FALMOUTH — I was 13 when the Watergate hearings were televised in the summer of 1973, and I remember watching hours of live testimony with my mom, who darted in and out of the room between chores. It was an odd recreational choice for an outdoor-loving kid to make, but I think I understood the gravity of the event, and was mesmerized by what unfolded.

Ambassador William Taylor arrives to testify last month in the impeachment investigation. Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told lawmakers that President Trump withheld military aid for Ukraine unless the country’s president agreed publicly to investigate Democrats. Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

I was not a politically sophisticated viewer, and in fact was probably quite naive, but I couldn’t shake the sense that smart, informed people were talking about almost incomprehensible events and trying to get at some truth.

This week the House Intelligence Committee begins open hearings on the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. I’ve spent the last week reading as many depositions as I can, thousands of pages of testimony. Discernible patterns and various strategies are employed by both sides: Democrats trying to create a timeline and enforcing rules they created, and Republicans pushing hard against process issues and those rules. All of that is fascinating but not unexpected.

What I didn’t see coming was such compelling testimony from genuinely nonpartisan and politically agnostic professionals who have served U.S. government interests for their entire careers, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. They’ve bravely come forward to testify despite being ordered by the State Department not to appear, but compelled to do so by congressional subpoena.

This week Ambassadors William Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent will appear in open, televised hearings. They have over 100 years of public service among them, serving under six administrations, four Republicans and two Democrats. Having read the testimony they gave under closed sessions, I urge my fellow citizens to tune in.

There are sure to be many discussions about presidential phone calls and promises, all critical to this investigation. But also key is understanding the underlying framework in which decisions were made: who was listened to (political appointees); who was not (career diplomats); and how the career diplomats were treated (not particularly well). More precisely, they were not treated as their extensive knowledge and years of distinguished service deserved, and the country requires.

In the most glaring and what seems to have become the most pivotal example, Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled from her Ukrainian post and told without explanation to be on the next plane home. She’d become the target of a politically motivated smear campaign whose allegations former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill described as having “no merit whatsoever,” for which Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was “unaware of any factual basis,” Kurt Volker, U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, said were “made up” and Kent said were “full of lies.

Vindman, a National Security Council Ukraine expert, testified that he viewed Yovanovitch as “exemplary.” Hill called her “the best of the best.” P. Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said she was “excellent, serious, committed.” Volker characterized her as “upstanding, high integrity, capable, honest and professional.” She was told she’d done nothing wrong and yet in a moment, her distinguished 33-year Foreign Service career was over. Shock and dismay reverberated through the diplomatic corps.

What does that tell us about the administration that recalled her? Not all people in power underestimate or dismiss those whose work is perhaps unglamorous but is essential to the organization’s smooth functioning. And every Foreign Service officer knows they serve at the pleasure of the president.

Nevertheless, McKinley felt compelled to resign this fall as Pompeo’s top adviser, saying the timing was the result of “the failure … of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry; and … by what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives.”

I think I’m reminded of 13-year-old me this week not for the obvious parallels of a president facing an impeachment inquiry, but for stumbling upon these incredibly smart people trying to get at some truth, and me being awed by it. Listen to these career Foreign Service officers.

Just like that summer 46 years ago, I’m going to be spending a lot of time inside this week, watching history unfold.

 


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