- William Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a State Department official, became the first witnesses to speak in public hearings regarding the impeachment inquiry.
- Both have testified privately, with Taylor largely supporting the existence of quid pro quo saying, “Security assistance money would not come until the President (of Ukraine) committed to pursue the investigation.”
- The two repeated much of what they had said behind closed doors but added new details and painted clearer pictures. Kent also denied that there was any factual basis in the allegations against Joe Biden and the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
- A public hearing raises the stakes of impeachment more, giving the public more opportunity to weigh in on if they think the process is worthwhile or not.
Who is Testifying?
The first public hearings in the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry took off on Wednesday with two witnesses speaking before the House Intelligence Committee.
William Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a State Department official, previously testified behind closed doors. Both spoke of President Donald Trump’s apparent efforts to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch a series of investigations: One into Burisma, a Ukranian company Joe Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of, and another into alleged interference by Ukraine into the 2016 election.
Taylor made comments supporting the existence of quid pro quo. Democrats believe that a rough transcript of a phone call between Zelensky and Trump shows that Trump was withholding aid from Ukraine on the condition that these investigations begin.
“That was my clear understanding,” Taylor said in his first closed-door testimony. “Security assistance money would not come until the President (of Ukraine) committed to pursue the investigation.”
While Kent did not speak about aid as much at the time, he did accuse Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, of leading attacks against both himself and former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. He also spoke about Trump’s desire to have Zelensky announce investigations.
“POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton,” he said behind closed doors.
What Happened at the Hearing?
Wednesday’s hearing was led by House Intelligence Committee and its Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA). He and the top Republican on the committee, Devin Nunes (R-CA) both were allotted 45 minutes of questioning while other members got five.
As expected, much of what was said on Wednesday had been said previously. Key quotes, however, did rise to the surface of the event. In his opening remarks, Schiff acknowledged the circumstances were it could be proven that Trump did withhold official acts from Ukraine on the condition of the investigations.
“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” he asked.
Nunes, on the other hand, called the impeachment inquiry a “carefully orchestrated media campaign.”
As far as witnesses go, Taylor mentioned an overheard phone call between Trump and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland pertaining to the investigations.
“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,” Taylor said.
He claimed Sondland said Trump cares more about the investigation into Biden than he does about Ukraine.
“Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine,” he continued. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
Kent called the investigations “politically motivated”.
“In mid-August, it became clear to me that Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine,” he said.
“I don’t believe the U.S. 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,” Kent added.
Kent also denied that there was any factual basis in the allegations regarding both Joe Biden and the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
In another clip that went viral from the hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) accuses Schiff of knowing the whistleblower’s identity. Schiff quickly turned this idea down.
“You are the only member who knows who that individual is,” Jordan claims. “Your staff is the only staff of any member of Congress that’s had a chance to talk with that individual. We would like that opportunity. When might that happen in this proceeding?”
“First, as the gentleman knows, that’s a false statement,” Schiff responds. “I do not know the identity of the whistleblower and I am determined to make sure that identity is protected.”
What’s at Stake and What’s Next?
The stakes for this hearing are higher than those of the private ones as they are the first the public is allowed to watch. They will likely have more eyes on them, allowing the public to further decide if they think Trump abused his power, or if the impeachment inquiry is a waste of Congress’ time.
Trump’s Twitter feed has been relatively quiet during the hearing, with the president mainly retweeting clips and commentary from others. Wednesday morning, before they began he tweeted “NEVER TRUMPERS!” and “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”
In a video shared by the White House, he called the impeachment inquiry “the single greatest scam in the history of American politics.”
He also tweeted a campaign video as the hearings were taking place.
On the other side of the situation, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi applauded Taylor and Kent for speaking out.
These hearings will be followed by remarks by Yovanovitch on Friday. More witnesses are also expected to be called to testify. Republicans also want to subpoena the whistleblower to testify, however, reports say a motion to do so was tabled after the hearing.
Pelosi Announces House Will Draft Articles of Impeachment Against Trump
- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will begin drafting the official articles of impeachment for President Trump.
- This follows the release of the final report from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation and the Judiciary Committee formally launching impeachment proceedings.
- The process is anticipated to move very quickly, with a Committee vote as soon as next week, and a full House vote before Christmas.
Pelosi Announces Articles of Impeachment
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the House of Representatives will officially begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
“The facts are uncontested,” the Speaker said. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security, by withholding military aid and crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.”
“His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” she continued.
“The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security, and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”
“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment,” she concluded.
Pelosi’s announcement marks a significant step in the impeachment process. The articles of impeachment the House now drafts will essentially be the “charges” they will bring against President Trump.
Intelligence Committee Report
The decision follows several major developments in the impeachment proceedings that have occurred throughout the week.
On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee— which has been leading the impeachment investigation for the last two months— released its final report on the findings of that investigation.
In the 300-page report, the Committee found that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, by withholding a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine.
“The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage,” the Committee wrote.
“In doing so, the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”
The report also goes on to say that in response to the House launching the impeachment investigation, “President Trump engaged in an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry.”
