Donald Trump Impeachment: Everything that Happened on Day 1 of Public Hearings
The House of Representatives held its inaugural open impeachment hearing on Wednesday, taking public testimony for the first time since endorsing the formal inquiry into allegations against President Donald Trump.
William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a senior State Department official, were the first public witnesses of the impeachment inquiry.
The men, who between them have 70 years of experience as public servants under presidents of both parties, testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
For those of you who weren’t able to watch the almost six hours of television, here’s what happened.
Did we learn anything new?
We did, actually. Mr. Taylor told a story that he only learned of after his closed-door testimony: On July 26, he said, one of his aides was in a restaurant with Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union. Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump, and the president could be heard asking about “the investigations,” to which Mr. Sondland replied that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.”
After the call, the aide asked Mr. Sondland what the president thought of Ukraine, Mr. Taylor testified. Mr. Sondland responded that “President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
What were the highlights?
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, explained what he saw as the stakes of the investigation. “If we find that the president of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections,” he asked, “must we simply get over it? Is this what Americans should now expect from their president? If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”
Mr. Kent said he was bothered by Rudolph W. Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy, which he said was about “looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle.” The U.S., he said, should not “ask other countries to engage in selective politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power.”
Mr. Taylor was careful not to make too much news. “I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything,” he cautioned. “I’m not here to take one side or the other or to advocate any particular outcome.” But he repeatedly discussed how concerned he was by Mr. Trump’s actions. “It’s one thing to try to leverage a meeting in the White House. It’s another thing, I thought, to try to leverage security assistance,” he said. “It was much more alarming.”
Republicans leaned heavily on two ideas: that Mr. Taylor and Mr. Kent weren’t good witnesses, because neither interacted directly with Mr. Trump, and that the failure to actually finish a quid pro quo means Mr. Trump never committed an impeachable offense. “He didn’t open any investigations,” Representative John Ratcliffe said of Ukraine’s president. “He didn’t do anything because he didn’t have to.”
Democrats made the argument that Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign was corrupting Ukraine from within. “He was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine at Vice President Biden and at the 2020 election,” Representative Jim Himes said. Representative Denny Heck put it this way: “Is it not true that a major problem in the Ukraine has been its misuse of prosecutors precisely to conduct investigations of political opponents?”
Below is video recap of some of the biggest moments.
At times today, it seemed as if Democrats and Republicans were conducting different investigations. I talked to my colleague Maggie Haberman about what their divergent styles of questioning tell us about the way impeachment is being framed.
Maggie, what did you think of the first public hearing?
It was more impressionistic, rather than having certain standout moments. When there are so many hours of testimony, it sort of all washes over you. It was more about the visuals. But there was at least one presiding idea today: Here are these two career public servants — one is a war hero, Mr. Taylor — and therefore they’d have no reason to lie. It was about country and service.
What were Democrats using today for?
Mr. Schiff said it at the outset, that the facts are not in dispute about what took place. And that the question becomes, as Mr. Schiff said: If this is not impeachable conduct, what is? They were trying to leave no doubt for the public about what took place.
What were Republicans trying to do?
I don’t think Republicans really landed any punches, but they slowed things down. The argument they made today — that no impeachable crime was committed because no quid pro quo was executed — was a version of their arguments throughout various Trump-related investigations. They said there was no evidence of obstruction because Mr. Trump didn’t fire Robert Mueller or Jeff Sessions. He didn’t do the thing he tried to do.
Long lines and lots of spectators
My colleague Mark Leibovich was on Capitol Hill and in the hearing room today writing about the scene. He told me a little bit about what he saw.
Everyone was kind of half-expecting, or half-dreading, some kind of circus scene around the Longworth House Office Building, where the hearing was. But there weren’t that many protesters. Once you got into the building, there were some colorful characters: a drag queen named Pissi Miles in a bright red dress, bright red lipstick, carrying a selfie stick.
Inside the room, you had a ton of recognizable Republican members filling the gallery who weren’t on the committee: Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz and Louie Gohmert, who’s always an antic performer. They were mostly quiet. At one point, I think after Devin Nunes spoke, one of them said, “Amen.”
At the end, Mr. Schiff seemed relieved that the circus didn’t really come to town. Circus was itself a verboten word. Mr. Gohmert said in the room today that this is all a “sham circus.” Someone near him repeated that, and a Democratic congressman, David Cicilline, said, “Don’t use that word. This is a solemn occasion.” Democrats wanted to de-circus-ify it.
