The impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump moved into the open realm Wednesday as investigators heard testimony from two top U.S. diplomats, William Taylor and George Kent — both of whom offered new details about the administration’s handling of Ukraine.
Taylor is Trump’s ambassador to Ukraine and Kent his deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Both have already given testimony to investigators in private depositions.
Taylor said in his opening remarks that he learned last week about details of a phone call between Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on July 26 — the day after the president’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that spawned the investigation — in which Trump asked Sondland about “the investigations.”
Sondland told Trump, Taylor said, the Ukrainians were “ready to move forward.” Sondland also told a staffer that Trump cares more about investigating the Bidens than he does about Ukraine foreign policy, Taylor added, saying he was given the information by a staffer who accompanied Sondland to Kiev.
Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state, said earlier in his opening statement corrupt Ukrainian officials peddled false information to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani as part of an administration effort to oust U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
“As a general principle, I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power because such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country,” Kent said first in his testimony Wednesday.
Kent, who has served under five presidents, said he expected to meet resistance to anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.
“It was unexpected and most unfortunate, however, to watch some Americans, including those who ally themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas, launch attacks on dedicated public servants,” he said.
Kent compared U.S. aid given to Ukraine, $1.5 billion over the past few years, to the French assistance of the United States during the American Revolution.
“These funds increase Ukraine’s strength and ability to fight Russian aggression,” Kent said. “Ultimately, Ukraine is on the a path to become a full security partner of the United States within NATO.”
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) November 13, 2019
Meet the “star witnesses” Adam Schiff called today:
– Neither have any firsthand knowledge
– Neither spoke to @realDonaldTrump
– One got his info from The New York Times
This hearing is a sham. Read the transcript—an actual firsthand account. It shows nothing impeachable!
— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) November 13, 2019
.@Jim_Jordan to Chairman Schiff: "Of the 435 members of Congress, you are the only Member who knows who the whistleblower is, and your staff is the only staff who has had a chance to talk with that individual.
"We would like that opportunity. When might that happen?" pic.twitter.com/UBzmorAbOR
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) November 13, 2019
WATCH: @DevinNunes: "After vowing publicly that impeachment requires bipartisan support, Democrats are pushing impeachment forward without the backing of a single Republican." pic.twitter.com/KZ22RuByeF
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) November 13, 2019
Adam Schiff just claimed he doesn't know the whistleblower's identity.
— House Republicans (@HouseGOP) November 13, 2019
FACT CHECK: Neither Ambassador Taylor nor George Kent have first-hand knowledge of a quid pro quo from the President.
We must hear from the whistleblower. https://t.co/nXnFytSkrb
— Oversight Committee Republicans (@GOPoversight) November 13, 2019
The public House hearing started with opening statements from intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff and ranking Republican Rep. Devin Nunes.
“The questions presented by this impeachment inquiry are whether President Trump sought to exploit that allies’ vulnerability and invite Ukraine’s interference in our election,” Schiff said in his remarks, adding that the administration expected cooperation from Ukraine in exchange for an Oval Office meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in promised military aid. The cooperation, he said, was Kiev initiating an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, a former board member of a Ukraine gas company.
“Neither of these investigations was in the U.S. national interest. And neither was part of the official preparatory material for the call,” Schiff said, referring to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. “Both, however, were in Donald Trump’s personal interest and in the interest of his 2020 election campaign.”
Schiff warned the administration against further repelling committee cooperation and subpoenas, saying it could be additional grounds for impeachment.
“If the president can simply refuse all oversight, particularly in the context of an impeachment proceeding, the balance of power between our two branches of government will be irrevocably altered,” Schiff said. “That is not what the founders intended.”
Transcripts from Taylor’s testimony showed he threatened to quit when Trump withheld aid to Ukraine, and expressed concern about his asking Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
Taylor told investigators Trump’s pressure for investigations “fundamentally undermined” U.S. interests in the region. He also said political operatives superseded diplomats and he believes Trump used the Congress-approved aid as leverage to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” he said.
Kent told investigators in his deposition that he’d raised concerns about Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani influencing Ukraine policy with a “campaign of lies” but was told by superiors to “lay low.” He accused the administration of running a shadow foreign policy orchestrated by Giuliani.
“Asking another country to investigate a prosecution for political reasons undermines our advocacy of the rule of law,” Kent said in his closed-door testimony.
Trump has said the aid was withheld due to corruption concerns about how it would be spent, and that it had nothing to do with his asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. The aid was ultimately released in September.
“I have an ‘obligation’ to look into corruption,” Trump tweeted. “Both Bidens should be forced to testify in this No Due Process Scam!”
“So, we give our ally aid, and Joe Biden is not investigated,” he added. “Remember that, they get the aid and we get nothing in return. The Democrats want that to be an impeachable offense? Good luck with that!”
On Twitter Wednesday, the president echoed remarks made by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh calling the proceedings a “partisan sham.”
Yovanovitch will testify at the next public hearing Friday. Kent and Taylor have said they disagreed with Trump’s removal of her in May.
Four witnesses are scheduled to testify in public hearings next week: Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs for the National Security Council; former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker; and White House national security aide Tim Morrison.
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