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Fri, Dec. 13

Impeachment testimony comes from White House budget official

President Donald Trump speaks during an event on healthcare prices in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Donald Trump speaks during an event on healthcare prices in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON — House impeachment investigators met in private Saturday with a White House budget official as the historic inquiry produces new testimony offering direct insight of President Donald Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.

After a week of dramatic public hearings, investigators heard late Friday in closed session from State Department official David Holmes, who delivered a firsthand account that puts the president at the forefront of events.

Holmes, the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, testified that he overheard Trump in a phone call with his European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland, saying he wanted Ukraine to conduct investigations. Sondland later explained the investigations pertained to former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine. No wrongdoing by either Biden has been substantiated.

It was one of the first direct accounts of Trump seeking investigations of a political rival and provides Democrats with a counterargument to Republicans, who dismiss the testimony so far as largely hearsay from diplomats and others with, at best, secondhand knowledge of events.

The latest witness was Mark Sandy, a White House budget officer, as Democrats scrutinize the administration’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine while Trump pushed the country’s new president for the political investigations.

Sandy was the first official from the Office of Management and Budget to defy Trump’s instructions not to testify. Like others, he was expected to receive a subpoena to appear.

Questions over that trade-off — military aid and a coveted White House visit for Ukraine’s president in exchange for the investigations — are central to the impeachment inquiry. Trump says he did nothing wrong.

“When people come in, we learn more,” said Rep. Eric Swawell, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, as he arrived for Saturday’s session.

Rep. Mark Meadows, a top Trump ally, said he did not expect to hear much from Sandy, a career budget official.

“All I expect him to say is he doesn’t know why the aid was held and wished that he did,” said Meadows, R-N.C. “But I may be surprised.”

More public hearings in the House are scheduled for this coming week.

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