Northeast lawmakers weigh-in as impeachment goes public

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - History unfolds in the Capitol, as the U.S. House takes the next step toward removing the president.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) will play out-sized roles in the U.S. House impeachment inquiry. (Source: Gray DC)

There’s no dramatic shift in Washington’s partisan divide surrounding impeachment, one day after the first round of public testimony. Leading Democrats – like Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) -- accuse the president of holding military aid to Ukraine hostage, hoping to trade it for investigations that would politically damage 2020 presidential rival Joe Biden.

Until Wednesday, impeachment testimony had been conducted purely behind closed doors, with even most members of the U.S. House left in the dark. But, the eyes of the nation tuned into Washington as two top diplomats testified.

We asked Welch if he thought the hearings would sway anyone in Congress, or the American public? "We’re in this world where everybody is entitled, they feel, to their own set of fact," he said, "our job, and the only thing we can do is present this in as competent, and clear way as possible.

Top American diplomats told lawmakers that the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, led an irregular diplomatic back-channel with Ukraine, one that did not promote U.S. interests.

"I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a political rival in the next election cycle," said George Kent, deputy assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

"I agree with Mr. Kent," said Bill Taylor the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

In testimony released from earlier, closed door interviews, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, said he reached the same conclusion and told the Ukrainians as much in early-September.

But, President Trump denies any arm-twisting, insisting there’s nothing wrong with calling for corruption investigations in Ukraine, a country known for its corruption.

"We should all look at the evidence with an open mind, and I have not seen evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors," said Rep. Elise Stefanik.

House Republicans like Stefanik say they don’t see anything impeachable. The point to the White House's eventual release of the aid without a Ukrainian commitment to investigations.

While praising the diplomats as strong public servants, she said third- or fourth-hand information isn’t credible. Thus far, the White House has ordered those at the center of the Ukrainian conversations not to testify.

Asked if the White House should honor House subpoenas, Stefanik said it's out of lawmakers hands. "The courts are going to decide that," she said, adding lawmakers of all political stripes should be willing to honor whatever decision comes out of the legal system.

While Stefanik didn't directly answer when asked whether she personally would like to see senior aides testify, she did note her party should be able to call witnesses to make the case that it was the Bidens who had unsavory Ukrainian dealings.

Fmr. Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter served on the board of an energy company with a history of corrupt practices. The Department of Justice previously looked into the company and its ties to Hunter Biden; it did not pursue charges, while Ukrainian prosecutors cleared him in their investigation.

If House Democrats do impeach the president the case for removal would go to the Senate for trial.

Asked if he would be comfortable with President Mike Pence, Welch said for him, the impeachment inquiry isn't about comfort or what he wants to do. "I’m comfortable with us following our constitutional responsibility," he said.

At this time though, those who want the president out aren’t close to having the votes they would need in the Senate to remove him.

A Senate trial may also directly hurt several of the Democrats running to be the next president. Attendance would be mandatory, and that means Sen. Warren, Sanders, Harris, Booker, and Klobuchar would be severely limited in how much time they could spend on the campaign trail.

We've posted our full interviews with Rep. Welch and Rep. Stefanik in the video tab above.

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