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Bill Taylor, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, told impeachment hearings that President Trump directly asked about a Ukrainian investigation into his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

In previously unheard testimony, Bill Taylor said a member of his staff was told President Trump was preoccupied with pushing for a probe into Joe Biden.

The top diplomat was speaking at the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry.

President Trump told reporters he did not recall making such comments.

The president is accused of withholding US military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the country’s new president to publicly announce a corruption inquiry into Joe Biden, among the favorites to take him on in the 2020 presidential race.

President Trump denies any wrongdoing and has called the inquiry a “witch-hunt”.

During a detailed opening statement, Bill Taylor said a member of his staff had overheard a telephone call in which the president inquired about “the investigations” into Joe Biden.

The call was with US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who reportedly told the president over the phone that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward”.

After the call, the staff member “asked ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine”, Bill Taylor said.

Bill Taylor said: “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”

When asked about Gordon Sondland earlier this month, the president had said: “I hardly know the gentleman.”

Responding to queries from reporters after the hearing, President Trump said: “I know nothing about that, first time I’ve heard it.”

He said he recalled Gordon Sondland’s testimony, in which the diplomat said he spoke to the president “for a brief moment” and President Trump had “said no quid pro quo under any circumstances”.

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Gordon Sondland said he did not recall the phone call Bill Taylor described, “not even a little bit”, and “in any event it’s more second hand information”.

The impeachment inquiry has been going on for more than a month – but all previous hearings were private, with reports based on leaks and sources speaking to the media.

Today’s public hearings were the first time the public heard from witnesses directly and a chance for Democrats and Republicans to win over voters.

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Hunter Biden has defended his foreign business dealings amid attacks by the White House and increasing media scrutiny.

The son of former Vice-President Joe Biden – who has had business ties in Ukraine and China in recent years – told ABC news that he had done “nothing wrong”.

However, he admitted to “poor judgment”, leaving him open to political attacks.

Hunter Biden’s foreign work and President Donald Trump’s intervention have sparked impeachment proceedings against the president.

His interview with ABC comes ahead of Tuesday evening’s Democratic debate, where Joe Biden – a 2020 frontrunner – will square off against 11 other presidential hopefuls.

Breaking his silence on his foreign business dealings, Hunter Biden, 49, dismissed claims of impropriety.

“Did I do anything improper? No, and not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever. I joined a board, I served honorably,” he said, adding that he did not discuss such business with his father.

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However, Hunter Biden acknowledged the possible political ramifications of his work, saying his failure to do so previously demonstrated “poor judgment”.

“Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yeah,” he said.

“But did I make a mistake based upon some ethical lapse? Absolutely not.”

Hunter Biden stressed his record on the board of the UN World Food Program and work for US corporations to defend his lucrative role as a board member for a Ukrainian gas company.

He said: “I think that I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on the board, if not more.”

However, he acknowledged the appointment may have resulted from his father’s clout.

“I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden,” Hunter Biden said.

His foreign business ventures have pulled him to the epicenter of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

President Trump and his allies have claimed that as vice-president Joe Biden encouraged the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor because the prosecutor was investigating Burisma, a gas company that employed Hunter Biden.

These allegations – though widely discredited – were raised by President Trump in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

This call has fuelled the Democratic-led impeachment investigation. The inquiry is trying to establish whether President Trump withheld nearly $400 million in aid to nudge President Zelensky into launching an inquiry into the Bidens.

President Trump tweeted: “A big scandal at @ABC News. They got caught using really gruesome FAKE footage of the Turks bombing in Syria. A real disgrace. Tomorrow they will ask softball questions to Sleepy Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, like why did Ukraine & China pay you millions when you knew nothing? Payoff?”

The president has continued to seize on Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine and China to stage political attacks against him and his father, charging both Bidens with corruption, without offering specific evidence.

In an interview on October 15, Hunter Biden dismissed the president’s claims as a “ridiculous conspiracy idea”.

Last week, Hunter Biden announced he would step down from the board of BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Company.

His lawyer, George Mesires, told media his client had not acquired an equity interest in the fund until 2017, after his father had left office.

