Sat | Dec 14, 2019

Battle lines harden as Trump impeachment inquiry goes public

Published:Thursday | November 14, 2019 | 9:27 AM
Career Foreign Service officer George Kent and top US diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor (right) are sworn in to testify during the first public impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, November 13, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — With historic impeachment hearings underway, Democrats and Republicans are hardening their arguments over the actions of President Donald Trump as they set out to win over a deeply polarised American public.

Democrats say Wednesday’s extraordinary public session in the House revealed a striking account of Trump abusing his office by pressing the newly elected president of Ukraine for political investigations of rival Democrats, all while holding up needed military aid. 

“Bribery,” they said, and “extortion.”

Republicans counter that the hearing showed none of that.

They say the two seasoned diplomats at the witness table had, at best, secondhand accounts of Trump’s July 25 call that’s central to the impeachment inquiry. There was no pressure on the young Ukraine leader, they argue, and eventually the aid flowed, though only after Congress intervened.

Day One of the rare public hearings in the House — part of only the fourth formal impeachment effort in U.S. history — set the contours for a once-in-a-generation political struggle. Images and audio from the hearing popped up on television, in earbuds and on the partisan silos of social media, providing the first close-up look at the investigation.

“The president sought to advance his political and personal interests at the expense of U.S. national security,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leading the probe.

“Is this now going to be the new normal?” Schiff asked.

Hosting the president of Turkey at the White House, Trump insisted he was too busy to watch the hearings being broadcast live across the country and the world. He denied a fresh detail from one of the witnesses about a phone call in which he was overheard asking about “the investigations.”

“First I’ve heard of it,” Trump told reporters during a news conference.

A different conversation sparked the impeachment investigation, Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, heard by several government officials and detailed in a partial transcript released to the public weeks ago.

The core moment came when Trump asked the newly elected leader for “a favour.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said Wednesday that the Democrats’ first witness “wasn’t on the phone call, never met with the president, never talked to the chief of staff. And he’s their star witness?”

Trump wanted Ukraine’s government to investigate Democrats’ activities in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden — all while the administration was withholding military aid for the Eastern European ally as it confronted an aggressive neighbour, Russia.

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