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Public impeachment hearings begin with diplomats William Taylor, George Kent

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George Kent (L), deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and William Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine arrive Wednesday to testify at the impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 13 (UPI) — The impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump moved into the open realm Wednesday as the proceedings go public with testimony from two top U.S. diplomats — William Taylor and George Kent.

The public House hearing started with opening statements from intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff and ranking Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, followed by opening statements from Taylor and Kent.

“The questions presented by this impeachment inquiry are whether President Trump sought to exploit that allies’ vulnerability and invite Ukraine’s interference in our election,” Schiff said in his opening statement.

He said the Trump administration conditioned a meeting at the Oval Office in addition to the military aid on Ukraine’s willingness to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, an oil and gas board member in Ukraine.

“Neither of these investigations was in the U.S. national interest. And neither was part of the official preparatory material for the call,” Schiff said, referring to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. “Both, however, were in Donald Trump‘s personal interest and in the interest of his 2020 election campaign.”

Schiff said that if the Trump administration continues to defy congressional subpoenas for documents and witnesses, there could be additional grounds for impeachment based on obstruction of the House investigation.

“If the president can simply refuse all oversight, particularly in the context of an impeachment proceeding, the balance of power between our two branches of government will be irrevocably altered,” Schiff said. “That is not what the founders intended.”

Schiff and Nunes will have 45 minutes each to question the witnesses, followed by other members of the committee.

Both Schiff and Nunes are expected to yield part of their time to chief investigator Daniel Goldman and Steve Castor, Republican counsel for the House oversight committee.

Taylor is Trump‘s ambassador to Ukraine and Kent his deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Both have already given testimony to investigators in private depositions.

Transcripts from Taylor’s showed he threatened to quit when Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine. He expressed concern about the president asking Kiev to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Biden and his son.

Taylor told investigators Trump‘s pressure for investigations “fundamentally undermined” U.S. interests in the region. He also said political operatives superseded diplomats and he believes Trump used the Congress-approved aid as leverage to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” he said.

Kent told investigators in his deposition that he’d raised concerns about Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani influencing Ukraine policy with a “campaign of lies” but was told by superiors to “lay low.” He accused the administration of running a shadow foreign policy orchestrated by Giuliani.

“Asking another country to investigate a prosecution for political reasons undermines our advocacy of the rule of law,” Kent said.

Trump has said the aid was withheld due to corruption concerns about how it would be spent, and that it had nothing to do with his asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. The aid was ultimately released in September.

“I have an ‘obligation’ to look into corruption,” Trump tweeted. “Both Bidens should be forced to testify in this No Due Process Scam!”

“So, we give our ally aid, and Joe Biden is not investigated,” he added. “Remember that, they get the aid and we get nothing in return. The Democrats want that to be an impeachable offense? Good luck with that!”

On Twitter Wednesday, the president echoed remarks made by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh calling the proceedings a “partisan sham.”

Former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch will testify at the next public hearing Friday. Kent and Taylor have said they disagreed with Trump‘s removal of her in May.

Four witnesses are scheduled to testify in public hearings next week: Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs for the National Security Council; former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker; and White House national security aide Tim Morrison.

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