Trump under pressure in 2nd week of impeachment hearings

File photo. Gordon D. Sondland, the United States Ambassador to the European Union, arrives for his deposition amid the US House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry into President Trump, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 17 October 2019. [Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/EFE]

President Donald Trump faces more potentially damning testimony in the Ukraine scandal as a critical week of public impeachment hearings opens Tuesday (19 November) in the House of Representatives.

Trump’s suggestion that he might himself testify in the investigation which threatens his presidency had no impact on the House Intelligence Committee’s plans to interview nine witnesses this week.

Most significantly, they include Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, who allegedly transmitted to the Ukraine government Trump’s demands for help in finding dirt on his Democratic rivals ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to EU, in impeachment hot seat

Like many others before him, Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, was appointed to a plum diplomatic post by a grateful president.

The hearings also include diplomats who have already testified privately that Trump and Sondland repeatedly pushed Kyiv to open investigations into Democrat Joe Biden — Trump’s potential 2020 reelection challenger — and withheld nearly $400 million in aid and a White House meeting requested by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as pressure.

House leader Nancy Pelosi said Monday in a letter to fellow Democrats that Trump engaged in “extortion and bribery.”

Pelosi says Trump has admitted to bribery as impeachment probe intensifies

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday (14 November) President Donald Trump already has admitted to bribery in the Ukraine scandal at the heart of a Democratic-led inquiry, accusing him of an impeachable offense under the US Constitution.

“The facts are uncontested: that the president abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests,” she said.

Trump could testify in writing

Trump, who faces becoming only the third president in US history to be impeached, tweeted early Monday that he is “strongly” considering testifying to defend himself against allegations that he abused his powers in seeking foreign help for the 2020 election.

He tweeted that Pelosi suggested “that I testify about the phony Impeachment Witch Hunt.”

“She also said I could do it in writing,” he said.

“Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!”

Pundits were skeptical and said the likelihood of Trump following through was low, but there were no other signals one way or another from the White House and Congress.

In Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia, Trump hinted early on that he would testify and then stalled for months before answering written questions.

Even so, his lawyers negotiated strict limits on what kind of questions could be put, and in dozens of instances, Trump said he could not “recall” the facts.

Rising impeachment support

Democrats signalled they would plow ahead with the inquiry, scheduling nine witnesses this week.

On Tuesday morning the Intelligence Committee will hear from Jennifer Williams, an advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, and Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.

New impeachment witness rocks White House

A decorated Iraq War veteran rocked the White House Tuesday (29 October) with devastating testimony on Donald Trump’s alleged extortion of Ukraine as Democrats laid out plans for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry threatening his presidency.

Both listened in on Trump’s key 25 July phone call with Zelenskiy, in which the US leader pressured his counterpart to launch investigations into Biden and a wholly unsupported theory that Kyiv aided Democrats in the 2016 race.

In the afternoon Kurt Volker, the former special US envoy to Ukraine, and National Security Council official Timothy Morrison will testify.

Conceivably this week could wrap up the Democrats’ investigation and see them prepare the evidence collected to send to the House Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment.

Democrats have also demanded testimony from several senior White House and State department officials, especially Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who personally discussed Ukraine policy with Trump, and have also subpoenaed internal records.

But so far the White House has refused to let them testify and release the records.

Rather than engaging in a long court battle to force the testimony, Democrats have suggested they will simply consider adding obstruction of the investigation to the charges against Trump and push ahead toward a vote on impeachment by the full House.

That would likely pass the Democrat-controlled House, to place Trump on trial in the Senate, where a Republican majority could protect him from removal.

But with presidential and congressional elections now less than one year away, much depends on politics and public sentiment.

An ABC-Ipsos poll released Monday showed a bare majority of Americans, 51%, believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office, up from around 48% in polls before last week’s initial public testimony in Congress.

The poll suggested as well a drop in the number of people opposing impeachment, to 38%, below the previous average of about 46%.

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