The impeachment inquiry kicked off the first public hearings on Wednesday, starting with head of diplomatic affairs in Kyiv, Ukraine Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent. On Friday, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch provided more testimony. Meanwhile, Democrats have honed their message to combat Republican talking points. They have now started calling what the Trump Administration did bribery.
Bill Taylor's testimony has been the most explosive so far, revealing yet another phone call, this one overheard by one of Taylor's staffers, foreign service official David Holmes. In Kyiv, Holmes heard Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland talking to President Donald Trump about the investigations that Sondland was trying to get Ukranian officials to agree to. According to Taylor, Sondland told his staffer "President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for." Holmes appeared in a closed-door hearing with lawmakers on Friday.
Taylor also said that Sondland told him Trump was waiting to get what he was "owed" from Ukraine before he would release the military aid. This is because of a conspiracy theory that claims that the Ukranians interfered in the 2016 elections.
This brings us to the next witness: George Kent. Kent told lawmakers that there was no evidence of election interference by Ukranians. The Intelligence Community has come to the same conclusions. Republican Representatives also asked Kent about Barisma Holdings, the energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board during the Obama administration. Kent said that he had raised concerns about impropriety and the appearance of a conflict of interest, but that his concerns were ignored. However, Kent testified that there was no proof whatsoever that then Vice President Joe Biden acted inappropriately.
On Friday, Congress heard from Marie Yovanovitch, former ambassador to Ukraine. Many saw her testimony as particularly powerful; FOX News
Despite claiming he hasn't been watching the impeachment proceedings, the President took the time to tweet about Yovanovitch during her hearing saying everywhere she goes "turned bad". After being asked by Schiff what she thought of the President's behavior, Yovanovitch said she found it "very intimidating" to which Schiff responded, "Well, I want to let you know, Ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously." On the now infamous July phone call, Trump himself mentioned Yavonovitch saying she "was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that."
Meanwhile, Republicans have been making their case against the proceedings. Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. spoke at length in his opening statement about the "political animus" against President Trump, arguing that the inquiry is a "farce" meant to fulfill Democrats' "Watergate fantasies". Republicans including the President have complained about the change of format for the inquiry from private to public despite having argued strenuously for public hearings previously. Now they say the inquiry is a hoax, so it should not be televised. Against the President's wishes, many Republican lawmakers have said that either the Trump administration was not smart enough to carry out a quid pro quo or that it does not matter anyway because the aid was eventually released without explanation. Given the direction of their line of questioning, it is clear that Republicans are also trying to argue that Trump was justified in calling for the investigations into the Bidens and 2016 election interference. Via questions put to Kent, Republicans implied that investigating corruption in Ukraine is necessary because corruption is rampant there. Again, the allegations of corruption made against Joe Biden have been widely debunked; in fact, his efforts in Ukraine were supported by the U.N. and other established countries. Republicans also implied that because many Ukranians do not care for Trump, it would make sense to think they had meddled in the 2016 election, another debunked conspiracy.
The Democrats on the other hand have also switched up their messaging. Rather than relying on the somewhat confusing term "quid pro quo", they are instead referring to Trump's alleged impeachable offenses as bribery and extortion. Bribery is mentioned explicitly in the Constitution along with "high crimes and misdemeanors" under impeachable offenses.