- Bill Taylor and George Kent, two of the most significant witnesses against President Donald Trump, testified in the first public impeachment hearings on Wednesday.
- Taylor is Trump’s chief envoy in Ukraine, and Kent is the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
- Both men gave vivid testimony that blew up Trump’s main talking points and detailed his efforts to strong-arm Ukraine into delivering political dirt while holding up military aid and a White House meeting.
- Scroll down to read our coverage of the hearing.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
At the centre of the impeachment inquiry are Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his repeated efforts to pressure Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son for corruption ahead of the 2020 election.
Trump also asked Zelensky to investigate a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election and that it did so to benefit Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The first two witnesses who testified this week were Bill Taylor and George Kent. Taylor is Trump’s chief envoy in Ukraine, and Kent is the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
You can watch the hearing below:
Jordan says Congress will never get to question the whistleblower ‘who started it all.’ Democratic Rep. Peter Welch hits back: ‘I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there’
Near the end of the hearing, Jordan went on a lengthy rant calling for the whistleblower to testify.
Referring to the whistleblower, Jordan said Congress will never get the chance to question the person “who started it all.”
Democratic Rep. Peter Welch hit back: “Thank you, I say to my colleague, I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify.”
“President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there,” he added, as laughter rippled through the room.
Referring to the whistleblower, Rep. Jim Jordan says Congress will never get a chance to question the one "who started it all."
"I'd be glad to have the person who started it all to come in and testify," Rep. Welch replies. "Pres. Trump is welcome to take a seat right there." pic.twitter.com/QPnu6tETBQ
— ABC News (@ABC) November 13, 2019
Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas draws out a devastating line of questioning to throw shade at Republicans: ‘Is attempted murder a crime?’
“So we have a president who the other side has claimed … saying that the aid went through, that there was never any investigation,” Castro said. “But the president attempted to get those things done and it looks like there was an agreement from the President of Ukraine to actually do those things.”
“So, ambassadors, is attempted murder a crime?” the Texas Democrat asked.
“Attempted murder is a crime,” Taylor said.
“Is attempted robbery a crime?” Castro asked.
Taylor replied, “Neither of us is a lawyer, but I think that’s right. I’ll go out on a limb and say yes, it is.”
“Is attempted extortion and bribery a crime?” Castro asked.
On that point, Taylor hedged: “I don’t know, sir.”
The Republican strategy emerges: throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.
The GOP strategy came out when the rank and file members of the committee had a chance to ask five minutes of questions each after the two initial 45-minute rounds.
Here’s a small sample of the defences Republicans trotted out:
- There was no quid pro quo.
- Even if there was a quid pro quo, countries do that all the time.
- It doesn’t matter that Trump initially withheld military aid, because Ukraine eventually got it.
- Trump was justified in holding up the aid because he wanted Ukraine to investigate itself for corruption.
- The Democrats colluded with Ukraine.
- The witnesses have never spoken directly to Trump, so they’re not credible.
- The entire impeachment inquiry is a sham.
This is not an exhaustive list.
GOP Rep. Jim Jordan spars with Taylor: ‘You’re their star witness?’
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio was by far the most aggressive in his questioning.
“Ambassador, you weren’t on the call, were you? You didn’t listen in on President Trump’s call and President Zelensky’s call?” he asked.
“I did not,” Taylor said.
“You never talked with Chief of Staff Mulvaney?”
Taylor replied that he had not.
“You never met the president?” Jordan continued. “That’s correct,” Taylor said.
“And President Zelensky never made an announcement” committing himself to the investigations Trump wanted, Jordan said, as Taylor began laughing. “And this is what I can’t believe. And you’re their star witness. You’re their first witness. You’re their guy. I mean, I’ve seen church prayer trains that are easier to understand than this.”
“I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything,” Taylor shot back. “I’m not here to take one side or the other, or advocate for any particular outcome.”
Jim Jordan Taylor: "You're their star witness?"
Taylor: "I don't consider myself a star witness for anything." pic.twitter.com/n9sU8OnHYa
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) November 13, 2019
Jordan’s line of questioning lacked a clear factual basis; he seemed to suggest that because Taylor had never directly spoken to Trump, he wasn’t a credible witness.
Still, the Ohio congressman’s performance likely won the approval of the president, who enjoys when GOP lawmakers go on the attack to defend him.
Republicans fail to pick up traction with a confusing line of questioning.
Castor seemed to have some trouble establishing a clear line of questioning. Twitter noticed.
Whatever the GOP counsel is doing, it's not working. I don't undertand where he's going.
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) November 13, 2019
If you can track any sort of narrative or arc in this line of questioning from Castor, can you please let me know? Because I'm having some trouble.
— Hayes Brown (@HayesBrown) November 13, 2019
GOP counsel Castor just blundered into a question he didn’t know the answer to, asking why Taylor or Kent weren’t involved in prepping POTUS for 7/25 call. Kent says thats NSC’s job. Hard to see where this line of questioning is going…
— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) November 13, 2019
I don’t believe Mr. Castor is a former prosecutor. Does it show?
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) November 13, 2019
GOP counsel Castor does not seem to be familiar with basics of how US diplomacy in foreign nations works. He asks if Ukrainian readout of Trump call was 'cryptic' because it was in Ukrainian?
— Susan Glasser (@sbg1) November 13, 2019
Castor is a suitable counsel choice for Nunes. Doesn’t know how to ask questions, has no discernible purpose, and makes very little sense. https://t.co/8UVsEHumSp
— Michael R. Bromwich (@mrbromwich) November 13, 2019
I must confess I don't see where Steve Castor, the GOP lead counsel, is going with his line of questioning. Anyone else?
— Blake News (@blakehounshell) November 13, 2019
Nunes kicks off the GOP’s questioning by trumpeting conspiracy theories, and Schiff warns Taylor to ‘be cautious’ about answering questions that have no factual basis
After Democrats and Goldman questioned the witnesses for 45 minutes, Republicans took the stage to kick off another 45-minute round of questioning.
Nunes used part of the time to trumpet conspiracy theories suggesting the FBI acted improperly when it investigated the Trump campaign for conspiring with Russia during the 2016 election.
The US intelligence community has determined with high confidence that Moscow meddled in the race to propel Trump to the presidency.
But Nunes tried to build a case that instead of Russia, Ukraine interfered and worked with Democrats during the election to undermine Trump’s campaign.
The GOP’s counsel, Steve Castor, also tried to get Taylor to acknowledge that he “can appreciate President Trump’s concerns” about Ukraine.
“Mr. Castor, I don’t know the exact nature of President Trump’s concerns,” Taylor said.
At that point, Schiff jumped in to warn Taylor about what Republicans were alleging and to “be cautious” about answering questions that may not have a factual basis.
George Kent blows a hole through Trump’s main talking points.
Democrats zeroed in on Trump’s allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, as well as his accusations of corruption against the Bidens.
In a telling exchange with Kent, Goldman asked the career State Department official about Trump’s claims about Ukrainian election interference.
“To your knowledge, is there any factual basis to support the allegation that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election?” Goldman asked.
“To my knowledge, there is no factual basis, no,” Kent said.
“And in fact, who did interfere in the 2016 election?” Goldman said.
“I think it’s amply clear that Russian interference was at the heart of interference in the 2016 election cycle,” Kent replied.
Goldman then focused on Trump’s claims about Biden. Specifically, the president and his allies have accused Biden of getting Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, fired in order to stop an investigation into Burisma, whose board employed Hunter Biden.
“To your knowledge, is there any factual basis to support those allegations” against Biden, Goldman asked Kent.
“None whatsoever,” Kent said.
“When Vice President Biden acted in Ukraine, did he act in accordance with official US policy?” Goldman pressed.
“He did,” Kent responded.
This exchange between Kent and Goldman was critical because it blows a hole through Trump’s claim that he was justified in wanting to look back at the 2016 election, and in asking Ukraine to probe the Bidens.
Taylor: Withholding a White House meeting is one thing, but withholding security assistance puts ‘lives at stake.’
