December 08, 2019
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    Impeachment inquiry: White House attacks witness who heard 'improper' call

    November 20, 2019

    The White House attacked its own top Ukraine official as he testified to an impeachment hearing that a phone call made by the president was "improper" and had left him in "shock".Lt Col Alexander Vindman told Congress that President Donald Trump made "inappropriate" political demands of the Ukrainian president."I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Lt Col Vindman said.The hearings are investigating whether Mr Trump abused his presidential power.
    A decorated Iraq war veteran who serves in a senior role on the US National Security Council (NSC), Lt Col Vindman testified before the House on Tuesday in his Army dress uniform.As he described his reaction to hearing a call between President Trump and his Ukranian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, Lt Col Vindman came under attack by the official White House Twitter account, which posted a critical quote from his former boss on the NSC questioning his judgement.
    Republican congressmen pressed Lt Col Vindman on the remark and questioned his loyalty to the US - asking about instances in which Ukrainian officials approached him about becoming the country's defence minister."Every single time I dismissed it," Lt Col Vindman said. "I'm an American."
    The impeachment hearings are an effort by Democrats to establish whether Mr Trump withheld US military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the country's new leader, Mr Zelensky, into announcing a corruption inquiry into Joe Biden, Mr Trump's leading Democratic rival for the US presidency.White House goes on the attack Lt Col Vindman told the US House intelligence committee that he had been concerned by the president's demands to investigate Mr Biden. "It was probably an element of shock that maybe, in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukrainian policy could play out was playing out," he said."It was improper for the president to request - to demand - an investigation into a political opponent, especially [from] a foreign power where there is at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation and that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge," he told the committee.He had reported the "inappropriate" discussion to NSC lawyers "out of a sense of duty".
    The official Twitter account of the White House was used throughout the hearing to attack Lt Col Vindman and the inquiry in real time, retweeting hashtags including #ShamImpeachment and #ParodyImpeachment.The Trump administration's use of a taxpayer-funded account to attack opponents has drawn criticism in the past.
    Who's who in Trump whistleblower story?Lt Col Vindman was among the US officials who listened in on the 25 July call between the two leaders. He is a decorated Iraq war veteran who was born in Ukraine; his family moved from the Soviet Union to the US 40 years ago.Mr Trump similarly used his own personal Twitter account to attack the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, during her testimony to the impeachment inquiry last week.
    Did Vindman show uncertainty or humanity?If what Vindman said was important, how he said it in the public hearings also mattered.Behind closed doors, veteran ambassadors Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch were reportedly smooth while Vindman was halting and nervous. Those observations have been confirmed by their public testimony - when Vindman delivered his opening statement, his hands trembled slightly. He occasionally stumbled over his words.Republicans could paint that as weakness or uncertainty, but it might also be seen by Americans as giving his testimony a touch of humanity - particularly when paired with the emotional closing words to Vindman's opening statement.
    Vindman offered reassurance to his father, who brought his children to the US from the Soviet Union, that he was sitting in the US Capitol and would be "fine for telling the truth".Toward the end of Vindman's appearance, he was asked by a Democratic congressman to read that line again - and then added why he's not afraid of testifying today. "Because this is America," he said. "This is the country I have served and defended... and here, right matters."Vindman's testimony will only add to the contentious debate among Democrats and Republicans over who is right and exactly what the truth is.
    The other witness in the morning session was Jennifer Williams, a foreign service adviser to Vice-President Mike Pence.She said Mr Trump's reference to Mr Biden in the 25 July call with Mr Zelensky had been "unusual" because it delved into domestic US politics."The reference to Biden sounded political to me," she said.
    The impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump is a fast-moving story that can be difficult to follow.
    This means it can be easy to lose track of the bigger picture.So, what would you like to know?
    Pick a question.
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    The inquiry's afternoon session heard from former NSC official Tim Morrison and Kurt Volker, the former US special representative to Ukraine.

