First public impeachment hearing showcases new details about Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate Bidens

Impeachment proceedings against President Trump entered a public phase Wednesday morning, giving the nation its first look at the previously unknown men and women who will testify that the president abused his office.

The first two witnesses, a pair of veteran diplomats, gave riveting testimony about their experience of watching the Trump administration withhold vital security assistance to Ukraine this past summer, at a time when the country was under attack from Russia.

William B. Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official in charge of European and Eurasian affairs, told the House Intelligence Committee that Trump and some of his representatives made it clear to Ukraine that it would not receive the nearly $400 million in assistance unless authorities there announced an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and his involvement with a Ukrainian energy company.

Taylor described a Sept. 7 phone call in which a National Security Council official relayed Trump’s instructions to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

“President Trump told Ambassador Sondland he was not asking for a quid pro quo. But President Trump did insist that President [Volodymyr] Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself,” Taylor said.

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First public hearings of Trump's impeachment inquiry features two veteran diplomats testimony
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First public hearings of Trump's impeachment inquiry features two veteran diplomats testimony
Career Foreign Service officer George Kent, left, and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, right, are sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, and career Foreign Service officer George Kent, both to the right, are sworn in before they testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. Committee members are seated left. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, left, and Career Foreign Service officer George Kent are sworn in prior to testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Photo via AP)
Top US diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on November 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie US aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) (L), speaks with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) (C), and Republican Counsel Steve Castor during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)
Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman asks questions of witnesses US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 13, 2019. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / POOL / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Top US diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on November 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie US aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman questions top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. as Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) (R), Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) (L) and Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) listen during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)
Chairman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, speaks during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, with witnesses Ukrainian Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent testifying, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 13, 2019. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by JIM LO SCALZO / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JIM LO SCALZO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Republican Representative from California Devin Nunes (L) and legal counsel Steve Castor (R) listen to Charge d'Affaires at the US embassy in Ukraine Bill Taylor during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC,on November 13, 2019. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by JIM LO SCALZO / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JIM LO SCALZO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
US Representative Jim Jordan (R), Republican of Ohio, attends the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, with witnesses Ukrainian Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent testifying, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 13, 2019. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / POOL / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Shadows cover a Boston Globe front page headline stating "THE CASE TO IMPEACH, FOR ALL TO HEAR" posted at the Newseum on November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) listens during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump, with witnesses top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William B. Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George P. Kent testifying, on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)
Chairman Adam Schiff (L), Democrat of California, and Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R), Republican of California, during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, with witnesses Ukrainian Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent testifying, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 13, 2019. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / POOL / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr. (C) listens to opening statements before providing testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are making a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate political rivals in exchange for military aid and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs looks on during the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC on November 13, 2019. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Charge d'Affaires at the US embassy in Ukraine Bill Taylor (L) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia George Kent (R) are sworn in to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald J. Trump, on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump.(Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images)
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs looks on during the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC on November 13, 2019. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George P. Kent testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George P. Kent testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Members of the media work as top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George P. Kent testify before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are trying to build a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rival in exchange for military aide and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ukrainian Ambassador William Taylor (C-L from back) and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent (C-R from back) testify during the first public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 13, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / POOL / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs and Ukrainian Ambassador Bill Taylor(front), the top diplomat in the US embassy in Ukraine arrive in the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC on November 13, 2019. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
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Taylor described attempts by Sondland to justify Trump’s behavior by saying that the president “is a businessman” and that “when a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something … the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”

“I argued … that the explanation made no sense,” Taylor testified Wednesday. “The Ukrainians did not owe President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was crazy.”

Taylor also relayed new information that he had not known when he testified in a closed-door deposition on Oct. 22.

The day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky during which he asked the Ukrainian leader to “do us a favor” and look into Hunter Biden, a Taylor staffer was at a restaurant in Kyiv with Sondland when the ambassador to the EU called Trump on a cellphone to report on meetings he had attended that day.

Taylor said his staffer could hear Trump talking loudly enough to understand him and heard the president ask Sondland “about the investigations.”

After the call ended, Taylor’s staffer asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine.

“Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden,” Taylor said.

Kent’s and Taylor’s testimony was preceeded by opening statements by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

Those statements, and some mild procedural jousting by other Republicans on the committee, took up to 40 minutes.

Schiff’s opening statement laid out the case for impeachment in broad strokes. The basic facts of the matter, he said, “are not seriously contested.”

Trump, Schiff said, pressured Ukraine to take actions that were not in the U.S. national interest but were “in Donald Trump’s personal interest and in the interest of his 2020 reelection campaign.”

The fact that the aid was ultimately released on Sept. 11 is not a defense, Schiff said, because that was “only after Congress began its investigation,” following a whistle-blower complaint filed on Aug. 12, and after “members of Congress began asking uncomfortable questions about quid pro quos.”

“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” Schiff concluded.

And Schiff said that the defense of Trump’s conduct by White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was “breath-taking.”

“Get over it,” Mulvaney said in a White House press conference on Oct. 17, adding, “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

Schiff, who read his opening statement in a low-key monotone, said that the committee would explore the facts of the matter “without rancor if we can.”

By contrast, Nunes was visibly angry as he launched broadsides at Democrats who he said were conducting a “carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”

Nunes began his statement by listing ways he believed Democrats had gone too far in investigating whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with the Russian government.

“It makes them the last people on earth with the credibility to hurl more preposterous allegations at their political opponents,” Nunes said. “We’re supposed to take these people at face value.”

Nunes even mocked the witnesses. “I’d like to congratulate you for qualifying for passing the Democrats star chamber auditions,” he told Kent, a diplomat with decades of experience, and Taylor, who served 18 months as a rifle platoon and company commander in the Vietnam war and was awarded the Bronze Star medal.

Taylor, however, said that while he had been called as part of an impeachment inquiry, he wanted to clarify his own purpose for appearing.

“I am not here to take one side or the other or to advocate for one particular outcome. My sole purpose is to provide facts as I know them,” Taylor said.

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