President Trump on Friday continued to rail against the ongoing impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats, saying there is no need to hold public hearings because he did nothing wrong in his “perfect” call asking the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. And besides, the president said, “We’re kicking their ass.”
Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn, Trump dismissed what many observers consider damning testimony from current and former administration officials released this week by House investigators.
“I’m not concerned about anything. The testimony has all been fine,” the president said, adding that “for the most part, I’ve never heard of these people. I have no idea who they are.”
RELATED: Gordon Sondland, American ambassador to the E.U.
Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the EU
Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the EU
FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2019, file photo U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, center, arrives for a interview with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
As the impeachment hearings enter their second week - one of the most highly anticipated testimonies will be Wednesday’s appearance from Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU.
Unlike the other witnesses in the inquiry, Sondland is not a career diplomat versed in the protocols of the State Department or a foreign policy expert. He’s a Seattle businessman who gave a million dollars to Trump’s inauguration and later became Trump's pick for envoy to the European Union. But Sondland’s direct interactions with Trump, and testimony from other witnesses about his dealing with Ukraine, have put him front and center in the controversy, over whether Trump made aid to Ukraine contingent on opening an investigation into his political rival, Joe Biden.
Sondland was one of three officials - along with Kurt Volker, the former representative for Ukraine, and Energy secretary Rick Perry - to take the lead on American policy toward Ukraine after Trump abruptly removed the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, Marie Yovanovitch.
Alexander Vindman, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and Ukraine expert on the NSC, said he heard Sondland explicitly press Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden and his son, according to a transcript of his private testimony.
And On Friday David Holmes, a U.S. embassy official in Kiev, told lawmakers in closed-door testimony, that he overheard a phone call between Trump and Sondland, in which the ambassador told the president his Ukrainian counterpart was ready to carry out the investigations. The phone call occurred on July 26, one day after the phone conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy.
The top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor discussed that call in his public hearing.
(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) DIPLOMAT WILLIAM TAYLOR, SAYING:
“The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations.’ Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that 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 [Joe] Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”
Sondland appeared in released texts saying there was no quid pro quo in withholding aid. But after testifying behind closed doors, he then had to revise his testimony to say that by September he had come to view a suspension of U.S. security aid as being held up as leverage to get Ukraine to commit.
Up until now – among the GOP's main defenses of Trump are that there was no quid pro quo, and that no witnesses has spoken directly to Trump about the withheld aid. Democrats hope Sondland could undercut those arguments..
Gordon Sondland headshot, as US Ambassador to the European Union, arriving to testify before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump, graphic element on gray
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland walks to a secure area of the Capitol to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
ARCHIVO - En esta foto del 10 de julio del 2018, el presidente estadounidense Donald Trump es acompañado por Gordon Sondland, embajador ante la Unión Europea, al llegar a la Base Aérea Melsbroek, en Bruselas, Bélgica (AP Foto/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, left, and European Union Vice President Maros Sefcovic speak with reporters about trade as they travel with President Donald Trump, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, aboard Air Force One. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Senior Advisor to the President of the United States Jared Kushner, center, and US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, right, meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, left, listens as European Union Vice President Maros Sefcovic speaks with reporters about trade as he travels with President Donald Trump, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, aboard Air Force One. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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The first public hearings in the impeachment probe will begin Wednesday, when Taylor and Kent will appear on Capitol Hill in an open session.
“They shouldn’t be having public hearings,” Trump said. “This is a hoax. This is just like the Russian witch hunt.”
On Thursday, Trump complained that House rules prevent White House lawyers from defending him during the open hearings in the House.
“It was just explained to me that for next weeks Fake Hearing (trial) in the House, as they interview Never Trumpers and others, I get NO LAWYER & NO DUE PROCESS,” the president tweeted. “It is a Pelosi, Schiff, Scam against the Republican Party and me. This Witch Hunt should not be allowed to proceed!”
The impeachment inquiry itself was triggered by an anonymous whistleblower in the intelligence community who flagged a July 25 phone call during which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens as well as a debunked conspiracy theory advanced by the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the 2016 election. At the time of the call, Trump had ordered that nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine be withheld from Kiev.