    Mr Volker told the hearing that President Trump "had a deeply rooted negative view on Ukraine rooted in the past" and despite "positive news and recommendations" being conveyed about Ukraine's new president "he was clearly receiving other information from other sources, including Mayor Giuliani, that was more negative, causing him to retain this negative view".He added that the allegations against Mr Biden were "self-serving and not credible".Mr Morrison - who resigned from his position some weeks ago - says he felt no pressure to quit and feared no retaliation.In his opening statement he said he did not know the identity of a whistleblower whose report helped start the inquiry.
    What is the inquiry about?Mr Trump is facing a process that could eventually see him removed from office.The inquiry is trying to establish whether or not he improperly sought help from Ukraine to boost his chances of re-election in 2020.Things are still at an early stage. The first public hearings started last week in the lower house of Congress, the House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats. President Trump, who is a Republican, strongly denies any wrongdoing.Tuesday is the third day of televised impeachment hearings.Depending on what happens in the next few weeks, Mr Trump could end up facing impeachment.

    Key takeaways from day three
    Anthony Zurcher
    North America reporter
    @awzurcheron Twitter
    4 hours ago
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    Media captionWhy did this impeachment witness earn applause?
    On day three of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry, the witnesses included top aides who listened in on President Trump's call with Ukraine's leader. What did we learn?

    One was a decorated Iraq War veteran who was born in Ukraine and came to the US as a child, Lt Col Alexander Vindman.

    The other was US Vice-President Mike Pence's top adviser on Russia, Jennifer Williams.

    With the TV cameras rolling on Capitol Hill, they repeated concerns they had aired behind closed doors about the July phone call between the two leaders.

    But much of Tuesday's hearing was spent talking about a person who was probably not even in the room - the whistleblower.

    Here are my takeaways.

    'I do not know who the whistleblower is'
    Did Alexander Vindman talk to the whistleblower about Trump's 25 July phone call with Ukraine's president?

    That certainly seems to be what Republican Devin Nunes believes.

    After a few questions about Hunter Biden and Ukraine, Nunes started asking the two witnesses about whether they spoke to the press about the now famous Trump phone call.

    He started with Jennifer Williams, who said she did not, but that was just a feint. The real fireworks came when Vindman spoke of the two people he talked to. The first was George Kent, the senior State Department Ukraine expert who had himself testified before the committee last week.

    The other was... an intelligence community official.

    For those who haven't been following closely, it has been widely reported that the whistleblower - the individual whose complaint set off the chain reaction that has led to these impeachment hearings - was a member of the intelligence community.

    When Democrat Adam Schiff cut in, saying "these proceedings will not be used to out the whistleblower", the audience let out an audible "oooh".

    But Vindman has testified that he doesn't know who the whistleblower is, Nunes responded, so how could he out that person?

     

    Media captionA beginner's guide to impeachment and Trump
    Things got tense.

    When Nunes referred to Vindman as "Mr", the Army officer curtly corrected him that it he should be addressed as "Lieutenant Colonel Vindman".

    Despite being pressed, Vindman and his lawyer dug in. He would not name names. Democrats have asserted that the impeachment investigation has become much bigger than the whistleblower, whose original complaint has been largely corroborated and whose identity is protected under federal law.

    Republicans - from the president on down - return time and time again to the whistleblower's identity, however, and what motivations he may have had to file his complaint.

    They may believe that if they undercut that person's credibility, the rest of the allegations will be treated with greater scepticism.

    Body language
    In his Wednesday morning testimony, Vindman spoke of a 10 July White House meeting with Ukrainian officials where Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, twice brought up announcing investigations in exchange for a White House visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

    The first time, he says, National Security Advisor John Bolton abruptly cut the meeting short. Vindman testified that after a brief photo session, Sondland once again spoke of investigations of the Bidens, Ukrainian energy company Burisma and alleged Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

    Other Democratic questioning attempted to place Donald Trump's 25 July phone call with Zelensky, to which Vindman also was a first-hand witness, within the context of Sondland's Ukrainian efforts.

    Vindman testified that it seemed like Zelensky was "prepped" for Trump's ask for a Biden investigation. They suggested that the 10 July Sondland activity was exactly that kind of prepping.

    If what Vindman said was important, how he said it in the public hearings also mattered.

    Behind closed doors, veteran ambassadors Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch were reportedly smooth while Vindman was halting and nervous. Those observations have been confirmed by their public testimony.

    When Vindman delivered his opening statement, a few yards from where I was seated, his hands trembled slightly. He occasionally stumbled over his words.

