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Impeachment inquiry goes public on TV

By Ai Heping in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-15 09:32
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs and William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, are sworn in during a House Intelligence Committee public hearing in the impeachment inquiry against US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, on Nov 13, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Trump slams 'witch hunt', 'hoax' as battle lines with Democrats harden

The top US diplomat in Ukraine revealed new information about the events at the center of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump as the House Intelligence Committee held its first open hearing on Wednesday.

The televised hearing gave the US public its first look at impeachment proceedings that have taken place behind closed doors for two months.

Over five-and-a-half hours, the committee heard testimony and then questioned William Taylor, charge d'affaires and acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. Both had testified in the closed hearings.

Taylor said in his opening statement that he had only learned last Friday about a phone conversation a member of his staff overheard between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union.

He said the conversation took place on July 26, the day after Trump's call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Trump has called "perfect". He insists it shows he set no quid pro quo for US aid to Ukraine: That military aid would be released to the Ukrainian government in exchange for investigating former Democratic vice-president Joe Biden and his son and the 2016 election.

Taylor said the aide overheard Trump ask Sondland about "the investigations". "Sondland responded that President Trump cared more about the investigation of Biden, which Guiliani was pressing for," than about US policy toward Ukraine, Taylor said. Taylor was referring to Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolf Giuliani.

"At the time I gave my deposition on Oct 22, I was not aware of this information," Taylor added.

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said at the close of the hearing that Taylor's new disclosure showed "instructions" for the Ukraine pressure campaign came directly from Trump.

Taylor is one of the most important witnesses for the Democrats. He testified behind closed doors last month that he was told Trump held up US security aid and refused a one-on-one meeting with the Ukrainian president unless Zelensky announced a probe into the Bidens.

Republicans have argued that Taylor's charges against the president are based on second- and third-hand information.

Kent testified that Trump, Giuliani and their allies "undermined" US interests by launching a smear campaign against the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. He said the coordinated and Trump-endorsed campaign was "most unfortunate".

More witnesses to testify

The televised public impeachment hearings will continue on Friday with testimony from Yovanovitch. The Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives has scheduled eight more witnesses to testify at public hearings next week.

Schiff opened Wednesday's hearing by presenting the case against Trump, saying the inquiry will "affect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself".

California Representative Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the committee, accused Democrats of undertaking a "scorched-earth war against President Trump", saying they were using a "carefully orchestrated media smear campaign" to impeach the president.

"What we will witness today is the theatrical performance", Nunes said.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office after welcoming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House, "It's a witch hunt, it's a hoax. I'm too busy to watch it." Trump also charged that the hearing was being run by "television lawyers".

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump had posted at least 18 tweets and retweets criticizing the hearing.

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