WASHINGTON -- Career U.S. diplomats delivered solemn testimony Wednesday about the Trump administration's alleged misconduct in Ukraine -- including a previously undisclosed cellphone call in which President Donald Trump appeared to personally press a senior State Department official to pressure the Eastern European nation.
As the historic public impeachment proceedings got underway, the two witnesses described a scheme by administration officials and Trump's personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to push Ukraine's president to launch investigations into Democrats in the U.S. that would help Trump in the 2020 election.
GOP lawmakers worked to undermine the legitimacy of the hearings, and repeatedly noted that neither man had personally spoken with Trump and neither had firsthand knowledge of his motivations.
The stark divide -- in Congress and among the broader electorate -- over Trump's alleged misdeeds was on full display in the House hearing room. The committee members snapped at one another about the way Democrats were managing the proceedings and their decision to shield an anonymous whistleblower from public hearings.
As they did, the invited witnesses girded for a rough day.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., kicked off the hearing by expressing concern over Trump's admonishment that Democrats should drop the hearings.
"If we find that the president of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, or if he sought to condition, coerce, extort or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts ... must we simply 'get over it'?" Schiff said, referring to a comment last month by Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.
"Is that what Americans should now expect from their president?" Schiff said. "If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?"
California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, objected to how Democrats were running the impeachment inquiry.
"This is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign," he said.