    Image copyrightREUTERS
    Republicans could paint that as weakness or uncertainty, but it might also be seen by Americans as giving his testimony a touch of humanity - particularly when paired with the emotional closing words to Vindman's opening statement.

    Vindman offered reassurance to his father, who brought his children to the US from the Soviet Union 40 years ago, that he was sitting in the US Capitol and would be "fine for telling the truth".

    Toward the end of Vindman's appearance, he was asked by a Democratic congressman to read that line again - and then added why he's not afraid of testifying today.

    "Because this is America," he said. "This is the country I have served and defended... and here, right matters."

    A smattering of applause broke out from supporters in the hearing-room audience. But Vindman's testimony will only add to the contentious debate among Democrats and Republicans over who is right and exactly what the truth is.

    Did Republican witnesses help Democrats more?
    Later on Tuesday, the lawmakers heard from former National Security Council official Tim Morrison and US ex-special to Ukraine Kurt Volcker. They had been listed as two men Republicans wanted to talk to during the public impeachment hearings.

    It turns out they hurt Donald Trump's defence as much as they helped it.

    Morrison did say there was nothing illegal or concerning about Donald Trump's 25 July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and no ill motive for moving the rough transcript of that call to a more secure government server.

    He also, however, corroborated reports that US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland pressured Ukraine to open investigations that could prove politically helpful to Donald Trump - and that Sondland was in regular contact with the president.

    Image copyrightEPA
    Image caption
    Volker and Morrison were called as witnesses by the Republicans
    Volcker said he recalled past instances where the US had held up aid to a foreign nation and saw no evidence of bribery in this case, but he also turned out to be a character witness for Joe Biden.

    Not only did he assert that there was nothing untoward about the former vice-president's dealings with Ukraine, but he expressed dismay to learn that when Trump administration officials were calling for investigations into Ukrainian energy company Burisma, they were really looking to damage the Democratic presidential hopeful.

    That, and his acknowledgement that military aid may have been held up to increase the pressure on Ukraine, represented a change from Volcker's closed-door testimony - given as one of the investigation's first witnesses.

    Democrats may suspect that Volcker's new assertion is convenient naiveté or intentional obliviousness to avoid culpability, but it means his testimony still was of relatively little use for Republicans.

    Now the stage is set for Wednesday's appearance by Sondland - a man whose name came up throughout the day on Tuesday. The ambassador has already had to revise earlier sworn testimony to reflect memories he said were refreshed by other witnesses. He'll be further pressed by both Democrats and Republicans in what could be the most unpredictable appearance of any of the witnesses so far.

    Republican Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, one of the president's most ardent defenders, calls Sondland a "wild card". Tomorrow we may have a better idea which side has a winning hand.

    Learn more about Trump and impeachment inquiry
    SIMPLE GUIDE: A basic take on what's going on
    GO DEEPER: Here's a 100, 300 and 800-word summary of the story
    Three Republican claims fact-checked
    By Jonah Fisher in Kyiv & Reality Check team
    BBC News
    19 November 2019
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    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    The impeachment inquiry is now being held in public
    President Trump and his Republican supporters are fighting hard to control the narrative of the ongoing impeachment hearings, hitting back with their own allegations against Democrats and the whistleblower at the origin of the affair.

    They're also questioning the actions of Ukrainian politicians, as well as pushing for greater scrutiny of allegations that Joe Biden and his son Hunter were up to no good in Ukraine.

    Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee holding the impeachment hearings, made three specific claims in his opening statement on Tuesday.

    So what are these allegations and how valid are they?

    The whistleblower has links to the Democrats
    Getty
    You'll find out the whistleblower is someone from the deep state and had interactions with Schiff and it's going to stink to high heaven.
    Lindsey Graham
    Republican Senator
    Mr Trump's supporters have accused the whistleblower of links to the Democratic Party, and say individual Democrats met the whistleblower and knew the details before the official complaint was made.

    The whistleblower did contact a staff member of the US House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, before officially filing the complaint.

    The staff member who met the whistleblower advised them to get a lawyer and follow the formal process for lodging a complaint.

    A spokesman for Mr Schiff suggested that this was not unusual as in the past, other whistleblowers had contacted both Republican and Democratic-controlled committees.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Adam Schiff has denied meeting the whistleblower in person
    There is official guidance for how Congress should respond when approached by whistleblowers, suggesting it's quite normal for them to receive these complaints directly.

