Impeachment Hearing Witnesses Support Quid Pro Quo Allegations as GOP Tries to Tear Into Their Credibility

The first day of the House's public impeachment hearings featured witnesses reinforcing allegations and bringing to light new evidence there was a quid pro quo by President Donald Trump in pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart to initiate politically motivated investigations before receiving military aid.

At the same time, Republicans aimed to damage the credibility of the two witnesses—acting U.S. Ambassador in Ukraine William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent—by calling their testimony "hearsay" while also digging into their argument that a quid pro quo could not have occurred because Ukraine was initially unaware the nearly $400 million in aid and a White House visit was being withheld.

Though much of the information revealed from Wednesday's televised hearings had already come to light via transcriptions from witness depositions, the public proceeding offered lawmakers their first official opportunity to take their evidence for or against impeachment directly to the American people.

Taylor and Kent told members of the House Intelligence Committee that while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his officials were unaware aid was being held during the infamous July 25 phone call with Trump, Ukrainian officials became aware in late August and began expressing concerns.

Taylor also reiterated what U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland had said in testimony behind closed doors. Sondland previously told lawmakers privately that he notified Ukrainian officials the aid would not be released until the country publicly committed to opening investigations into Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company tied to Joe Biden's son, Hunter, and a conspiracy theory about 2016 U.S. election interference by Ukraine.

Although Kent said he went to the office of the vice president in 2015 to raise "my concern that Hunter Biden's status as board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest," he "did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny."

The career public servants further stated concerns about the existence of "irregular" channels that existed in the administration to conduct foreign policy, with some of it being "counterproductive" to U.S. interests.

impeachment hearing bolsters quid pro quo
Acting U.S. Ambassador in Ukraine William Taylor, left, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent are sworn in to testify before a House impeachment hearing on November 13. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty

"Because that security assistance was so important for Ukraine, as well as our own national interest, to withhold that assistance for no good reason other than to help with a political campaign made no sense," Taylor testified. "It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy."

A previously undisclosed piece of information came from Taylor. He informed lawmakers that on July 26—the day after the Trump-Zelenskiy call—Trump phoned Sondland at a restaurant, where one of Taylor's staffers was present.

"Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine," Taylor said. "Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for."

Taylor said he was not informed of the information until recently by his staffer.

Republicans, meanwhile, sought to call into question the credibility of Taylor and Kent by highlighting the fact that they were not on the July 25 phone call and had spoken with neither Trump nor Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney, who wears two hats as acting White House chief of staff and head of the Office of Budget and Management, placed the hold on the military aid at Trump's direction.

Because of the witnesses' lack of firsthand knowledge, the Republicans viewed any testimony as "hearsay" and irrelevant.

"We got six people having four conversations in one sentence, and you just told me this is where you got your clear understanding," Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said to Taylor. "This is what I can't believe. You're [Democrats'] star witness. I've seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this."

Taylor responded by saying: "I don't consider myself a star witness of anything.... My understanding is only coming from people I talked to."

While Republicans have criticized their Democratic colleagues for not bringing forward firsthand witnesses, Democrats have noted they've been unable to because the White House told several witnesses like Mulvaney to not comply with the House's impeachment inquiry.

Republicans also argued that because Zelenskiy ultimately never opened the investigations requested by Trump and others around him—despite testimony from Taylor that Ukrainian officials told him Zelenskiy had plans to—there were no requirements for Ukraine to receive the aid and thus no quid pro quo. Democrats have pointed out that the aid was released only after the existence of a whistleblower complaint was revealed and that Ukraine eventually became aware of the hold.

"What did Zelenskiy have to do to get aid? The answer is nothing," said Representative John Ratcliffe (R-Texas). "He didn't do any of the things that House Democrats say he was being forced and coerced and threatened to do. He didn't do anything because he didn't have to."

At least one Democrat sought to directly rebut that assertion by asking whether attempted crimes, such as murder, robbery, extortion and bribery, were still crimes, despite not successfully committing the final acts.

Taylor responded in the affirmative.