Bill Taylor, the acting US
ambassador to Ukraine, told impeachment hearings that President Trump directly
asked about a Ukrainian investigation into his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
In previously unheard testimony,
Bill Taylor said a member of his staff was told President Trump was preoccupied
with pushing for a probe into Joe Biden.
The top diplomat was speaking at the
first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry.
President Trump told reporters he
did not recall making such comments.
The president is accused of
withholding US military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the country’s new
president to publicly announce a corruption inquiry into Joe Biden, among the
favorites to take him on in the 2020 presidential race.
President Trump denies any
wrongdoing and has called the inquiry a “witch-hunt”.
During a detailed opening statement,
Bill Taylor said a member of his staff had overheard a telephone call in which
the president inquired about “the investigations” into Joe Biden.
The call was with US ambassador to
the EU Gordon Sondland, who reportedly told the president over the phone that
“the Ukrainians were ready to move forward”.
After the call, the staff member
“asked ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about
Ukraine”, Bill Taylor said.
Bill Taylor said: “Ambassador Sondland responded that
President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
When asked about Gordon Sondland earlier this month, the
president had said: “I hardly know the gentleman.”
Responding to queries from reporters
after the hearing, President Trump said: “I
know nothing about that, first time I’ve heard it.”
He said he recalled Gordon
Sondland’s testimony, in which the diplomat said he spoke to the president
“for a brief moment” and President Trump had “said no quid pro
quo under any circumstances”.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly called
for the whistleblower who triggered the impeachment inquiry to be unmasked,
ignoring a cease-and-desist warning.
On November 7, a lawyer for a whistleblower told the White House that
President Trump’s rhetoric was placing his client and family in physical
However, the president renewed his attacks on the whistleblower and lawyer
on November 8.
The whistleblower’s identity has so far been fiercely guarded by Democrats.
In August he filed a report that eventually triggered impeachment proceeding
against President Trump.
The report expressed concern over a phone call a month earlier in which President
Trump asked his Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe
Biden, a Democratic front-runner for the 2020 presidential election.
In the letter, sent to White House
counsel Pat Cipollone, the whistleblower’s lawyer Andrew Bakaj cites many
examples of Donald Trump’s “fixation” on the identity of his client
in his comments to the media, at rallies and on Twitter.
Andrew Bakaj wrote: “Such statements seek to intimidate my
client – and they have.”
The lawyer continued: “Should any harm befall any suspected
named whistleblower or their family, the blame will rest squarely with your
However, the next day, President
Trump launched a fresh attack at the White House.
“The whistleblower is a disgrace to our country… and
the whistleblower because of that should be revealed,” the president told reporters.
“And his lawyer who said the worst things possible two
years ago, he should be sued, and maybe for treason.”
President Trump may have been
referring to the whistleblower’s other lawyer, Mark Zaid, who has been under
fire from the president’s allies over tweet posted in 2017 in which he vowed –
among other things – to “get rid of him [Donald Trump]”.
Meanwhile, first daughter Ivanka Trump said in an interview
with the Associated Press that she did not believe the whistleblower’s identity
was “particularly relevant”.
“The whistleblower shouldn’t be a
substantive part of the conversation,” Ivanka Trump said, adding that
the person “did not have firsthand information”.
Ivanka Trump echoed her father’s view that the impeachment investigation was
about “overturning the results of the 2016 election”.
Democrats have said the whistleblower’s identity is immaterial. They argue
that the complaint, which alleges abuse of power by President Trump, has been
substantiated by witness testimony to the impeachment committees.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will next week hold
televised hearings for the first time in this inquiry.
If the House eventually votes to impeach President Trump, the Republican-controlled
Senate will hold a trial of the president.
If President Trump is convicted – which is widely viewed at present as
unlikely – he would be removed from office.
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