WASHINGTON – State Department officials who questioned President Donald Trump’s effort to push Ukraine to investigate a political rival and an ambassador who was removed to clear the path for his back-channel diplomacy are the first public witnesses in Week 8 of the House’s Democratic impeachment inquiry.
The House Intelligence Committee is holding its first public hearings after three panels, including Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform, spent weeks collecting testimony behind closed doors from diplomats and national security officials.
Three of those witnesses will describe how they criticized the policy; how the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani guided the effort; and how Trump recalled the ambassador to Ukraine to make way for it. Highlights of testimony from Bill Taylor, George Kent and Marie Yovanovitch have been reported from transcripts, but the hearings will put the story before a national television audience.
The inquiry built upon Trump’s phone call July 25 to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when he urged the investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden while withholding nearly $400 million in military aid. House Democrats contend the move and efforts to conceal it might be impeachable offenses.
Trump maintains that he was justified in fighting corruption. Congressional Republicans say the arrangement doesn’t justify impeachment because Ukraine wasn’t initially aware that military aid was at stake and the money was released without an investigation of Biden.
Trump will meet Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and hold a political rally Thursday in Louisiana.
Here is what’s happening this week:
Wednesday: Bill Taylor and George Kent
Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine after Trump removed Ambassador Yovanovitch, described two channels of diplomacy: one for the State Department and one for Giuliani. Taylor said he learned slowly from May through July about the insistence on an investigation and the withholding of aid.
“I and the others on the call sat in astonishment,” Taylor said of a call July 18 when the pause in military aid was announced. “The Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons but also the assurance of U.S. support.”
Taylor called the trade-off of an investigation for military aid “crazy” in a Sept. 9 text to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Taylor threatened to quit if the United States wouldn’t strongly support Ukraine against Russian aggression.
Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, described Giuliani’s role in guiding the policy and driving criticism of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch.
Kent described how a “campaign of slander” unfolded against Yovanovitch by Giuliani from March 20 to 23 through television appearances, newspaper articles and Giuliani’s Twitter feed.
“It was, if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily nontruths and non sequiturs,” Kent said.
During the hearing, Trump will meet with Erdogan. Turkey is a key NATO ally. The visit comes a month after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, which allowed Turkish troops to attack Kurdish allies who helped U.S. troops fight the Islamic State.
Critics accused Trump of abandoning a U.S. ally and creating chaos in the region. Trump briefly imposed sanctions on Turkey for the attacks but lifted them after a temporary cease-fire was arranged.
In Congress, the House voted to sanction Turkey and recognize the mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide. The Senate is debating possible sanctions against Turkey.
Thursday: Trump rally in Louisiana
Trump will travel Thursday to Bossier City. Louisiana, for his third visit in a month to help Republicans win the governor’s race. Trump will rally support for Eddie Rispone in his bid to unseat Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Trump drew a standing-room-only crowd of 10,000 in Monroe on Nov. 6 while an additional 7,800 watched on a big screen outside the arena. Trump visited Lake Charles on the eve of the primary Oct. 12.
Friday: Marie Yovanovitch
Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer, said she was told April 25 she had to “be on the next plane home to Washington,” a departure so abrupt she worried about having time to pack.
She asked for support against the attacks on her and the U.S. Embassy in conservative media, but none was forthcoming from the State Department. She said Sondland suggested she support Trump on Twitter, advice she ignored.
“He said, ‘You know, you need to go big or go home. You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the president and that all these are lies and everything else,’ ” Yovanovitch said.