Trump compares impeachment inquiry to 'lynching' in explosive rant, as key witness gives 'damning' testimony to Congress

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Joe Sommerlad, Chris Riotta
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Donald Trump: Yuri Gripas/EPA
Donald Trump: Yuri Gripas/EPA

Donald Trump has compared the impeachment inquiry surrounding him to “a lynching” in an apparent bid to inflame controversy and distract from Bill Taylor’s deposition on Capitol Hill, the US charge d’affaires for Ukraine who discussed his alarming text exchanges with Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker during the session.

“So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!” the president tweeted, prior to Mr Taylor’s arrival.

The outrage followed Mr Trump’s call to his fellow Republicans to “get tougher and fight” at a drawn-out White House Cabinet meeting on Monday in which he also rubbished the US Constitution’s anti-corruption Emoluments Clause as “phoney”.

Mr Taylor, a diplomat who has sharply questioned Mr Trump’s policy on Ukraine, meanwhile provided lawmakers with a “disturbing” account, including establishing a “direct line” to the quid pro quo at the center of the impeachment probe , Democrats said on Tuesday.

Lawmakers emerging after hours of the private deposition said Mr Taylor, in a lengthy opening statement, recalled events that filled in gaps from the testimony of other witnesses.

They said Mr Taylor kept records of conversations and documents.

“The testimony is very disturbing,” said New York Representative Carolyn Maloney. Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips used the same word. Asked why, he said, “Because it’s becoming more distinct.”

Mr Taylor’s appearance was among the most watched because of a text message, released by House investigators earlier in the probe, in which he called Mr Trump’s attempt to hold back military aid to Ukraine “crazy.”

Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Mr Taylor “drew a straight line” with documents, timelines and individual conversations in his records.

“I do not know how you would listen to today’s testimony from Ambassador Taylor and come to any other (conclusion) except that the president abused his power and withheld foreign aid,” she said.

Lawmakers did not discuss other details of the closed-door session, which was expected to continue into the evening. Mr Taylor declined to comment as he entered the deposition. He was the latest diplomat with concerns to testify. Like the others, he was subpoenaed to appear.

But the career civil servant’s delivery was credible and consistent, people said, as he answered hours of questions from Democrats and Republicans, drawing silence to the room as lawmakers exchanged glances.

Mr Taylor laid out the quid pro quo of the White House’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, agreed to Mr Trump’s requests to investigate Democrats, according to a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorised to discuss the private testimony.

Additional reporting by AP. Please allow a moment for our live blog to load

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Trump compares impeachment probe to 'lynching' in explosive rant