Politics

The first week of public impeachment hearings just wrapped up. Here are the main takeaways

Key Points
  • There are new revelations and an accusation of witness tampering against President Trump during the first week of the House's public impeachment hearings.
  • U.S. charges d'affaires in Ukraine Bill Taylor, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testify during the week.
  • The most recent testimony marks the start of a new phase of Democrats' investigation of Trump's efforts to have Ukraine launch probes involving his political rivals.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., joined by other House Democrats, speaks during a press conference after the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry of President Trump in Longworth Building on Wednesday Nov. 13, 2019.
Caroline Brehman | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

After more than a month of closed-door depositions, the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump burst into public view this week, giving the American people their first chance to hear directly from three key witnesses in the probe.

U.S. charges d'affaires in Ukraine Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent testified in a joint hearing Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified Friday.

With more public and private hearings still being scheduled, the most recent testimony marks the start of a new phase of Democrats' investigation of Trump's efforts to have Ukraine launch probes involving his political rivals.

Here are the main takeaways from the first week of public hearings:

Taylor adds a new wrinkle

Many of the private depositions conducted in the impeachment inquiry have already been shared with the public, either through leaks or through the release of verbatim transcripts.

But in his opening statement Wednesday morning, Taylor offered new details that he had learned after his initial, closed-door deposition in late October.

Taylor testified about a phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that concerned the president's demand for Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

A member of his staff, Taylor said, "could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about 'the investigations.' Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward."

VIDEO1:1601:16
Top US diplomat reveals details about undisclosed Trump phone call

Taylor continued: "Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of [Joe] Biden, which [Trump's personal lawyer Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for."

The call took place July 26 — a day after Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to "look into" the Bidens as well as a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and a Ukraine company where Hunter Biden had served as a board member.

That conversation with Zelenskiy was called out in a bombshell whistleblower complaint made public in September. The whistleblower, and a memorandum of the call itself, spurred dozens of Democrats to support an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his power by pressuring a foreign country to dig up dirt on his political opponents.

Witnesses challenge Trump's corruption claims

Trump and his allies — especially Giuliani — have claimed that their efforts to have Ukraine open the probes were motivated entirely by a desire to fight corruption.

But the witnesses suggested that there was little basis for the investigations that Ukraine was being pushed to launch.

Kent said "to my knowledge, there is no factual basis" to the debunked conspiracy that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for interfering in the U.S. presidential election.

Trump had asked Zelenskiy in their phone call about the so-called CrowdStrike server, a key piece of the conspiracy theory.

VIDEO16:3816:38
George Kent makes opening remarks at Trump impeachment hearing

Yovanovitch pushed back on another claim from Trump and his allies when she testified that the pressure on Ukraine in 2014 by Biden, who was serving as vice president, was in line with official U.S. policy.

Biden's push for Ukraine to oust former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin has come under scrutiny, mostly by Republicans suspicious that Biden was attempting to quash a corruption probe in order to protect himself or his son.

"When Vice President Biden acted to remove the former corrupt prosecutor in Ukraine, did he do so as part of official United States policy?" Yovanovitch was asked.

"Official U.S. policy," she responded. "That was endorsed and was the policy of a number of other international stakeholders, other countries, other monetary institutions and financial institutions."

Trump accused of 'witness intimidation'

Trump had said in his call with Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch, who had already been recalled, was "bad news." He added cryptically that "she's going to go through some things."

Yovanovitch testified that Trump's words "sounded like a threat."

At nearly the same moment, Trump sent a tweet lashing out at Yovanovitch.

"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," Trump claimed in a two-part tweet blast.

"She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian president spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. president's absolute right to appoint ambassadors," the president wrote.

"I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

VIDEO2:3702:37
Trump attacks Marie Yovanovitch on Twitter during impeachment hearings