14th November 2019 - A series of public hearings in an impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump began yesterday as Democrats seek to flesh out allegations of misconduct related to subverting U.S.-Ukraine diplomacy so as to boost his own chances of re-election in 2020.

“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” said Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, at the beginning of the televised open hearing with key U.S. diplomats who have knowledge of the issue.

The Republican president is accused of abusing power by holding up congressionally approved U.S. military aid in a bid to force Ukraine to launch potentially damaging investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Trump denied any quid pro quo in comments to reporters, and criticized the impeachment proceedings as a “sham” based on “third-hand information.” The president also said he had not watched the hours-long hearing even “for one minute” because he was busy.

Trump repeated his assertion that his conduct during a controversial July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had been appropriate. According to the transcript of the call released by the White House, Trump asked Zelenskyy to “look into” allegations against Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who served as a board member of a Ukrainian energy company.

The witnesses that testified for the Intelligence Committee were William Taylor, U.S. acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

Taylor, who has already said in closed-door hearings that he believed Trump was seeking a quid pro quo with Ukraine, testified in the open hearing about discovering that the U.S. security assistance, which has been crucial to Ukraine’s defense amid Russian aggression, was conditioned on investigations into the Bidens and other issues.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine said he believed Trump was asking the Ukraine president to “very publicly” commit to the investigations.

Asked whether Trump had cared more about the investigations of the Bidens than about Ukraine, Taylor answered, “Yes.”

US President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, sought to undermine the idea that Trump had committed impeachable offenses, such as by confirming with the witnesses that Ukraine eventually received the aid without announcing investigations of the type Trump requested.

They also pointed to media reports that Zelenskyy himself has denied being pressured by Trump to carry out such investigations.

Developments leading to the current impeachment probe started with a complaint by an unidentified whistleblower in August who expressed concerns over the president’s alleged abuse of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 presidential election.

The start of the formal impeachment inquiry was announced in September by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in late October passed a resolution to set ground rules for an inquiry process, which included open hearings.

The Intelligence Committee plans to conduct a hearing tomorrow with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

According to the U.S. Constitution, the president shall be removed from office after impeachment for, and conviction of, “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Impeachment of the president requires the support of a majority of House members. If the House votes to impeach, a trial would then be held in the Republican-controlled Senate, with a two-thirds majority needed to convict the president and remove him from office.

In U.S. history, two presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — but neither was removed from office. Richard Nixon, hit by the so-called Watergate scandal, resigned in 1974 as he faced what seemed almost certain impeachment.