The public hearings into whether President Donald Trump should be impeached began in the House on Wednesday with testimony from two career State Department officials who tied Trump to a campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate one of the president's political rivals.
William Taylor, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, described an informal foreign policy led by the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others that threatened Ukraine's ability to withstand military pressure from Russia. They detailed a delay in U.S. military aid to Ukraine that the Trump administration had linked to an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Taylor said he was told Trump wanted the Ukrainian president "in a public box" making a public statement about the investigations.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, is using the words bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors to describe Trump's actions, both of which are spelled out in the Constitution as a reason for impeachment. Republicans counter that because the security aid was eventually released, there was no harm and no justification for impeachment.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the committee, described the hearing as a televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats.
With the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election over, "you've been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel," he told Taylor and Kent.
The bulk of the hearing was led by two staff lawyers, Daniel Goldman for the Democrats and Steve Castor for the Republicans, which resulted in more questions and fewer speeches. Afterward Schiff thanked the Republicans for the civil way in which they participated.
U.S. & World
The day's top national and international news.
Here is a look at some of Wednesday's top moments.
TRUMP ASKED ABOUT INVESTIGATIONS
Taylor revealed explosive new information about Trump’s interest in an investigation of Biden by Ukraine.
One of Taylor’s staff members overheard E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland talking to Trump on a cell phone on July 26, the day after Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president, and asked afterward what Trump thought about Ukraine.
“Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor testified.
The staff member was at a restaurant with Sondland while he was on the phone and heard Trump ask him about “the investigations." Sondland told him "the Ukrainians were ready to move forward."
Taylor did not identify the aide, but NBC News reported it was David Holmes, a State Department official just added to the calendar to testify in closed session Friday. Holmes is the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
Taylor added that Sondland told the staff member that Trump also cared about Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden, Biden’s son, served.
"I take it the import of that is he cares more about that than he does about Ukraine?" Schiff asked him.
"Yes, sir," Taylor said.
Trump said later that he did not recall the call.
Former security officials said the use of a cell phone was a breach of security.
THE UNIDENTIFIED WHISTLEBLOWER
Republicans have focused on the unidentified whistleblower, complaining that he should be identified and testify in hearings. Rep. Jim Jordan, Republican from Ohio, called him “the guy who started it all.”
“This anonymous so-called whistleblower with no firsthand knowledge, who is biased against the president, who worked with Joe Biden, who is the reason we’re all sitting here today, we’ll never get a chance to question that individual,” he said. “We’re not going to get to check out his credibility, his motivations, his bias.”
To which Rep. Peter Welch, D., Vermont, countered: "I’d be glad to have the person who started it all to come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”
TRUMP FELT WRONGED
Taylor described an assertion by two diplomats that Trump behaved the way he did toward the Ukrainian president because he was a businessman.
Sondland told him that a businessman who is owed something asks that it be paid before writing a check, Taylor said. Kurt Volker, the former ambassador to NATO, said something similar, he said.
Taylor responded that Ukraine owed Trump nothing and repeated what he had said in a text: putting a hold on security aide in return for domestic political benefit was “crazy.”
Taylor said Trump’s position was hard to understand. The president “had a feeling of having been wronged by the Ukrainians” and believed they owned him to fix that wrong, he said. That was evident from a meeting Trump had on May 23 in the White House with the U.S. delegation to the inauguration of the new Ukraine president, he said.
"PISSING OFF CORRUPT PEOPLE"
George Kent, during a discussion about corruption, said, “you can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.”
Rep. Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indiana, asked him whether some of those people helped Giuliani smear the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
“Correct,” Kent said.
Taylor also was asked about corruption and answered that it existed in every country, "including ours."
Kent and Taylor were asked about Trump’s tweet at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday: “NEVER TRUMPERS!”
Were they Never Trumpers?
Kent said he was a career diplomat who served whoever was elected president. Taylor replied simply: “No sir.”
Later, during a press conference with Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump said he had not watched the hearing.
“I hear it's a joke," Trump said. "I haven’t watched, I haven't watched for one minute because I've been with the president, which is much more important as far as I'm concerned. This is a sham and shouldn't be allowed."
NO HARM, NO FOUL
Republicans insisted that no crimes had been committed. Ukraine's president never conducted an investigation of the Bidens nor did he make a public declaration on CNN as he had been planning. The military aid to Ukraine was eventually released. Trump had properly delayed the aid as he assessed the reliability of the new president, they argued.
Republicans characterized the witnesses' accounts as hearsay and stressed that they had no direct communications with Trump to which Democrats countered that the White House was blocking the testimony of witnesses who did speak to the president.
Jordan dismissed Taylor's assertion that the aid and a meeting between the two presidents in the White House -- both of which would help Ukraine push back against Russian aggression -- were tied to an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma.
“I was not wrong about what I told you because that is what I heard,” Taylor told him.
“What you heard did not happen,” Jordan said.
Military aid was restored in September but only after Congress complained and after the whistleblower's report was filed.
Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas in an exchange with Taylor made the point that attempted crimes are still crimes.
"Is attempted murder a crime?" Castro asked.
"Attempted murder is a crime," Taylor answered.
"Is attempted robbery a crime?" Castro asked
"Neither of us is a lawyer, but I --," Taylor answered, referring to Kent.
"I think anybody in this room can answer that question," Castro said.
"I think that’s right. I’ll go out on a limb and say yes it is," Taylor said.
"Is attempted extortion and bribery a crime?" Castrol asked.
"I don’t know, sir," Taylor answered.