The impeachment hearings went public. Here are the most important takeaways.

A photograph taken with a fish-eye lens of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s hearing.Top US diplomat to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George P. Kent arrive to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. | Getty Images

Listen to this episode of Today, Explained for a breakdown of key moments.

The first public hearing in the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump took place today. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee called William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a State Department official, to testify. Both officials had already participated in closed-door hearings so they weren’t expected to reveal new information. Taylor did disclose a previously unknown phone call with Trump in his opening statement, however, which added another damning testimony to the allegations against the president.

Vox’s Andrew Prokop joins this episode of Today, Explained to share the most important takeaways from the historic public hearing, including Taylor’s new information reveal and Democrats trying a new format. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited transcript of the conversation.

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Sean Rameswaram

I suppose these testimonies today presented an opportunity to take this impeachment inquiry to new places, to reveal any new information. Did either of them take the opportunity to do that?

Andrew Prokop

I didn’t actually expect much new information to be revealed because these two men have both testified behind closed doors extensively and we’ve seen their transcripts. However, Bill Taylor gave me a bit of a surprise in his own opening statement. He revealed new information he had been given just last week. So this took place on the day after Trump’s now infamous phone call with the Ukrainian president, which would make it July 26.

Sean Rameswaram

Was that a big deal?

Andrew Prokop

This is a really big deal. It’s significant because it suggests that Trump was very personally involved in what Sondland was telling the Ukrainians. Now, we had that whole quasi transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, so we knew Trump was demanding these investigations. But there’s been a lot of testimony about what Gordon Sondland was saying and doing to the Ukrainians, that Sondland was telling them, if you want your White House meeting, you have to commit to these investigations. If you want to get your military aid, you have to commit to these investigations. And there was some ambiguity about just, you know, was Sondland freelancing or was he acting at Trump’s behest? And this would certainly suggest that he was in close contact with Trump and he was carrying out Trump’s wishes in doing all this.

Sean Rameswaram

Before any representatives ask questions, it felt very courtroom-y to me in there, it seemed like two lawyers were leading the inquiry. Who were those guys?

Andrew Prokop

These were staff attorneys for each side. Daniel Goldman for the Democrats and Steve Castor for the Republicans. Goldman was pretty disciplined in making Taylor and Kent get their concerns on the record for everything they saw transpire. Castor was a bit more muddled. It often wasn’t really clear what he was trying to get at.

Sean Rameswaram

And after these two staffers, things sort of fell into a familiar pattern. Who was leading the questioning from the Republicans?

Andrew Prokop

Republicans clearly believe their most qualified questioner was Jim Jordan, representative from Ohio, who attempted to really attack and aggressively try to debunk what the witnesses were saying. One point Jordan kept trying to make is that Bill Taylor testified that he came to believe that hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine was being held up because they wouldn’t agree to these investigations Trump wanted. And Jordan kept saying, “Well, weren’t you wrong about this? Because the Trump administration did release the aid without Ukraine making any public announcement about the investigations.”

Sean Rameswaram

Didn’t that aid only get released once the whistleblower filed his complaint?

Andrew Prokop

Yeah, it’s still a little murky about why the aid was released, but there are a number of things going on in the days before it was released. The inspector general for the Intelligence Committee had written a letter to Capitol Hill saying there had been this whistleblower complaint that was being withheld from them. Adam Schiff had announced an investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s influence on Ukraine policy. And also John Bolton, the national security adviser, resigned. So it may have been released because the heat was on, because it was threatening to get out and break into the public, what Trump had been trying to do to the Ukrainians.

Sean Rameswaram

What other arguments are the Republicans making?

Andrew Prokop

They kept harping on the idea that Taylor and Kent didn’t have any firsthand contact with President Trump over this. And that is also a bit of a distraction because a lot of the witnesses who did have firsthand contact with Trump on this topic, namely Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo … they have refused to show up and testify. And Republicans don’t seem particularly eager to have them show up and testify.

I would say the exception here has been Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who did have a lot of firsthand contact with Trump on this topic. He did testify, but he is facing problems. He’s already had to go in and update his testimony once. Now, the new information Taylor presented today from his staff member raises further questions about the honesty of someone’s testimony. And Sondland’s lawyer said that this is something that Sondland will address when he shows up for his own public testimony next week.

Sean Rameswaram

This was a big moment for the Republicans. These testimonies have been happening behind closed doors and that’s been a recurring complaint. And today, for the first time ever, they were happening on live TV in front of the whole world. And the best arguments they were making were there is no quid pro quo?

Andrew Prokop

They threw in all sorts of points that Trump’s defenders have been making. Another one is that the president of Ukraine, Zelensky, said that he didn’t feel pressured. And that’s true. Zelensky did say that whether he was being totally forthcoming on that is not so clear. The US is a very powerful country. And Zelensky, it’s true, is not going out in front of the cameras and saying, “Oh my God! I feel like Donald Trump tried to shake me down this summer.” But he has his own diplomatic reasons for doing that.


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