Taylor emphasised at several points during the hearing why he thought it was “crazy” to freeze military aid to Ukraine.
Specifically, he highlighted that there’s a difference between leveraging a White House meeting to force the Ukrainians to publicly commit to investigating the Bidens, and using military aid for that same reason.
“The White House meeting was one thing,” Taylor said. “The security assistance was much more alarming” because withholding that money puts “lives at stake.”
Taylor says he’s never seen anything like this in his decades of public service.
“When you referenced help with a political campaign in this text message, what did you mean?” Democratic staff lawyer Daniel Goldman asked Taylor. Goldman was referring to the message Taylor sent Sondland in which he discussed how Trump was withholding military aid in exchange for political dirt.
“I meant that the investigation … was clearly identified by Mr. Giuliani in public, for months, as a way to get information on the two Bidens,” Taylor replied.
“Ambassador Taylor, in your decades of military service and diplomatic service representing the United States around the world, have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the president of the United States?” Goldman asked.
Taylor: “No, Mr. Goldman, I have not. “
Goldman, a veteran former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, also highlighted Taylor’s habit of taking meticulous notes of pertinent conversations and discussions.
Goldman likely brought out that detail to show Taylor’s credibility as a witness.
Taylor: Withholding military aid was ‘illogical, it could not be explained, it was crazy.’
Taylor pulled no punches when discussing his belief that withholding security assistance was crazy.
“Because of the importance of security assistance … because that was so important for Ukraine, as well as our own national interest, to withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with a political campaign made no sense,” Taylor testified.
He added: “It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was illogical, it could not be explained, it was crazy.”
Taylor revealed a previously unknown phone call between Trump and Sondland in bombshell new testimony.
Taylor revealed in his opening statement that he recently learned a member of his staff overheard a conversation between Trump and Sondland on July 26.
During that conversation, Taylor said, his staff member heard Trump ask Sondland about the status of “the investigations” after Sondland met with a Ukrainian government official in Kiev.
Taylor made it clear that he viewed mentions of “investigations” as being synonymous with investigating the Bidens and Burisma Holdings.
Sondland replied that the Ukrainians were “ready to move forward,” according to Taylor. After the call, Taylor’s staff member asked Sondland what Trump thought of Ukraine.
Sondland replied that Trump “cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”
Taylor said he was not aware of this conversation when he initially testified behind closed doors on October 22.
Taylor highlighted his ‘astonishment’ at Giuliani’s ‘alarming’ shadow campaign in Ukraine.
Taylor discussed his discovery that US policy in Ukraine seemed to consist of two channels, “one regular, and one highly irregular.”
The irregular channel, he said, included Giuliani, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and the US’s former Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
He recounted his reaction when he found out that the White House meeting and security aid were conditioned on Zelensky delivering Trump the investigations he wanted.
“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US elections. It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani,” Taylor said.
“I and others sat in astonishment,” Taylor said. “Ukrainians were fighting Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of US support.”
He added: “In an instant, I realised that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened. The irregular policy channel was running contrary to the goals of long-standing US policy.”
Taylor: Former US ambassador Masha Yovanovitch ‘has been treated poorly’ and was ‘caught in a web of political machinations in Kiev and Washington.’
Taylor began his opening statement by underscoring that it is in the US’s interest to stop Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.
He also directly pointed to facts surrounding Trump’s decision to withhold security assistance. He called the freeze “crazy” when he found out about it in September and said he believes the same now.
Taylor also strongly defended Yovanovitch and her record. He said Yovanovitch “has been treated poorly” as the result of being “caught in a web of political machinations in Kiev and Washington.”
Kent slammed Rudy Giuliani for working with ‘corrupt Ukrainians’ and ‘infecting’ US policy in Ukraine.
Kent opened by emphasising his long record as a nonpartisan foreign service officer who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
He went on to say it was “unfortunate” to watch Americans, including those allied with “corrupt” interests in Ukraine, “launch attacks on public servants advancing US interests in Ukraine.”
This was a reference to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is accused of carrying out a smear campaign to engineer the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the US’s ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly removed from her position in Ukraine.