The Committee outlined how examples of how Trump obstructed their investigation, such as his refusal to cooperate with the investigation or hand over subpoenaed documents, and his efforts to direct State Department and White House officials to do the same.
The report said that Trump also obstructed their investigation by blocking key witnesses from testifying, including those who had been subpoenaed. It also accused Trump of engaging in “a brazen effort to publicly attack and intimidate witnesses who came forward to comply with duly authorized subpoenas and testify about his conduct.”
“Donald Trump is the first and only President in American history to openly and indiscriminately defy all aspects of the Constitutional impeachment process,” the report notes.
Judiciary Committee Starts Proceedings
The Intelligence Committee report does not include a direct recommendation for impeachment, but it will likely serve as the basis for which the articles of impeachment are drafted.
The articles will be written by the Judiciary Committee, which officially began the formal impeachment proceedings on Wednesday by holding a hearing where constitutional experts discussed the legal basis for impeaching Trump.
Four experts testified at the hearing: three brought in by Democrats and one brought in by Republicans.
The experts requested by Democrats argued that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine definitely met the threshold for an impeachable offense set by the framers of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the expert the Republicans brought in argued that the Democrats were rushing the process and did not have adequate evidence and that Trump should be investigated more.
But Democrats appear eager to press on, with leadership pushing to hold the full House vote on the impeachment articles before Christmas.
As a result, it has been reported that the Judiciary Committee will draft the articles in the next few days and hold the debate and vote on the articles as early as next week. The bigger question is what the articles will be, and how many the Committee will propose.
Each offense they claim Trump committed must be its own article— for example “obstruction of justice” would be a separate article from “misconduct.”
Right now, the Democrats are deciding if they want to zero in on the Ukraine matter, or include a broader look at Trump’s other alleged wrongdoings, which notably could include his alleged efforts to obstruct the Mueller report investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Once the Judiciary has approved the articles, they will go to the full House for a vote.
The House just has to approve one of the articles for the president to be impeached, and if approved, the matter would head to the Senate for the trial portion of the process, which would likely be held in January.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (Fox News)
Trump and Macron Spar at NATO Summit
- At the NATO summit in London, President Donald Trump criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for previously saying NATO was experiencing “brain death” due to the lack of U.S. commitment under Trump.
- While condemning Macron, Trump defended NATO, a sharp reversal from previous stances taken by the president.
- Later, Macron and Trump sparred over the Turkish incursion in Syria and Turkey’s relationship with NATO.
- U.S.-French relations have experienced recent strains. The meeting between the two leaders follows an announcement made by the U.S. the day before saying it was considering levying tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of French goods.
Trump Condemns Macron Remarks
President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron publicly sparred during a meeting on the first day of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit Tuesday.
Speaking during a press event with the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier in the day, Trump condemned a remark made by the French leader in an interview last month.
In that interview, Macron said that NATO was experiencing “brain death” because America’s commitment to the organization has been called into question under Trump.
“NATO serves a great purpose,” Trump said, responding to a question about Macron’s statement. “And I hear that President Macron said NATO is ‘brain dead.’ I think that’s very insulting to a lot of different forces.”
“When you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement to 28 — including them — 28 countries,” the president continued, referring to the NATO member-states, which number 29.
“They’ve had a very rough year and you just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO. It’s very disrespectful,” he added.
Trump’s defense of NATO came was a surprising reversal from his previous stance on the intergovernmental military alliance, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
Trump has a long history of being critical of NATO. He has argued that the U.S. is being treated unfairly by other NATO members because they do not spend as much money on their militaries as the U.S. does.
NATO members are required to spend at least 2% of their GDP on their own national defense. Trump has claimed that many members are not meeting that goal.
Trump also repeatedly called NATO “obsolete” while on the campaign trail, though he later backtracked on those comments once he was elected. And there have been multiple reports that Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of NATO altogether.
Even before Trump’s comments, experts and leaders were anticipating tensions and possibly even conflict between Trump and Macron at the summit.
The two leaders, who in the past have had a strong relationship, have recently seen strained ties.
On Monday, just one day before the summit began, the U.S. threatened to put new tariffs on $2.4 billion in French products including wine, cheese, and yogurt.
Trump’s chief trade negotiator said the tariffs would be in response to a French digital services tax that the U.S. believes discriminates against American internet companies.
During the press conference with Stoltenberg, Trump indicated that the U.S. was moving forward with the tariffs.
“They’re starting to tax other people’s products so therefore we’re going to tax them,” the president said. “That’s just taking place right now on technology and we’re doing their wines and everything else.”
However, shortly after, Trump sat down for his meeting Macron, where he emphasized the positive trade relations between France and the U.S. in his opening remarks.
“We do a lot of trade with France,” Trump said. “We have a minor dispute I think we’ll probably be able to work it out. But we have a big trade relationship and I’m sure that in a very short period of time, things will be looking very rosy.”
Trump also went on to say that some NATO members were not paying enough in defense spending, but that the organization has gotten a lot more flexible since he assumed office.
Macron for his part defended his earlier statements about NATO being “brain dead,” and said he stood by it.
The Turkey Situation
The conversation started to escalate when the two leaders began to discuss ISIS and the situation with Syria and Turkey.
