Donald Trump 'overheard asking about Ukraine investigation', top diplomat claims

14 November 2019, 00:11

Ambassador William Taylor made the claims on the first day of the impeachment enquiry
Ambassador William Taylor made the claims on the first day of the impeachment enquiry. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Donald Trump was overheard asking about "the investigations" he wanted Ukraine to pursue, a senior diplomat has told the impeachment enquiry today.

Top diplomats have given evidence about the accusations that President Trump asked Ukraine's leader to investigate political rival Joe Biden and Mr Biden's son.

William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed new information as the House Intelligence Committee opened their hearings on whether the president should be removed from office.

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

He said his staff then explained that they could hear Mr Trump on the phone asking about "the investigations".

Ambassador Sondland allegedly told the president the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.

Mr Taylor testimony and the entire enquiry is being broadcast live, and on social media, from Capitol Hill.

President Trump said he was "too busy" to watch the hearing in Washington.

The president, who has repeatedly described the inquiry as a "witch hunt", also criticised the "television lawyers" appearing.

He said after the hearing that he didn't watch "one minute" of the testimony, and said he will release details of his first call with Ukraine's president on Thursday.

Donald Trump has called the impeachment a "witch-hunt"
Donald Trump has called the impeachment a "witch-hunt". Picture: PA

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

He responded: "I know nothing about that," and said he "did not recall" the conversation.

The inquiry was launched after an anonymous whistleblower complained that in the July phone call, Mr Trump pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic foe Joe Biden and Biden's son.

The whistleblower also claimed that the President said he would withhold US aid to the country if they did not comply.

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

Beginning the enquiry, Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, outlined the question at the core of the impeachment inquiry - whether the president used his office to pressure Ukraine officials for personal political gain.

"The matter is as simple and as terrible as that," said Mr Schiff.

"Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief."

Mr Schiff then denied Republican requests for a closed session hearing from the anonymous whistleblower, saying "we will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower's identity," Mr Schiff declared.

Ambassador William Taylor is giving evidence to a televised impeachment inquiry
Ambassador William Taylor is giving evidence to a televised impeachment inquiry. Picture: PA

Ambassador Taylor, and deputy assistant secretary at the State Department George Kent, both defied White House instructions not to testify after they both received subpoenas to appear.

Asked about a text message released earlier in the probe in which Mr Taylor called it "crazy" to withhold the security aid to a foreign ally, he said, "It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy."

Beginning his testimony, Mr Kent said he never heard any US official try to shield a Ukrainian company from investigations.

Mr Kent acknowledged that he himself raised concerns in 2015 about the then vice president's son, Hunter Biden, being on the board of Burisma, a Ukraine gas company.

However, he said: "Let me be clear; however, I did not witness any efforts by any US official to shield Burisma from scrutiny," Mr Kent said.

He continued: "I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country."

The enquiry is taking place in a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill.
The enquiry is taking place in a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill. Picture: PA

David Nunes, the top Republican on the panel, said President Trump "would have a perfectly good reason for wanting to find out what happened" if there were allegations that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

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

Mr Nunes also accused the Democratic majority of conducting a "scorched earth" effort to take down the president and referenced the special counsel's Russia investigation into the 2016 election, which failed to lead to an impeachment process.

Mr Nunes stated: "We're supposed to take these people at face value when they trot out new allegations?

"Democrats are advancing their impeachment sham," he said.