What else we’re reading
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said today that he had no interest in preventing an impeachment trial in the Senate. “We should give people an opportunity to put the case on,” he said. “The House will have presenters. The president will no doubt be represented by lawyers as well.”
The involvement of Mr. Sondland was central to the narrative on the first day of public testimony, and Democrats announced last night that he would testify publicly next Wednesday. These witnesses will also testify next week.
Investigators scheduled more closed-door depositions for this week, including one with David Holmes, the aide Mr. Taylor referred to in his new testimony who overheard the call between Mr. Sondland and Mr. Trump.
MSNBC turned heads today when it called on a surprise guest for coverage of the hearing: George Conway, the conservative lawyer, frequent Trump critic and husband of Kellyanne Conway. Later in the day, they had another new impeachment pundit: Andrew Weissmann, a former prosecutor on Mr. Mueller’s team.
Vanessa Friedman, our chief fashion critic, wrote about the biggest style choice of the day: Mr. Kent’s bow tie.
See Screenshots of MSNBC and Fox News show how differently the networks are covering impeachment — a mirror of the arguments Democrats and Republicans made at the hearing.
A State Department staffer overheard President Trump asking a top diplomat about “investigations” he wanted Ukraine to pursue that he believed might help him in the 2020 election, another senior diplomat told Congress.
That staffer is expected to tell his story directly to House investigators at a closed-door deposition on Friday.
The new subplot about the overheard phone conversation was one of a small number of new details to emerge from Democrats’ first open hearing in their impeachment inquiry into Trump on Wednesday.
Mostly, the five-hour hearing emphasized aspects of the narrative about the Ukraine affair that already have emerged from closed depositions.
Republicans used their portions of the hearing to underscore what they called the witnesses’ indirect knowledge of the Ukraine affair and, more broadly, to defend Trump’s actions.
William Taylor, the acting boss of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, added the detail about the overheard conversation to earlier testimony he gave House investigators.
Taylor said a diplomatic staffer told him about being with Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, when Sondland called Trump.
The staffer “could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations,’ ” Taylor said.
Continued Taylor: “Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” Further, Sondland told the staffer “that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, revealed new details Wednesday about the events immediately following President Trump’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine. Taylor said a member of his staff told him last week about a phone call he overheard between the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, and Mr. Trump. Watch what Taylor said in his opening statement in the first public impeachment hearing.
Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani had sought to have Ukraine look into the actions of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
An attorney for Sondland declined to comment on Taylor’s testimony, saying that the ambassador would tell his own story to Congress when he appears Nov. 20. Trump said Wednesday that he didn’t know anything about it.
Investigators also said Wednesday that they’ve scheduled closed-door depositions for later this week with two more witnesses: David Holmes of the State Department and Mark Sandy, an official from the Office of Management and Budget.
Holmes, according to congressional sources, is the State Department aide who overheard Trump.
The Ukraine affair
In exchange for investigations, witnesses have said, Trump was prepared to meet in person with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy and to sustain financial assistance — appropriated by Congress — that Washington had been providing to Ukraine since it was invaded by Russia in 2014.
The White House froze Ukraine’s aid for a period of weeks this year and then released it. Although Zelenskiy was close to booking a CNN interview in September, he never made the public commitment that witnesses have said Trump wanted.
Republicans argue this shows there was no inappropriate exchange and say the impeachment process has been a “sham.” Trump himself repeated that line again on Wednesday.
“It shouldn’t be allowed,” Trump said during a press conference at the White House.
The president said he wanted to find out the identity of the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint set the Ukraine affair in motion and also wondered aloud why the intelligence community’s inspector general had agreed to handle the complaint, which helped it reach the attention of Congress.
Trump also was asked specifically about Taylor’s account of the diplomatic staffer who was said to have overheard the president’s phone call with Sondland.
“I know nothing about that. First time I heard that,” Trump said.
The president’s defenders in Congress also said the impeachment case is invalid because it’s based on hearsay. Few witnesses heard directly from Trump and — for some supporters — Trump’s actions were legitimate or, at the very least, not impeachable.
