First public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry
At a news conference with the Turkish president, President Trump was asked about new information revealed in today's public testimony from diplomat Bill Taylor.
Taylor said that on July 26 — one day after Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a whistleblower complaint that alleged Trump solicited "interference" from a foreign country to help his 2020 presidential campaign — Trump spoke by phone with Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, about "the investigations."
Trump today denied any knowledge of this call.
"I know nothing about that. The first time I've heard it," Trump said.
Trump called it "more secondhand information."
He added: "I don't recall. Not at all. Not even a little bit."
Rep. Adam Schiff called new information that diplomat Bill Taylor provided today "very important."
Schiff said Taylor's testimony — in which he said his aide overheard Trump telling an ambassador he wanted a Biden probe — is evidence that ties the scandal directly to the President, and not any Trump aides.
"This is very obviously very important because there is an effort apparently to by the President's allies to throw Sondland under the bus, throw Mulvaney under the bus, throw anybody under the bus in an effort to protect the president. But what this call indicates as other testimony has likewise indicated is that instructions are coming from the President on down," Schiff said.
He added that this witness who was on that call is "potentially very important," noting that the committee scheduled a closed-door deposition with the staffer for Friday.
More context: David Holmes is the aide who heard the July 26 call between US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and President Trump, according to a source familiar with a scheduled deposition.
Taylor testified today that Sondland told an aide that Trump's interest in Ukraine was the "investigations of Biden," and he cared more about an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden than he did about Ukraine.
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff said today's impeachment inquiry hearing showed President Trump "sought to advance his political and personal interest at the expense of the United States' national security."
Here's how he put it:
"The portrait that I think their testimony paints is one of an irregular channel that ran from the president through Mick Mulvaney and Ambassador Sondland, Ambassador Volker on down to Rudy Giuliani in which the President sought to advance his political and personal interest at the expense of the United States' national security. And the President did that by pressing this vulnerable ally to get involved in the next presidential election in a way that the president thought would advance his reelection prospects."
More on this: Taylor explained that Rudy Giuliani's efforts led to an "irregular" policy channel was "running contrary to the goals of longstanding US policy." Kent's testimony also expressed alarm at Giuliani's efforts — which he described last month as a "campaign of lies" — that led to the ouster of US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and then the push for investigations.
Following today's first public hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan said, "I think it is a sad chapter for the country but a good day for the facts and the President of the United States."
Another Republican on the intel committee, Rep. Elise Stefanik, called the hearing "an abject failure for the Democrats and for Adam Schiff."
Asked about the White House blocking key witnesses from testifying — like acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. Jordan said, "There is a court case. And I think December 10 they'll rule. We'll find out then."
He added: "We'll see what the court says on Bolton and Mulvaney."
Today's House Intelligence Committee hearing with diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent just wrapped. The hearing — which lasted nearly six hours — marked the first public testimony of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
If you're just reading in now, here are the biggest takeaways:
- The July 26 call: Taylor told Congress today about a July 26 phone call — a conversation that happened one day after Trump's phone call with Ukraine's leader. Taylor testifying that his staff was told of the call, in which President Trump said he cared more about the "investigations of Biden" than Ukraine.
- Giuliani's "irregular" diplomacy: Taylor explained that Rudy Giuliani's efforts led to an "irregular" policy channel was "running contrary to the goals of longstanding US policy." Kent's testimony also expressed alarm at Giuliani's efforts — which he described last month as a "campaign of lies" — that led to the ouster of US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and then the push for investigations.
- Not "never Trumpers": Kent and Taylor were directly asked about President Trump's repeated claim that they are "never Trumpers." They said they were not.
- Hurting diplomats' credibility: Kent and Taylor said it's harder for US officials overseas to do their jobs when American leaders ask foreign powers to investigate their political rivals. "Our credibility is based on a respect for the United States, and if we damage that respect, then it hurts our credibility and makes it more difficult for us to do our jobs," Taylor said.
- About firsthand knowledge: Republican repeatedly went after the witnesses for not hearing from President Trump himself that he wanted Ukraine to launch investigations into his political rivals in exchange for releasing US aid. But remember: the White House has sought to prevent those closer to Trump from appearing.
The House Intel committee just reconvened briefly to vote on a motion brought up by Republican member Mike Conaway earlier today to subpoena the whistleblower to testify in the impeachment inquiry.
On a vote to table the motion, there were 13 ayes from Democrats and nine no votes from Republicans on the committee. The motion was tabled.
After the brief recess, the committee will vote on Republican Rep. Mike Conaway’s motion to subpoena whistleblower in a few minutes.
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff closed today's hearing — which marked the first public testimony in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump — by restating that he did not meet with the whistleblower.
"Some of my colleagues made a statement repeatedly that I've met with the whistleblower, that I know who the whistleblower is," Schiff said. "It was false the first time they said it, false the second time and it will be false the last time they say it."
What this is all about: The whistleblower at the center of the House's impeachment inquiry first contacted the staff of the House Intelligence Committee for guidance before sending the complaint to the Trump administration, according to a spokesman and a new report.
While the panel's staff advised the whistleblower to contact the intelligence community inspector general and seek legal counsel, they did not receive the complaint in advance, wrote Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff said.
Diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent just finished testifying in the first public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry.
The two men are now leaving the room, but lawmakers are staying behind to take up a motion from GOP Rep. Mike Conaway to subpoena the whistleblower to testify.