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Cellphone call from Ukraine could compound Trump's troubles

Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- When Donald Trump was constructing the opulent Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan four decades ago, he was infuriated when he saw a thin layer of golden-hued marble lining the walls and column in the lobby, and ordered aides to make it appear twice as thick.

Sure, he had architects and engineers to handle those decorating details so that he could focus on the building's multimillion-dollar budget and other big-picture concerns of a business empire that would teeter in and out of bankruptcy.

But when something bothers Trump, however small, he can obsess over it.

That tendency to become preoccupied by narrow interests is haunting him in the impeachment inquiry, which hit a milestone Wednesday when the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee held its first public hearing since the investigation began in September.

A second hearing is scheduled Friday, and eight more witnesses will testify over three days next week.

The first hearing provided compelling evidence of one of Trump's most audacious fixations: getting Ukraine's new president to announce investigations of Trump rivals, including potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden, after Trump had suspended $391 million in congressionally approved security aid to the government in Kyiv.

 

House Democrats argue that the evidence shows Trump hijacked foreign policy, and put national security at risk, to help his reelection bid. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went further, saying for the first time that the president's demands to Ukraine amounted to bribery.

"The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That's bribery," Pelosi told a news conference.

During the hearing Wednesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, revealed publicly for the first time that an embassy staffer had overheard Trump speaking to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who had called the president on a cellphone from a restaurant in Kyiv after meeting senior Ukrainian officials.

Taylor said the aide, who was later identified as political counselor David Holmes, specifically heard Trump ask Sondland about "the investigations," and that Sondland said after the call that Trump cared more about Biden than about U.S. policy toward Ukraine, an ally battling a Russian-backed insurgency.

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