The moment has arrived: The public phase of the House impeachment inquiry of President Trump began on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Democrat Adam Schiff declared at the start of the hearing that the "future of the presidency itself" is at stake, while Republican Devin Nunes called the hearings a "carefully orchestrated smear campaign." The first two witnesses were William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Some highlights:
- Another phone call: In a new piece of information, Taylor testified that a member of his staff overheard Trump ask about the "the investigations" during a phone call with diplomat Gordon Sondland, reports the AP. The call took place one day after Trump's call to the Ukraine president in July. (Sondland and the Taylor staffer were in a restaurant together when Trump called.) During the conversation, Sondland told Trump the Ukrainians were poised to move forward. After the call, the Taylor staffer asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine. "Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which (Rudy) Giuliani was pressing for," said Taylor, per Axios.
- More on that: Politico sees the call as "an explosive new detail," and the Washington Post agrees, saying it ties Trump "more directly to the effort to pressure Ukraine to probe his political opponents." Plus, it undermines Trump's previous assertion that he barely knows Sondland. A post at Red State, though, scoffs at the idea this is significant. "Under any other circumstances a staffer claiming to have heard what a remote participant on a telephone call said in a private phone call would be laughed at," it reads. "This kind of nonsense would not be allowed before any committee that still had a sense of shame."
- Trump denial: During a press conference with Turkey's president after their Oval Office meeting, Trump denied knowledge of the overheard call. "I know nothing about that," he said, per the AP. "First time I've heard it."