and well documented" is actually a reference to Trump's South Lawn interviews (widely published) wherein he is reported to have said that asking for foreign entities to investigate a political opponent is an acceptable activity. – BobE Nov 22 '19 at 1:17
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    The 20 meetings were actually conversations, and the number was given by Rep. Speier, to which Amb. Sondland replied 'It’s probably in that range.' I think conversations may have been understood to include phone calls. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 22 '19 at 1:18
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    @BobE: true, but see last para in the BBC quote: it's of greater gravity if Trump withheld aid than if he just made that request to investigate the Bidens, which indeed Trump doesn't deny doing. I think he even openly asked China to do the same, just to prove his point. – Fizz Nov 22 '19 at 1:26
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    Trump's stances on any issue will shift pretty wildly from Tweet to Tweet. He's admitted, denied, and denied admitting, depending on which rant you want to zero in on. – PoloHoleSet Nov 22 '19 at 15:28
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    @PoloHoleSet I don't think you can find anyone who would say Trump isn't a manipulative bomb-thrower likely to state almost anything to get what he wants. I'd be leery of assuming the contents of Trump's tweets are truthful representations of his position on substantial issues. He's a bull in the china shop of US government established-bureaucracy polity. And that has happened in the past, this is just the first time it's happened with the internet available to overwhelm us all with too much data. I imagine tweets from Lyndon Johnson or Teddy Roosevelt would have been legendary. – Just Me Nov 22 '19 at 17:23
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What they need to show to make a bribery case

Some are making the case that President Trump is guilty of bribery. That means that official acts are conditioned on something of value. For that, the inquiry works on the idea that an investigation into a political opponent is a thing of value. Based on that, the investigation needs testimony to ascertain the following:

  1. That official acts, having a White House meeting and resuming congressionally approved military aid, were conditioned on some sort of investigation.

  2. That the investigation was an investigation into a political opponent. So there are many terms floating around, the company Burisma, Hunter Biden who was on the board of that company and his father Vice President Joe Biden who may be Trump's opponent in the presidential 2020 election.

  3. That the aforementioned points were actually directed by President Trump. After all, if this was something that other officials did without the president's knowledge then he is not the one having done the action that some allege constitutes bribery.

These three points need a lot of collaboration because many of the witnesses have not heard directly from the president. For example, they have talked to Rudy Giuliani, or have been instructed to talk to Rudy Giuliani. It may not yet be clear enough to the American public and those in congress what the president instructed Giuliani to do.

So while there is some case to be made already, it is not enough to satisfy these three points and it is likely that if more higher-ups with more knowledge of the communications the president has had with subordinates on the three points that the facts become clearer.

Why a few witnesses may not answer it all

Specific to your question

Many of the witnesses expose details that were not known previously. But are those details relevant at all for a decision?

That depends and it's not clear before having witnesses testify what they can testify to. So there have been closed door depositions first, these tend to go on much longer and they are really to see what witnesses know.

Then there are the open hearings, which serve a number of points:

  • Showing to the American public what the facts are.

  • Showing to other (potential) witnesses what the facts are as they understand them.

The latter point is a separate consequence of public hearings and it may cause others who have decided not to answer subpoenas but have knowledge about the matter to go on the record. That can be for a number of reasons, for example when other witnesses point to them as having coordinated the efforts above.

Fingers are pointing to Rudy Giuliani, but we don't know what he has been instructed to do

In this case, that mostly applies to Rudy Giuliani, who was mentioned by the President Trump in the July 25 phone call with President Zelensky:

Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.

That in itself is not putting Giuliani in an uncomfortable position, but combined with the testimony from Ambassador Sondland, it might be. Part of that testimony is stated below as transcribed by rev.com

We worked with Mr. Giuliani because the president directed us to do so. We had no desire to set any conditions. We had no desire to set any conditions on the Ukrainians. Indeed, my own personal view, which I shared repeatedly with others, was that the White House and security assistance should have proceeded without preconditions of any kind.