Trump and his administration have frequently claimed that ISIS has been defeated in Syria.
This claim, which has largely been debunked, was a big part of the justification for Trump’s decision to remove troops from Northern Syria and step aside to let Turkey launch a military operation to clear Syrian Kurdish groups at the border.
Turkey considers those groups to be terrorists, but the U.S. and many other NATO members consider them key allies who have fought alongside the U.S. to combat ISIS in the region.
The Turkey question also appeared to be a point of conflict between Trump and Macron.
Trump claimed that most of the captured ISIS fighters in Syria were from Europe. Macron responded by contradicting Trump, and pointing out that only a small amount of captured fighters were European.
The French leader also condemned Turkey for fighting against the Kurds and said the situation today has lead to more ISIS fighters in the region and that getting rid of ISIS was the number one priority.
Trump responded by saying that Macron’s response “was one of the greatest non-answers I’ve ever heard.”
Macron hit back by saying that it is not Europe’s responsibility, and added that “any ambiguity with Turkey vis a vis these groups is detrimental to the situation on the ground.”
Still, Trump emphasized his strong relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a move many experts argue will cause even more divisions within NATO.
Erdogan is already in hot water with the alliance over the Turkish incursion in Syria, as well as the fact that Turkey recently purchased an antiaircraft missile system from Russia, which goes against NATO commitments not to buy Russian systems.
Despite the tension between NATO and Turkey, Erdogan has already asked NATO members at the summit to recognize the Syrian Kurdish Forces as a terrorist group.
The Turkish leader also threatened to oppose NATO’s plans to update the defense of member states like Poland and other Baltic countries if the organization does not agree to his demands.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Axios) (Reuters)
Gordon Sondland Gives New Public Testimony in Impeachment Hearing. Here’s What You Need to Know
- U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testified in a public hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry.
- Notably, Sondland testified that requests made by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were “a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for [Ukranian] President Zelensky.”
- While Sondland said he was concerned the Trump administration’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine was a quid pro quo, he also said that Trump “never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings.”
- Sondland also implicated a number of other high-ranking officials, saying that “everyone was in the loop.”
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. and a key player in the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, testified in his first public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday.
Sondland’s testimony shed new light on the investigation into whether or not President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Burisma, a Ukrainian company Joe Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of.
The inquiry stems from a whistleblower complaint that alleged Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress on the condition that President Zelensky conduct the investigation.
The complaint also claims that Trump refused to meet with Zelensky until after he had publicly agreed to the investigations.
Sondland’s public hearing is also important to the impeachment inquiry because his testimonies have not always been consistent. In his closed-door hearing last month, Sondland testified originally that there was not a quid pro quo regarding military aid.
“I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign,” he said.
Sondland later revised his closed-door testimony after several people contradicted his deposition. Those individuals said that it was actually Sondland himself who told a Zelensky aide that the military assistance would be conditioned on the investigation.
In an amendment to his testimony, Sondland wrote that he told Zelensky’s aide “that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
In his public testimony, Sondland restated much of the content in his closed-door deposition, but he also provided some new information.
Here is some of the new information we got from Sondland’s hearing today.
Explicit Quid Pro Quo
In his opening statement, Sondland said for the first time that there was an explicit quid pro quo regarding the investigation and the meeting with Trump.
“[Trump’s personal attorney Rudy] Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” he said. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election, DNC server, and Burisma.”
“Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” he added.
However, regarding the military aid and investigations, Sondland said President Trump “never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Guiliani was that the Burisma and the 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting.”
But Sondland still said he personally had “concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid.”
Sondland Involves Key People in Trump Administration
Sondland later said that he expressed his concerns about the military aid to Vice President Mike Pence.
“I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations,” he said.
A spokesperson for Pence’s office denied that the conversation ever happened.
Sondland went on to say that many people high up in the administration, including Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, knew what was going on, saying, “Everyone was in the loop.”
During a key interaction, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) asked Sondland if: “Mulvaney was aware of this quid pro quo of this condition that the Ukrainians had to meet, that is announcing this public investigations to get the White House meeting. Is that right?”
“Yeah, a lot of people were aware of it,” Sondland responded.
“Including Mr. Mulvaney?” Schiff asked.
“Correct,” Sondland responded.
“And including the secretary of state?” the representative asked.
“Correct,” the ambassador answered.
Sondland also said that when he told Pompeo he was concerned about the military aid being withheld, Pompeo directed him to keep up the pressure campaign.
Trump Only Cares About Investigation Announcement
Sondland additionally said that Trump’s priority was always just to have the Ukranian’s announce the investigation, but he was not sure whether he actually cared about the investigation happening.
In a line of questioning, the Democrats’ lawyer, Daniel Goldman asked Sondland: “you understood that in order to get that White House meeting — that you wanted President Zelensky to have and that President Zelensky desperately wanted to have — that Ukraine would have to initiate these two investigations. Is that right?”
“Well, they would have to announce that they were going to do it,” Sondland responded.
“Right. Because Giuliani and President Trump didn’t actually care if they did them, right?” Goldman followed up.
“I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed,” Sondland said. “The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form and that form kept changing.”