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Donald Trump impeachment hearings: Takeaways from the 1st round of public testimonies

ABOVE: First public hearings in Trump impeachment inquiry begin

The first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald Trump took place Wednesday, with witnesses offering new insight about where the president’s priorities might lay.

The investigation revolves around a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump asked for a “favour” from him — investigate his Democratic political rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden, and his family for dealings in Ukraine.

Prior to Wednesday, testimonies from Democrat-requested witnesses have taken place behind closed doors.

READ MORE: Recap of the first public impeachment hearings

Trump impeachment hearing: Ambassador Taylor full opening statement
Trump impeachment hearing: Ambassador Taylor full opening statement

William Taylor, a top diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior U.S. State Department Official, were the first to go public. The seasoned diplomats sat side-by-side before the House Intelligence Committee and reiterated their private testimonies to the American public. They also divulged new details.

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Here’s a look at a few stand-out moments from the hours-long hearing:

Trump asked about ‘the investigations’

Trump impeachment hearing: Trump allegedly said he ‘cared more’ about Bidens than about Ukraine’s security
Trump impeachment hearing: Trump allegedly said he ‘cared more’ about Bidens than about Ukraine’s security

In a surprise revelation, Taylor told the committee he recently learned a member of his staff overheard Trump asking about “the investigations” one day after the July 25 call in question.

Taylor said some of his staff were at a restaurant with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, when Sondland took a call with the president. Taylor’s staff said they could hear Trump asking him about “the investigations,” which Taylor interpreted as those into the Bidens and the Burisma Group, the Ukrainian firm linked to Hunter Biden.

Sondland told Trump that Ukraine was ready to move forward, Taylor said.

READ MORE: Here are 5 takeaways from Gordon Sondland’s ‘refreshed’ testimony on Ukraine

Trump says he told Sondland ‘no quid pro quo’, knows nothing of phone call referenced in impeachment hearing
Trump says he told Sondland ‘no quid pro quo’, knows nothing of phone call referenced in impeachment hearing

After the call, when asked by Taylor’s staffers what Trump thought about Ukraine, Sondland reportedly told the aide the president “cares more about the investigations of Biden” than U.S. policy on Ukraine.

“Which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor said.

He said he only learned about the call last Friday and wasn’t aware of it during his closed-door deposition.

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The staffer who overheard the conversation is reportedly David Holmes, a political officer in the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, according to CNN and CBS News. Holmes is due for a private deposition on Friday.

“Crazy” text explained

Trump impeachment hearing: Ambassador Taylor reads texts he sent upon learning of Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate Bidens
Trump impeachment hearing: Ambassador Taylor reads texts he sent upon learning of Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate Bidens

In a Sept. 9 text to Sondland, Taylor said withholding aid to Ukraine was “crazy.”

The text messages were among the first pieces of evidence to become public in the House impeachment inquiry and helped inform the possibility of a quid pro quo.

“To withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with a political campaign made no sense,” Taylor told the committee when asked to explain the texts.

READ MORE: Trump impeachment inquiry to hear from 8 more witnesses next week

Taylor emphasized the security [aid] was “so important for Ukraine… as well as our own national interests.” He said, “it made no sense.”

“It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do,” he said.

“It was illogical, could not be explained. It was crazy.”

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Whistleblower tensions

Trump impeachment hearing: Adam Schiff denies knowing whistleblower’s identity
Trump impeachment hearing: Adam Schiff denies knowing whistleblower’s identity

The historic impeachment hearing opened with an early clash between House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Republican Rep. Mike Conaway.

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Conaway asked Schiff to subpoena the whistleblower, whose complaint helped launch the investigation into Trump. Conaway said the whistleblower should be forced to appear behind closed doors.

A number of Republicans have urged the outing of the whistleblower.

READ MORE: Ivanka Trump says whistleblower’s identity ‘not particularly relevant’ to impeachment

Schiff said he would do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity and that he would “not permit the outing of the whistleblower” during the hearing. However, he said he would consider Conaway’s request only after the two diplomats concluded their public testimony.

Later, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan claimed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff had knowledge of the whistleblower’s identity.

Schiff denied the allegation.

Republicans’ focus slides away from witness testimony to witnesses themselves

Republican questions at the committee hearing dismissed the testimony, with one saying it was “hearsay.”

Rep. Mike Turner — known to be a moderate Republican — slammed the two “star” witness saying their testimonies wouldn’t be allowed in a court of law.

Others took their five minutes of questions to speak not about the call itself, but about the identity of the person who first brought up the Ukraine call as suspect.

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Trump impeachment hearing: Jordan suggests Ambassador’s understanding over Ukraine aid ‘was obviously wrong’
Trump impeachment hearing: Jordan suggests Ambassador’s understanding over Ukraine aid ‘was obviously wrong’

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said the whistleblower, a CIA officer assigned to the White House whose complaint started the inquiry, should come before the committee.

Jordan earlier complained that the witnesses Wednesday testifying publicly for the first time didn’t have firsthand knowledge of the accusations and never spoke directly Trump.

Jordan suggested the Taylor’s understanding was basically a bad game of telephone.

“We’ve got six people having four conversations in one sentence, and this is where you told me you got your clear understanding,” Jordan said.

And Trump?

Trump says he’s too busy to watch impeachment hearing, calls it ‘hoax’
Trump says he’s too busy to watch impeachment hearing, calls it ‘hoax’

Normally fairly engaged in the impeachment saga concerning his presidency, Trump brushed off the first round of public hearings.

He told reporters at the White House that he would not watch the proceedings, saying he’s “too busy.” Trump hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday afternoon amid lingering tensions in the relationship.

“It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax,” he said ahead of their meeting.

“I’m too busy to watch it. I have not been briefed.”

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He went on to take a dig at lawmakers in charge of questioning the witnesses: “They’re using lawyers that are television lawyers.”

Aside from a few tweets Wednesday morning — including “NEVER TRUMPERS!” and “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” — Trump laid off the social media storm during the hearing.

He did, however, appear in a video on the White House Twitter account where he described the hearing as the “single greatest scam in American politics.”

Trump says he didn’t watch any of first public impeachment hearing, calls it a ‘sham’
Trump says he didn’t watch any of first public impeachment hearing, calls it a ‘sham’

— With files from the Associated Press