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Don’t lose sight of the impeachment forest for the trees

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the ongoing impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine.

There are scores of witnesses, thousands of pages of transcripts and two political parties doing their darndest to tell the story that looks best for them out of the known facts (and in Trump’s case, often made-up “facts.”) And all of that will grow even more complicated on Wednesday, when the House begins the public hearings phase of their inquiry.

But here’s the thing to keep in mind while watching the public hearings — and the inevitable spin about the public hearings: We already have a very clear — and decidedly consistent — understanding of what happened before, during and after the July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Here’s what we know:

1) Trump, on the call, made clear to Zelensky that a) the United States does a lot for Ukraine b) Ukraine doesn’t reciprocate c) he wanted an investigation into the location of the hacked Democratic National Committee server and d) he wanted an investigation into charges — without any factual evidence — that Joe Biden and Hunter Biden had engaged in corrupt practices in Ukraine. That’s all in the transcript released by the White House.

2) In real time, concerns were expressed about the nature of the call — including by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council Ukraine expert, who was on the call and immediately afterward went to his boss and expressed his worries about what he believed to be Trump using his presidential powers to get dirt on a potential 2020 rival.

3) The Ukrainians were aware — in early August — that the holdup in nearly $400 million in military aid was likely linked to the desire from the Trump administration for a public announcement of the Biden investigation.

4) In early September, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told a top Zelensky aide that the military aid was likely linked to the investigation announcement.

5) White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters last month that the aid was linked to the Ukrainians committing to investigating corruption in their country, a strategy he described as common practice.

6) Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was tasked with running a sort of shadow foreign policy in the country.

Those six basic facts paint a very dark picture for the President and his senior team. While it appears that the argument that Republicans will offer in rebuttal is that Trump didn’t actually think he was conducting a quid pro quo, the accumulation of evidence — from closed-door testimony and public statements — suggests that this wasn’t about a single phone call between Trump and Zelensky but rather a broader pressure campaign that spanned months and was quite clearly aimed primarily at using a foreign government to dig up dirt on a political rival.

What’s truly remarkable — and absolutely worth keeping at the top of your mind when watching these open hearings — is the remarkable consistency of the way that people from a variety of branches of government whose work lives touched this Ukraine episode describe what happened.

From the State Department to the Pentagon and back, there is a clear consistency in how this all played out. And it seems that all of those versions of events also back up the original whistleblower complaint that went public in late September and started us on this track.

That consistency is important and telling — especially in the face of Trump suggesting that the witnesses are “never Trumpers” or part of the so-called “deep state” that has long been conspiring against him. Ask yourself this: Is it reasonable to believe that more than a half-dozen witnesses across a wide variety of agencies within the government somehow all conspired together to “get” Trump by telling similar versions of what happened on that July 25 call? And that they are all “never Trumpers,” despite zero evidence that any of them are?

The facts — combined with a little something called “logic” — simply don’t bear any of that out. Which is why Trump and his allies will do everything they can in the coming days and week to muddy the water about what really happened.

In truth, it’s not all that complicated. Go back up and read the six facts we know. That’s the key to all of this. And no amount of spin will change those facts.

CNN