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Impeachment inquiry hearings go live on TV as House interviews George Kent, William Taylor

Posted at 7:05 AM, Nov 13, 2019

Public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump kicked off Wednesday as two Trump administration officials appeared before the House Intelligence Committee.

Testifying are Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent — who oversaw the administration's policy on European and Eurasian affairs — and William Taylor, America's top diplomat in Ukraine.

In his opening statement, Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, revealed that he had just learned from a member of his staff that Ambassador Gordon Sondland spoke with Trump on July 26 — the day after Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — and that Trump asked Sondland about the "status" of the "investigations." Taylor also said that Sondland told a member of his staff that Trump "cares more about the investigations of Biden, which (Trump personal attorney Rudy) Giuliani was pressing for," when asked about Trump's thoughts on Ukraine.

Taylor's private testimony perhaps was the most damming that has been released thus far. He testified that he had a "clear understanding" that there was a quid pro quo between the United States' defense aid to Ukraine in exchange for Zelensky announcing an investigation into the Bidens.

During Kent's opening statement, he stressed the importance of the military aid that the U.S. had been providing Ukraine and testified that he felt Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was effecting foreign policy in the country.

Kent said during closed testimony that he had previously raised concerns about former vice president and Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden's son Hunter's employment by a Ukranian energy company Burisma Holdings. He also raised concerns about an alleged "campaign of lies" being disseminated by Giuliani.

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-California) used his opening statements to lay out what he said were "largely" undisputed facts of the case.

“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” Schiff said. “...these are the kind of questions we must answer."

Ranking member Devin Nunes (R-California) called the impeachment inquiry a “a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign” in his opening statement.

At the heart of the impeachment inquiry is a whistleblower complaint that alleges Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless Zelensky agreed to open a corruption investigation into the son of former Vice President Biden.

Hunter Biden sat on the board of Ukranian energy company Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019. Giuliani has alleged without evidence that Hunter Biden pressured Ukrainian officials to fire a prosecutor that was investigating tax evasion charges against Burisma Holdings' owner, Mykola Zlochevsky.

Though Hunter Biden told ABC News he made "poor judgment" in his time with Burisma Holdings, he claims he did not discuss policy with his father while he was vice president.

Alex Hider is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @alexhider.