    Mr Schiff denies allegations that he met the whistleblower, and recently said he didn't even know who they were.

    As for allegations of prior links to the Democratic Party, a lawyer representing the anonymous whistleblower says they never worked for or advised any political party, candidate or campaign.

    In considering these possible links, the top official in charge of dealing with complaints within the intelligence community had examined "indications of arguable political bias" on the part of the whistleblower, but had concluded the complaint about the president was still credible.

    Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US election
    At the core of these allegations by Mr Trump's supporters is that the Democrats were helped by individuals in Ukraine or with Ukrainian connections to undermine the Trump campaign.

    There are several key elements in this.

    Reuters
    The Democrats cooperated in Ukrainian election meddling.
    Devin Nunes
    Republican and ranking member of House Intelligence Committee
    The first concerns the so-called "Black Ledger" document that emerged in Ukraine appearing to show that Mr Trump's now jailed former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, received undeclared payments from a Ukrainian pro-Russian political party.

    President Trump's supporters suggest this document was a fake and that it was deliberately leaked by a Ukrainian journalist turned politician, Sergei Leschenko, who hated Mr Trump.

    The problem is that the sections released by Mr Leschenko did not refer to Paul Manafort at all. The material related to Mr Manafort was made public by an official Ukrainian anti-corruption body.

    And more than three years since it emerged, no one has managed to cast serious doubt on its contents.

    Image copyrightAFP
    Image caption
    Mr Manafort has been jailed for fraud and conspiracy
    Secondly, there is the role of a former part-time Democratic National Committee (DNC) consultant called Alexandra Chalupa, who is of Ukrainian heritage.

    She figured prominently in a controversial report by the US website Politico which alleged that Ms Chalupa approached Ukrainian diplomats in Washington to dig dirt on Mr Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

    The article documents communication between Ms Chalupa and the Ukrainian embassy in Washington and her efforts to find information that would suggest a Russian link to Mr Trump and Paul Manafort.

    Right-wing media denounce impeachment hearings
    A simple guide to the Trump impeachment inquiry
    Who's who in the Ukraine story?
    The DNC and Ms Chalupa have repeatedly said her outreach to the Ukrainian embassy was on her own initiative, and there is no evidence that any relevant information was ever provided.

    The Ukrainian embassy says it "refused to get involved in any way."

     

    Media captionWhat does it take to impeach a president?
    It's true to an extent that in 2016, leading Ukrainian politicians preferred Hillary Clinton to win the presidency given the conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine, and worries that Mr Trump was re-thinking ties with Moscow.

    In July 2016, Mr Trump made comments suggesting he would consider recognising Russia's annexation of Crimea, which most Ukrainians and most of the world considers illegal.

    The then Ukrainian ambassador in the US, Valeriy Chaly, wrote an opinion piece criticising Mr Trump. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov called Mr Trump's remarks "shameful."

    But the idea there was concerted Ukrainian interference has been largely debunked, and the State Department's expert on Ukraine, George Kent, said during the impeachment hearing that the theory had "no factual basis."

    The Bidens were up to no good in Ukraine
    During the Obama administration, Vice-President Joe Biden was the administration's point man for Ukraine and his son Hunter was a well-paid director at one of Ukraine's largest energy companies, Burisma.

    President Trump's supporters believe that Mr Biden called for Ukraine's leading prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to be sacked because he was scrutinising his son's company.

    Getty
    I would recommend they (Ukraine) start an investigation into the Bidens because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked.”
    Donald Trump
    US President
    It's certainly true that Mr Biden wanted the prosecutor to be sacked, but he wasn't alone.

    There was near unanimity among international institutions, Western countries and local anti-corruption activists at the time that he had to go.

    It's technically true to say the sacked prosecutor was looking at Burisma amongst cases he'd inherited from his predecessor, but like so many in Ukraine it was not being actively pursued.

    So what was Hunter Biden doing for his widely reported $50,000 a month fee? He had no experience either in the gas sector nor Ukraine when he joined Burisma in 2014 and has said he was probably recruited for his name and that it had been "poor judgement" to accept.

