William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, tesified in a televised hearing.
The inquiry is centred on a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which the US leader asked his Ukrainian counterpart to open an investigation into former US Vice President Joe Biden, who is also a top Democratic 2020 presidential contender, and his son, Hunter, who had served on a board of a Ukrainian gas company. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
The call came to light due to a whistle-blower complaint. At the time of the call, the US was withholding nearly $400m in military aid from Ukraine, prompting speculation that Trump was using the money as leverage to get the desired investigations. The money was later released.
Trump has denied that any quid pro quo (Latin for “favour for a favour”) took place, describing the call as “perfect”.
As the public phase of the impeachment inquiry gets under way, here are all the latest updates as of Wednesday, November 13:
Trump denies asking about investigations on call
President Donald Trump denyied he asked a US ambassador about “investigations” in Ukraine a day after his call with that country’s president.
The existence of the call was revealed Wednesday by William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine. He testified that one of his staffers overheard Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, speaking on the phone with Trump on July 26.
Sondland used his cellphone to call Trump, and the staff member could hear Trump on the phone asking about “the investigations”.
Trump denied knowledge of the call, saying, “I know nothing about that.” He adds, “First time I’ve heard it.”
An official familiar with the matter said the staffer Taylor referred to is David Holmes, the political counselor at the embassy in Kyiv. Holmes is invited to testify before Congress on Friday.
House intelligence committee votes to table motion to subpoena whistle-blower
The House intelligence committee has voted 13 to 9 to vote on subpoenaing the whistle-blower at a later date.
Republicans had repeatedly called on House Republicans leading the impeachment probe to call the whistle-blower to testify during the investigations first public hearing on Wednesday.
Representative Mike Conaway, a Republican, had introduced the motion to subpoena the whistle-blower at the beginning of the hearing.
Hearing ends with Schiff reiterating he has never met with whistle-blower
Top State Department official George Kent and US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor have been dismissed from the first public hearing as part of the House impeachment probe into President Donald Trump.
Taylor Kent testified for more than five hours Wednesday about their concerns with Trump’s requests that Ukraine investigate Democrats as the U.S. withheld military aid to the country.
Next up will be former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted in May on Trump’s orders. She will testify Friday
In his closing statement, Adam Schiff, the Democrat leading the probe, again denied Republican claims that he had met with the whistle-blower, whose complaint over a July 25 phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president sparked the investigation.
“It was false the first time they said it,” he said. “It will be false the last time they said it.”
House Republican says the whistleblower is the ‘one witness’ who should be brought in front of the American people
Jim Jordan, a Republican representative, said the whistle-blower at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry is the “one witness” who should be brought in front of the American people.
Trump impeachment inquiry to enter new phase with public hearings
Jordan said the whistle-blower, whose complaint touched off the inquiry, should come before the committee.
He said he wanted to know the identity of the whistle-blower, who is a CIA officer assigned to the White House.
Jordan earlier complained that the witnesses Wednesday testifying publicly for the first time didn’t have firsthand knowledge of the accusations and never spoke directly to President Donald Trump.
The whistleblower has not been asked to testify.
Representative Peter Welch, a Democrat, said he’d be glad to have the person at the centre of the investigation testify.
“President Trump is welcome to sit right there,” he said.
Kent, Taylor deny they are ‘never Trumpers’
George Kent and William Taylor, the two veteran diplomats testifying in the House impeachment hearing, have denied President Donald Trump’s accusation that they adamantly oppose him.
Shortly before Wednesday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing began, Trump tweeted, “NEVER TRUMPERS!” He offered no evidence.
Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat, asked both men if Trump’s claim was true.
State Department official George Kent responded that he’s served under three Republican and two Democratic presidents during his 27 years of service. He said he serves “whatever president is duly elected” and carries out their foreign policies.
William Taylor answered, “No sir”. Taylor is the top US diplomat in Ukraine and was recruited by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to serve there.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2019
Democrats, Republicans question Taylor and Kent
Democratic and Republican House intelligence committee members questioned William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, in a rapid-fire sequence as part of the first public hearing into the House impeachment inquiry.
