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Impeachment: Here's why Donald Trump might have had a bad day yesterday

It was the most dramatic day of the impeachment hearings into the US President’s involvement with Ukraine.

Image: Photojoiner/PA Images

YESTERDAY, DONALD TRUMP’S impeachment hearing seemed to take a pivotal turn: the US ambassador to the European Union testified that the US President had put pressure on Ukraine to launch investigations into his political rivals.

That EU ambassador Gordon Sondland told members of the House of Representatives that he followed Trump’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival, Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.

The bombshell testimony, delivered to a televised impeachment hearing, doesn’t look good for Trump, and US political and legal experts have said impeachment is likely.

Ken Starr, the lead investigator into former US President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, said “we now know that the president, in fact, committed the crime of bribery…  I think articles of impeachment are being drawn up if they haven’t already been drawn up”.

In earlier closed-door testimony, Sondland had repeatedly said that he “can’t remember” and “can’t recall” when pressed over his dealings with Trump and Ukraine.

Initially maintaining that he was unaware that US military aid was being held up in exchange for a probe, he later made a u-turn, amending his testimony to state that he did in fact know this was the case.

During nine hours of testimony on Tuesday, four witnesses described how Trump, Sondland and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought for months to persuade Ukraine to investigate both Biden and a claim that the Kiev government had helped the Democrats in the 2016 US elections.

A reminder of what Trump is charged with

Democrats have put it to Trump that he sought to leverage Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s desire for a meeting between the two leaders and for some $391 million in aid to get Ukraine to find dirt on Biden – who would likely be Trump’s Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential election.

More specifically, the evidence focuses on Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and his ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

The key evidence focuses on a 25 July phone call, where a White House transcript shows Trump pressuring Zelensky to open investigations into Biden and the 2016 election conspiracy theory.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a respected member of the White House National Security Council, told the committee that Trump’s request to investigate Biden and the vague 2016 election meddling claim was “inappropriate,” “improper” and a “partisan play.”

“Frankly I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Vindman said. 

Sondland’s key quotes

portraits-u-s-washington-d-c-impeachment-hearing-gordon-sondland Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure President Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.

“Mr Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.

Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.

Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland testified that top officials – including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – were kept constantly informed.

“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.

While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid to add pressure on Ukraine.

“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.

President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Giuliani was that the Burisma and 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting. The aid was my own personal, you know, guess based again, on your analogy ‘two plus two equals four’.

The testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!”

Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.

The reaction

Democrats have claimed that Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion”.

“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.

It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.

A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.

Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”

And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America”.

On the Republican side, things are less damning. GOP and pro-Trump politicians and commentators focused on parts of Sondland’s testimony where he repeatedly said that neither Trump nor any of his aids told Sondland that the aid to Ukraine was tied to political investigations. 

The Republican’s Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted out:

The Ukrainians got a call from the President.
The Ukrainians got a meeting with the President.
The Ukrainians got security assistance from the President.

“What did the President get in return? Nothing. No quid pro quo.”

The counter narrative by Republicans and pro-Trumpians is being shared and told on Fox News, in what’s been described as effective

“If you’re like most Americans, you didn’t watch today’s impeachment charade,” Fox’s Sean Hannity said after Tuesday’s hearing. “Here’s the big takeaway: another huge dud.”

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