The fifth day of public impeachment hearings is kicking off with another pair of key witnesses delivering damning evidence against Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the president is lashing out against the proceedings on Twitter, writing: “Never in my wildest dreams thought my name would in any way be associated with the ugly word, Impeachment!”
Mr Trump has had a more controversial week than usual, as his EU ambassador, Gordon Sondland, implicated the president in a quid pro quo with Ukraine during his own impeachment hearings - along with vice president Mike Pence, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. “Was there a ‘quid pro quo’?" Mr Sondland said in his opening statement. "As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."
The president's critics have said the proceedings are exposing impeachable offences, including ex-White House ethics lawyer Richard W Painter, who said it was effectively “game over” for his administration. Mr Trump has attempted to undermine the inquiry, insisting that he barely knew his ambassador and wanted “NOTHING” from Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev. As all that happened, the Democratic 2020 contenders took to the debate stage in Georgia to attack Mr Trump as "one of the most corrupt presidents" in US history.
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Donald Trump has tried to undermine claims that a US diplomat overheard him on the other end of a phone call to an ambassador – tweeting a bizarre message while the diplomat was giving evidence at the impeachment hearings.
The president tweeted: "I have been watching people making phone calls my entire life. My hearing is, and has been, great. Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I've even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!"
The tweet was sent while David Holmes, a State Department official, was reading his opening statement in the latest public hearings in the impeachment inquiry.
He was appearing alongside Fiona Hill, a British-born expert on Russia.
Fiona Hill, a former top White House adviser on Russia, has issued a full throated attack on what she has has described as the "fictional narrative" Donald Trump and his Republicans have pushed about Ukraine's role influencing the 2016 US election, during her opening remarks to the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment probe.
Ms Hill, who left the Trump administration this summer, told the House that Russia's entire goal in 2016 was to cast a political cloud over American democracy, implying that Mr Trump's push to investigate Ukrainian influence during that election was a product of a message "propagated by the Russian security services themselves."
"Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did," Ms Hill — who specialises in Soviet, Russian and European affairs —told the committee, apparently referencing Republican efforts to cast doubt on the extent of Russian meddling in the last presidential election. "This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."
Looks like even Fox News is reporting Fiona Hill's expert testimony about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election -
The House Intelligence Committee is set to reconvene momentarily, just as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prepares her weekly press conference -
The impeachment hearings are taking a short break. We'll be back with live updates momentarily.
Fiona Hill says she noticed former National Security Adviser John Bolton become physically tense during a meeting in which he tried to avoid discussing a White House meeting between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I saw Bolton stiffen...it was unmistakable body language," she said. "I had to go to the lawyers...to John Eisenberg...to basically say that [Bolton] is not part of whatever drug deal [Mulvaney and Sondland] were cooking up.”
Here's more video of Fiona Hill describing how the current state of US politics is exactly what Russia wanted in its attempts at interfering in the 2016 presidential election:
David Holmes says that he believes the Ukrainians were aware that Rudy Giuliani "represented the president's views" as he pushed for an investigation.
Here's video of Fiona Hill laying out the facts about 2016 presidential election interference -
The Independent's Andrew Feinberg notes that Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan have returned to the room where the impeachment hearings are being held.
Fiona Hill says the conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election "is a view that President Putin and Russian security services...have promoted...that has gotten some traction in the United States.”
David Holmes also notes that Russia endorses the conspiracy theory because it allows the Kremlin to "deflect" from its own attempts of intervening in the election.
Ohio Republican Jim Jordan has also left the room where the impeachment hearings are being held, The Independent's Andrew Feinberg notes.
Fiona Hill says she would not like to talk about the phone call between Donald Trump and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, citing executive privilege.
Democratic House counsel Daniel Goldman encourages Ms Hill to discuss the call, and notes that it has been declassified. Ms Hill says "it became very clear ... that the White House meeting was being predicated" on other issues, including the investigations in question.
David Holmes begins to lay out how exactly he managed to hear the phone call between Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Donald Trump, in which the president reportedly asked about whether his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky would "do the investigations" -
"When the president came on, he sort of winced and held the phone away from his ear like this. And he did that for the first couple exchanges."
David Holmes is directly linking Donald Trump to the timeline of events leading up to the demands for political investigations from Ukraine:
Here's The Independent's Clark Mindock with more on Fiona Hill's testimony expertly refuting conspiracy theories that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election - a conspiracy supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Independent's Andrew Feinberg, who is sitting in the impeachment hearings, says ranking Republican member Devin Nunes has left the room.
Fiona Hill says Russia got "exactly what it was hoping for" in the result of the 2016 election, as the nation has become divided over the contentious results.
She lays out her reasoning for providing such a sharp request in her opening remarks not to advance Russian talking points, saying that Russia has "created the kind of chaos" we are seeing, adding not to give them "more fodder to use against us in 2020".
"In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests", Fiona Hill says. "I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine—not Russia—attacked us in 2016. These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes."
Fiona Hill is already receiving swift praise for expertly knocking down conspiracy theories that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election rather than Russia: