After many hours of closed-door depositions, and the release of hundreds of pages of transcripts, it’s tempting to think the public-hearing phase of the impeachment inquiry might simply review information we already know, with witnesses who’ve already spoken to lawmakers.
That assumption would be wrong. Consider this NBC News from this afternoon.
A U.S. government employee overheard President Donald Trump ask Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on the phone about “the investigations” and heard the ambassador reassure the president that the Ukrainians were “ready to move forward,” a senior diplomat told Congress Wednesday in the first public impeachment hearing.
The revelation from William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, is a significant new development that emerged in a hearing that lawmakers had anticipated would largely reconstruct on television depositions that had taken place previously behind closed doors.
What Taylor described was a July 26 call – the day after Donald Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for Biden-related assistance – which followed a meeting between Trump administration officials and a top Zelensky aide in Ukraine.
Trump purportedly asked Sondland about “the investigations.”
In response to questioning, Taylor added this morning that this was in reference to possible investigations into the Bidens, and that Sondland told the American president that the Ukrainians “were ready to move forward.”
After that call, the ambassador reportedly told the staffer that Trump “cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”
NYU’s Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel at the Pentagon described these new details as a “bombshell.”
And why didn’t we hear about this sooner? Because, Taylor explained, he’d only learned from an aide about the call last week.
Though Taylor didn’t identify the aide, NBC News’ report added that he’s David Holmes, the State Department official who serves as counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
And as it turns out, we also learned today that Holmes is now scheduled to testify in closed session later this week as part of the impeachment inquiry.
As for why this is so significant, Adam K. Raymond’s explained:
Why does this revelation matter? Namely because it’s the clearest indication yet that Sondland was acting on direct orders from Trump when pressing Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Democratic senator Chris Murphy tweeted the news isn’t really bombshell “because it just confirms what we already knew.” However, it does underscore that “Trump was directing all this, because … of course he was.”
Of course, just because this is in line with expectations doesn’t negate its significance. As recently as last week, some in Republican circles were prepared to argue that Trump was out of the loop in the Ukraine scandal, and the whole mess could be pinned on some “fall guys” in the president’s immediate orbit.
That’s vastly more difficult when Taylor’s testimony further links Trump to the scheme.