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In First Public Impeachment Hearing, Trump Implicated in Effort to Pressure Ukraine to Probe Bidens

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The first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump was held Wednesday. Trump is just the fourth president in U.S. history to face impeachment. Two witnesses testified before the House Intelligence Committee: George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, and William Taylor, a former ambassador and the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. They both said President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure the country to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. We play highlights from the hearing.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump was held Wednesday. Trump is just the fourth president in U.S. history to face impeachment. Two witnesses testified before the House Intelligence Committee: George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, and William Taylor, a former ambassador and the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. They both said President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure the country to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff opened the historic hearing.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Although we have learned a great deal about these events in the last several weeks, there are still missing pieces. The president has instructed the State Department and other agencies to ignore congressional subpoenas for documents. He has instructed witnesses to defy subpoenas and refuse to appear. And he has suggested that those who do expose wrongdoing should be treated like traitors and spies. These actions will force Congress to consider, as it did with President Nixon, whether Trump’s obstruction of the constitutional duties of Congress constitute additional grounds for impeachment. If the president can simply refuse all oversight, particularly in the context of an impeachment proceeding, the balance of power between our two branches of government will be irrevocably altered. That is not what the Founders intended. And the prospects for further corruption and abuse of power in this administration or any other will be exponentially increased.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, dismissed the hearing as a “televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats.”

REP. DEVIN NUNES: But we should not hold any hearings at all until we get answers to three crucial questions the Democrats are determined to avoid asking. First, what is the full extent of the Democrats’ prior coordination with the whistleblower, and who else did the whistleblower coordinate this effort with? Second, what is the full extent of Ukraine’s election meddling against the Trump campaign? And third, why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden, and what did he do for them, and did his position affect any U.S. government actions under the Obama administration? These questions will remain outstanding, because Republicans were denied the right to call witnesses that know these answers. What we will witness today is a televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats.

AMY GOODMAN: In his opening statement, Ambassador William Taylor revealed details about a previously unknown phone call from July between President Trump and Gordon Sondland, the Oregon hotel magnate who Trump made the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

WILLIAM TAYLOR: 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 Kiev. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Ambassador Sondland told President Trump 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.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: During their opening remarks, both Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent expressed concern over the role President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani had in dictating U.S. policy on Ukraine. This is George Kent.

GEORGE KENT: Over the course of 2018 and 2019, I became increasingly aware of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and others, including his associates Lev Parnos and Igor Fruman, to run a campaign to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch and other officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: During the hearing, Democrats had former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman leading much of the witness questioning. Here he is questioning William Taylor.

DANIEL GOLDMAN: 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?

WILLIAM TAYLOR: No, Mr. Goldman, I have not.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican lawmakers repeatedly defended the actions of the president. Here’s Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas questioning U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor.

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE: The Ukrainian president stood in front of the world press and repeatedly, consistently, over and over again, interview after interview, said he had no knowledge of military aid being withheld, meaning no quid pro quo, no pressure, no demands, no threats, no blackmail, nothing corrupt. And unlike the first 45 minutes that we heard from the Democrats today, that’s not secondhand information. It’s not hearsay. It’s not what someone overheard Ambassador Sondland say. That was his direct testimony. Ambassador Taylor, do you have any evidence to assert that President Zelensky was lying to the world press when he said those things? Yes or no?

WILLIAM TAYLOR: Mr. Ratcliffe, if I can respond —

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE: My time is short.

WILLIAM TAYLOR: Your time —

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE: Yes or no?

WILLIAM TAYLOR: — is short. That’s right. I have no reason to doubt what the president said in his press conference.

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE: OK, very good. So, in this impeachment hearing today, where we impeach presidents for treason or bribery or other high crimes, where is the impeachable offense in that call? Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call? Shout it out. Anyone?

WILLIAM TAYLOR: I’m not here to do anything having to do with — to decide about impeachment. That is not what either of us are here to do. This is your job.

AMY GOODMAN: Republicans also repeatedly called on Democrats to bring forth the whistleblower, whose internal complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry. Here is Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, who was made a temporary member of the Intelligence Committee ahead of the hearing.

REP. JIM JORDAN: Now, there is one witness, one witness that they won’t bring in front of us, they won’t bring in front of the American people. That’s the guy who started it all: the whistleblower.

REP. PETER WELCH: 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.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice was Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch responding to Representative Jim Jordan. When we come back, we’ll speak to former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman. She served on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Richard Nixon. Her recent book, The Case for Impeaching Trump. Stay with us.

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