The questioning came after both sides were given 45-minute sessions, which they used for in-depth questioning by appointed lawyers. Committee members were then given five minutes for questioning, which Republicans largely used to portray the testimonies of Kent and Taylor as “hearsay”.
In one exchange, Republican committee member Jim Jordan asked if Taylor was on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskyy, if he had spoken with Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, or ever met the president. Taylor responded in the negative to all.
“And you’re their star witness. You’re their first witness. You’re the guy, you’re the guy. Based on this, based on this. I’ve seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this,” Jordan said, portraying Taylor’s source of information as convoluted.
“I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything,” Taylor said.
Top Senate Republican says any motion to immediately dismiss impeachment charges in Senate would likely fail
Top Senate Republican John Cornyn said on Wednesday that should the House vote to impeach President Donald Trump, he doubts a motion in the Senate to immediately dismiss the charges would succeed.
Cornyn, who spent years as the Senate’s number two Republican, said such a motion would not receive the 51 votes necessary in the Republican-controlled Senate to pass.
He added he was confident that ultimately, a vote in the Senate to remove Trump from office would fail.
Report: Pelosi urges Democrats not to be distracted by ‘Republican disruption’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House Democrats not to be distracted by “Republican disruption” in meeting shortly before the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry, the Washington Post reported.
“I do think that we need to have a common narrative,” Pelosi said, according to a Democratic aide, the newspaper reported. “This is a very serious event in our country. We wish it could have been avoided. None of us came here to impeach a president.”
The aide added Pelosi said it was ‘a prayerful day for all of us – for our country”, according to the report.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) November 13, 2019
Trump calls impeachment inquiry hearing a ‘witch hunt’ and a ‘hoax’
President Donald Trump said Wednesday he skipped the first public hearings in his impeachment investigation because he was “too busy.”
“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,” Trump told reporters.
Trump was, however, active on Twitter during the beginning of the hearing, retweeting many House Republicans critical of the inquiry.
Taylor describes two US policy channels operating within Ukraine
The top US diplomat to Ukraine William Taylor told House legislators conducting an impeachment probe that he noticed there were two policy channels operating with Ukraine, a “regular” and an “irregular” one.
William Taylor said the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was guiding requests through the irregular channel.
Taylor also reiterated his previous statement, which he made in a closed-door hearing, that it slowly became clear to him that a White House meeting desired by Ukrainian officials was conditioned on investigations into the gas company linked to Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US elections.
Spokeswoman: Trump not watching public impeachment inquiry hearings
Grisham told reporters that Trump is instead participating in meetings in the Oval Office. Trump was also scheduled to receive the Turkish president at 12pm (5pm GMT).
“He’s in the Oval (office) in meetings. Not watching. He’s working,” Stephanie Grisham said more than an hour into the public hearing.
Trump was, however, retweeting House Republican tweets about the hearing during the proceedings.
This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money. Congress should be working on passing USMCA, funding our govt & military, working on reduced drug pricing & so much more. @realDonaldTrump is working right now-the dems should follow his lead!
— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) November 13, 2019
Taylor says it was ‘crazy’ and ‘illogical’ for Trump to withhold aid in exchange for investigations
The US Ambassador to Ukraine said he thought it was “crazy” and “illogical” for the Trump administration to make military aid contingent on Ukraine announcing investigations into political rival Joe Biden.
William Taylor made the statements in response to questioning from Daniel Goldman, the investigations chief for Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Taylor said the security assistance was important not only to Ukraine but to America’s own military interests. He said “it made no sense” to withhold that money and was “counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do”.
Goldman showed Taylor text messages he sent to other diplomats explaining his belief that it was “crazy” to withhold the military aid for political gain.
In new disclosure, diplomat Taylor says staff overheard Trump ask Sondland about ‘the investigations’
The US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor saida member of his staff recently told him they overheard President Donald Trump speaking on the phone to US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “investigations”.
Trump ally Sondland admits tying Ukraine aid to Biden probe
Taylor made the disclosure in his opening statements as he testified publicly in the House impeachment inquiry.
He said the staff member was at a restaurant with Sondland on the day after the July 25 call between Trump and the new leader of Ukraine. That call later prompted a whistle-blower’s complaint that lead to the launch of the inquiry.