Searching that transcript for Giuliani actually leads to 184 hits. The way I understand it, others who were accused of having done something wrong (Amb. Sondland and Amb. Volker), have pointed to Giuliani.

The open question that still remains, at least in my understanding having watched almost all of the testimony, is to what extent Giuliani gave these instructions on his own, or if he was instructed by President Trump to do delegate to others what's stated in my first three points above.

  • @BobE no one needs to be persuaded in the House of Representatives, as it's controlled by Democrats who have a comfortable pro-impeachment majority. Only ones needing any convincing are Senate Republicans. – JonathanReez Nov 23 '19 at 1:12
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    I would like you to explain the wording " to what extent Giuliani was given these instructions on his own" - it's the "on his own" that I'm not understanding. Are you trying to say 'to the extent that Giuliani self-instructed', that is was not given any instructions? – BobE Nov 23 '19 at 4:04
  • @BobE yea that wasn't formulated well. So the thing is, a lot of testimony from others references Giuliani. The president has said people should speak to Giuliani. That gives some validity to Giuliani. What we don't know is what the president has instructed Giuliani to instruct these other officials. So there is still the unlikely possibility that the president instructed Giuliani to go after corruption and that Giuliani turned that into going after the Burisma and the Bidens and instructed other officials to do so. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 23 '19 at 4:11
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    Regarding the "unlikely possibility...". Why would the President need to create a second channel (headed by Giuliani/Sondland et al) to "go after corruption" versus using the normal DoS channel. Did he not trust the formal DoS channel to leverage Zelensky to make an announcement? The point is that the president already had the tools in place without Giulani's crew. – BobE Nov 23 '19 at 4:28
  • @BobE that's a (the?) plausible explanation. Still, it would be a lot clearer if Giuliani said it, or proved it using his tech. He is after all the president's cybersecurity adviser. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 23 '19 at 4:30
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There are two parts of the constitutional impeachable-offenses list that Trump can be charged with: bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors. The latter offense is problematic because the word 'misdemeanor' has changed in meaning since the Founders used it, and its broadness allows for a lot of semantics arguments from Republicans. So the Democrats are going for the bribery charge, which is much more straightforward.

Unfortunately, the White House has disallowed testimony from those who did the actual bribery. While normally, the House would wait until the Supreme Court sorted out the legality of compelling those people to testify, they also are contending with an American public who believes that any delay in the hearing means the Democrats are creating a partisan 'circus' atmosphere. So in the interest of speed and clarity, the House is metaphorically tying one hand behind their back.

In order to compensate for this, they are calling a lot of witnesses very quickly so that so many people would be on the record saying that they heard Trump doing all of the necessary stuff to be impeached, that it'd be extremely difficult for the Republicans to besmirch the names and allegiances of all of them, or tie every single one to their favorite bogeyman, the 'deep state'.

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Basically, the nature of what Trump did is not inherently illegal. The President has broad power to negotiate with foreign powers on behalf of the United States and I can't think of a treaty between two nations that doesn't have some quid pro quo element (The U.S. has a treaty with Germany for use of an airbase. There's a benefit to the United States to having an Airbase in Germany (it allows us to get closer to Russia in the event of WWII and it's a lot easier to save troop's lives by evacuating them from the middle east to Germany than it is from the Middle East to the United States. Germany has the benefit that it can reduce it's military to bare necessities and not cause a panic in the rest of Europe because it's feeling threatened and wants more tanks, which has kinda been a problem for Europe for first half of the 20th century).

There's also nothing wrong with asking another nation to investigate possible corruption cases both parties are involved with... even if it's likely nothing, there's no harm to checking.

The problem is one of the people who might have some problems with corruption is a possible challenger for the Presidency in the 2020 elections and it now asks the question of was the request for investigation motivated by American interests (and it just happens that a political rival could be damaged by his association to possible corruption if it was found) or was the request motivated to specifically damage a political rival (and any other cases of corruption uncovered are just an added bonus or plausible cover to keep the end goal appearing on the level)?

