Trump impeachment hearings: Six key takeaways from testimonies by Ukraine witnesses

Two career diplomats are the first in a succession of witnesses

Andrew Buncombe
Wednesday 13 November 2019 21:47 GMT
The key moments from Trump's impeachment hearing

Two senior US diplomats have appeared on Capitol Hill to testify how the US’s relationship with Ukraine was threatened as a result of Donald Trump’s desire to have Kiev launch an investigation into Joe Biden and his son.

In one of the most eagerly-awaited appearances before members of Congress, in a city that has seen a lot of hotly anticipated occasions, William Taylor and George Kent said it was made very clear to them that good US-Ukraine relations, including military assistance and a state visit, depended on a public announcement about such a probe by Kiev.

On a day in which duelling narratives were in turn outlined by Democratic and Republican members of the House intelligence committee, Mr Taylor and Mr Kent stressed they were career diplomats, who sought to not to be guided by domestic US politics.

The hearing – the first public testimony in the Democrats' impeachment investigation – followed accusations made in a whistleblower complaint, believed to have been filed by a member of the US intelligence community, that Mr Trump had improperly sought a a “quid pro quo” during a July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s recently elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Lists such as these are always subjective. But here are six key moments from Wednesday’s hearing:

Opening statement by Adam Schiff in first presidential impeachment hearing for two decades
The California Democrat who chairs the House intelligence committee could barely have painted events in more momentous terms. “The questions presented by this impeachment inquiry are whether president Trump sought to exploit that ally’s vulnerability and invite Ukraine’s interference in our elections,” he said. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander-in-chief.”

Trump overhead asking about 'investigations' with Sondland in Ukraine restaurant

William Taylor paints importance of military aid to Ukraine in existential terms
The US’s acting ambassador to Ukraine stressed how important Ukraine considered the military aid to stand up to threats from Russia, and the low-grade war against rebels in the south east that has killed thousands of people.

“We have a national security policy, a national defence policy, that identifies Russia and China as adversaries. The Russians are violating all of the rules, treaties, understandings, that they committed to that actually kept the peace in Europe for nearly 70 years,” he said. “That rule of law — that order that kept the peace in Europe and allowed for prosperity as well as peace in Europe was violated by the Russians and if we don’t push back on that on those violations, then that will continue.”

Mr Taylor says Mr Trump “cares more about the investigations of Biden” than Ukraine
At the start of his questioning, Mr Taylor revealed a new nugget of information – that while his staff members were in a restaurant with EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, one of them overheard a phone conversation between Mr Sondland and Mr Trump.

“And what your staff member could overhear was president Trump asking ambassador Sondland about quote 'the investigations'. Is that right,” Mr Taylor was asked by Mr Schiff. Mr Schiff continued: “And I think you said that after the call when your staff asked ambassador Sondland what president Trump thought of Ukraine, his response was that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, is that right?” Mr Taylor said: “And Burisma, yes, sir.”

Republicans dismiss hearing as ‘pitiful’ and seek to draw in previously debunked conspiracy theories
Aided by the likes of fellow congressman Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the committee, and GOP lawyer Steve Castor, sought to undermine the proximity of the witnesses to the events they were testifying – pointing out they had not been on the Jury 25 phone call. They also raised questions about what what qualifications Hunter Biden had to be on the board of the energy company Burisma. “It’s nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime,” said Mr Nunes.

Diplomats push back at Republican conspiracy theories on Ukraine
Mr Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other Republicans have long claimed that individuals based in Ukraine – not Russia – interfered in the 2016 election.

They have also claimed Joe Biden acted to help his son, by ousting a prosecutor overseeing anti-corruption probes. The claims have previously been debunked. Mr Kent was asked about Ukraine’s possible interference. Asked about Hunter Biden’s qualifications, he said he had not seen his CV. Meanwhile, asked if there was evidence to support the allegation Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, he said: “To my knowledge, there is no factual basis, no…I think it’s amply clear that Russian interference was at the heart of the interference in the 2016 election cycle.”

Five of the biggest congressional hearings in US history

Donald Trump says he is not watching the hearings
The president had quite a busy schedule, including a meeting with Turkey’s president, but probably could have found time to watch if he wanted. He insisted he was not.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, he said: “I did not watch it. I’m too busy to watch it. It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax. I’m too busy to watch it. So I’m sure I’ll get a report.”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted: “This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time and money.”

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