Trump call with envoy may further tie president to pressure on Ukraine; GOP unmoved by 'star witness'
William Taylor testified that an aide overheard a call between
President Trump and Ambassador Gordon Sondland the day after
Trump's call with Ukraine's president. The aide heard Trump
ask about "the investigations."
WASHINGTON (AP) — A top American diplomat revealed new evidence Wednesday of President Donald Trump's efforts to press Ukraine to investigate political rivals.
The testimony came as House investigators launched public impeachment hearings for just the fourth time in the nation's history.
WilliamTaylor, the highest-ranking U.S. official in Ukraine, said for the first time that Trump was overheard asking another ambassador about "the investigations" he had urged Ukraine's leader to conduct one day earlier. Taylor said he learned of Trump's phone call with the ambassador only in recent days.
It was all part of what Taylor called the "irregular channel" — a shadow foreign policy orchestrated by the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, outside traditional oversight — that raised alarms in diplomatic and national security circles.
Republicans retorted that the Democrats still have no more than second and third-hand knowledge of allegations that Trump held up millions of dollars in military aid for the Eastern European nation facing Russian aggression in return for Ukrainian investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.
'OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS GOING ON' Midlands lawmakers say they were too busy to catch much of the hearing.
The hearing, the first on television for the nation to see, provided hours of partisan backand-forth but so far no singular moment etched in the public consciousness as grounds for removing the 45th president from office. Trump, who was meeting at the White House with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was "too busy" to watch.
The long day of testimony unfolded partly the way Democrats leading the inquiry wanted: in the somber tones of two career foreign service officers who described confusion both within the U.S. government and in Ukraine about what Trump wanted from Kyiv. Taylor testified alongside George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state.
Taylor said a member of his staff recently told him that he overheard Trump's phone call with another diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant the day after Trump's July 25 phone call with the new leader of Ukraine that sparked the impeachment investigation. The staffer explained that Sondland had called the president and that Trump could be heard asking about "the investigations." Sondland told the president that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, Taylor testified.
Trump, when asked later Wednesday about Taylor's testimony about the July 26 Trump-Sondland phone call, said: "I know nothing about that — first time I've heard it."
Democrats said Trump was engaged in "bribery" and "extortion" in an effort to use foreign policy for personal political gain. Republicans said nothing really happened — the military aid Trump withheld from Ukraine while he pushed for the investigations was ultimately released.
GOP lawmakers demanded anew that they hear in closed session from the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine's leader led to the inquiry. Democrats said the person's identity must be protected but also agreed to consider the request.
Across the country, millions of Americans were tuning in — or, in some cases, deliberately tuning out. The country has been here only three times before, but the proceedings were landing on a jaded and weary public, with little certainty they would change minds.
A vote to impeach could come before year-end in the Democratic House. Even if approved, however, conviction in the Republican Senate is considered highly unlikely.
At the start of Wednesday's session, Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, outlined the question at the core of the impeachment inquiry — whether the president abused his office for political gain. "The matter is as simple and as terrible as that," said Schiff of California.
Wednesday's witnesses defied White House instructions not to appear. Both Taylor and Kent received subpoenas. Both also had told their stories before. They are among a dozen current and former officials who testified behind closed doors.
Wednesday signaled the start of at least two weeks of public hearings. Next up will be former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted in May on Trump's orders. She will testify Friday.
A key Trump ally on the panel, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, mockingly called Taylor the Democrats' "star witness" and said he'd "seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this."
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said Trump had a "perfectly good reason" for wanting to investigate the role of Democrats in 2016 election interference, alluding to a false theory that blames Ukraine, and not Russia, for interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Nunes accused the Democratic majority of conducting a "scorched earth" effort to take down the president after the special counsel's Russia investigation into the 2016 election failed to spark impeachment proceedings.
"We're supposed to take these people at face value when they trot out new allegations?" said Nunes.
Both Taylor and Kent delivered history lessons about Ukraine, a young and hopeful democracy, situated next to Russia but reaching out to the West.
Asked about a text message released earlier in the probe in which Taylor called it "crazy" to withhold the security aid to a foreign ally, he said, "It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy."
Kent, in his opening remarks, directly contradicted a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House, saying he never heard any U.S. official try to shield a Ukrainian company from investigations.
The Constitution sets a dramatic but vague bar for impeachment, and there's no consensus yet that Trump's actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Unimpeachably cute therapy dogs visit Hill
WASHINGTON — Tensions were high on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Therapy dogs were there to help.
Not to help William Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, or George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, the first witnesses in the first open hearing of the impeachment inquiry, though they could surely have used it.
Instead, teams of therapy pooches were camped out in House and Senate office buildings, offering their services to stressed-out Hill staffers. The dogs are all registered by the therapy animal organization Pet Partners, which sponsored the event along with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
Officially, the dogs' presence had nothing to do with impeachment. The animals' mission is to "offer congressional staff a break from the stress of wrapping up an exceptionally busy year," organizers said in a statement. "Who better to bring comfort and relief to the hard-working folks on Capitol Hill than a furry group of loving, intuitive and bipartisan Pet Partners therapy animals?"— The Washington Post