Ukraine case: Adam Schiff criticized for hiding testimonies from closed-door hearings

Ruben Fields
November 17, 2019

A USA ambassador ousted by Donald Trump told a riveting impeachment hearing Friday she felt intimidated by the president, after he launched an extraordinary real-time attack midway through her testimony to Congress.

"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad", Mr Trump wrote in the middle of her testimony.

The previous Obama administration, she said, did not ask her to help the Clinton campaign or harm the Trump campaign, she said.

"I think I sensed everyone wanted to avoid that scenario", she said.

On a momentous day on Capitol Hill, another official provided damning closed-door testimony to impeachment investigators, reportedly outlining how he overheard a phone call on which Trump asked about "investigations" he had requested from Ukraine into domestic political rivals.

More public hearings in the House are scheduled for this coming week.

Transcripts from the closed-door testimony from Morrison, a longtime Republican defense hawk in Washington, and Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence on Russian Federation and Europe, were released Saturday as investigators accelerated and deepened the probe.

While Yovanovitch's testimony dominated headlines on Friday, a closed-door deposition lawmakers held later in the day with David Holmes, a U.S. embassy official in Kiev, could prove more consequential.

The White House on Friday said "zero evidence" of any wrongdoing by President Donald Trump was presented at the impeachment hearing by a Congressional panel, asserting that the former USA envoy to Ukraine deposed she was unaware of any criminal activity involving the president.

Witness tampering including intimidation is a crime, but Schiff would not say whether it was an impeachable offence, or if Democrats would make it the subject of an article of impeachment.

The president later defended his comments at a White House event on health care, saying, "I have the right to speak". Holmes, according to Taylor, could hear Trump on the phone asking Sondland "about the investigations", and Sondland told the president the Ukrainians "were ready to move forward".

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Sandy was the first official from the Office of Management and Budget to defy Trump's instructions not to testify.

The testimony by Holmes, an aide to top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor, ties Trump more directly to a pressure campaign in Ukraine to investigate the Bidens led by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Yovanovitch told lawmakers her inexplicable removal plunged America's Ukraine policy into "disarray" and damaged Washington's global standing.

Morrison recalls conversations with Trump's European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland.

"I don't think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu and Somalia and not in other places", the visibly shaken Ms Yovanovitch told the impeachment committee hearing her testimony.

But above all Yovanovitch expressed alarm that envoys could be so easily "kneecapped" by false accusations and corrupt foreign influences. Sondland agreed, repeating the president did not "give a sh** about Ukraine".

It's similar to but distinct from the method - a personal cable to the secretary of state - that Taylor used to register his objections about Ukraine policy.

Pushing back, Republicans grilled Yovanovitch on Hunter Biden's association with Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president - leading her to acknowledge it "could raise the appearance of a conflict of interest". No wrongdoing by either Biden has been substantiated. Morrison's testimony also contradicts much of what Sondland told congressional investigators during his own closed-door deposition, which the ambassador later amended.

Ms Yovanovitch was removed as ambassador to Kyiv in May, two months before a controversial phone call between Mr Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, which is now key to the inquiry.

Holmes overheard the conversation between the president and Sondland in a restaurant in Kyiv, and said the call was loud enough to hear through the phone earpiece, according to the opening statement obtained by CNN, and that Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time and the president's voice was "very loud and recognizable".

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