William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a senior State Department official, were the first public witnesses of the impeachment inquiry. The men, who between them have 70 years of experience as public servants under presidents of both parties, testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
For those of you who weren’t able to watch the almost six hours of television, here’s what happened.
Did we learn anything new?
We did, actually. Mr. Taylor told a story that he only learned of after his closed-door testimony: On July 26, he said, one of his aides was in a restaurant with Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union. Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump, and the president could be heard asking about “the investigations,” to which Mr. Sondland replied that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.”
After the call, the aide asked Mr. Sondland what the president thought of Ukraine, Mr. Taylor testified. Mr. Sondland responded that “President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
What were the highlights?
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, explained what he saw as the stakes of the investigation. “If we find that the president of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections,” he asked, “must we simply get over it? Is this what Americans should now expect from their president? If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”
Mr. Kent said he was bothered by Rudolph W. Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy, which he said was about “looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle.” The U.S., he said, should not “ask other countries to engage in selective politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power.”
Mr. Taylor was careful not to make too much news. “I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything,” he cautioned. “I’m not here to take one side or the other or to advocate any particular outcome.” But he repeatedly discussed how concerned he was by Mr. Trump’s actions. “It’s one thing to try to leverage a meeting in the White House. It’s another thing, I thought, to try to leverage security assistance,” he said. “It was much more alarming.”
Republicans leaned heavily on two ideas: that Mr. Taylor and Mr. Kent weren’t good witnesses, because neither interacted directly with Mr. Trump, and that the failure to actually finish a quid pro quo means Mr. Trump never committed an impeachable offense. “He didn’t open any investigations,” Representative John Ratcliffe said of Ukraine’s president. “He didn’t do anything because he didn’t have to.”
Democrats made the argument that Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign was corrupting Ukraine from within. “He was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine at Vice President Biden and at the 2020 election,” Representative Jim Himes said. Representative Denny Heck put it this way: “Is it not true that a major problem in the Ukraine has been its misuse of prosecutors precisely to conduct investigations of political opponents?”
What each side wanted out of today’s hearing
Maggie, what did you think of the first public hearing?
It was more impressionistic, rather than having certain standout moments. When there are so many hours of testimony, it sort of all washes over you. It was more about the visuals. But there was at least one presiding idea today: Here are these two career public servants — one is a war hero, Mr. Taylor — and therefore they’d have no reason to lie. It was about country and service.
What were Democrats using today for?
Mr. Schiff said it at the outset, that the facts are not in dispute about what took place. And that the question becomes, as Mr. Schiff said: If this is not impeachable conduct, what is? They were trying to leave no doubt for the public about what took place.
What were Republicans trying to do?
I don’t think Republicans really landed any punches, but they slowed things down. The argument they made today — that no impeachable crime was committed because no quid pro quo was executed — was a version of their arguments throughout various Trump-related investigations. They said there was no evidence of obstruction because Mr. Trump didn’t fire Robert Mueller or Jeff Sessions. He didn’t do the thing he tried to do.
Long lines and lots of spectators
Everyone was kind of half-expecting, or half-dreading, some kind of circus scene around the Longworth House Office Building, where the hearing was. But there weren’t that many protesters. Once you got into the building, there were some colorful characters: a drag queen named Pissi Miles in a bright red dress, bright red lipstick, carrying a selfie stick.
Inside the room, you had a ton of recognizable Republican members filling the gallery who weren’t on the committee: Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz and Louie Gohmert, who’s always an antic performer. They were mostly quiet. At one point, I think after Devin Nunes spoke, one of them said, “Amen.”
At the end, Mr. Schiff seemed relieved that the circus didn’t really come to town. Circus was itself a verboten word. Mr. Gohmert said in the room today that this is all a “sham circus.” Someone near him repeated that, and a Democratic congressman, David Cicilline, said, “Don’t use that word. This is a solemn occasion.” Democrats wanted to de-circus-ify it.
What else we’re reading
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said today that he had no interest in preventing an impeachment trial in the Senate. “We should give people an opportunity to put the case on,” he said. “The House will have presenters. The president will no doubt be represented by lawyers as well.”
The involvement of Mr. Sondland was central to the narrative on the first day of public testimony, and Democrats announced last night that he would testify publicly next Wednesday. These witnesses will also testify next week.
Investigators scheduled more closed-door depositions for this week, including one with David Holmes, the aide Mr. Taylor referred to in his new testimony who overheard the call between Mr. Sondland and Mr. Trump.
MSNBC turned heads today when it called on a surprise guest for coverage of the hearing: George Conway, the conservative lawyer, frequent Trump critic and husband of Kellyanne Conway. Later in the day, they had another new impeachment pundit: Andrew Weissmann, a former prosecutor on Mr. Mueller’s team.
Vanessa Friedman, our chief fashion critic, wrote about the biggest style choice of the day: Mr. Kent’s bow tie.
Screenshots of MSNBC and Fox News show how differently the networks are covering impeachment — a mirror of the arguments Democrats and Republicans made at the hearing.
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