First public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry
Diplomat George Kent was asked about his experience working with former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Democratic Rep. Andre Carson asked Kent if Yovanovitch was "working hard to combat corruption in Ukraine."
Kent said that Yovanovitch was "dedicated" to help Ukrainians "overcome the legacy of corruption" in the country.
Carson followed up: Now, some in Ukraine probably disliked her efforts to help Ukraine root out corruption. Is that correct?
"As I mentioned in my testimony you can't promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people," Kent responded.
The comment generated laughter in the room and a smirk from Carson who paused and responded, "fair enough."
GOP counsel Steve Castor just invoked the ongoing Justice Department investigation being helmed by US Attorney John Durham into the early days of the Russia probe as a reason why President Trump’s request in a phone call with the Ukrainian leader around the 2016 election could be legitimate.
Ukraine does factor into the Durham probe, though it does not appear to be a top point of investigation for the Justice Department.
A number of Ukrainians who are not members of that country’s government have “volunteered information” to Durham, which he is evaluating, a Justice Department spokeswoman said in September.
Attorney General Bill Barr, who tapped Durham to lead the probe earlier this year, has not communicated with Ukraine, the spokeswoman said. That is a different approach than what the AG has taken with other countries of interest to the Durham probe.
Barr himself has traveled twice to Italy to meet with intelligence officials there about the probe, and he held meetings with senior officials in the UK on the subject on a trip to London over the summer.
After acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appeared to connect the Durham probe and the delay of military aide to Ukraine at a news conference last month, Justice officials were confused and angry, a person familiar with the matter said.
“If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us,” a senior DOJ official said.
President Trump may not be watching today’s hearing, his press secretary Stephanie Grisham claimed. But Trump’s Twitter account is actively retweeting on impeachment.
Trump has tweeted and retweeted 30 times on impeachment so far today.
Trump is scheduled to be in a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Republicans in the Oval Office.
Grisham is certainly watching. She just sent her fifth tweet of the day on impeachment, once again questioning today’s witnesses.
A GOP lawmaker who was involved in the closed-door depositions said in a text message after Rep. Jim Jordan’s questioning of diplomat Bill Taylor: “That’s exactly why we put him on the committee.”
His point, he said, is that Jordan was able to zero in on a central element of the House GOP Trump defense – that nothing was first-hand as it pertained to what President Trump wanted or was asking for with Ukraine.
Asked if that meant he believed GOP counsel Steve Castor wasn’t effective, the lawmaker responded: “Let’s just say we would’ve been better off giving Jordan 45 minutes. I’ll leave it at that.”
Asked if, given the defense, he was concerned about what US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland – who is alleged to have significant first-hand knowledge of the President’s thinking and directives – would say given Taylor’s new testimony today, the lawmaker demurred. “We’ll deal with that next week. One day at a time.”
Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas, listed a slew of media sources quoting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying he felt no pressure from the US in his defense of President Trump.
"The Ukrainian president sitting 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've heard from the Democrats today that's not second-hand information. It's not hearsay, it's not what someone overheard what Sondland say, that was his direct testimony," Ratcliffe said.
He then went to asked Bill Taylor, a diplomat in Ukraine, if he had any evidence that Zelensky was lying.
Taylor responded, saying he had "no doubt" in what the Ukrainian leader said.
Remember: Zelensky told international media that "nobody" pushed him in September during a meeting with President Trump. Trump was sitting next to Zelensky as he made the comments. Later, after consulting with a translator, the Ukraine leader: "I'm sorry but I don't want to be involved (in) democratic open elections of USA."
Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe, talked over each other after the Republican congressman asked, "Where is the impeachable offense?"
Ratcliffe — who was asking questions after Rep. Mike Conaway yielded his time over — asked:
"In this impeachment hearing today where we impeach presidents for treason, 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?"
Taylor began to answer: "Mr. Ratcliffe, if I may respond let me reiterate that I'm not here..."
Ratcliffe said he only had one minute left to ask questions, and kept talking. The two men then both tried to keep speaking.
They eventually suspended the clock so Taylor could answer.
"I would like to say I'm not here to do anything having to do with — decide about impeachment," he said. "That is not what either of us are here for. This is your job."
Watch the moment:
State Department official George Kent just refuted a key Trump talking point.
Kent agreed with Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, who said that Trump’s efforts to secure an investigation into Biden was not a “thoughtful and well-calibrated anti-corruption program.” This built on what Kent told lawmakers in his closed-door deposition last month, when he said asking Ukraine to investigate Biden “is not anti-corruption.”
From the beginning, Trump has argued that his requests to Ukraine were part of a good-faith effort to root out corruption in a notoriously crooked post-Soviet country. But those arguments have never added up, because Trump’s supposed “anti-corruption” campaign was only focused on one person – Biden, a leading opponent in the 2020 campaign – and Trump never brought up “corruption” in past public meetings with Ukrainian leaders.
The debate over whether Trump was targeting a political rival or genuinely trying to end corruption is critical to the impeachment inquiry. Democrats could draft articles of impeachment saying that Trump abuses his powers for political purposes. Republicans could argue that Trump was promoting legitimate US anti-corruption policy in Ukraine. But those GOP arguments have been undercut by Kent and other key witnesses in the inquiry.
Prior to asking the witnesses any questions, Democratic Rep. Jim Himes said, "One of the things I find startling about these proceedings is that, faced with very serious allegations of presidential misconduct, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle don't engage or defend that conduct."
Himes went on to say that, instead, Republicans "spin theories about black ledgers and Steel dossiers and the startling revelation that Ukrainians might have been upset when a presidential candidate suggested that perhaps he would let the Russians keep Crimea."
Himes said Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, in his opening statement, "most disgustingly attacked the extraordinary men and women of the state department and the FBI."
There are 20 House Intelligence Committee members who still get to ask questions.
So far, only Chair Adam Schiff and ranking member Devin Nunes — who gave his time to Rep. Jim Jordan — have completed their questions.
Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut, is asking questions now. Here are the 19 others who will ask questions:
- Rep. Terri Sewell a Democrat from Alabama
- Rep. Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indiana
- Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California
- Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois
- Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California
- Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas
- Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat from Washington
- Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont
- Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York
- Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat from Florida
- Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois
- Rep. Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas
- Rep. Michael Turner, a Republican from Ohio
- Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a Republican from Ohio
- Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah
- Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio
- Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York
- Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas
- Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas