The first two witnesses — diplomats William Taylor and George Kent — testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday as the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors Iran thinks it has the upper hand in Vienna — here's why it doesn't MORE shifts to a make-or-break public phase.
Follow The Hill’s complete, live coverage of the historic hearing below:
Trump campaign scoffs at 'third-hand opinions'
President Trump’s 2020 campaign called the testimony Taylor and Kent as “third-hand opinions” dismissing its value in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump.
“The entire world can read the transcript of President Trump’s conversation with [Ukrainian] President Zelensky, so people don’t need to rely on third-party opinions when they can see the facts for themselves,” campaign spokesman Brad ParscaleBrad ParscaleAides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report MORE said in a statement released shortly after the public hearing concluded Wednesday afternoon.
The White House's partial memo of the July 25 call between the leaders is not a transcript, as Trump has called it.
“Despite that, today we heard from Democrats’ hand-picked star witnesses, who together were not on the Ukraine phone call, did not speak directly to President Trump, got third-hand hearsay from one side of a different phone call in a restaurant, and formed opinions based on stories in the pages of the New York Times,” Parscale said.
Schiff denies having met whistleblower in closing remarks
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth Jan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back MORE (D-Calif.) in his closing remarks strongly denied Republican claims that he had met with the anonymous whistleblower who brought forward concerns about President Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Several of my colleagues made the statement repeatedly that I’ve met with the whistleblower, that I know who the whistleblower is,” Schiff 40th time they said it, it will be false the last time they say it.”
Republicans on the Intelligence panel including Reps. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesProposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Devin Nunes's family ordered to reveal who is paying for defamation lawsuit Three key behind-the-scenes figures in Jan. 6 probe MORE (Calif.), Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanWith extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Jim Jordan reveals he had COVID-19 this summer The Memo: Gosar censured, but toxic culture grows MORE (Ohio), and John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeThis Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead DOJ charges two Iranians with interference in 2020 election In dramatic shift, national intelligence director does not rule out 'extraterrestrial' origins for UFOs MORE (Texas) all called on Schiff during the course of Wednesday’s impeachment hearing to allow the whistleblower to testify, with Nunes arguing for the hearings to stop until Republicans had more information on the investigation.
Despite pushback from Republicans on this issue, Schiff praised the bipartisan committee members for being “civil” during the course of the day-long hearing, while also telling witnesses Taylor and Kent that he is concerned by the allegations in their testimony.
“The story that you have shared with us today and your experiences I think is a deeply troubling one,” Schiff said.
Nunes says impeachment hearings should be stopped until Republicans get answers
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) used his closing remarks to call on House Democrats to stop holding impeachment hearings until the Republicans get answers to questions around the investigation.
“We really should stop holding these hearings until we get the answer to three important topics,” Nunes said.
He said Republicans need to understand the “full extent of the Democrats’ prior coordination with the whistleblower and who did the whistleblower coordinate with,” along with the “full extent of Ukraine’s election meddling against the Trump campaign” and finally answers around Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma.
Nunes echoed other Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, including Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and John Ratcliffe (Texas), in also calling on Schiff to allow Biden and the anonymous whistleblower who first brought up concerns around Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to testify before the committee.
“You are not allowing those witnesses to appear before the committee, which I think is a problem,” Nunes said.
Impeachment hearing breaks into laughter after Democrat invites Trump to testify
Democrats watching the hearing broke out in laughter after Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchThe Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid Welch to seek Senate seat in Vermont The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Biden hails infrastructure law, talks with China's Xi MORE (D-Vt.) responded to Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) calls to hear from the whistleblower, whom Jordan said kicked off the impeachment inquiry.
“I say to my colleague, I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there,” Welch said.
Jordan had said that House Democrats are keeping the “guy that started it all,” referring to the whistleblower, from testifying as part of the hearings.
Republicans have requested the whistleblower’s testimony, but House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has repeatedly said the whistleblower will not be identified and he will not allow questions that could lead to their identity being revealed.
Jordan criticizes Democrats for not allowing whistleblower to testify
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) strongly criticized House Democrats for not allowing the anonymous whistleblower who first reported concerns around President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to testify as part of impeachment proceedings.
“There is one witness, one witness that they won’t bring in front of us, that they won’t bring in front of the American people,” Jordan said during questioning. “That’s the guy who started it all, the whistleblower. Nope, 435 members of Congress, and only one gets to know who that is, only one member of Congress has the staff that gets to talk to that person, the rest of us don’t.”
Jordan was referring to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who earlier this week denied a GOP request for the whistleblower to testify, saying that testimony from this individual would be “redundant” and “unnecessary,” citing the information gathered from other sources in the wake of the initial complaint.
Jordan said the whistleblower not testifying meant that not only would members of Congress not “get the chance” to hear from them in person, but the American people would not either.
“This anonymous so-called whistleblower with no firsthand knowledge who is biased against the president, who worked with Joe BidenJoe BidenMarcus Garvey's descendants call for Biden to pardon civil rights leader posthumously GOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors MORE, who is the reason we are all sitting here today will never get the chance to question that individual,” Jordan said.
