A day after the diplomats appeared on Capitol Hill to say they believed the president had placed his own political concerns ahead of the US-Ukraine strategic relationship, Mr Trump appeared at a rally in Louisiana where he attacked Democrats as “crazed lunatics” engaged in an impeachment “witch hunt”.
“The absolutely crazed lunatics, the Democrats, radical left and their media partners standing right back there are pushing the deranged impeachment witch hunt for doing nothing wrong,” Mr Trump said during the event in Bossier City, where he was making his fourth appearance on behalf of Eddie Rispone, the Republican candidate for governor.
He added: “Their lies will be exposed. Their schemes are already unravelling.”
He then mocked diplomats William Taylor and George Kent, who had been subpoenaed to testify before the House intelligence committee on Wednesday. He said the two men had been unable to comment when asked if the president had committed an impeachable offence, even though they were called to provide evidence, not a legal assessment. Indeed, Mr Taylor told members of congress: “That’s not what either of us are here to do. This is your job.”
Yet, Mr Trump told the rally: “You saw yesterday how about when they asked these two never-Trumpers, what exactly do you think you impeach him for. And they stood there and went like, ‘what’?”
He added: “But they’re unravelling and their sinister plans will fail. They’ve already failed as far as I’m concerned.”
As it was, Mr Taylor, 72, who agreed to step in as acting ambassador to Ukraine, a job he previously served in a full capacity, and Mr Kent stressed on Wednesday that they had always sought to act in the US’s interests, regardless who was president.
Asked by Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell if they were “never-Trumpers”, a name that initially grew in usage among Republicans who said they could not support the president in 2016, but which Mr Trump accused the pair of being in a Wednesday morning tweet, both Mr Taylor and Mr Kent indicated this would not be an accurate description.
Mr Kent said he was a career foreign service official who has served for nearly three decades under Republican and Democratic presidents. Mr Taylor replied more bluntly: “No, sir.”
Mr Trump’s rally, seeking to dislodge incumbent Democratic governor John Bel Edwards in a ballot being held on Saturday, came on the eve of an appearance from the third witness to testify in public to the impeachment inquiry.
Marie Yovanovitch, who was US ambassador to Ukraine before being recalled early at the behest of Mr Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in a private deposition she felt “threatened” by the US president after she learned he had described her to Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, as “bad news” and would “go through some things”.
“I didn’t know what it meant,” she said of the president’s comment. “I was very concerned. I still am.”
Democrats launched their impeachment probe after a whistleblower, believed to be a member of the US intelligence community, claimed Mr Trump had improperly sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine’s leader, in a 25 July phone call. Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
The whistleblower claimed Mr Trump had asked the authorities in Kiev to launch a probe into his political rival Joe Biden, in exchange for good relations with the US. The two diplomats said this week they learned that US military assistance to Ukraine, intended to help it stand up to Moscow, along with a state visit to Washington DC, were made dependent upon the launch of the investigation into Mr Biden.
Republicans have claimed Mr Biden improperly used his position as vice president to oust a Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutor who represented a threat to his son’s business interests in the country. There is no evidence to support this.
Mr Trump finished the rally by saying: “You got to vote on Saturday. It’s a close one and you’re gonna have a great Republican governor.”
He added: “You gotta give me a big win please, OK?”
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