House holds first public impeachment hearing

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The Latest on the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump (all times local):

11:12 a.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine says his staff recently told him they overheard President Donald Trump speaking on the phone to another diplomat about investigations.

William Taylor made the statement Wednesday in the first public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry.

Taylor says some of his staff were at a restaurant with Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on the day after the July 25 call between Trump and new leader of Ukraine.

Taylor told the committee that Sondland called Trump from the restaurant and the staff could hear Trump on the phone asking about “the investigations.”

Sondland told the president that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.

The House is looking into allegations that Trump asked Ukraine to dig up dirt on the son of his Democratic rival Joe Biden and potential interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

Trump has said he did nothing wrong.


11: 03 a.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine tells House lawmakers investigating impeachment that he noticed there were two policy channels operating with Ukraine, a “regular” and an “irregular” one.

William Taylor says the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was guiding requests through the irregular channel.

Taylor says it slowly became clear to him that conditions were placed on Ukraine’s new president.

He had to order investigations into possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and also look into Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Taylor is testifying Wednesday in the first public hearings in the House impeachment


10:55 a.m.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is trying to turn public impeachment hearings into a fundraising boon.

The campaign has emailed and texted supporters urging them to give.

And they’re setting a fundraising goal of $3 million over the next 24 hours.

Trump and his campaign have been trying to turn the inquiry into a rallying cry for supporters by making the case that it is an attempt by Democrats to invalidate the results of the 2016 election and harm Trump’s chances in 2020.

They’re calling the hearings “fake” and a “TOTAL SCAM.”

One email reads that, “It’s time to make a statement” and “do something so EPIC that even the FAKE NEWS media won’t be able to ignore us while these baseless Witch Hunt Trials go on.”


10:50 a.m.

A top State Department official says he never saw any effort by U.S. officials to shield from scrutiny a Ukrainian natural gas company where Hunter Biden sat on the board.

George Kent is testifying Wednesday in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Investigators are looking into allegations that Trump asked the new Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on the son of Joe Biden, a Democratic political rival.

Hunter Biden sat on the board of the Ukrainian gas company called Burisma. Kent said he raised concerns in 2015 that his status could create the perception of a conflict of interest.

But Kent said he never saw any attempt to shield Burisma from scrutiny because of Biden’s connection to the company.


10:45 a.m.

There was an early clash at the first public impeachment hearing over the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the inquiry.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he would do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity. Schiff said he would “not permit the outing of the whistleblower.”

Republican Rep. Mike Conaway asked Schiff to subpoena the whistleblower to appear behind closed doors. Schiff said he would consider the request after two diplomats appearing before the committee on Wednesday conclude their public testimony.

The impeachment inquiry was sparked after the whistleblower’s complaint about President Donald Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy alleged that Trump pressured the Ukrainian leader to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden’s family.

Schiff said he does not know the whistleblower’s identity.


10:42 a.m.

A top State Department official tells a House committee investigating whether President Donald Trump should be impeached that he does not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in “selective, politically associated investigations.”

George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, is testifying Wednesday in the first public hearing. He has already testified in a closed session.

Kent says such “selective actions” undermine the rule of law regardless of the country.

House investigators are looking into allegations that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine unless the new leadership agreed to investigate the son of Democratic political rival Joe Biden.

Biden’s son sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.


10:35 a.m.

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee says Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is “a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”

In his opening statement in the first public House impeachment hearing, California Rep. Devin Nunes says Democrats “turned on a dime” after the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and then focused on Ukraine.

He told the hearing’s two witnesses that he would like to welcome them, but said that Americans’ trust in government has been damaged as “elements of the civil service have decided that they, not the president, are really in charge.”

State Department officials George Kent and William Taylor have told lawmakers they had concerns about Trump’s Ukraine policy.

Nunes said the hearings are “an impeachment process in search of a crime.”


10:30 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says “there are still missing pieces” in the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.

He notes that the Trump administration has withheld many documents and several witnesses did not appear at Trump’s direction.

Schiff says that will force Congress to consider “whether Trump’s obstruction of the constitutional duties of Congress constitute additional grounds for impeachment.”

He says “this is not what our founders intended.”


10:22 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says the impeachment inquiry is a test of “what kind of conduct or misconduct” Americans will expect of their president.

As the first public hearings begin, Schiff is seeking to frame the impeachment inquiry as a choice of what sort of presidential behavior will be tolerated.

Schiff asks if the House finds that Trump abused his power, invited foreign election interference or tried to coerce an ally to investigate a political rival, “must we simply get over it?”

That had been the message of White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in a press conference last month, when he said it was normal for the U.S. to place conditions on foreign aid.

Schiff adds: “Is that what Americans should now expect from their president?”


10:18 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says the questions at the heart of the impeachment inquiry are simple but also “terrible” to consider.

He says the matter boils down to whether President Donald Trump sought to condition a White House visit or military aid on Ukraine’s willingness to open an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden. And if he did, is that “abuse of power” incompatible with the office of the presidency.

Schiff says the answers to those questions will affect not only the future of the Trump administration but also of the presidency itself, and what kind of behavior the American public can expect from the commander in chief.

Schiff spoke Wednesday in opening the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry.


10:05 a.m.

The House has opened the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff opened the live, televised session Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

It’s a remarkable moment for Trump, facing a rare impeachment proceeding over his actions toward Ukraine. Trump insists he did nothing wrong.

Democrats are leading the inquiry into Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president to see if the actions rise to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate the Democrats in the 2016 election and potential 2020 rival Joe Biden’s family, all while withholding military aid to an ally facing Russian aggression.

The panel will hear from two State Department witnesses who defied White House instructions not to appear.


9:56 a.m.

Two seasoned diplomats have arrived for their testimony at the first public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry.

William Taylor and George Kent were both issued subpoenas Wednesday morning by the House Intelligence panel for their testimony, according to an official granted anonymity to discuss the matter.

Taylor is the charge d’affaires in Ukraine and Kent is the deputy assistant secretary at the State Department.

The House intelligence committee’s hearing is the first public congressional hearing exploring Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden’s family. It follows several weeks of closed-door depositions.

The inquiry was sparked after a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Democrats have argued the call shows Trump used his office to pressure a foreign leader to help him politically. Trump has said the call was “perfect.”

-By Mary Clare Jalonick.

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9:25 a.m.

President Donald Trump is lashing out at a pair of witnesses who are set to testify as the House impeachment inquiry goes public.

Trump tweeted “NEVER TRUMPERS!” before Wednesday’s hearing opened on Capitol Hill with testimony from William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Ukraine, and George Kent, a career diplomat. Trump sought to undermine Kent and Taylor with the tweet suggesting they are among members of the foreign policy establishment that never supported him.

Taylor and Kent worked for Republican and Democratic administrations. There’s no evidence they engaged in partisan activity opposing Trump.

The impeachment inquiry centers around a July 25 telephone call Trump had with Ukraine’s leader and Trump’s attempt to pressure the government to investigate his political rivals.

Trump maintains that the telephone conversation was “perfect” and that he did nothing wrong in his relations with Ukraine.

The Republican president also tweeted Wednesday: “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”


8:40 a.m.

The Kremlin has drawn a parallel between the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and accusations of Russia’s interference in his election.

Asked about the hearings opening Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that “there are a lot of things far-fetched.”

Peskov compared the proceedings to the U.S. claims of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which he described as having “little relation to reality.”

The Kremlin has shrugged off special counsel Robert Mueller’s exposure of Russian interference in the vote.

Mueller found there wasn’t enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia. But Mueller charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with breaking into Democratic Party computers and the email accounts of officials with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Democrats are looking into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his rival Joe Biden’s family. Trump calls the impeachment proceedings a “scam.”


12:10 a.m.

Americans who haven’t had time to “read the transcript” as encouraged by President Donald Trump can start tuning in to hear first-hand from witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry.

The first public hearing begins Wednesday morning with a seasoned U.S. diplomat, William Taylor, who has told House investigators that the administration withheld aid to Ukraine over political investigations.

Trump contends the transcript of his call with Ukraine’s president was “perfect.” He has dismissed the inquiry as a “witch hunt” and blocked several aides and other administration personnel from cooperating with the Democratic-led investigation.

Three witnesses are scheduled for this week and eight more are set to testify in public next week.

Republicans are expected to argue that none of the witnesses has first-hand knowledge of the president’s actions.

Washington contributed to this report.

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