‘Irregular But Not Outlandish’
WATCH: ‘Unusual’ but not outlandish for EU Amb. Sondland to be involved in Ukraine, Taylor testifies
“It’s a little unusual” for Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, to be involved in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, but it was not outlandish, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, testified before House lawmakers on Nov. 13. Taylor testified in the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
As a part of the hearing, Taylor was questioned by GOP staff attorney Stephen Castor about an irregular channel that was set up to handle U.S. policy on Ukraine that consisted of Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., also said Democrats have lost all credibility following former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Nunes called their impeachment inquiry a “carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”
“This spectacle is doing great damage to our country,” he said. “It’s nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.”
Dems: Congress has no choice but to act
No, Democrats argue. They say that Trump has so abused his office that Congress has no choice but to reach for one of its rarest and most serious remedies — impeachment.
If Congress does not act, “the prospects for further corruption and abuse in this administration or any other will be exponentially increased,” said Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”
Schiff’s members are further frustrated by what they call a lack of cooperation from the Trump administration, which has sought to block many witnesses and withhold many documents.
“We have not received one piece of paper from the State Department relative to this investigation,” said Rep. Jackie Speier of California.
Democrats have said Trump’s unwillingness to cooperate could become its own article of impeachment, one related to what they call obstruction of Congress.
The process is moving on, however. Democrats have scheduled another public hearing for Friday with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch and three more hearings next week with a variety of witnesses.
For Wednesday’s hearing, Schiff called Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent to tell their stories. They had already spoken to investigators in closed depositions and repeated much of their stories on Wednesday.
Kent is the senior State Department supervisor whose responsibility includes policy for Eastern Europe, but he says he was told to “keep his head down” and “keep a low profile” on Ukraine because the White House had hand picked “three amigos” to take that portfolio.
Kent also told lawmakers on Wednesday that he raised concerns during the administration of President Barack Obama about the appearance of conflict raised when the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden was hired to join the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.
But Kent also said he never saw any evidence that Biden leaned on Ukrainian officials not to investigate the company in a way that might have been improper.
Republican counsel Steve Castor asked the witnesses whether Biden’s son Hunter had any expertise in Ukrainian energy issues or spoke Ukrainian or had any other training that might have qualified him for the role he took.
“Do you know whether he possessed any other element — other than being the son of, at the time, the sitting vice president?” Castor asked.
Trump has cited what he calls “corruption” involving the Bidens as the reason he says it’s appropriate that he tried to get Zelenskiy to investigate them. Castor also asked the witnesses to describe earlier instances of alleged corruption in Ukraine to build a foundation for that case.
Taylor is the acting boss of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. He told investigators that he learned about Trump’s desire for investigations from other diplomats and couldn’t explain to Ukrainians why their military assistance had been withheld.
Kent and Taylor said they wanted to be nonpartisan “fact witnesses” but also acknowledged that they opposed Trump’s pressure policy, in part because it was run by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — not someone within the foreign policy establishment — and in part because they thought it was bad on its merits.
Giuliani’s unofficial policy toward Ukraine “undercut” the official policy pursued by diplomats like Taylor, the ambassador said on Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers emphasized that neither Taylor nor Kent — nor others from whom Congress has heard — spoke directly with Trump and can describe his intentions.
Moreover, corruption is endemic in Ukraine and that is a solid basis upon which the White House should act, Republicans argued in a policy memo circulated on Tuesday.
Another defense is that Trump’s invitation for foreign interference in the 2020 race might have been inappropriate, as Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman argued, but it isn’t impeachable.
Democrats, meanwhile, rejected the idea that Trump didn’t do anything wrong simply because he didn’t succeed in getting the concessions he wanted from Zelenskiy.
‘Anonymous So-Called Whistleblower’
Jim Jordan Urges Whistleblower to Testify on Day 1 of Impeachment Hearing
Referring to the whistleblower, Rep. Jim Jordan says Congress will never get a chance to question the one “who started it all,” at the first public impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill. “I’d be glad to have the person who started it all to come in and testify,” Rep. Welch replies. “President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said the law recognizes the principle that a transgression interrupted may be as much a crime as much as one committed.
“Is attempted murder a crime?” Castro asked. “Is attempted robbery a crime? I think anybody in this room could answer that question. Is attempted extortion and bribery a crime?”
But another Texan, Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe, said he believes nothing that has been developed in the investigation so far reveals anything improper. He made that point to the witnesses in a rhetorical question late into the hearing.
“Do you agree with me that we shouldn’t impeach a president for exercising his constitutional authority?“
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