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Impeachment Inquiry Public Hearing Begins On Capitol Hill


We now know some of the early statements of the first day of public testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Lawmakers are in a building across the street from the Capitol dome. They're in a cavernous hearing room. There are no windows in that room, but TV cameras for the first time give us a window into sworn testimony in this investigation. The chairman of the committee taking testimony, Adam Schiff of California, has today laid out what he wants to know.


ADAM SCHIFF: If we find that the president of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections or if he sought to condition, coerce, extort or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts - a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid - must we simply get over it? Is this what Americans should now expect from their president? If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?

INSKEEP: Adam Schiff referring to the president's effort to get investigations of political rivals in Ukraine. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us. Tam, Good morning.


INSKEEP: And she's been listening along. I guess we should note - when he says, get over it, he's referring to something a White House official actually said. The Trump administration has not denied most of the facts here; they've said, get over it.

KEITH: Right. That's absolutely correct. The facts are not really in question here; what is in question is what it all means. And to hear Adam Schiff talk about it, this hearing and this process is about the future of the republic. And to hear the ranking member, the Republican - lead Republican on the committee, Devin Nunes, talk about it, this is one great big show that is part of a long-running plan from Democrats to try to get rid of President Trump.

INSKEEP: And that's what we're going to hear here. Let's listen to Devin Nunes.


DEVIN NUNES: Seems you agreed witting or unwittingly to participate in a drama. But the main performance, the Russia hoax, has ended, and you've been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel.

INSKEEP: He's essentially saying the Mueller probe didn't work, so you're going on. But the witnesses here, the first two witnesses are career diplomats, government professionals who worked for presidents of both parties. And what are they saying?

KEITH: Yeah. So William Taylor and George Kent are both, as you say, career diplomats. Taylor said something in his opening statement that gets at how he sees himself in this process.


WILLIAM TAYLOR: I am not here to take one side or the other or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings. My sole purpose is to provide facts as I know them about the incidents in question, as well as my views about the strategic importance of Ukraine to the United States.

KEITH: And he is the top diplomat in Ukraine right now. He was actually brought in by the Trump administration. And the other witness, George Kent, is also a top diplomat, works in the State Department overseeing - has Ukraine in his portfolio. He came in and said that he is a fact witness, very similar to what Taylor had said. And then he went on to describe a campaign that was meant to undermine both him and the ambassador - the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch.


GEORGE KENT: It was unexpected and most unfortunate, however, to watch some Americans, including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas, launch attacks on dedicated public servants, advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine. In my opinion, those attacks undermined U.S. and Ukrainian national interests and damaged our critical bilateral relationship.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note - these people who describe themselves as fact witnesses - Kent said he thinks it is wrong to ask for selective prosecution, selective investigations overseas. And Taylor affirmed - he did write a text message saying it was crazy to condition U.S. aid on getting investigations of political opponents.

KEITH: That's correct. And in Kent's testimony, he specifically says he does not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power because such selective actions undermine the rule of law, regardless of the country.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.