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Trump heard questions about Ukraine investigations, diplomat says

Trump heard questions about Ukraine investigations, diplomat says


US President Donald Trump was heard asking questions about “investigations” he wanted Ukraine to conduct that are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, a senior diplomat said.

William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed the new information as the House Intelligence Committee opened extraordinary hearings on whether the 45th President of the United States should be removed from office .

Mr. Taylor said his staff recently told him they overheard Mr. Trump speaking on the phone with another diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant the day after Mr. Trump's July phone call with the new Ukrainian leader.

The staff explained that Mr. Sondland had called the president and they could hear Mr. Trump on the phone asking questions about “the investigations,” they said.

The ambassador told the president that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, Mr. Taylor said during the proceedings, which were broadcast live and on social media from a packed hearing room at the Capitol.

Impeachment of TrumpImpeachment of Trump

Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor testifies before the House Intelligence Committee (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Mr. Trump was asked about the phone call during a news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I don’t know,” he said, adding that he “doesn’t remember” the conversation.

The investigation was launched after an anonymous whistleblower's complaint that Mr. Trump, in the July phone call, had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the enemy Democrat Joe Biden and Biden's son – as the United States suspended American military aid.

At the outset, Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, laid out the question at the heart of the impeachment inquiry: whether the president used his office to pressure Ukrainian officials for personal political gain. ?

“The case is as simple and as terrible as that,” Mr. Schiff said.

“How we answer these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency, but also the future of the presidency itself, and the type of conduct or misbehavior the American people can expect from their commander in chief.” »

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Photo via AP)

Republicans immediately pushed Democrats to hear behind closed doors from the anonymous whistleblower.

Mr. Schiff then rejected the request, but said it would be examined later.

“We will do whatever is necessary to protect the identity of the whistleblower,” Mr. Schiff said.

The panel's top Republican, Devin Nunes, said Mr. Trump “would have very good reason to want to find out what happened” if there were indications that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

National security officials have told Congress they do not believe Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.

Mr. Nunes accused the Democratic majority of waging a “scorched earth” campaign to oust the president after Russia's special prosecutor's investigation into the 2016 election failed to trigger impeachment proceedings.

“We're supposed to take these people at face value when they make new allegations?” said Mr. Nunes, a top Trump ally.

Mr. Nunes called the Ukraine affair a “low-rent sequel” to the Russia investigation.

“The Democrats are moving forward with their impeachment,” he said.

Impeachment of TrumpImpeachment of Trump

George Kent, deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, attended a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill (Alex Brandon/AP)

Mr. Taylor and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, defied White House instructions not to testify. They both received a summons to appear in court.

Asked about a text message released earlier in the investigation in which Mr. Taylor called refusing security assistance from a foreign ally “crazy,” he responded: “It was illogical.” It couldn't be explained. It was crazy.”

Mr. Kent, in his opening speech, directly contradicted a core complaint against Joe Biden raised by White House allies, saying he had never heard of a U.S. official trying to shield a Ukrainian company from investigations.

Mr. Kent acknowledged that he himself raised concerns in 2015 about the presence of then-Vice President Hunter Biden's son on the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.

He warned that this could give the impression of a conflict of interest. But Mr. Kent said no one in the United States was protecting the company from investigations in Ukraine, as Republicans have suggested.

“Let me be clear; however, I have not witnessed any effort by any U.S. official to remove control over Burma,” Mr. Kent said.

He did not go into detail about the central questions of the impeachment inquiry, but he did raise concerns.

“I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions of opponents of power, because such selective actions undermine the rule of law , regardless of the country,” he said.

The investigation essentially stems from Mr. Trump's phone call with Mr. Zelensky on July 25.

Mr. Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate Democrats in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden.

The anonymous whistleblower first alerted authorities to his concerns about the phone call.

The White House released a rough transcript of the conversation, portions of which were redacted.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. But it continued in September after the whistleblower's complaint.




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