Fresh damning information about U.S. President Donald Trump’s preoccupation with getting the Ukrainian administration to investigate his political rivals by using the U.S. relationship with Ukraine as leverage emerged on November 13 as the first public hearings in the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry got underway.
Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., said that Trump supporter and the U.S. envoy to the E.U, Gordan Sondland had indicated that Mr. Trump cared more about the investigations into his political rivals, than he did about Ukraine per se.
Mr. Taylor, who had provided private testimony to House investigators on October 22, testified regarding new information that he had learned last Friday(November 8) from an aide who had been present during a call between Mr. Sondland and Mr. Trump.
The President was speaking loudly enough for the aide to hear him asking Mr. Sondland about the “investigations”. Following the Sondland-Trump call, Mr. Taylor said, the aide had asked Mr. Sonland what the U.S. President thought of Ukraine, to which Mr. Sondland had said Mr. Trump cares more about the investigations of Joe Biden.
The conversation between Mr. Sondland and Mr. Trump occurred, as per Mr. Taylor, on July 26, a day after the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenksy, which is at the heart of the August 12 whistleblower complaint.
Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate former U.S. Vice President and possible Democratic contender for the White House in 2020, Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, a former member of the board of Ukrainian energy company, Burisma as per a declassified official summary of that call. Mr Trump had also, on that call, asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate alleged Ukranian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Impeachment testimony and related documents released thus far point to $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine and a White House meeting between Mr. Zelenksy and Mr. Trump being quid pro quo for Ukraine opening the investigations Mr. Trump had wanted.
A central role for the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as orchestrating a separate, “irregular” channel of diplomacy between the U.S. and Ukraine has also emerged over the past few weeks of the inquiry. Mr. Taylor described an irregular channel that operated outside the formal channels of U.S. policy – a policy that had bipartisan support since Ukraine’s independence from Russia in 1991.
“… I encountered an informal channel of U.S. policy making unaccountable to Congress. A channel that included, then special envoy Kurt Volker, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, and as I subsequently learned, Mr Guiliani,” Mr Taylor said.
During his opening remarks, Mr. Taylor also went over the highlights of his previous testimony.
“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Mr. Taylor quoted, again, his message from early September, to U.S. envoy to the EU, Gordon Sonland and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker September.
Also recounting elements of his prior private testimony, was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, George Kent.
Mr. Kent had previously testified that the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuiliani, had run a “campaign of lies” against former U.S. envoy to Ukraine , Marie Yovanovitch, prior to Ms Yovanovitch being recalled from her post in May. Ms Yovanovitch who has provided closed-door testimony will testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on Friday.
Part of Mr. Kent’s prior testimony revisited his concerns about Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board. Mr. Kent said that he had told Joe Biden’s office in February 2015 that Hunter’s role at Burisma would create the perception of a conflict of interest while his farther was handing the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy.
“Let me be clear, however, I did not witness any effort by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny,” adding that he [Mr. Kent] and others “consistently advocated” relaunching an investigation into Burisma’s founder.
This is unlikely to be helpful to Republicans who have been trying to turn the impeachment inquiry on to the Bidens – Joe Biden is a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to the presidential race next year. House Republicans want Hunter to testify before the House, a wish that is likely to get past Democrats; witnesses need to be approved by Intelligence Committee Chair, Adam Schiff.
The White House dismissed Wednesday’s proceedings on Capitol Hill. “This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money,” White House Press Secretary, Stephanie Grisham tweeted after the hearing had begun.
Mr. Trump was not watching the televised hearings and called them a “witchhunt” and “hoax” , saying he is “too busy” to watch them but will get a report later. Mr. Trump has scheduled meetings and an afternoon press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
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