    We also know that George Kent, the senior state department official, had raised concerns at the time with Joe Biden's office about Hunter Biden taking on this role, that it could appear to be a conflict of interest.

    But in Eastern Europe and elsewhere in the world it's fairly common for well-known public figures to be given well-paid positions to improve the public image of a controversial company.

    The short, medium and long story
    24 October 2019
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    Related TopicsUS election 2020
    Image copyrightEPA
    Image caption
    The story centres around a call between Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and US President Donald Trump
    You may have heard this one before - a controversy involving a foreign power could threaten the future of the Trump presidency.

    Donald Trump is the subject of an impeachment inquiry over allegations that he improperly sought help from Ukraine to boost his chances of re-election.

    But the story is fast-moving and complex. Let's break it down.

    Mr Trump is accused of breaking the law by pressuring Ukraine's leader to dig up damaging information on a political rival.

    In July, he urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate one of the frontrunners to take him on in next year's presidential election. This matters because it is illegal to ask foreign entities for help in winning a US election.

    An impeachment inquiry that could see the president eventually removed from office is under way.

    But there is a fierce debate about whether Mr Trump broke the law or committed an impeachable offence - he himself says he has done nothing wrong.

    At the heart of this story is a complaint from an unknown whistleblower.

    In August, an anonymous intelligence official wrote a letter expressing concern over Mr Trump's 25 July call with the Ukrainian president.

    They said they had an "urgent concern" that Mr Trump had used his office to "solicit interference from a foreign country" in the 2020 presidential election.

    Who's who in Trump whistleblower story?
    What Trump's Ukraine phone call really means
    A rough transcript of the call later revealed that Mr Trump had urged President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former US Vice-President Joe Biden, the frontrunner to take on Mr Trump in next year's election, as well as Mr Biden's son.

    The call came shortly after Mr Trump had blocked the release of millions in military aid to Ukraine. A senior official later testified that the president had made clear the release of this aid was conditional on Mr Biden being investigated, but the White House denies this.

     

    Media captionWhat we know about Biden-Ukraine corruption claims
    Mr Trump and his supporters allege Mr Biden abused his power to pressure Ukraine to back away from a criminal investigation that could implicate his son, Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian energy company.

    But these allegations have been widely discredited. There is no evidence that Mr Biden took any action to intentionally benefit his son, nor is there any evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden.

    Congressional Democrats say the phone call is proof that Mr Trump broke the law by seeking foreign help to try and smear Mr Biden ahead of the election.

    But there has been some debate over whether soliciting opposition research from a foreign government constitutes an impeachable offence. President Trump has dismissed the growing controversy as a "witch hunt".

    Regardless, the July call is now at the centre of an effort by Democrats to expel Mr Trump from office. But for it to be successful, members of his own Republican Party will have to turn against him.

    Mr Trump says he called his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky on 25 July to congratulate him on his recent election victory. Mr Zelensky, a former TV star with no political experience, was elected president in a landslide win in April.

    But an anonymous whistleblower, reported to be a CIA official, felt there was something more serious in their exchange. They filed a formal complaint on 12 August explaining why they were so concerned.

    In their letter, the whistleblower admitted that they had not directly witnessed the call but said accounts shared by other officials had painted a consistent picture.

    For context, about a dozen people are reported to have listened in on the conversation, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

    It's important to note that the call occurred days after Mr Trump blocked $391m (£316m) in military aid to Ukraine. Critics argue this was used as a bargaining chip to pressure the new government in Kyiv, but Mr Trump denies this.

     

    Media captionTrump: "It's a partisan whistleblower"
    The whistleblower's complaint alleges the president used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country" in next year's presidential election (more on this later). They also allege White House officials were "deeply disturbed" by the call and acted to "lock down" all details of it.

    Amid the growing controversy, Mr Trump promised to release a "complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript" he said would prove the call had been "totally appropriate".

    But the details disclosed by the White House were notes of the conversation. It was not a full, verbatim, account and it did little to quell the spiralling controversy. The whisteblower's complaint was made public shortly after.

    The transcript of the call showed Mr Trump had urged Mr Zelensky to investigate discredited corruption allegations against former Vice-President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic frontrunner, as well as Mr Biden's son.