The former is not a crime or worthy of impeaching a president (after all, Obama had an investigation of corruption related to Trump and his associates in the 2016 election (after Trump was named his party's nominee) and at this stage in the U.S. election cycle, Biden is not the nominee for his his party, for comparison) and the law enforcement of the United States (federally at least) falls under the preview of the President's office. So it's not necessaryily illegal to investigate a political rival for office for a possible crime (The argument of Trump's supporters)... it is an abuse of office do conduct the investigation for political dirt to use against an opponent on the campaign trail (Trump's accusers charge).

Everyone agrees that Trump basically did the deed, but for it to be Impeachable, the Democrats need to show that Trump was doing it more out of motivation for political benefit, than he is out of motivation for actual justice, regardless of political outcome. And since there is not a way to read the president's mind (and there are a lot of his supports who will admit to the critique that Donald Trump often behaves in a way that causes people to ask "What was he thinking?" and not know if he planned something or is really is making it up as he goes) the only way to prove that it was illegal is to show intent.

The bulk of the witnesses are testifying in part to the nature of the events with relation to their experience (most served at least two, if not three or four different presidents through their careers) to show that the President's intent was to withhold the money until Ukraine produced results on Biden-Corruption as opposed to intent to withhold the cash because he's looking at Ukrainian meddling (there are some cases reported in non-conservative news sources that are cause for concern, and again, it's not illegal to investigate someone for a possible crime and find the crime didn't happen or the evidence doesn't point to it being criminal?).

In general, evidence gathering (including eyewitness statements and expert opinions), its better to have more evidence of the same thing than to hinge your case on just one piece of evidence for a variety of reasons, both becasuse the evidence might, by it's self be unreliable (especially eyewitness testimony) and because some evidence might accidentally get mishandled or mismanaged and become contaminated, destroying it's reliability. Most people in congress were lawyers prior to holding elected office (and still are... just because you're writing the law rather than practicing, doesn't mean you can't be a member of the bar), so they will be fully aware about how dangerous it is to rely on only one piece of evidence.

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    Note that the current case relies on witness' accounts so much because the White House and the State Department have refused to make available documents. Since meeting are probably minuted and there may be emails and memos, those could solve a lot of the problems in your last paragraph. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 23 '19 at 4:16
  • I'd agree that Quid Pro Quo is not inherently illegal, perhaps not even improper. However QPQ for corrupt purposes would be, frankly corrupt and ergo illegal. If the two alternatives (that you offer) are either for a) personal political gain or b) actual justice and if there is no evidence that the actions were taken for actual justice, then can we deduce the motivation is a) personal political gain? No one has offered evidence that an announcement of a Biden investigation was for "actual justice" . If "actual justice were being sought there would be no need of a public announcement. – BobE Nov 23 '19 at 4:19
  • @BobE: Typically in U.S. law, especially at the federal level, you don't hear about investigations until after they are ready to prosecute. No announcement could mean one of three things: A.) The investigation is ongoing and not being discussed by the investigatory agency(ies), B.) The investigation has concluded with no findings of illicit action, or C.) The investigation has not yet begun. That said, the Ukraine has recently had some members of Parliment and the government say they are initiating renewed investigations, and the U.S. Senate stated they are starting investigations+ – hszmv Nov 25 '19 at 14:32
  • @BobE: +Not sure of your nation of origin, but the Senate announcement was late last week, and this week is a holiday week in the United States (Thanksgiving) and Congress usually takes the whole week off so members can go home and celebrate and talk to the constituency. All and all, there shouldn't be any major development on this until after New Years Holiday. – hszmv Nov 25 '19 at 14:34
  • Couple of questions for you: 1) Remind me of what (Obama announced) investigation was launched between July 18 and November 8 2016 that targeted Trump et al. 2) You said "US Senate stated they are starting investigations" are you referring to Graham's letter to Pompeo to provide documents? – BobE Nov 25 '19 at 15:37

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