Jordan’s comments were made shortly after Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) challenged Schiff to “engage in a colloquy” about Schiff’s communications with the whistleblower, which Schiff refused and directed Ratcliffe to direct all questions to the witnesses.
“I guess my question to the witnesses, then, is when are House Republicans going to find out what House Democrats already know, when are we going to find out the details of the contact between Chairman Schiff and the whistleblower?” Ratcliffe said.
Schiff rejects Ratcliffe's colloquy on whistleblower
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) attempted at one point to gain information about House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s (D-Calif.) level of knowledge on the whistleblower, calling for the California Democrat to engage in a colloquy on the topic.
"Earlier Chairman Schiff made reference to a colloquy, and for the public a colloquy is a way for legislatures to clarify an important issue to the public," he said. "So without jeopardizing the whistleblower in any way, in an effort to find out, chairman, what you knew and when you knew it about the whistleblower, I would like you to engage in a colloquy with me."
Schiff denied his request.
"My colleague will address his questions to the witnesses," he shot back.
Ratcliffe then asked the witnesses when they will obtain information about interactions between Schiff or his staff and the whistleblower.
"I guess my question to the witness then is, when are House Republicans going to find out what House Democrats already know? When are we going to find out the details of the contact between Chairman Schiff and the whistleblower? What they met about, when they met, the number of times they met, the discussions that were head?" he continued.
Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellGOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE (D-Calif.) then accused Ratcliffe of breaking committee rules and attempting to undermine whistleblower protections.
"Mr. Chairman, point of order. The gentleman is questioning the chair, which is not permitted under the resolution applicable to [the] hearing or the rules of the House or the committee. The efforts to undermine lawful whistleblowing is contrary to the law and practice of this committee," he said.
Ratcliffe denied he was in violation of the rules, arguing he was not trying to get the witnesses to reveal the identity of the whistleblower
Kent, Taylor say they’re not ‘Never Trumpers’
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) asked Kent and Taylor if they identify as “Never Trumpers,” as the president and some of his allies have accused.
“Just about an hour before the two of you sat down to testify today, the president tweeted multiple times about this hearing, and he put in all caps ‘NEVER TRUMPERS.’ Mr. Kent, are you a ‘Never Trumper?’” Swallwell asked.
“I am a career nonprofessional who serves whatever president is duly elected and carries out the foreign policies of the United States,” Kent responded.
He added that he’s done so for 27 years, serving three Republican and two Democratic presidents.
Swalwell posed the same question to Taylor.
“No sir,” Taylor responded.
Swalwell asked Taylor if he agrees with acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyJan. 6 committee issues latest round of subpoenas for rally organizers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 11, including Pierson, other rally organizers MORE’s assertion during a press conference last month that U.S. aid routinely comes with political conditions and Trump’s critics should “get over it.”
"If we’re talking about political influence meaning attempts to get information that is solely useful for political campaigns, we should not get used to that,” Taylor responded.
Mulvaney had said that the Trump administration and previous administrations set such conditions “all the time.”
“Prior to this administration is this something we would do all the time?” Swalwell asked.
“No sir,” Taylor said.
McConnell on impeachment: ‘We’ll have to have a trial’
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden US could default within weeks absent action on debt limit: analysis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) brushed aside a question on Wednesday about trying to quickly dismiss the articles of impeachment against President Trump, noting the chamber would have to have a trial.
"I don't think there's any question that we have to take up the matter. The rules of impeachment are very clear, we'll have to have a trial. My own view is that we should give people the opportunity to put the case on," McConnell told reporters.
He added about the potential timeframe for an impeachment trial, "on the issue of how long it goes on, it's really kind of up to the Senate. People will have to conclude are they learning something new? At some point we'll get to an end."
McConnell's comments come as there's been chatter among some Senate Republicans that they should quickly try to dismiss any articles of impeachment that are sent over from the House.
Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul: Chris Cuomo firing 'a small step toward CNN regaining any credibility' GOP anger with Fauci rises Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default MORE (R-Ky.), a close ally of Trump's, also told reporters recently that he wanted to be able to quickly to dismiss any articles of impeachment.
But members of leadership, as well as rank-and-file senators, have said they expect to go through a trial.
Quigley: 'You'd have a lot more direct testimony' if White House wasn't blocking witnesses
Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyProgressives cheer, moderates groan as Biden visit caps chaotic week House Democrats urge Pelosi to prioritize aid for gyms House Intel Democrats express doubts about completing Afghan evacuation by deadline MORE (D-Ill.) responded to Republicans’ repeated invocation of the witness’s lack of firsthand knowledge of the conversations he described, noting that many of the direct witnesses were blocked by the White House from appearing.
“We were not able to hear testimony by chief of staff [Mick] Mulvaney, John Eisenberg, Michael Ellis, John BoltonJohn BoltonWhen will Biden declare America's 'One China, One Taiwan' policy? India's S-400 missile system problem Overnight Defense & National Security — GOP unhappy with Afghan vetting MORE, more than a dozen witnesses,” Quigley said. “So I suspect that if you had a problem with hearsay, you’d have a lot more direct testimony and direct evidence if you weren’t blocking that ability. You’d have a lot more documents… that had not yet been turned over by State or any other agencies, is that correct to your knowledge, gentlemen?”