    Mr Trump and his allies have been suggesting that Mr Biden, as Barack Obama's vice-president, encouraged the firing of Ukraine's top prosecutor in 2015 because he had been investigating an energy company which employed Hunter Biden.

    At the time, by working closely with foreign-owned entities while his father was in the White House, Hunter Biden was criticised for leaving his father exposed to suggestions of a possible conflict of interest. But no evidence has emerged that Mr Biden took any action to intentionally benefit his son.

    Hunter Biden denies wrongdoing. Officials in Kiev have said there is no evidence to support the allegations.

    Image copyrightPOOL/GETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Former President Barack Obama sits with former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter at a basketball game in 2010
    Mr Trump has pointed to a boast Mr Biden made in 2018 about how as vice-president he had threatened to withhold a billion dollars in aid from Ukraine unless the prosecutor was fired.

    But motivation is key here. Mr Biden wanted him removed precisely because he was failing to crack down on corruption. And the vice-president was not acting alone, but rather as the focal point of a wider anti-corruption drive in Ukraine backed by the US government, European allies and the International Monetary Fund.

    Mr Trump pressing a foreign leader to investigate the discredited allegations against Mr Biden is significant. This is because Mr Biden is the current favourite to win the Democratic nomination and, if chosen, he would be the man facing Mr Trump for the presidency in November 2020.

    As Mr Biden is his biggest rival for the presidency, it opens Mr Trump up to claims he was working with a foreign power to influence the election. This - crucially - is against the law.

    Who listens in on a president's phone call?
    Ukraine has 'no jurisdiction' to investigate Bidens
    How easy is it to impeach a president?
    This is not the first time Mr Trump has been scrutinised over his foreign connections. His 2016 election campaign was investigated over its alleged ties to Russia. The inquiry did not establish a criminal conspiracy to influence the election, but it also did not exonerate the president of obstructing justice.

    The Democrats have launched a formal impeachment inquiry and have spared no time in getting to work. A number of officials have been called to testify, including the US government's special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker who has turned over a trove of text messages and other relevant communications.

    The acting ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, also told Congress that Mr Trump had made the release of the military aid conditional on Ukraine opening an investigation into the Biden's dealings. He also said there was "an irregular, informal channel of US policy-making" in the country more generally. The White House denies this was the case.

    The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was subpoenaed for documents relating to Ukraine. Mr Giuliani has been central in pushing the allegations against the Bidens. Secretary Pompeo was also served with a subpoena.

    So how does the impeachment process work?

    Impeachment is the first part - the charges - of a two-stage political process by which Congress can remove a president from office. If the House votes to pass articles of impeachment, the Senate is forced to hold a trial.

    A Senate vote requires a two-thirds majority to convict. As it stands, this is unlikely given that Mr Trump's party controls the chamber. Unlikely, but not impossible.

     

    For Americans watching the impeachment hearings, it often seemed as though the Democrats and Republicans weren't just talking across each other, they're not even existing in the same political universe.

    That divergence of realities was on stark display from the start of Tuesday's proceedings, as Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Devin Nunes gave their opening remarks.

    As he had in the previous two days of hearings, Schiff used his time to lay out what he views as the case against Donald Trump. He described the president's alleged "scheme" to pressure the Ukrainian government to open investigations of Democrats that could be politically beneficial to him.

    He noted witness testimony of instances of this Ukrainian pressure.

    He cited Saturday's closed door deposition by US Ukraine-based diplomat David Holmes, who said he overheard a call during which Trump asked US Ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland about the "investigations". Sondland, Holmes said, would later observe that the president didn't care about Ukraine beyond how the investigations could help him personally.
    Both Nunes and Schiff represent the state of California
    Nunes, in his five-minute statement, declined to offer a line-by-line defence of the president. Instead, he went on the attack.

    He said media coverage of last week's impeachment hearings were biased in favour of the Democrats. He called out CNN, the Guardian, Slate, the Daily Beast, New York magazine and others by name. He said their coverage of Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election was frequently wrong, and the Ukraine story was simply a continuation of a campaign to oust the president.

    Democrats, in these hearings, are trying to set out a series of facts that they say point to presidential abuse of power and could constitute an impeachable offence. The Republican strategy, at least at this point, is to encourage Americans that they can't trust the facts - or the mainstream media outlets that are reporting them.

     

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