WASHINGTON -- For once, the often-brash and always-combative Trump White House played it safe.
On day one of House Democrats' public impeachment hearings, President Donald Trump and his top aides opted against firing back to sometimes-damning testimony by two administration witnesses and allegations of corrupt intent from House Intelligence Committee Democrats.
In short, the president -- a frequent golfer -- and his team went with the three wood over the driver. Rather than blasting harsh rhetoric and allegations as far as they could down the political fairway, they opted to take a safer shot by mostly relying on the arguments and attack lines they have employed for weeks -- leaving it to committee Republicans to try to undermine the senior diplomats answering questions and the Democratic members asking them.
"You talking about the witch hunt?" Trump asked a reporter who had asked him if House Democrats had made a convincing case during the lengthy hearing.
"It's a joke," a clearly annoyed commander in chief said during a joint news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "I haven't watched."
"This is a sham, and it shouldn't be allowed. It was a situation that was caused by people that shouldn't have allowed it to happen," he said, repeating lines he has used before.
He then repeated himself again, saying he wants to publicly unmask the intelligence community whistleblower whose formal complaint about his July 25 call with Ukraine's new president to a top government inspector general set off Democrats' inquiry. He also again said he wants to "find out" why that inspector general, Michael Atkinson, did not "check the call itself" before investigating the matter and then informing Congress he deemed the issue one of national security import.
Trump did offer perhaps his clearest assertion yet that acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent -- as well as other witnesses who have given private depositions and some of whom will testify over the next eight days -- offered nothing but "all thirdhand information, nothing direct at all."
That means neither career diplomat offered in their private or public testimony any anecdotes they personally heard Trump say he would not lift a freeze on a nearly $400 million military aid package or grant Volodymyr Zelenskiy a White House meeting unless the new Ukrainian leader took steps toward investigating the Bidens and the Democratic National Committee.
That was a message Intelligence Committee Republicans sounded all day while questioning both Taylor and Kent.