“We’re both here under subpoena. I don’t think either of us is going to comment why others haven’t shown up,” Kent responded.
“But have any of the documents that you turned over to your knowledge been turned over to the committee?” Quigley responded.
“No,” replied Taylor.
Kent says smear campaign against Yovanovitch was ‘ubiquitous’
Kent testified that there was a "ubiquitous" smear campaign against the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine earlier that surfaced on Fox News and the internet.
Kent told lawmakers that he recommended former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch be kept in her post in Ukraine through 2020 to ensure stability at the U.S. Embassy. He credited her for making strides to helping Ukrainians "overcome the legacy of corruption" in the country.
Asked if that may have upset some officials in Ukraine, Kent indicated it likely had.
"As I mentioned in my testimony, you can't promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people," Kent said.
"Fair enough," Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) replied as some in the room audibly chuckled.
Taylor: Zelensky 'cannot afford to be seen deferring to any foreign leader'
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) questioned both Kent and Taylor on why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky might feel compelled to say he was under no pressure from President Trump if that were not the case.
“You would agree that if President Zelensky contradicted President Trump and said, 'Of course I felt pressure, they were holding up $400 million in military assistance we have people dying every day, they would be sophisticated enough to know they would pay a very high price with this president, would they not?” Schiff asked.
“That’s a fair assessment,” Taylor responded.
Schiff went on to ask if, in addition to potential retaliation from Trump should Zelensky contradict him publicly, “he also has to worry about how he’s perceived domestically, doesn’t he, Ambassador Taylor?”
“President Zelensky is very sensitive to the views of the Ukrainian people who indeed are very attentive to Ukrainian-U.S. politics,” Taylor answered.
“If Zelensky were to say, ‘I was ready to capitulate and agree to these investigations, I was ready to go on CNN until the aid was restored,’ that would obviously be hurtful to him back home would it not?” asked Schiff.
“He cannot afford to be seen deferring to any foreign leader. He is very confident in his own abilities and he knows that the Ukrainian people expect him to be clear and defend Ukrainian interests,” Taylor replied.
GOP lawmaker says witness testimony is hearsay
Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerHouse lawmakers press Pentagon over Afghanistan withdrawal Milley says he wouldn't 'tip off the enemy' to 'surprise' plans Lawmakers, Biden official call for bipartisan action on opioid addiction MORE (R-Ohio) used his questioning to highlight that the two witnesses did not have direct contact with Trump and described their testimony as hearsay, saying it wouldn’t be admissible in a courtroom.
“We’re not in a court, gentlemen, and if we were, the Sixth Amendment would apply and so would rules on hearsay and opinion and most of your testimonies would not be admissible whatsoever,” Turner said.
He went on to question Taylor, noting his testimony relied on accounts from other officials and questioning the accuracy of his claims.
Turner asked Taylor whether it was possible that he could have been “mistaken.”
“I am here to tell you what I know,” Taylor said, later saying he was relaying what he heard others tell him and would only testify about what he knew.
Turner pressed Taylor on whether the individuals he spoke to could have been wrong.
“People make mistakes,” Taylor replied.
Turner was previously one of the few Republicans who took issue with Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, describing it was “not OK” after a rough transcript and whistleblower complaint were released.
Taylor: 'I don't consider myself a star witness for anything'
Taylor contradicted Rep Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) assertion that he was meant to be Democrats’ “star witness” in the impeachment hearings.
Jordan, a key ally of President Trump’s, repeatedly pressed Taylor on his lack of firsthand knowledge of several of the relevant Ukraine conversations, scoffing at the idea that he represents a star witness on impeachment.
"I don't consider myself a star witness for anything," Taylor said in response.
“They do,” Jordan responded, indicating the Democratic majority on the committee.
“I’m responding to your questions. I’m not here to take one side or the other or advocate any particular outcome,” Taylor responded. “My understanding is only coming from people I talked to.”
At one point, Jordan told Taylor he's "seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this back and forth,” saying the diplomat was describing “six people having four conversations in one sentence.”
Jordan went on to note that Taylor had met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky three times during the period the aid was delayed and that the connection between it and the announcement of investigations never came up.
When Taylor said his “clear understanding” was that the two were linked, Jordan responded “Your clear understanding was obviously wrong, because it didn’t happen, … where did you get this clear understanding?”
Taylor responded that it was based on conversations with Sondland.
GOP counsel acknowledges ‘irregular channel’ between U.S. and Ukraine
GOP counsel Steve Castor acknowledged what both he and Taylor described as an “irregular channel” of policymaking between the U.S. and Ukraine during his line of questioning.
Castor asked Taylor, a career diplomat, why he did not “wrest control” away from the back channel efforts.
