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Stefanik challenges Schiff in first public impeachment session

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville (Official photo)

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik took an active role in the process as the first open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry started Wednesday morning.

Moments after the first two witnesses were sworn in, Stefanik, a member of the committee, asked two questions of Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, digging into the rules of the process. She checked if the Republicans’ witnesses will be called and questioned the California Democrat’s decision to block witnesses from answering questions that Schiff said would reveal the identity of a whistleblower who kicked off this investigation.

Stefanik has expressed concern with the process of the investigation from the start and has said she believes it is inevitable that the Democrats will try to impeach Republican President Donald Trump because they don’t like him.

On Oct. 31 Stefanik said the newly passed rules of the inquiry would result in “No increased transparency. No increased access for Members. No press.” Yet the transcripts of closed door testimony from eight witnesses have been released in the last week, and the hearings are now being broadcast live on C-Span and are open to the public and press.

The two men giving testimony Wednesday were Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Official photo)

Immediately after these two were sworn in, Stefanik asked when the Republicans would get a response to their request for nine witnesses to testify to the committee.

Schiff said three of them are scheduled to testify next week, but Stefanik said those were his witnesses and that there are six others. The list includes the anonymous whistleblower and Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was involved in Ukraine business while his father was involved with U.S.-Ukraine diplomacy.

The spark that lit the impeachment inquiry was Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president, asking him to investigate Hunter Biden. Trump had put a hold on congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine just before the call, which many say he was using as leverage to persuade Ukraine to investigate his political opponent’s son.

Schiff said in September that the whistleblower would testify “very soon” but now says the anonymous person will not testify to the committee. Stefanik tweeted that Schiff had reversed his position on this because “it became public that he and his staff coordinated with the whistleblower.”

Stefanik tweeted while in the hearing, adding, “for the Triggered Left Twitterverse, I’m tweeting & paying attention. A proud & effective multitasker!”

She also questioned how Schiff has run questioning.

“Mr. Chairman, will you be prohibiting witnesses from answering members’ questions, as you have in the closed-door depositions?” Stefanik said.

Schiff said she would already know that “if she was present for the depositions,” to which Stefanik replied that she had been present.

“For some of them, yes,” Schiff said. “The only times I prevented witnesses from answering questions … was when it was apparent that members were seeking to out the whistleblower. We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity, and I’m disturbed to hear members of the committee who have in the past voiced strong support for whistleblower protections seek to undermine those protections by outing the whistleblower.”

That could have been a reference to Stefanik, who has said the whistleblower’s anonymity should be protected. She reiterated that Friday in Plattsburgh, according to the Press-Republican.

Stefanik said “only one member and their staff on this committee have direct knowledge of the identity of the whistleblower.”

Schiff later said he does not know the identity of the whistleblower.

Stefanik has said Trump’s request that the Ukrainian president do him a “favor” and start an investigation into Hunter Biden, detailed in a memo, did not reach the level of impeachable offense. She has stated that she did not believe there was a quid pro quo of Trump withholding military aid from Ukraine until it did the investigation.

Later in Wednesday’s hearing, Stefanik said the two most important facts for Americans to know are that Ukraine eventually got the aid that was held up and that no investigation into the Bidens was conducted.

Stefanik successfully entered the memo of Trump and the Ukrainian president’s July 25 call into the record. She again called it a “transcript,” although it is a memo detailing the call but not a word-for-word account of it.

In a Oct. 29 impeachment inquiry deposition Stefanik attended, Alexander Vindman, a decorated war veteran and top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, said he had listened to the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president and said the memo in question had several key words and phrases omitted.

After requesting the memo be entered into the record, Stefanik started to talk about Schiff’s uncorroborated “parody” of the call, in which he hypothesized dialogue between the two leaders that never took place.

“You yourself, Mr. Chairman, have mischaracterized the call,” Stefanik said. “In fact, in the first open hearing you have a parody …”

Schiff then cut her off and said, “The gentlewoman will suspend.”

The call was entered into the record.

Stefanik’s Democratic rival in the 2020 New York 21st Congressional District election, Tedra Cobb, has said she supports the investigation but has not said whether she supports impeaching the president.