New York: Four key witnesses testifying in the President Donald Trump impeachment inquiry have expressed varying degrees of reservations about him asking Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the involvement of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son in business dealings there.
National Security Council (NSC) Ukraine expert Lt Col Alexander Vindman and Vice President Mike Pence`s foreign policy adviser Jennifer Williams, who were asked by the Democrats to testify, said outright on Tuesday that Trump`s request was inappropriate.
Two others who had been called to the hearing at the request of Republicans, the former Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, and former Trump adviser and NSC senior official, Tim Morrison expressed reservations about the president requesting investigations.
For the first time the open hearings heard from people who have directly heard the phone call in which Trump asked Zelensky as a favour to investigate the Bidens ? Morrision, Vindman and Williams. The call on July 25 is at the core of the impeachment as the Democrats say it amounted to getting a foreign country to involve itself in US politics as Biden was a frontrunner to face Trump in next year`s election.
The hearings in Washington on Tuesday held by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives Intelligence Committee was the third set held in the open after weeks of secret testimony in an underground chamber. It lasted more than ten hours with the two called by Democrats testifying side by side in the morning and the Republican witnesses together in the afternoon.
Vindman said that hearing Trump make the request was "my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out, and how this was likely to have significant implications for US national security."
Williams said it was "unusual and inappropriate" and was political.
But Morrison said that Trump making the request was not illegal, yet it was not something he would have recommended.
Volker said that asking the Ukrainian leader to investigate the Bidens and theories about Ukraine involvement in the 2016 elections were not matters the US should "be pursuing as part of our national security strategy with Ukraine."
The hearings on national television were often like party campaigns with leaders on both sides make direct pitches to citizens.
They attacked each other as well as Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In his opening statement, Schiff said: "To press a foreign leader to announce an investigation into his political rival, President Trump put his own personal and political interests above those of the nation. He undermined our military and diplomatic support for a key ally, and undercut US anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine."
The Republican leader on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, began with a scorching criticism of the mainstream media accusing it of being "puppets" of the Democratic Party.
After highlighting news stories since discredited about Trump`s campaign involvement with Russia during the 2016 election ? a "hoax" ? he said the mainstream media outlets are now playing up the impeachment hearings and Ukraine factor.
Schiff has refused the Republican`s request to have Biden`s son Hunter testify, but Republican representatives brought him up repeatedly through questions to witnesses.
Hunter Biden, who had been allegedly removed from the Navy for drug use, landed a director`s position with a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, that paid him $83,000 a month, and the former vice president had orchestrated the removal of a prosecutor looking into the company. Trump wanted Zelensky to investigate this.
Vindman, who was born in Ukraine and came to the US as a three-year-old, said a dramatic prayer to his late father saying that he had made the right decision when he fled the country, then a part of the Soviet Union.
With TV cameras trained on him at the witness table, he addressed his father, "Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."
Under questioning, Vindman said that he had been offered the post of defence minister in Ukraine.
The offer came from Oleksandr Danyliuk, an influential Ukrainian politician, who was close to Zelensky, but subsequently had a falling out and was ousted as finance minister.
Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi took exception to bringing that up through a question in the hearing as well as attempts outside to question his patriotism as an immigrant.
"I can relate to that," Krishnamoorthi said decrying the targeting of immigrants. "From one immigrant to another, I want to say you and your family represent the very best" in America, he said.
Democrats kept hitting at the withholding of $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, which they said was like a bribe because Trump wanted Zelensky to agree to investigations before he would release it.
The aid was ultimately released without Zelensky ordering probes and Republicans said that this showed that there was no quid pro quo for it.
None of the witnesses would say decisively that the motive for the delay in releasing it was to force inquiries in Ukraine.
Under questioning by Representative Elise Stefanik, a young rising star of the Republican Party, both Morrison and Volker admitted that there was no bribery or quid pro quo or extortion.
Williams said that during a meeting between Pence and Zelensky in Warsaw before the call with Trump, the Ukrainian leader had himself brought up Burisma and not the Americans.
At the end of the day Trump tweeted, "A great day for Republicans, a great day for our Country!"