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Donald Trump accuses US embassy official of lying to impeachment inquiry

US President Donald Trump. Source: AFP

US President Donald Trump has accused a witness of lying at the impeachment inquiry while defending his personal lawyer's role in setting Ukraine policy.

US President Donald Trump has accused a witness in the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry of lying.

He also offered an explanation for his controversial use of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine policy, saying Giuliani's crime-fighting abilities were needed to deal with a corrupt country.

Trump made his remarks the day after the fifth and final scheduled day of public hearings in the US House of Representatives inquiry.

The Republican president took issue with testimony on Thursday by David Holmes, a US embassy official in Ukraine.

David Holmes, U.S. Department of State official who serves as a counsellor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, attends the Open Hearings.
David Holmes, U.S. Department of State official who serves as a counsellor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, attends the Open Hearings.
Barcroft Media

Holmes said under oath that at a Kiev restaurant he overheard a July 26 mobile phone conversation in which Trump loudly pressed Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, for details on whether Ukraine would carry out politically motivated investigations the president was seeking.

"I guarantee you that never took place," Trump told Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends program on Friday.

"That was a total phoney deal," he added.

Trump appointed Sondland to the envoy post after the wealthy Oregon hotelier donated $US1 million to his inaugural committee. While Sondland in testimony described an easygoing relationship between the two, Trump said on Friday he had spoken with him "a few times," adding, "I hardly know him, OK?"

Testimony at the hearings put a spotlight on Trump's decision to give Giuliani, a private citizen with no formal job in his administration, an outsized role to shape American policy towards Ukraine rather than using the US government's usual diplomatic and national security channels.

 Fiona Hill, former top Russia advisor to the White House, and David Holmes, poltical counselor, are sworn in to provide testimony in the impeachment inquiry.
Fiona Hill, former top Russia advisor to the White House, and David Holmes, poltical counselor, are sworn in to provide testimony in the impeachment inquiry.
The Washington Post

During the hearings, current and former White House officials and diplomats voiced alarm at Giuliani's activities, such as trying to push Ukraine to carry out two investigations that could harm Trump's political adversaries.

Trump said Giuliani was the right person for the job.

"He's like an iconic figure in this country for two reasons. He was the greatest mayor in the history of New York and he was the greatest crime fighter probably in the last 50 years," Trump said of Giuliani, who previously served as the mayor of the largest US city and as a federal prosecutor.

"He's also a friend of mine. He's a great person," Trump added. " ... When you're dealing with a corrupt country - if Rudy Giuliani - he's got credentials because of his reputation. ... When Rudy Giuliani goes there and you hear it's a corrupt country, I mean, it means a lot."

(L to R) Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and US President Donald Trump.
(L to R) Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and US President Donald Trump.
Getty Images North America

Testimony in the impeachment inquiry has shown that Trump in May instructed top US officials to work with Giuliani on Ukraine policy.

Various administration officials expressed alarm at Giuliani's actions.

"I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the president's personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukraine matters," Sondland said.

Democrats also are looking into whether Trump abused his power by withholding $US391 million in security aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Kiev into digging up dirt on his political adversaries.

Trump's allies have argued that the two investigations were not aimed at gaining a domestic political advantage but rather at combating corruption in a country receiving millions of dollars in US aid.

Trump said Ukraine is "known as being the third most corrupt country in the world".

"Are we going to be sending massive amounts of money to a country and they're corrupt and they steal the money and it goes into everybody's bank account?" Trump told Fox News.

Ukraine ranked 120 out of the 180 countries assessed in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index in 2018. Its score of 32 out of 100 on the index.

If the Democratic-led House to approve articles of impeachment - formal charges - against Trump, the Senate would then hold a trial on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Trump's fellow Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for removing him.

"I want a trial," Trump told Fox News.

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