Taylor responded that he chose not to due to the “regular” and “irregular” channels both “going in the same direction” in terms of prioritizing a meeting between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Taylor during his opening statement on Wednesday described an “informal channel” that included Volker, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans eager to take on Spanberger in Virginia Republicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party College football move rocks Texas legislature MORE, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and private Trump attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiRudy Giuliani becomes grandfather after son welcomes child Press: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Former NYC police commissioner to testify before Jan. 6 committee, demands apology MORE. This was opposed to the “regular channel,” which according to Taylor involved “formal diplomatic processes.”
Castor continued to refer to the policymaking involving Volker, Sondland, Giuliani and others as the “irregular channel,” including when questioning Taylor on whether he had had any contact with Giuliani as part of “irregular channel business” and whether Taylor had raised concerns about this policymaking channel.
Castor asked Taylor about whether it was "outlandish" for Sondland to be involved in Ukrainian policymaking, to which Taylor said it was "unusual." Castor commented in response that "it may be irregular, but it's certainly not outlandish."
White House hits witnesses as 'bureaucrats with a foreign policy gripe'
White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamBiden briefly transfers power to Harris while he gets colonoscopy Grisham thinks Trump will run in 2024 and have no 'guardrails' Sunday shows preview: Senate votes to raise debt ceiling; Facebook whistleblower blasts company during testimony MORE dismissed the significance of testimony from Kent and Taylor, admonishing them as "two bureaucrats with a foreign policy gripe."
"Their own testimony contradicts the Dems false quid pro quo narrative," Grisham tweeted.
Dems star witnesses can’t provide any first hand knowledge of any wrongdoing by @POTUS. Their own testimony contradicts the Dems false quid pro quo narrative. These are essentially two bureaucrats with a foreign policy gripe.— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) November 13, 2019
The White House and Republicans are likely to seize on the fact that some of the most damning aspects of Taylor's testimony is based on his conversations with others.
Taylor testified earlier that he heard from a staffer that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said Trump was more interested in Ukraine's investigations into his political rivals than the country itself.
Schiff interruption draws Republican objections
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) interrupted the Republican counsel’s opening questions to caution Taylor and Kent about answering questions that center on “facts not in evidence”
The interruption came as the counsel pressed Taylor regarding allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Schiff’s comments received GOP grumbles, including remarks from Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertJan. 6 organizers used burner phones to communicate with White House: report Gohmert launches official run for Texas attorney general GOP lawmaker fined ,000 for failing to complete House security screening MORE (R-Texas), who was watching the hearing as a spectator.
“Are you kidding me? You have the nerve to say that?” Gohmert loudly stated in response.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), who sits on the Intelligence panel, also objected, suggesting Schiff was applying “the federal rules of evidence” only during the minority questioning.
Ratcliffe said that he could have objected to numerous earlier questions from the majority on the basis that they assumed facts in evidence.
“I sat here through the first 45 minutes and had objections regarding facts not in evidence and leading,” Ratcliffe said.
Nunes tries to turn focus to alleged Ukrainian 2016 meddling
House Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Devin Nunes (Calif.) tried to shift focus to alleged Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election as he started his questioning, despite Kent’s earlier responses to Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman that there is “no factual basis” to support such a theory.
“The Democrats downplay, ignore, or outright deny the many indications that Ukrainians actually did meddle in the election. A shocking about-face for people who for three years argued that foreign election meddling was an intolerable crime that threatened the heart of our democracy,” Nunes said.
Democrats’ “denial,” he said, is a “necessary part of their argument.”
“After all, if there actually were indications of Ukraine meddling ... then President Trump would have a perfectly good reason to want to find out what happened,” he said.
Nunes cited a Politico report from 2017 over an alleged push from Ukrainian officials to help 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE’s campaign.
Trump: 'It’s a hoax, I’m too busy to watch it'
President Trump railed against the House impeachment inquiry during an Oval Office meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday, calling it a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.”
Trump also said he had been too busy to watch Wednesday’s hearing and hadn’t been briefed, while accusing House Democrats of using “television lawyers” to conduct their questioning.
“I’m too busy to watch it. It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax, I’m too busy to watch it. So, I’m sure I’ll get a report,” Trump told reporters when asked whether he had been watching the hearing.
“There’s nothing — I have not been briefed. There’s nothing there. I see they’re using lawyers that are television lawyers, they took some guys off television. You know. I’m not surprised to see it, because [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam] Schiff can’t do his own questions,” Trump continued.
Trump is meeting with Erdoğan at the White House on Wednesday and the two are scheduled to hold a joint press conference later in the afternoon.
Republicans begin their witness questioning
The House Intelligence Committee has gaveled back in the open hearing, which marks the start of a 45-minute round of questioning for ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Republicans’ staff counsel, Steve Castor, who are expected to grill Taylor about the testimony he just laid out.
Dems wrap first 45-minute questioning round
Democrats wrapped up their first round of 45-minute questioning, with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asking if a break was desired.
Republicans will begin their own 45-minute round following the recess.
Kent testifies that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 elections
Kent testified during questions from Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman that despite Trump’s belief that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 elections, the real meddling came from Russia.
When asked by Goldman whether there was any “factual basis” to support the claim that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 elections, Kent responded that “to my knowledge, there is no factual basis, no.”
