For the first time a top diplomat testified Wednesday that President Donald Trump was overheard asking about “the investigations” he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the impeachment inquiry.
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified as the House Intelligence Committee opened extraordinary hearings on whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office.
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But it was far from dramatic — and one of Trump’s top allies killed the Democrat-led proceeding with just seven words.
“It’s hard for me to stay awake,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
The proceedings are so boring that it’s putting everyone to sleep — even Republican congressmen.
House Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and the Democrats are trying to prosecute the president over secondhand accounts.
Trump himself, in a joint meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said that he was too busy to watch impeachment.
He summed up the big event in just two words: “Witch hunt.”
“It’s a witch hunt,” he said. “It’s a hoax. I’m sure I’ll get a report. There’s nothing there, I see they’re using lawyers that are television lawyers, they took some guys off television. I’m not surprised to see it because Schiff can’t do his own questions.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham wrote on Twitter that “This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time and money.”
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
And 2020 candidate Joe Biden didn’t even watch the impeachment proceedings, according to his campaign… proof that this impeachment nonsense isn’t serious.
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Inside the hearings, Taylor alleged his staff told him they overheard Trump when they were meeting with another diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant the day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with the new leader of Ukraine that sparked the impeachment investigation.
The staff explained that Sondland had called the president and they could hear Trump on the phone asking about “the investigations.” The ambassador told the president the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, Taylor testified.
The hearing Wednesday was the first public session of the impeachment inquiry.
A whistleblower’s complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general — including that Trump had pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic foe Joe Biden and Bidens’ son — ignited the rare inquiry now unfolding in Congress.
The country has been here only three times before, and never against the 21st-century backdrop of real-time commentary, including from the Republican president himself. The proceedings were being broadcast live, and on social media, from a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill.
The session unfolded in measured, slow tones. Taylor paused for sips of water during what he acknowledged was a lengthy recitation of facts to open the hearing. It took 40 minutes.
Moments after the hearings began, Trump’s reelection campaign sent out an email blast: “FAKE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS HAVE BEGUN! … I WANT TO RAISE 3 MILLION DOLLARS IN THE NEXT 24 HOURS.”
At the start, Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, outlined the question at the core of the impeachment inquiry — whether the president used his office to pressure Ukraine officials for personal political gain.
“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” said Schiff. “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.”
Republican lawmakers immediately pushed Democrats to hear from the whistleblower himself.
Schiff denied the request at the time but said it would be considered later.
“We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity,” Schiff declared.
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, accused the Democratic majority of conducting a “scorched earth” effort to take down the president after the special counsel’s Russia investigation into the 2016 election failed to spark impeachment proceedings.
“We’re supposed to take these people at face value when they trot out new allegations?” said Nunes, a top Trump ally. He derided what he called the “cult-like atmosphere in the basement of the Capitol” where investigators have been interviewing witnesses behind closed doors for weeks. Transcripts of those interviews have been released.
Nunes called the Ukraine matter a “low rent” sequel to the Russia probe. “Democrats are advancing their impeachment sham,” he said.
Both Taylor and the other public witness, George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, defied White House instructions not to testify. They both received subpoenas to appear.
Kent, in his opening remarks, directly contradicted a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House, saying he never heard any U.S. official try to shield a Ukraine company from investigations.
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Kent acknowledged that he himself raised concerns in 2015 about the then vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, being on the board of Burisma, a Ukraine gas company. He warned that it could give the “perception of a conflict of interest.”
“Let me be clear; however, I did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny,” Kent said.
The career diplomat did not go into detail about the issues central to the impeachment inquiry, but he voiced his concerns with them
“I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country,” he said.
So far, the narrative being unspooled in weeks of investigations for the inquiry is splitting Americans, mostly along the same lines as Trump’s unusual presidency. The Constitution sets a dramatic but vague bar for impeachment, and there’s no evidence yet that Trump’s actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The White House has since released a rough transcript of the conversation, which Trump has urged voters to read for themselves.
The Associated Press contributed to this article