Taylor told the committee that Sondland called Trump from the restaurant and the staff could hear Trump on the phone asking about “the investigations”.
Sondland, a hotelier who was appointed to the prestigious post by Trump, responded to the president that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, Taylor said.
The staff member then asked Sondland about Trump’s thoughts on Ukraine.
Sondland replied that “Trump cared more about the investigations of Biden” than Ukraine itself, Taylor testified.
Kent says he never saw any effort by US officials to shield company linked to Hunter Biden from scrutiny
Top State Department official George Kent said he never saw any effort by US officials to shield from scrutiny a Ukrainian natural gas company on which Hunter Biden sat on the board.
Kent said he raised concerns in 2015 that his status could create the perception of a conflict of interest. But, he added, he never saw any attempt to shield Burisma from scrutiny because of Biden’s connection to the company.
During the hearing, House Republicans portrayed Trump’s request for Ukraine to investigate Burisma as a legitimate concern in a general anti-corruption push by the president.
Kent: US should not ask other countries to engage in ‘selective, politically associated investigations’
George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, has said the US shouldn’t engage in “selective, politically associated investigations” during his opening statement during the first public hearing of the House impeachment inquiry.
Kent said such “selective actions” undermine the rule of law regardless of the country.
He then apparently referenced a campaign by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to oust former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
“It was unexpected, and most unfortunate, to watch some Americans – including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas – launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing US interests in Ukraine,” he said.
“In my opinion, those attacks undermined US and Ukrainian national interest and damage our critical bilateral relationship,” he said.
House Republicans push to hear from whistle-blower
House Republicans at the start of the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s immediately pushed Democrats to hear from the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint sparked the probe.
Congressman Michael Conaway, a Republican from Texas, asked that the panel issue a subpoena for the still-unknown whistleblower to appear in a closed-door hearing.
But Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, denied the request Wednesday, saying it would be considered later.
“We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity,” Schiff said.
.@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
Schiff opens first public hearing in impeachment probe
Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff has opened the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiryinto President Donald Trump, saying the investigation will determine what “conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander-in-chief”.
In his opening statement, Schiff said that Democrats believe the testimonies will answer whether Trump “abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, or if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign”.
“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” he said.
Schiff added there were still “missing pieces” in the inquiry, as a result of the White House’s refusal to cooperate in the probe. He said the refusal will force the House to consider whether Trump’s “obstruction of the constitutional duties of Congress constitute additional grounds for impeachment”.
Meanwhile, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, offered a conflicting narrative in his opening statement, portraying the inquiry as a “carefully orchestrated media smear campaign” and the public hearing as a “televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats”.
Addressing William Taylor and George Kent directly, Nunes said: “It seems you agreed wittingly or unwittingly to participate in a drama”.
Kremlin weighs in on Trump impeachment hearings
The Kremlin has drawn a parallel between the impeachment proceedings against Trump and accusations of Russia’s interference in his election.
Asked about the hearings opening Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that “there are a lot of things far-fetched”.
Peskov compared the proceedings to the US claims of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, which he described as having “little relation to reality”.
The Kremlin has shrugged off special counsel Robert Mueller’s exposure of Russian interference in the vote.
Mueller found there wasn’t enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia. But Mueller charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with breaking into Democratic Party computers and the email accounts of officials with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
What to expect from the first public hearings
Republicans and Democrats in Congress are competing to sell their own very different narratives in the impeachment process. Republicans are calling the witness testimony hearsay and arguing that while some may conclude Trump did, in fact, push Ukraine for political investigations that do not warrant impeachment.
Schiff told the United States‘s National Public Radio (NPR) on Tuesday that he believes Trump committed a form of “bribery” that rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanours” defined in the Constitution as impeachable offences.
“Bribery, first of all, as the founders understood bribery it was not as we understand it in law today. It was much broader,” Schiff told NPR. “It connoted the breach of the public trust in a way where you’re offering official acts for some personal or political reason, not in the nation’s interest.”
Read more here.
Updated public hearing schedule
Public hearings will take place on Wednesday and Friday. More hearings have been scheduled for next week.
Stay up-to-date with the latest public hearing schedule here.