Kent and others have testified that Yovanovitch was recalled based on false allegations and conspiracy theories pushed by Giuliani, who was furious Yovanovitch would not help him pressure Ukraine for dirt on the Bidens.
“In mid-August, it became clear to me that Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now infecting US engagement with Ukraine, leveraging President Zelensky’s desire for a White House meeting,” Kent said.
He added: The US should not “push other countries to engage in selective politically motivated prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because that undermines the rule of law.”
GOP Rep. Devin Nunes: ‘This is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.’
Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member on the committee, set the tone for the GOP by immediately calling Democrats corrupt and accusing the media of carrying out a “carefully orchestrated smear campaign” against the president.
Nunes said the investigation is a “horrifically one-sided process,” and that Democrats conducted secret depositions. He did not mention that Republicans on the committees conducting the inquiry were allowed to attend.
He also lobbed attacks on the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment investigation. That individual, Nunes said, “is alleged to have had a bias against President Trump.”
He was referring to the intelligence community inspector general’s finding that the whistleblower is a registered Democrat.
Nunes did not touch on the fact that the majority of the whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president has been corroborated by a White House summary of call, Trump’s own public statements, statements made by the acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and a cascade of witness testimony.
“This spectacle is doing great damage to our country,” Nunes said of the impeachment inquiry. “It is nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.”
Adam Schiff: ‘The facts in the present inquiry are not seriously contested.’
Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the Democrat leading the impeachment inquiry, made a lengthy opening statement laying out the timeline of Trump’s pressure campaign in Ukraine.
The goal of the investigation, Schiff said, is to determine whether Trump “sought to exploit” Ukraine’s vulnerability and “sought to condition official acts,” like military aid and a White House meeting, on Ukraine giving him political dirt on the Bidens.
If Trump did either, Schiff added, Congress needs to investigate “whether such an abuse of his power is compatible with the office of the presidency.”
“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” Schiff said. “Our answers to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself.”
The California Democrat also suggested that Trump’s order for witnesses not to cooperate with the inquiry constitutes additional grounds for impeachment related to obstructing Congress.
What Taylor and Kent testified to behind closed doors.
Taylor and Kent are expected to vividly detail Trump’s efforts to strong-arm Ukraine into delivering political dirt while holding up vital military aid and a White House meeting.
Taylor and Kent will also attest to the shadow foreign policy campaign that Giuliani, Sondland, Volker, and others spearheaded.
Kent has testified that Giuliani’s efforts on Trump’s behalf were not part of US foreign policy but instead a personal mission to get the president the dirt he wanted on Biden.
Taylor, meanwhile, directly confirmed a quid pro quo and said he learned that Sondland conveyed to a top Ukrainian official that Zelensky would not get the military aid or a White House meeting until he announced the politically motivated investigations that Trump demanded.
What’s happened in the impeachment inquiry so far.
Several government officials, including Taylor and Kent, have already testified to Congress behind closed doors, and their revelations paint a damaging portrait of a concerted effort across the administration to leverage US foreign policy to pressure Ukraine into acceding to Trump’s demands.
They also outlined the lengths White House officials went to in order to conceal records of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.
Witnesses have testified that Trump’s allies – particularly Giuliani, Sondland, Volker, Mulvaney, and Perry – were part of an effort to condition security assistance to Ukraine and a White House meeting on Zelensky publicly announcing the investigations Trump wanted.
The president’s defenders say he did nothing wrong and that this is a normal part of how diplomacy and foreign policy are conducted.
But national security veterans, legal scholars, and at times Trump’s own officials who have testified have suggested his actions open him up to a variety of potential charges including abuse of power, bribery, extortion, misappropriation of taxpayer funds, and soliciting foreign interference in the upcoming election.
- Read more of Insider’s impeachment coverage:
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- Trump could be impeached, removed from office, and still win re-election in 2020
- Over half of the House of Representatives support the impeachment inquiry against Trump – see all of them here
- Everything you need to know about Trump’s impeachment process: what’s happened, who the players are, and what comes next