Trump prioritized Biden investigation over Ukraine aid, witness tells impeachment probe
- 14 November 2019
Senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers presented dueling narratives on Wednesday as a U.S. congressional impeachment inquiry that threatens Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency entered a crucial new phase with the first televised public hearing, APA reports citing CNN.
The drama unfolded in a hearing of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in which two career U.S. diplomats - William Taylor and George Kent - voiced alarm over the Republican president and those around him pressuring Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit Trump politically.
One revelation in particular drew attention, showing Trump’s keen interest in Ukraine investigating political rival Joe Biden. Taylor said a member of his staff overheard a July 26 phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, a former political donor appointed as a senior diplomat, in which the Republican president asked about those investigations and Sondland told him that the Ukrainians were ready to proceed.
Following the call - which occurred a day after Trump had asked Ukraine’s president during a phone call to conduct these investigations - the staff member asked Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, what Trump thought about Ukraine, said Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.
“Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor testified, referring to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Asked by Adam Schiff, the committee’s Democratic chairman, if that meant Trump cared more about the investigations than about Ukraine, Taylor said, “Yes, sir.”
The public hearings are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday.
With a potential television audience of tens of millions looking on, Schiff opened the historic session - the first impeachment drama in two decades - in an ornate hearing room packed with journalists, lawmakers and members of the public.
Schiff’s accusations that Trump abused his power was met by a staunch denial by the panel’s senior Republican, Devin Nunes, of the Republican president’s complicity in a saga that revolves around whether Trump and his aides improperly pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political rival for his political benefit.
Biden is a former U.S. vice president and a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 election. Taylor and Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, expressed concern that U.S. security aid was withheld from Ukraine as leverage to get Kiev to carry out the investigations.
“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,” Schiff said in his opening statement.
“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,” Schiff said.
Schiff added, “If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”