Kent instead noted that “it’s amply clear that Russian interference was at the heart of interference in the 2016 election cycle.”
The intelligence community, the Senate Intelligence Committee and former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE have all previously concluded that Moscow conducted a sweeping and systematic interference campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 elections, using both hacking and social media disinformation efforts.
Kent was also asked about Trump’s comments during the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in regards to Ukraine potentially being in possession of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) server from cybersecurity group Crowdstrike. Crowdstrike investigated the DNC’s breach in 2016.
Kent said he had “not heard of Crowdstrike” prior to the phone call, and that he was “not aware of any Ukrainian connection to the company.”
Democratic counsel reads directly from July 25 call partial transcript
After confirming with Kent and Taylor that neither was on the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman read directly from the partial transcript of the call released by the White House.
“I want to spend a little time reading the transcript — as we’ve been encouraged to do,” he said, referring to Trump’s repeated entreaties to “read the transcript” of what he’s called a “perfect” call.
Both Kent and Taylor said they knew that U.S. military aid to Kyiv had been frozen at the time of the call.
Goldman noted excerpts from the call transcript, including Trump asking Zelensky to “do us a favor” after the Ukrainian leader brought up the need for military assistance.
Even as the hearing was set to begin, Trump repeated his call to "READ THE TRANSCRIPT!" on Twitter.
Hoyer calls GOP efforts to out whistleblower 'despicable'
Amid GOP efforts to subpoena the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on MORE (D-Md.) denounced the push as witness intimidation.
President Trump and congressional Republicans have been pushing to out the whistleblower, who remains anonymous, and demand the individual's testimony.
"There is no need for this whistleblower, period. And every time Republicans continue to harp on the whistleblower is simply and solely and clearly an attempt to not only intimidate this whistleblower, but to intimidate others from coming forward. I think it's despicable," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.
"There are criminal statutes which prohibit people from trying to intimidate witnesses," Hoyer added.
The complaint from the intelligence community whistleblower on Trump's relations with Ukraine originally kicked off the House impeachment inquiry.
Taylor: Trump felt 'wronged' by Ukraine
Taylor told Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman that President Trump felt he had been “wronged” by Ukraine in the 2016 election and was owed recompense before he agreed to release military aid the country.
“It’s hard to understand, but there was a feeling by President Trump that he had a feeling of having been wronged by the Ukrainians, and so this was something he felt they owed him to fix that wrong,” Taylor said.
Asked by Goldman whether Trump considered the investigations into 2016 election, the Biden family and Burisma necessary to “fix the wrong,” Taylor confirmed he did.
Goldman further questioned Taylor on the Ukrainian president’s public claims that he felt no pressure to announce any investigations to receive the aid.
“I know that the Ukrainians were very concerned about the security assistance, and I know that they were preparing to make a public statement,” Taylor responded. “Those are the two pieces that I know.”
White House dismisses 'boring' impeachment inquiry
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham blasted the impeachment inquiry as “boring” and a “sham” and accused House Democrats of wasting taxpayer money in a tweet sent out during Wednesday’s proceedings.
Grisham argued Democrats should instead be working to pass the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
“This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money. Congress should be working on passing USMCA, funding our govt & military, working on reduced drug pricing & so much more. @realDonaldTrump is working right now-the dems should follow his lead!” Grisham tweeted
Taylor reads out text messages to Volker
Taylor, at the request of Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman, read into the record text messages he had sent in which he described conditioning aid on political investigations as “crazy.”
"As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor wrote in the Sept. 9 text message to former special representative for Ukraine Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails CNN obtains audio of 2019 Giuliani call linked to Ukraine meddling allegations GOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe MORE.
“It’s one thing to try to leverage a meeting with the White House, it’s another thing, I thought, to leverage security assistance to a country at war dependent on both the security assistance and the demonstration of support,” Taylor told Goldman, explaining his reaction to the delay of aid. “It was much more alarming.”
Democrats schedule additional closed-door witness depositions
Democrats on Wednesday scheduled two more closed-door depositions amid their first public impeachment hearing, in a sign that Democrats are still working on conducting private interviews despite beginning the open phase of their inquiry.
According to an official working on impeachment, David Holmes, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is expected to testify in closed session on Friday, and Mark Sandy, an official at the White House Office of Management and Budget, is expected to testify privately on Saturday.
Their attendance, however, is not guaranteed. The committees have given notice of depositions with administration officials who ultimately defied subpoenas seeking their testimony, citing White House orders blocking the appearances.
Taylor: ‘More Ukrainians would die’ without U.S. aid
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) questioned Taylor on the possible impact of delayed or withdrawn U.S. military assistance to Ukraine amid its conflict with Russia.
“This assistance allows the Ukrainian military to deter further incursions by the Russians against Ukrainian territory,” Taylor replied. "If that further incursion takes place, more Ukrainians would die."
The assistance, Taylor explained, provide “a deterrent effect” and allowed Ukraine to “negotiate from a little more strength.”
