Democrats on Wednesday said that public impeachment hearings would begin next week into alleged misconduct by US President Donald Trump.
First to testify is to be William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, who has relayed in private his belief that there was an illegal quid pro quo with Trump holding up military aid to a US ally facing threats from Russia.
That aid, at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, is alleged to have been held hostage until Ukraine agreed to investigate former US vice president Joe Biden and the idea that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
Democrats said that Taylor’s testimony is what Americans want to hear first.
Taylor has told investigators about an “irregular channel” that the president’s personal lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, set up for Ukraine diplomacy, and how the White House was holding up the military aid, according to a transcript of his closed-door interview.
“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue the investigation,” Taylor said.
He was asked if he was aware that “quid pro quo” meant “this for that.”
“I am,” he said.
Taylor received none of the information firsthand and Trump supporters say that there could not have been an inappropriate arrangement, as Ukraine did not even know that aid was being delayed.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
US Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence leading the probe, said that with two days of hearings next week, Americans would have a chance to decide for themselves.
“The most important facts are largely not contested,” Schiff said.
“Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn firsthand about the facts of the president’s misconduct,” he said.
Along with Taylor, the public will hear from former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and US Department of State official George Kent.
Taylor and Kent are to appear on Wednesday, while Yovanovitch is scheduled for Friday.
Taylor said in his testimony Ukraine worried that opening the investigations, in particular of gas company Burisma, which had Biden’s son on its board, would have involved them in next year’s election campaign in the US.
It did not want to do that, he said.
Taylor said he had specifically raised his concerns with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and told him he would resign if strong US support for Ukraine evaporated.
“This would have been throwing Ukraine under the bus and I told the secretary: ‘If that happens, I’ll come home.” he said. “You don’t want me out there, because I’m not going to defend it, you know. I would say bad things about it.”
Taylor told investigators that the “Russians are paying attention to how much support the Americans are going to provide the Ukrainians.”
“So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of [Ukraine President Volodymyr] Zelenskiy at the hand of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit,” he said.
Taylor said he was hearing from colleagues in Washington that it was difficult for them to arrange a meeting with Trump to try to persuade him to release the aid.
It was about the time that Trump was interested in buying Greenland from Denmark and that “took up a lot of energy” at the US National Security Council, Taylor said.
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