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7 Moments That Stood Out From The 1st Day Of The Trump Impeachment Hearings

Top State Department official George Kent (left) and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor are sworn in to testify during the first public Trump impeachment hearing on Wednesday.
Andrew Harnik
Top State Department official George Kent (left) and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor are sworn in to testify during the first public Trump impeachment hearing on Wednesday.

Two witnesses seen as crucial to the case against President Trump in the impeachment inquiry testified Wednesday.

Much of what was said by acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and George Kent, the State Department's top official on Ukraine policy, was previously known from their lengthy depositions released last week.

But there were some new things — and several moments that stood out. Here are seven:

1. A new detail from a new witness emerges

Taylor revealed that in the past week, a member of his staff shared some new information with him about a call between President Trump and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland that tied Trump to an effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Can't see the video? Click here.

"Following the call with President Trump," Taylor said, "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 (Joe) Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for."

Multiple congressional sources identified David Holmes as the aide to Taylor. Holmes is scheduled to testify in a closed-door session on Friday.

It's unclear whether he would also be called to testify in an open session.

2. Trump felt he was wronged and Ukraine owed him

On President Trump's now-infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump said, "[T]he United States has been very very good to Ukraine. I wouldn't say that it's reciprocal necessarily ..."

Can't see the video? Click here.

Taylor testified that Sondland explained to him that Trump was a businessman and that a businessman expected something in return when writing a check. Taylor said he didn't think that made sense, because Ukraine didn't owe Trump anything.

Still, Taylor tried to explain that the president thought he was, in fact, owed something after what he saw as people in Ukraine being against him during the 2016 election.

"There was a feeling by President Trump," Taylor said, "that he had a feeling of having been wronged by the Ukrainians, and so this was something that he thought they owed him to fix that wrong."

3. The controversy about the Bidens

Kent noted that during the Obama administration, he raised concerns about the potential perception of a conflict of interest of Hunter Biden serving on the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, while his father, Joe Biden, was handling Ukraine policy as vice president. He said nothing was done about it.

Can't see the video? Click here.

But he dismissed the notion that Joe Biden did anything wrong.

Asked whether there was any factual basis to support allegations against Biden, Kent replied: "None whatsoever."

He said the former vice president acted in accordance with U.S. policy. And when asked if it was fair to say that Biden was participating in a wholly anti-corruption effort, and that Trump was not, Kent said, "That's a fair assessment."

He added that the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was "looking to dig up political dirt on a political rival in the next election cycle" in Ukraine.

Taylor agreed with Kent's assessment.

4. "You're their star witness?"

One of President Trump's chief defenders Wednesday was Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.

He argued that neither Taylor nor Kent had firsthand knowledge of many of their allegations and, therefore, had less credibility. Jordan dismissed Taylor this way:

"You weren't on the call, were you? ... You didn't listen in on President Trump's call, President Zelenskiy? ... You never talked with Chief of Staff Mulvaney. ... You never met the president. ... You had three meetings with Zelenskiy, and it [security assistance for investigations] didn't come up. ... And President Zelenskiy never made an announcement. This is what I can't believe, and you're their star witness."

Can't see the video? Click here.

Taylor testified that Sondland told an aide to President Zelenskiy that security assistance was unlikely to come if there was no public statement of support for the investigations into the conspiracy theories about Ukraine's role in the 2016 election and the Bidens.

After learning of Taylor's testimony, Sondland amended his and admitted he did, in fact, say that.

5. GOP raises Ukrainian suspicions, corruption

Taking center stage were the staff counsels, the Democrats' Daniel Goldman and Republicans' Steve Castor.

"Now Mr. Kent, corruption in Ukraine is endemic, correct?" Castor asked.

"That's correct," Kent replied.

"And it affects the courts, the prosecutors, and there have historically been problems with all the prosecutors in Ukraine, correct?" Castor added.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Castor tried to establish that Ukrainian corruption is rampant, so it would make sense that President Trump would want that looked into. And he also tried to raise suspicions around Ukrainians who said not-so-nice things about candidate Trump.

As Taylor explained to California Rep. Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee's ranking member, Trump said during his presidential campaign that perhaps Crimea should be recognizedas Russian.

"That sentiment is amazingly inflammatory to all Ukrainians," Taylor said.

6. Summing up the GOP rebuttal

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik summed up the GOP rebuttal as to why Trump should not be impeached by making two points:

"For the millions of Americans viewing today," she said, "the two most important facts are the following:

"No. 1, Ukraine received the aid.

"No. 2, there was, in fact, no investigation into Biden."

Can't see the video? Click here.

Jordan and others laid out why it would be valid for Trump to ask about the things he asked Zelenskiy to look into because:

1. Various Ukrainians did have problems with Trump (planting the seed that it's possible that Ukrainians had some role in 2016 election interference).

2. The head of Burisma was seen by many U.S. and international officials as corrupt, so it's a valid request to ask for an investigation, especially in a country known for corruption.

The U.S. intelligence community has assessed, and the Mueller report affirmed, that it was, in fact, the Russians who interfered with the 2016 elections, not Ukrainians. Kent also pushed back on the idea that Ukraine interfered.

"To my knowledge, there is no factual basis, no," he said.

Republicans also argued that Taylor and Kent's testimonies were based on hearsay, and that, in the end, Trump favored more robust military aid to Ukraine than President Obama.

7. Leaving a seat open for President Trump

Republicans complained on several occasions during Wednesday's testimony that they'd like to see the whistleblower testify, going so far as to unsuccessfully raise a procedural motion to bring the whistleblower before the committee.

"There's one witness they won't bring in front of us," Jordan said, "they won't bring in front of the American people. That's the guy who started it all — the whistleblower."

Can't see the video? Click here.

Peter Welch of Vermont parried back: "I'd say to my colleague, I'd be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there."

Can't see the video? Click here.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.