“If we withdraw or suspend or threaten to withdraw our security systems, that’s a message to the Ukrainians but also … to the Russians, who are looking for any sign of weakness or any sign that we are withdrawing our assistance to Ukraine,” he added.
Russian and Chinese aggression, Taylor added, had international implications because they threaten the status quo that “kept the peace in Europe for nearly 70 years.”
Democrats begin questioning witnesses for 45-minute round
Democrats began their 45 minutes of questioning from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and panel counsel Daniel Goldman the two witnesses following the completion of opening statements.
Schiff began by asking Taylor about a phone call his staff overheard between Sondland and Trump.
When the chairman asked Taylor whether Trump's voice on the call was loud enough for the staff member to hear, Taylor replied: “It was.”
White House says Trump is not watching the hearing
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham asserted Wednesday that President Trump has been in the Oval Office since about 8 a.m. and that he is not watching impeachment hearings.
"He's in the Oval in meetings. Not watching. He's working," Grisham told an inquiring reporter, adding that she had just been in a meeting with the president.
Trump spent the hours before the hearing tweeting out quotes from Fox News hosts ripping Democrats and decrying the witnesses as "Never Trumpers."
But the president has not tweeted since the hearing was gaveled in, aside from sharing a White House video dismissing the hearing as a "hoax." His publicly released schedule is clear of events until noon, when he welcomes the Turkish president for an official Washington visit.
Taylor says he heard Trump cared more about Biden probe than Ukraine
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said in his opening statement that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told a member of his staff in July that President Trump cared more about an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden than Ukraine itself.
Taylor described the conversation relayed to him last week by a member of his staff in a copy of his opening remarks at the first hearing in House impeachment inquiry on Wednesday.
The conversation took place on July 26, the day after Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which he raised investigations into 2016 election interference and the Biden family.
“Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations,’” Taylor’s written opening remarks read.
“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 Biden, which [Trump attorney Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for,” the remarks continue.
NEW: The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William Taylor, says that a member of his staff heard President Trump on a phone call asking Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about "the investigations."— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) November 13, 2019
More: https://t.co/W0BhNWQRk3 #ImpeachmentPBS pic.twitter.com/tJGJWtFfRC
Trump protester endures the cold outside impeachment hearing
There are not many people braving the cold of D.C. Wednesday morning to protest outside the Longworth Office Building, where the impeachment hearing is being conducted. But Stephen Parlato is an exception.
He came in from Colorado for the opportunity to encourage those passing by on Independence Avenue to vote Trump out of office — if the impeachment effort fails to remove him first.
"I'm terribly concerned about the need to put an end to this criminal presidency," Parlato said, adding that Trump is "encouraging despots around the globe."
Temperatures in Washington were hovering around 32 degrees Wednesday morning, but felt more like 23 with the windchill. Parlato didn't seem to mind. He is from Boulder, after all.
Also, he said, "I'm wearing three pairs of socks."
McConnell: Impeachment 'crowding out' legislation
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knocked House Democrats minutes after they launched their first public hearing, arguing that the impeachment fight was consuming time meant for legislation.
"It's hardly surprising that this partisan journey is not yielding a neutral process. Unfortunately it's also crowding out important legislation for the American people," McConnell said from the Senate floor.
He noted that the National Defense Authorization Act had passed for nearly 60 straight years but accused Democrats of currently stalling the bill.
"These are priorities that are languishing as impeachment marches on," he said, adding that Wednesday's hearing was "almost three years into House Democrats' quest to impeach the president."
Kent laments involvement of foreign powers in investigations
Kent in his opening remarks emphasized that U.S. law enforcement should follow the institutional mechanisms in place if the government wants to pursue a criminal investigation, rather than appealing directly to a foreign leader.
The State Department official appeared to be discussing claims that Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open two investigations that would benefit him politically: One into interference in the 2016 presidential election and another into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s top 2020 rivals.
“As a general principle, I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country,” Kent told lawmakers during his opening statement.
“If there is any criminal nexus for activity in the United States, then U.S. law enforcement should pursue that case. If we think there has been some criminal act overseas that violates U.S. law, we have the institutional mechanisms to address that. It could be through the Justice Department and FBI agents assigned oversees or through treaty mechanisms, such as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty,” he continued.
He also emphasized what he viewed as “unfortunate” alleged campaigns against public servants who are working to advance U.S. interests in Ukraine.
In particular, Kent appeared to be pointing to the shadowy efforts by Rudy Giuliani, associates of the president’s personal lawyer and “corrupt” Ukrainian representatives who sought to oust U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Kent told lawyers that these attacks hurt U.S. efforts to build a strong bilateral relationship with Kyiv.
Kent also said he is coming forward “in defense of our Constitution,” pointing to his years of public service.
“I have served proudly as a nonpartisan career Foreign Service officer for more than 27 years, under five presidents, three Republicans and two Democrats. As I mentioned in my opening comments last month in the closed-door deposition, I represent the third generation of my family to have chosen a career in public service and sworn the oath all U.S. public servants do, in defense of our Constitution,” Kent said in his opening remarks.
