Trump Impeachment

Career Foreign Service officer George Kent, left, and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor are sworn in to testify during the first public impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he had not watched one minute of the initial public impeachment hearing because he was “too busy.”

Several Midlands lawmakers also found it challenging to fit real time testimony watching into their packed schedules.

“I have been busy attending committee hearings and meeting with visiting constituents,” Rep. Don Bacon said in a statement.

The Omaha-area Republican congressman characterized the impeachment inquiry as a distraction from other congressional priorities such as fully funding the military and ratifying a new North American trade pact.

Bacon also said he was concerned to hear that the witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing had not spoken directly to the president.

Democrats have responded to that Republican defense of Trump, in part, by noting that the White House has moved to prevent testimony from officials who might have more firsthand information about the push to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Bill Taylor, top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, and George Kent, a high-ranking State Department official, testified about those efforts before the House Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said during a conference call with reporters that he wants to hear out impeachment witnesses. But Smith also said that based on what he has seen thus far, the case against the president is overblown and does not rise to the level of impeachable conduct.

“My staff is watching closely,” Smith said of the hearing. “I try to watch when I can.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said in a statement that he watched as much of the hearing as he could on television, stopped by the hearing room personally and talked to a member of the committee.

“It is important to note that there are other important things going on in Congress,” Fortenberry said.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., told The World-Herald that her schedule was filled with hearings, meetings and votes but that she expected to get information later from her staff about the day’s session.

It was not immediately clear whether Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., watched any of the hearing.

In response to questions, Sasse spokesman James Wegmann said in a statement that the senator takes his responsibilities on the Senate Intelligence Committee seriously and would not “waste time doing play-by-play commentary on Adam Schiff’s circus.”

Both of Iowa’s Republican Senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, planned to catch up on the proceedings later.

Grassley said he expected various aides to watch the testimony as the inquiry goes forward and provide him with daily briefings.

One person who did catch much of Wednesday’s hearing was Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb.

“Mr. Kent and Ambassador Taylor are career officials with impeccable resumes and records of service to our country,” Kleeb said in a statement. “Their testimony was stellar. The GOP committee members were grasping at straws and slinging canned talking points to defend President Trump. And they failed.”

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Reporter - Politics/Washington D.C.

Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH.

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