Historic impeachment hearings aimed at President Donald Trump are underway on Capitol Hill on this Wednesday, as Democrats charge the President wrongly used the power of his office to try to get Ukraine to launch investigations which would have benefited Mr. Trump's political standing.
The hearings before the House Intelligence Committee represented a high stakes challenge for Congressional Republicans and President Trump.
Here's the latest from inside the hearing room.
4:00 pm. One thing that Republicans repeated multiple times in the hearing was that nothing wrong happened, because President Trump ultimately allowed aid to flow to Ukraine, even after the 55 day delay. But that decision on September 11 didn't just happen in a vacuum - as Democrats correctly pointed out that just before the decision, word had emerged about a whistleblower complaint involving Ukraine and the President.
3:45 pm. The hearing ended in an interesting manner, as Rep. Adam Schiff D-CA directly denied that he knew the identity of the whistleblower. Republicans say he is lying.
3:25 pm. In one of the most direct comments from both witnesses today, Rep. Val Demings D-FL asked both Kent and Taylor about the work of Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine, asking what they thought Giuliani was doing.
"I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle,” Kent said.
“I agree with Mr. Kent,” Taylor added.
3:10 pm. The impeachment hearings are as much about what goes on in the committee room, as how both parties frame it - after it happens. Republicans have argued today that President Trump was trying to end corruption in Ukraine - Democrats say that's not the case.
3:00 pm. Rep. John Ratcliffe R-TX continues a GOP request for more information on the Ukraine whistleblower, trying to draw Rep. Adam Schiff D-CA into a back and forth over the contacts between the whistleblower and the Democratic staff - and/or lawmakers - on the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff steers around it again. One would think the GOP will return to this again in coming days.
2:50 pm. Acting Ambassador Taylor is trying very hard to not shade one way or the other in this hearing today. As Rep. Joaquin Castro D-TX tried to get him to answer a series of rhetorical questions, which would obviously not shine well on the President.
2:45 pm. Rep. Will Hurd R-TX asks about who Rudy Giuliani has met with in Ukraine. Acting Ambassador Bill Taylor says he did get one call from a Ukraine official, worried about why Giuliani had been in contact with him.
2:10 pm. Republicans are pushing hard that Taylor has no information which could result in impeachment of President Trump.
2:00 pm. Rep. John Ratcliffe R-TX tries to stir things up with Taylor, demanding to know whether Taylor thought the leader of Ukraine was lying in statements about his phone call with President Trump. Under repeated pressure from Ratcliffe about the investigation, Taylor said, "I'm not here to do anything having to do with, to decide about impeachment. That is not what either of us are here to do. This is your job."
1:45 pm. With lawmakers now asking questions, the political blood pressure of the hearing room has increased in a noticeable way. Rep. Jim Jordan R-OH tangled with Taylor, accusing him of being the 'star witness' for Democrats.
Taylor: "I don't consider myself a star witness for anything"
1:10 pm. Critics of President Trump are ridiculing Castor's questions.
1:05 pm. President George W. Bush's White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is not impressed with Castor's line of questioning.
1:00 pm. GOP Committee Counsel Stephen Castor is pressing Taylor repeatedly about his view of President Trump's opinion that he had been targeted by various Ukraine government elements during the 2016 elections. Taylor sounds like he has no idea what Castor is talking about.
Castor: So you certainly can appreciate President Trump's concerns about 2016.
Taylor: I don't know the exact nature of President Trump's concerns.
12:50 pm. The hearing is underway again, with Republicans controlling the next 45 minutes. Rep. Devin Nunes R-CA starts by blasting Democrats, knocking out a number of arguments which would be well received at the White House. As for the President, he says that he is not watching.
12:40 pm. Outside at the press stakeout, Rep. Mark Meadows R-NC tangling with reporters about the impeachment hearings. “It is partisan, and it is political.” Meadows brings up Nellie Ohr. “You can look at the transcripts.”
12:30 pm. Sometimes when you are in the hearing room, you miss stuff going on in the hallway outside. This area outside the Ways and Means Committee room is known as “Gucci Gulch.” This photo may not qualify for that.
12:20 pm. Under questioning by the Democratic committee counsel, George Kent knocks down charges that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 elections, saying there is no evidence that it was any country other than Russia. Kent also all but ridicules the idea that the DNC computer server is being hidden in Ukraine - as President Trump suggested in a July 25 phone call with the leader of Ukraine.
12:15 pm. The House Intelligence Committee has scheduled a Friday deposition with an aide of Taylor. This may well be the staffer involved in this phone call described to lawmakers today.
11:50 am. Taylor relating the story from his staffer about a call between Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, and President Trump. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden that Giuliani was pressing for.”
11:35 am. Our first big new piece of information. Taylor recounts a story from one of his staffers, who heard Sondland talk on the phone with President Trump, and that the staffer could hear the President asking about Ukraine and investigations, and that Sondland indicated the President was very interested in investigations about the Bidens. “President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden and Burisma,” Taylor said, adding that he learned about this since his October deposition. Schiff starts the Q&A by asking questions about this episode.
11:30 am. Taylor now getting into the root of the disagreement between the two parties - whether President Trump was seeking a quid pro quo, where Mr. Trump would not release aid for Ukraine until the leader of Ukraine publicly announced political investigations sought by President Trump - with that announcement being made on CNN.
11:20 am. Taylor continues to talk about how opposition to security aid to Ukraine grew within the White House, as he was told by one official that, “the President doesn't want to provide any assistance at all.”
11:05 am. Taylor describes at length, how he straddled the 'regular' diplomatic channels with the new government in Ukraine, but also an “irregular” diplomatic channel, which involved figures like Rudy Giuliani, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
10:55 am. The acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, is now testifying. Like Kent, Taylor is giving details and background about the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, and the importance of American aid to Ukraine.
Taylor said when he was asked to go back to Kyiv as the top U.S. diplomat, he was worried about the role of Rudy Giuliani.
10:50 am. George Kent says he raised red flags about Hunter Biden being on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, but never saw any unethical behavior. Kent then segues into the work of Rudy Giuliani, and his efforts to undermine the U.S. Ambassador, and “gin up politically motivated investigations.”
10:35 am. The two witnesses have been sworn in. GOP lawmakers are starting off with a series of parliamentary requests, including asking for a hearing with the whistleblower.
10:25 am. Top Republican Rep. Devin Nunes R-CA slams the impeachment effort, saying it's nothing more than the back up plan from Democrats after the Russia investigation failed. “They are trying to impeach the President for inquiring about Hunter Biden's activities,” Nunes said, referring to the gathering as a 'star chamber.'
10:00 am. The hearing gets underway. Republicans start with a quick parliamentary inquiry, and then Rep. Adam Schiff D-CA begins his opening statement. President Trump has made clear his feelings about what's happening today.
9:55 am. The witnesses take their seats, along with their lawyers. William Taylor, the acting US Ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant Secretary of State.
9:45 am. It took a while for me to get inside the Ways and Means Committee room and to get my seat. Then the power didn't work. Then the audio feed didn't work. My internet didn't work. But I'm here.
9:30 am. The line outside the hearing room was long. There were all sorts of people in line, most of them well versed in what was going on. A 77 year old man from Blacksburg, Virginia behind me spoke to a Canadian TV reporter, and said he was convinced this was the 'most corrupt' President he had ever encountered.
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