Donald Trump impeachment breaks into the open
FT's Lauren Fedor reports on the first week of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into the US president's dealings with Ukraine.
Produced by Ben Marino
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Rise and raise your right hand. I will begin by swearing you in.
The impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump entered a new public phase this week with live televised hearings from Capitol Hill. House investigators have spent more than a month questioning witnesses behind closed doors in a secure facility well under the capital. But on Wednesday, the curtain was lifted and hearings began to take place for members of Congress and the world.
Two career diplomats gave evidence on Wednesday. Bill Taylor, he's the top US diplomat in Ukraine right now, and George Kent, who's a senior State Department official. A lot is riding on these live televised hearings as Democrats seek to convince the American public that President Trump is not fit for office. Back in the '70s, televised hearings were key to building the case against Richard Nixon, who ultimately resigned before he could be removed from office.
At this stage, the public is sharply divided on whether or not President Trump should be impeached and removed. Right now, the latest polls show that just over half of Americans think that he should be impeached, but less than half think that he should actually be removed from office following a Senate trial. On Wednesday, Bill Taylor revealed that one of his staffers had overheard a conversation that Mr Trump had had on the phone with Gordon Sondland. Gordon Sondland is the US ambassador to the EU, and he's been a central figure in the impeachment inquiry so far.
Last Friday, a member of my staff told me of events that occurred on July 26th. While Ambassador Volker and I visited the front, as a member of my staff accompanied Ambassador Sondland, Ambassador Sondland met with Mr Yermak. Following that meeting, in the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Mr Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv.
The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Ambassador Sondland told President Trump the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.
On Friday, Maria Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, appeared on Capitol Hill as well. She has accused the president of leading a co-ordinated campaign against her that led to her removal from that post in May of this year. Right now, it's hard to tell whether public opinion has shifted off the back of these public hearings, but it is clear that they're getting under the president's skin. On Friday, while Marie Yovanovitch was testifying, the president tweeted attacks against her. Trump said on Twitter: "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad."
I mean, I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.
Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.
It's been a busy week, but it's only the beginning. At least eight witnesses are scheduled to testify in more live hearings next week. They're going to include Alexander Vindman, the US Army officer and National Security Council member, and Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU.