U.S. President Donald J. Trump denied on Wednesday (November 13) testimony from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who, while testifying during the first televised hearing of the impeachment inquiry against Trump, linked the president more directly to a pressure campaign on Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically.
In an important disclosure, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor pointed to the Republican president’s keen interest in getting Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a former vice president, and reiterated his understanding that $391 million in U.S. security aid was withheld from Kiev unless it cooperated.
Taylor said a member of his staff overheard a July 26 phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, a former political donor appointed as a senior diplomat, in which the Republican president asked about those investigations and Sondland told him that the Ukrainians were ready to proceed.
Following the call – which occurred a day after Trump had asked Ukraine’s president during a phone call to conduct the investigations – the staff member asked Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, what Trump thought about Ukraine, Taylor said.
“Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor testified, referring to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Asked by Adam Schiff, the committee’s Democratic chairman, if that meant Trump cared more about the investigations than about Ukraine, Taylor said: “Yes, sir.”
At a White House news conference with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan after the hearing ended, Trump said he knew “nothing” about the call with Sondland that Taylor said his aide overheard.
“It’s the first time I heard it,” Trump said.
David Holmes, a Taylor aide subpoenaed to testify behind closed doors on Friday in the impeachment inquiry, is the staffer who overheard the call that Sondland made to Trump from Ukraine, said a person familiar with the issue. Republican lawmakers called Taylor’s account hearsay and noted Ukraine’s president has not said he felt pressured by Trump.
While the hearing turned contentious at times – including sniping between lawmakers – the low-key testimony given by the two witnesses may have fallen short of giving the Democrats the ammunition they need to advance their argument that Trump has committed misdeeds worthy of ousting him from office.
(Production: Arlene Eiras)