US President Donald Trump is facing a fresh barrage of criticism after he called the impeachment inquiry a "lynching" in an inflammatory tweet containing racially-charged language. Meanwhile, a top diplomat who appeared before house democrats on Tuesday, reportedly gave a 'damning' and 'devastating' account of Trump's dealing with Ukraine. The acting US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor appeared to confirm allegations that Trump abused his office by conditioning foreign aid to Ukraine on its leader interfering on Trump's behalf in the 2020 election.
Taylor provided lawmakers with a vivid, detailed and what some called a "disturbing" account of the way the president wanted to put the new Ukraine president "in a public box" by demanding the quid pro quo at the centre of the impeachment probe.
However, the White House rejected the testimony from Taylor as part of a "smear campaign" from the far left of the Democratic Party. Trump, earlier, had slammed the impeachment inquiry as a "lynching" in another attempt to to discredit the probe.
"President Trump has done nothing wrong - this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
Bill Taylor’s Testimony Called 'Damning'
In a lengthy opening statement to House investigators, Taylor described Trump's demand that "everything" Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wanted, including vital military aid to counter Russia, hinged on making a public vow that he would investigate Democrats going back to the 2016 US election as well as a company linked to the family of Trump's potential 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Taylor testified that what he discovered in Kyiv was the Trump administration's "irregular" back channel to foreign policy led by the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and "ultimately alarming circumstances" that threatened to erode the United States' relationship with a budding Eastern European ally.
Lawmakers who emerged after hours of the private deposition were stunned at Taylor's account, which some said established a "direct line" to the quid pro quo at the center of the impeachment probe.
"It was shocking," said Congresswomen Karen Bass, a California Democrat. "It was very clear that it was required ? if you want the assistance you have to make a public statement." She characterized it as, "It's this for that."
Representative Dina Titus, a Democrat from Nevada, said, "You can see how damning this is."
"The testimony is very disturbing," said Rep Carolyn Maloney while another Democrat Comgressman Dean Phillips used the same word. Asked why, he said, "Because it's becoming more distinct."
Taylor's appearance was among the most anticipated before House investigators because of a series of text messages in which he called Trump's attempt to hold back military aid to Ukraine "crazy." His testimony opens a new front in the impeachment inquiry, and it calls into question the account from another diplomat, Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, who told Congress last week he did not fully remember some details of the events and was initially unaware that the gas company was tied to the Bidens.
Taylor told lawmakers that Sondland, a wealthy businessman who donated USD 1 million to Trump's inauguration, was aware of the demands and later admitted he made a mistake by telling the Ukrainians that military assistance was not contingent on agreeing to Trump's requests.
"Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election," Taylor said about a September 1 phone call between them.
Taylor apparently kept detailed records of conversations and documents, lawmakers said.
The retired diplomat, a former Army officer, had been serving as executive vice president at the US Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank founded by Congress, when he was appointed to run the embassy in Kyiv after Trump suddenly recalled Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch.
Taylor testified that he had concerns about taking over the post under those circumstances, but she urged him to go "for policy reasons and for the morale of the embassy." He had served as US ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009.
Lawmakers described the career civil servant's delivery as credible and consistent, as he answered hours of questions from Democrats and Republicans, drawing silence in the room as lawmakers exchanged glances.
Taylor testified that he "sat in astonishment" on a July 18 call in which a White House budget official said that Trump had relayed a message through Mulvaney that the aid should be withheld.
A month later, his concerns had so deepened he was preparing to resign. Sensing the US policy toward Ukraine has shifted, he described an August 22 phone call with Tim Morrison, a Russia adviser at the White House, who told him, the "president doesn't want to provide any assistance at all."
"That was extremely troubling to me," Taylor said.
Taylor's description of Trump's position is in sharp contrast to how the president has characterized it. Trump has said many times that there was no quid pro quo, though Mulvaney contradicted that last week. Mulvaney later tried to walk back his remarks.
Firestorm Over Trump’s Lynching Tweet
Earlier, Trump used particularly inflammatory language to lay into his opponents, saying they were seeking to impeach him "without due process or fairness or any legal rights."
"All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here -- a lynching," Trump raged, using a word that evokes the darkest days of America's slavery legacy.
More than 3,400 African Americans were lynched between 1882 and 1968, and congressional Democrats, many of them black, reacted with collective revulsion.
"How dare you?!" seethed congresswoman Barbara Lee on Twitter as she assailed the "disgusting and ignorant message" from Trump.
"That is one word that no president ought to apply to himself," House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the most senior black lawmaker in Congress, told CNN. "I'm a product of the South. I know the history of that word. That is a word that we ought to be very, very careful about using," the South Carolina Democrat said.
Few Republican lawmakers have openly criticized Trump for his comment, but Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican and occasional Trump critic who is up for re-election in 2020, spoke out.
"'Lynching' brings back images of a terrible time in our nation's history, and the President never should have made that comparison," she tweeted.
Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in July to investigate the US leader's Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, according to a summary of a phone call released by the White House.
Seeking help from a foreign country in a domestic election is illegal in itself, but a whistleblower complaint about the call made the more serious allegation that Trump also sought to condition nearly USD 400 million in military aid to Ukraine on such probes. Democrats have described such a quid pro quo, and the seeking of foreign interference in US elections, as impeachable offenses and have intensified their probe of the president.
(With Agencies Inputs)