Hunter Biden said last week that he would not work for any foreign-owned companies if his father is elected president.

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Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has told Congress she was ousted over “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives”.

She said she was “incredulous” at being dismissed by President Donald Trump in May.

Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony is part of an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.

The Democratic probe is looking into whether the Republican president improperly pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.

The scandal was sparked by a whistleblower complaint about a July phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

During that conversation, President Trump described Marie Yovanovitch as “bad news”, according to a rough transcript released by the White House.

The decision to dismiss Marie Yovanovitch several months earlier reportedly followed President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other conservatives arguing she was biased against the president.

Image source Getty Images

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Rudy Giuliani had been working in Ukraine to press the authorities to investigate widely debunked corruption allegations against Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, who was associated with a Ukrainian company.

The lawyer is coming under increasing scrutiny over his work for the president. Asked by reporters on October 11 if Rudy Giuliani was still his lawyer, President Trump answered ambiguously: “I don’t know. He’s a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.”

In a prepared statement, Marie Yovanovitch said:“Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the president.

“I was nevertheless incredulous that the US government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

Marie Yovanovitch said she did not know Rudy Giuliani’s reasons for attacking her.

“Equally fictitious is the notion that I am disloyal to President Trump,” she said.

“I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told the embassy team to ignore the president’s orders ‘since he was going to be impeached.’ That allegation is false.”

She warned of the harm that will come to the US when “bad actors” realize “how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system”.

Marie Yovanovitch said she had never met or spoken with Hunter Biden and that Joe Biden had never raised with her the subject of his son or the Ukrainian gas company that employed him.

She also said she learned that President Trump had called for her ousting since 2018 despite Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan telling her she had done nothing wrong.

Marie Yovanovitch said: “He said that the president had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me.”

A Barack Obama-appointee, Marie Yovanovitch was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate and served as US ambassador to Ukraine from August 2016 until last May.

The whistleblower complaint noted Marie Yovanovitch’s surprise dismissal was a red flag for some officials.

New calls for President Donald Trump’s impeachment came from House Democrats, after former White House counsel Donald McGahn failed to appear before Congress despite a subpoena.

Donald McGahn skipped a hearing on May 21 about the Mueller report.

In an extraordinary move, President Trump has vowed to block all subpoenas of his current and former staff.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler said after the failed hearing: “Our subpoenas are not optional.”

“Let me be clear: this committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it,” he said.

The Trump administration claims that the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, into allegations of Russian collusion and obstruction of justice, cleared him of wrongdoing, and that there are no further questions to answer.

It also claims that staff cannot legally be compelled to testify, but Jerry Nadler said he would hold Donald McGahn in contempt and pursue other means of compelling testimony.

“We will hold this president accountable, one way or the other,” he said.

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On May 2, President Trump responded on Twitter, arguing that he had “allowed everyone to testify” to Robert Mueller’s team, and accusing the Democrats of seeking a “do-over” of the special counsel investigation.

Democratic Party leaders have so far held off pressure from their lawmakers to begin impeachment proceedings, and the party is divided over the merits of the move, but the pressure is growing as the president stonewalls congressional inquiries.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled a party meeting on May 22 to discuss the issue.

Both the Department of Justice and White House released statements on May 20 arguing that Donald McGahn was under no obligation to give evidence.

According to a letter sent to House Judiciary Committee, Donald McGahn was “absolutely immune from compelled Congressional testimony”. Donald McGahn, who served as White House counsel for nearly two years under President Trump before his resignation in October 2018, said he would respect the president’s instruction not to appear.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders accused Democrats of pushing for “a wasteful and unnecessary do-over” of the Mueller report.

Citing the justice department guidance, Sanders said: “The former counsel to the president cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr. McGahn has been directed to act accordingly.”

In the wake of Donald McGahn’s failure to appear, Jerry Nadler announced he had issued subpoenas to former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, McGahn’s former chief of staff.

According to a New York Times report, Democratic lawmakers and aides were examining possible rules changes to allow the House to fine people held in contempt, as well as other means to break the impasse.