First public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Amanda Wills, CNN

Updated 10:25 p.m. ET, November 13, 2019
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11:17 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Taylor: I "sat in astonishment" after learning Ukraine aid would be held up

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

In his opening statement, diplomat Bill Taylor said that during a July 18 conference call, a staff person from the Office of Management and Budget said there was a hold on aid for Ukraine but "could not say why."

He added: "Towards the end of an otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call — the person was off screen — said that she was from OMB and her boss instructed her not to approve any additional spending on security systems for Ukraine until further notice."

Taylor said he and others "sat in astonishment" after hearing this directive.

"Ukrainians were fighting Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons but also the assurance of U.S. Support. All that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to OMB," Taylor said.

"In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened," he said.

Watch below:

11:08 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Both witnesses underscored the importance of Ukraine to American foreign policy

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

In their opening statements, both of the career diplomats testifying today explained the importance of Ukraine to American foreign policy, characterizing the country as a bulwark against Russia.

Here's how they put it:

  • “The United States has clear national interests at stake in Ukraine. Ukraine’s success is very much in our national interest,” said George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
  • “Ukraine is a strategic partner of the United States, important for the security of our country as well as Europe. Ukraine is on the front line in the conflict with a newly aggressive Russia,” said Bill Taylor, the current top diplomat in Ukraine.

Why this matters: The point appeared to underscore the diplomats’ concern at President Trump’s approach to the country. They describe worry when US military aid was delayed, since that aid helped combat Russian aggression in the region.

And they expressed concern at the informal diplomatic channel spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani, which they feared could undermine US support for Ukraine.

11:06 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

GOP congressman argues that Trump's interests are national interests

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

The Washington faultline that defines the Trump era was on show in the early moments of the hearing.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, painted career diplomats George Kent and Bill Taylor of being part of a “politicized bureaucracy” that had caused immense damage to Americans’ faith in government – echoing the Trump narrative that is so attractive to the President’s base.

“Elements of the civil service have decided that they, not the President, are really in charge,” Nunes said.

Here's what this means: Nunes is effectively arguing that a diplomat must do whatever Trump says – that there is no difference between a President’s interests and the national interest. This is the fundamental question at the core of an impeachment charge that Trump abused his power in Ukraine for political gain.

Kent laid out a vision of US interests that contradicts Trump’s “America First” approach that sees allies as freeloaders and economic foes.

Europe’s security and prosperity contributed to our security and prosperity,” the bowtied Kent said. 

This war between Trump and the "elite" establishment is the underlying political theme of his presidency. And it will rage throughout these impeachment hearings.

11:08 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Bill Taylor said he was concerned about Giuliani's statements about Ukraine

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In his opening statement, diplomat Bill Taylor said, "I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of Rudy Guiliani, who had made several controversial statements about Ukraine and US Policy towards the country." 

Moments earlier, diplomat Georg Kent said in his opening statement that starting in 2018 he became "increasingly aware" of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to "smear" Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

Watch:

11:03 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

What Kent said about Biden and Burisma in his opening statement

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

There are two important things to know about what diplomat George Kent said regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and his work on the board for a Ukrainian energy company named Burisma.

First: He said that when he learned in 2015 about Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board, he raised concerns with other State Department officials.

“I raised my concern that Hunter Biden’s status as board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest,” Kent said.

In a press interview, Hunter Biden acknowledged that it showed “poor judgement” to join the board while his father was involved in US policy toward Ukraine, but he said it was not an “ethical lapse” because he never mixed personal business with government policy.

Second: Kent refuted a key conspiracy theory peddled by Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani, and many Republican lawmakers who are participating in the questioning.

“Let me be clear; however, I did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny,” Kent said.

Trump and his GOP allies have accused Joe Biden of pressuring the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor because he was investigating Burisma. Most of these allegations have been discredited and there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden. 

 

 Watch:

11:01 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Fact check: Top GOP congressman claimed witnesses didn't have first-hand knowledge. Many of them have.

From CNN's Daniel Dale

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In his opening statement, Rep. Devin Nunes suggested that officials who were alarmed by President Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine were typically basing their concerns off “second-hand, third-hand, and even fourth-hand rumors and innuendo.”

Facts First: Various witnesses who have testified in the impeachment inquiry have had firsthand knowledge of various components of the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine.

For example, witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Tim Morrison of the White House's National Security Council both listened to Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; so did witness Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence.

The former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified about what she had been directly told about why Trump was abruptly removing her from her post.

Trump's ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified about his own comments to Ukrainian officials about how US military aid would not "likely" be issued until Ukraine declared that it was conducting an investigation related to Joe Biden. (Sondland described this proposed declaration as an "anti-corruption statement.")

Among other firsthand testimony, Trump's current top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testified about his own concerns about the role Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was playing in relations with Ukraine.

11:24 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Bill Taylor says withholding Ukraine aid "would be crazy"

Pool
Pool

In his opening statement, diplomat Bill Taylor said, "As the committee is aware, I wrote that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be crazy." 

"I believed that then and I believe it now," Taylor said.

Watch Taylor explain:

11:00 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Fact check: Nunes said the whistleblower had bias against Trump. Here's what we know.

From CNN's Tara Subramaniam

Pool
Pool

In his opening statement, Rep. Devin Nunes said “the whistleblower was acknowledged to have a bias against President Trump and his attorney touted a coup against the President and called for his impeachment just weeks after the election.”

Facts First: This is true. Here’s some context:

In a memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the intelligence community inspector general did note the whistleblower had "some indicia of an arguable political bias.” However, the ICIG determined the whistleblower’s complaint was credible nonetheless.

In his comments about the whistleblower’s attorney, Nunes is referring to a tweet Mark Zaid, one of the whistleblower’s attorneys, made in 2017. The tweets said a “coup has started” and “impeachment will follow ultimately.” Both Fox News and the President have pointed to these tweets as evidence of Zaid’s bias and partisan leanings. Zaid has a long history of working with parties on both sides of the aisle. He issued a statement about the tweets, clarifying that "the coup comment referred to those working inside the Administration who were already, just a week into office, standing up to him to enforce recognized rules of law.”

10:57 a.m. ET, November 13, 2019

Taylor just revealed new information about Trump's views on Ukraine

In his opening statement, Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, detailed new information about the July 25 call — which he said he learned just last week.

He said Ambassador Gordon Sondland called Trump and "told him of his meetings in Kyiv."

"Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for," he said.

Here's what he said, according to his prepared testimony:

Last Friday, a member of my staff told me of events that occurred on July 26. While Ambassador Volker and I visited the front, this member of my staff accompanied Ambassador Sondland. Ambassador Sondland met with Mr. Yermak.
Following that meeting, in the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about “the investigations.” Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.
Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for. At the time I gave my deposition on October 22, I was not aware of this information. I am including it here for completeness. As the Committee knows, I reported this information through counsel to the State Department’s Legal Adviser, as well as to counsel for both the Majority and the Minority on the Committee. It is my understanding that the Committee is following up on this matter.