WASHINGTON — After all the public hearings, all the transcripts and all the political back-and-forth, what's so revealing is to look back at the evidence that existed at the very start of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump's actions regarding Ukraine.
They tell a simple story — one that might have gotten obscured after the last two weeks of public testimony:
The New York Times from May 9, 2019: "Rudy Giuliani Plans Ukraine Trip to Push for Inquiries That Could Help Trump."
Giuliani's tweet from June 21: "New Pres of Ukraine still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 election and alleged Biden bribery of Pres Poroshenko. Time for leadership and investigate both if you want to purge how Ukraine was abused by Hillary and Obama people."
U.S. envoy to Ukraine's July 19 text message with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland: "Good. Had breakfast with Rudy [Giuliani] this morning — teeeing up call with [Zelensky adviser] Yermak Monday. Must have helped. Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation — and addresss any specific personnel issues, if there are any."
Trump from the partial transcript of his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Zelenskiy: "The other thing, There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me."
Politico from Aug. 28: "Trump holds up Ukraine military aid meant to confront Russia."
Trump on Oct. 3 from the White House:
Question: "Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call? Exactly."
The president: "Well, I would think that, if they were honest about it, they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer."
White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Oct. 17: "Again, I was involved with the process by which the [Ukraine] money was held up temporarily, okay? Three issues for that: the corruption of the country; whether or not other countries were participating in the support of the Ukraine; and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That's completely legitimate."
In the last two weeks we've heard Republicans make different defenses of President Trump.
There's no evidence Trump personally directed the withhold of security assistance to Ukraine, they argue; Ukraine still got its money, they point out; Trump uttered the words "no quid pro quo" to Gordon Sondland, they say.
But look again at those headlines, remarks, tweets and text messages above.
The story has always been in plain sight.
Saw no evil, Hurd no evil
Still, while Democrats appear to have the evidence on their side, they're not winning the political battle - if the goal is to get Republicans to vote to oust President Trump from office.
Yesterday, retiring Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, all but said he's a NO vote on impeachment, and Hurd was arguably the top Republicans who might flip.
"I've not heard evidence the president committed bribery or extortion," Hurd said.
Note the careful language here: He said committed bribery/extortion, not that Trump attempted it.
Hurd also didn't address potential abuse of power, obstruction of justice, or interfering in an upcoming election.
Data Download: The number of the day is … zero
That's the number of House Republicans who have publicly come out for impeaching President Trump, after the second week of testimony (and possibly the last) came to a close.
That reality was typified by Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd's comments Thursday that he's "not heard evidence the president committed bribery or extortion."
Hurd is retiring, and while he's still young and has more of his career in front of him, he seemed like the House Democrats' best bet in their quest to flip at least one Republican onto the pro-impeachment side.
So if he's not sold, the question is: Are there any Republicans who have been over the past two weeks?
2020 Vision: The Great Democratic Disconnect
While Democrats in Washington are making their case that the president of the United States committed impeachable offenses, we still aren't seeing the 2020 Dems lean into that argument.
At least when it comes to their emphasis in rallies and major speeches.
Just look at Wednesday's presidential debate when the candidates were directly asked about impeachment.
Elizabeth Warren said no one is above the law, and she said she would work to convince her GOP colleagues to vote to remove Trump from office. But then she quickly pivoted to how wealthy donors get ambassadorships.
"But I want to add one more part based on today's testimony, and that is, how did Ambassador Sondland get there? You know, this is not a man who had any qualifications, except one: He wrote a check for a million dollars. And that tells us about what's happening in Washington, the corruption, how money buys its way into Washington," Warren said.
Was that her biggest takeaway from Sondland's testimony on Wednesday?
Here was Bernie Sanders: "We have a president who is not only a pathological liar, he is likely the most corrupt president in the modern history of America. But we cannot simply be consumed by Donald Trump, because if we are, you know what? We're going to lose the election."
And here was Pete Buttigieg: "We are absolutely going to confront this president for his wrongdoing, but we're also each running to be the president who will lead this country after the Trump presidency comes to an end one way or the other."
On the campaign trail today
Joe Biden stumps in South Carolina before heading to Iowa, where he holds a town hall in Winterset… Kamala Harris also is in the Hawkeye State… Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker spend their day in New Hampshire… And Andrew Yang is in South Carolina.
Dispatches from NBC's embeds
Joe Biden held a roundtable meeting yesterday with African-American mayors in Atlanta, convened by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who supports Biden. Bottoms told the mayors, per NBC's Marianna Sotomayor: "This is about a marriage," she said. "When you are taking someone to emergency room has been stabbed, you are looking for someone to stop the bleeding. We are not looking for a face lift, yet, we are not looking for a tummy tuck." She elaborated, "We got to stop the bleeding of this country and what I know that the vice president has the ability to do that for the people of the United States of America on Day One."
Last night, Elizabeth Warren held an address targeted toward African-American women in Atlanta, where per NBC's Deepa Shivaram, Warren was confronted by protestors - something out of the norm for Warren. Shivaram reports that once the protest began, "Warren completely stopped her remarks. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who introduced the senator and endorsed her recently, was actually the one to come out and address the group - it was a very visually interesting moment to see a black woman come out to advocate for a white woman to continue speaking about black women's issues." Pressley told the crowd, "No one is here to quiet you, least not this black woman who knows what it is when people have tried to put me in a corner and tell me to be silent. You are welcome here. The senator is here to talk about the contributions fighters like you have made to history."
Tweet of the day
ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss
Former White House official Dr. Fiona Hill said Ambassador Sondland was running a "domestic political errand" while communicating Ukrainians would have to open investigations for a White House visit.
Hill began her firework testimony by warning committee members not to traffic in the "fictional narrative"that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
And yesterday's hearing could have been the last public hearingof the impeachment inquiry as the committee begins to summarize its findings.
While Hill and diplomat David Holmes testified, President Trump hosted two Senate Republicans for lunch who refused to denounce the impeachment probe, Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Trump Agenda: Keeping the government open — for now
President Trump signed a funding bill to keep federal agencies open until Dec. 20.
The president reversed a Navy SEALs leadership decision to strip Edward Gallagher of his Trident pin and SEAL membership.
The Secret Service paid more than $250,000 at the president's propertiesin the first five months of his presidency.
2020: Bloomberg files his paperwork
Michael Bloomberg filed federal papers to enter the 2020 presidential race.
Former President Barack Obama told Democratic donors to "chill out" about the party's field of candidates.
Pete Buttigieg's campaign field organizers are the latest 2020 group to unionize.
Joe Biden will be launching an 8-day bus tour of Iowa.