A former White House adviser has told the impeachment inquiry she strongly opposed the sacking of the former US ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
Fiona Hill, a British-born expert on Russia, revealed her repeated resistance to the dismissal as she gave evidence behind closed doors for more than ten hours on Monday, according to reports.
Ms Hill’s testimony came three days after Ms Yovanovitch told House investigators that Donald Trump had mounted a “concerted campaign” to remove her from the post from as early as September 2018.
The diplomat was eventually ordered to fly back to the US by the State Department in May, two months before the 25 July phone call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the centre of the impeachment probe.
Democrats are investigating whether military aid was withheld from Ukraine as Mr Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pushed for investigations into 2020 election rival Joe Biden.
During Monday’s hearing, Ms Hill also reportedly testified that the effort to pressure Ukraine prompted a heated confrontation involving John Bolton, then national security adviser, and Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the EU. Mr Bolton told her to alert White House lawyers and described Mr Giuliani as ”a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up”, it is claimed.
Further closed-door interviews with State Department officials are scheduled this week, despite Mr Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the inquiry.
They include deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent, and Michael McKinley, who resigned as aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week,
Mr Sondland is also due to appear for a deposition under subpoena on Thursday to testify about his text message reassuring another envoy that there was no quid pro quo in their contact with Ukraine.
However the anonymous whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry by filing an official complaint may not testify due to concerns over exposing their identity.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said Democrats “don’t need the whistleblower” to tell them what took place during the call between Mr Trump and the Ukrainian president. He said the ”primary interest right now is making sure that that person is protected.”
Mr Trump has called for the whistleblower to be identified, while Republicans have called for the investigation to be held in public.
Once Democrats have completed the inquiry they will decide whether to vote on articles of impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wants the committees to move “expeditiously” but the process could take more than three months.
Additional reporting by Associated Press