GOP motions to subpoena whistleblower
Republican lawmakers on the committee jumped in ahead of opening statements from Wednesday's witnesses to call for to subpoena the whistleblower who first raised concerns about Trump's July 25 call with the Ukrainian president.
Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm If Congress can't work together to address child hunger we're doomed Ex-Rep. Mike Conaway, former aide launch lobbying firm MORE (R-Texas) motioned that the committee subpoena the whistleblower for a closed-door hearing. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was added to the committee to bolster Trump's defense, pushed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for details on when the panel might vote to subpoena the whistleblower.
Schiff said the committee would have to vote to subpoena the whistleblower and that such a vote would wait until after witness testimony.
Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikGOP beginning to jockey for post-election leadership slots Mace fires back at Greene: 'Bat---- crazy' Republicans eager to take on Spanberger in Virginia MORE (R-N.Y.) questioned Schiff on whether he would block lawmakers from asking certain questions of witnesses. Schiff responded that he would only do so if members were seeking to publicize the identity of the whistleblower.
"We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower's identity, and I'm disturbed to hear members of the committee ... seek to undermine those protections by outing the whistleblower," Schiff said.
Trump and his Republican allies have made the anonymous whistleblower a central part of their efforts to undermine allegations of wrongdoing by the president. Trump and Republicans have called for the whistleblower to testify, despite additional testimony and documents corroborating the bulk of the individual's original claims.
GOP members of the Intelligence Committee on Wednesday displayed a poster that alleged Schiff has known the identity of the whistleblower for more than 90 days.
But Schiff has said those claims are false and that he does not know the person's identity.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Donald Trump Jr.Don TrumpCourt orders release of some redacted passages of Mueller report How Trump uses fundraising emails to remain undisputed leader of the GOP Donald Trump Jr. joins Cameo MORE are among those who have tweeted out the name of the person they believe is the whistleblower, despite federal laws offering protections to those who flag government abuse through the proper channels.
Witnesses are sworn in
Both Taylor and Kent stood, raised their right hands and pledged to tell the whole truth during the open hearing.
Ranking member says witnesses passed Democrats’ ‘auditions’
House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) described the impeachment proceedings as a “spectacle doing great damage to our country” during his opening statement on Wednesday, saying that Congress and multiple state agencies have “lost the confidence of millions of Americans” as a result.
“By undermining the president who they are supposed to be serving, elements of the FBI, the Department of Justice and now the State Department, have lost the confidence of millions of Americans who believe that their vote should count for something,” Nunes said. “It will take years, if not decades, to restore faith in these institutions.”
Nunes also harshly criticized how House Democrats have handled the impeachment proceedings during the closed-door hearings that have taken place over the past several weeks, congratulating the witnesses on “passing the Democrats’ star chamber auditions.”
“It seems you agreed, wittingly or unwittingly, to participate in a drama. But the main performance — the Russia hoax — has ended, and you’ve been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel,” Nunes told witnesses Taylor and Kent.
Nunes said he hoped to get answers on whether the anonymous whistleblower coordinated with Democrats on impeachment efforts, the full extent to which Ukraine meddled in the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, and Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Schiff describes impeachment inquiry as move to protect future of the presidency in opening remarks
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) in his opening remarks described the impeachment inquiry as a move to protect the future of the presidency, pointing to the president’s efforts to have his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and unfounded claims of interference in the 2016 election.
“The matter is as simple, and as terrible, as that. Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief,” Schiff said at the start of the first public hearing.
Schiff claimed the facts gathered in their impeachment inquiry are “not seriously contested,” laying out key parts of testimony from a range of witness depositions that were given in recent weeks behind closed doors.
Schiff said Giuliani, on behalf of the president, pressed Ukraine to open two politically motivated investigations to help boost his reelection chances in 2020.
“Beginning in January of this year, the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, pressed Ukrainian authorities to investigate Burisma, the country’s largest natural gas producer, and the Bidens, since Vice President Joe Biden was seen as a strong potential challenger to Trump,” Schiff said.
“Giuliani also promoted a debunked conspiracy that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the 2016 election. The nation’s intelligence agencies have stated unequivocally that it was Russia, not Ukraine, that interfered in our election. But Giuliani believed this conspiracy theory, referred to as ‘Crowdstrike,’ shorthand for the company that discovered the Russian hack, would aid his client’s reelection.”
Ratcliffe opens with parliamentary inquiry
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) chimed in at the outset of the hearing to try and pin down how many rounds of questioning Schiff would allow staff counsel to conduct before lawmakers were able to question witnesses.
"If possible, we'd like to know the rules of engagement before we get started," said Ratcliffe, a key Trump ally on the committee and onetime nominee for director of national intelligence.
Staff counsel for both Democrats and Republicans will be allowed to question witnesses for 45 minutes at a time uninterrupted, according to rules established prior to the hearing. Schiff told Ratcliffe that he had not decided how many rounds of questioning the counsels would get before allowing lawmakers to take over.
"We will see how the first period goes and how much material we're able to get through," Schiff said, leaving the door open for a second round of 45-minute blocks for each side.
Witnesses arrive ahead of first public hearing
Taylor and Kent arrived quietly around 10:05 a.m., taking their seats at the witness table as a blitz of cameras clicked capture photos of these witnesses.
Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat to Ukraine, has arrived for the first impeachment opening hearing. pic.twitter.com/OShbxOmEI8— Olivia Beavers (@Olivia_Beavers) November 13, 2019
House Republicans claim seats to watch hearing
A group of House Republicans, including some of the president’s fiercest defenders, began to claim spectator seats almost an hour before the hearing was set to begin.
The group included Reps. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth Holding defiant Trump witnesses to account, Jan. 6 committee carries out Congress's constitutional role Prosecutors say North Carolina woman deserves prison for bringing 14-year-old to Capitol riot MORE (R-N.C.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), among others.
We have a group of House Republicans lining up to watch the hearing, including Reps. Meadows, Biggs, Gohmert. pic.twitter.com/Rh1F0pMngP— Olivia Beavers (@Olivia_Beavers) November 13, 2019
Democrats also grabbed seats to watch the historic hearing.
Republicans have also set up props/signs — including one about a tweet by the whistleblower’s lawyer that has attracted GOP scrutiny pic.twitter.com/HVPBRKpLVg— Olivia Beavers (@Olivia_Beavers) November 13, 2019
Taylor and Kent were subpoenaed ahead of impeachment hearing
Both witnesses testifying on Wednesday were issued subpoenas before their appearance, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry.
"The House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas this morning to Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent prior to the public hearing," the official said.
The move is not surprising. The panel has consistently subpoenaed witnesses to testify behind closed doors in connection with the investigation, as the White House has sought to prevent individuals from cooperating. In some cases, witnesses have evaded subpoenas by not showing up. Both Taylor and Kent were subpoenaed for depositions last month. Transcripts of their private testimony have since been released.
Trump launches Twitter attack ahead of House hearing
President Trump went on the offensive Wednesday morning ahead of the first public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry, ripping into top Democrats and decrying members of his own administration set to testify as “Never Trumpers.”
Trump took to Twitter in the hours before the first of several hearings that will shape the remainder of his presidency. He tweeted out all-caps mantras that he has deployed for weeks to deflect allegations of wrongdoing and quoted Fox News hosts who railed against Democrats leading the impeachment proceedings.
Trump resorted to previous characterizations of impeachment witnesses as “Never Trumpers” and demanded the public read the transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky, which he has described as “perfect,” despite the document being a key piece of evidence in Democrats’ case.
“NEVER TRUMPERS!” Trump tweeted roughly two hours before the first public impeachment hearing was scheduled to begin.
“READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” he tweeted moments later, sharing the rallying cry that the president’s campaign has had printed on T-shirts.
Democrats compare notes as hearing approaches
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are huddling Wednesday morning in the Capitol basement in an eleventh-hour preparation session for their 10 a.m. hearing — the first public presidential impeachment hearing in two decades.
Panel members Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierWar of words escalates in House GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Texas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson announces retirement at end of term MORE (D-Calif.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroIsrael says blacklisted NSO Group 'has nothing to do' with government policies Hillicon Valley — The race to report cyber breaches Lawmakers call on Biden administration to take further steps against spyware groups MORE (D-Texas) were seen entering the secure room in the Capitol basement — the same spot they'd conducted their closed-door depositions over the last seven weeks — at roughly 8:30 a.m.
A source familiar with the preparations, which included an initial meeting of committee members on Tuesday, said the process consists largely of a top-down designation of topics to ensure there isn't too much doubling up when it comes time for lawmakers to ask questions of the witnesses.
"What they'll do is they'll break up the questions, and the line-up questioning, the assignments for topics for everybody," the source said.
8 in 10 say there is little or no chance they will change their minds on impeaching Trump: poll
An overwhelming majority of respondents in a new poll says they have made up their minds about whether to impeach President Trump.
The survey from Politico–Morning Consult released early Wednesday found 62 percent of respondents said there is no chance they could change their minds regarding impeachment, with another 19 percent reporting there’s only a small chance of doing so.
Trump echoes Limbaugh: 'Partisan sham'
President Trump echoed a statement from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh early Wednesday, calling the impeachment inquiry a "partisan sham."
"'Millions of Americans will see what a partisan sham this whole thing is.' Rush Limbaugh @foxandfriends," Trump tweeted three hours before the first public impeachment hearing was set to begin.
“Millions of Americans will see what a partisan sham this whole thing is.” Rush Limbaugh @foxandfriends Also, why is corrupt politician Schiff allowed to hand over cross examination to a high priced outside lawyer. Did that lawyer ever work for me, which would be a conflict?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2019
Trump also appeared to suggest without evidence that a Democratic counsel on the House Intelligence Committee who is expected to play a significant role in Wednesday's questioning may have once worked for him. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is expected to yield much of his time to Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York who briefly served as a legal analyst on MSNBC, where he was critical of Trump.
"Also, why is corrupt politician Schiff allowed to hand over cross examination to a high priced outside lawyer. Did that lawyer ever work for me, which would be a conflict?" Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Trump did not name Goldman. There is no evidence Goldman ever worked for the president.