First public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry
The top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, told Congress about a July 26 phone call — a conversation that happened one day after Trump's phone call with Ukraine's leader.
Taylor revealed in his opening statement he'd learned additional information, testifying that his staff was told the President cared more about the "investigations of Biden" than Ukraine.
About the call: Taylor testified that an aide told him of a phone conversation Trump had with US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on July 26, one day after Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Taylor's aide, who was accompanying Sondland to meetings in Kiev with Ukrainian officials, could hear Trump asking Sondland about the investigations, Taylor testified. Sondland "told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward," Taylor said.
Rep. Mark Meadows, one of Trump’s closest allies, is telling reporters on Capitol Hill that he doesn’t think today’s testimony will have any impact on public opinion.
“I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to stay awake and listen to all of this.”
Top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor and State Department official George Kent are testifying publicly today.
Meadows also criticized today's hearings on three counts:
- First, that the accounts today are secondhand.
- Second, that "nothing" was conditioned on announcement of investigations into Trump rivals. Taylor said in his testimony today that he was told that "everything was dependent, including security assistance" on Ukraine's announcement of an investigation into Burisma and the Bidens.
- Third, that funding to Ukraine was released in September and at a higher rate than the Obama administration ever gave.
CNN's Dana Bash noted that the key takeaway from the first part of today's hearing is that Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, thought President Trump was undermining US foreign policy for his own political purposes.
"He is a career diplomat who made very, very clear in his testimony that he is looking out for American foreign policy and the notion of propping up democracies that need help from the US, particularly those who are getting run over by Russia. And that he was running around with his hair on fire because he thought the President of the United States was undermining that, and not just undermining that, but doing it for his own political purposes. That is by far the key takeaway from somebody who is a very credible witness," Bash said.
Taylor, she said, worked for presidents in both parties since Ronald Reagan.
The House Intelligence Committee just wrapped up the Democrats' 45-minute long questioning session.
They're taking a quick break, and when they come back, the Republicans will get 45 minutes.
Republican lawmakers will have the opportunity to ask questions when they return from the short break.
House Intel Majority Counsel asked diplomat George Kent: "To your knowledge, is there any factual basis to support the allegation that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election?"
"To my knowledge, there is no factual basis, no," Kent said.
Following up, Goldman asked Kent who did interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
"I think it's amply clear that Russian interference was at the heart of the interference in the 2016 election cycle," Kent said.
Watch the exchange:
If you're watching the hearing live, you may not know the man asking most of the questions.
He's not a US congressman — he's House staff lawyer Daniel Goldman.
Goldman, Democrats’ questioner, is a former federal prosecutor with the Southern District of New York who joined the committee in March and led the questioning in the closed-door depositions.
The Republicans have a lawyer to ask questions, too: That's Steve Castor, the chief investigative counsel for the House Oversight panel who has been detailed over to the House Intelligence Committee.
Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, said Ukraine didn't owe anything to President Trump.
"They owed appreciation for the support, and they were getting support and they appreciated that, but there was nothing owed to President Trump on that," he said.
Taylor went on to say Trump "had a feeling of having been wronged by the Ukrainians."
"And so this was something that he thought they owed him to fix that wrong," he said.
The diplomat said he understood the wrong to be investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has now reacted to the start of the first public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry, calling it a “sham,” “boring,” and a “colossal waste” of time and money in a tweet.
As she previously told CNN, President Trump is “working right now.” Trump’s account has retweeted several times since the hearing began at 10 a.m. Trump is expected to welcome Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House momentarily.