Transcript for Trump impeachment hearings begin 20 years after Clinton proceedings
Reporter: Today on capitol hill, history in the making. Good morning, everyone. Reporter: Nearly 50 years after watergate -- This is the first in a series of public hearings the committee will be holding as a part of the house's impeachment inquiry. Reporter: 20 years after bill Clinton's impeachment. This is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign. Reporter: A rare ritual of our democracy took center stage in the largest and most ornate hearing room in the house. This spectacle is doing damage to our country. It's nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime. Reporter: Public impeachment hearings to determine if the president tried to enlist a foreign ally to dig up dirt on a political rival. The matter is as simple and as terrible as that. Reporter: Using as leverage the promise of a white house visit and millions of dollars in military aid already appropriated for Ukraine. Is this what Americans should now expect from their president? If this is not impeachable conduct, what is? Reporter: The first witnesses, two career foreign service officers. Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth? Reporter: On the left, in the bowtie there, that's America's top state department official for eastern Europe, George Kent. On the right, America's senior diplomat in Ukraine, bill Taylor. Ambassador Taylor, in your decades of military service and diplomatic service representing the United States around the world, have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the president of the United States? No, Mr. Goldman, I have not. Reporter: The day's biggest bombshell came from Taylor who testified that an embassy staff member overheard president trump on a phone call one day after his July call with the president of Ukraine. At a restaurant, ambassador sondland called president trump and told him of his meetings in kiev. The member of my staff could hear president trump on the phone asking ambassador sondland about the investigations. Ambassador sondland told president trump that Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Reporter: Taylor said the staff member asked sondland what the president thinks of Ukraine. Ambassador sondland responded that president trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Guiliani was pressing for. Reporter: Chairman Adam Schiff quickly picked up on that. This was a cell phone I take it? It was a cell phone. The president must have been speaking loud enough for your staff member to be able to overhear this? It was. And I think you said that after the call when your staff asked ambassador sondland what president trump thought of Ukraine, his response was that president trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, is that right? And burisma, yes, sir. This is a big deal, based on our knowledge this is the 1st we're learning of this phone call. Gordon sondland didn't testify to this, he is expected to testify here again out in the open in another public hearing next week and there are now going to be a lot of questions about why he didn't relay this information. Reporter: Over at the white house. I'm too busy to watch it. It's a witch hunt. It's a hoax. Reporter: President trump insisted he was too busy meeting with the president of Turkey to pay much attention to the impeachment hearings. I haven't watched for one minute, because I've been with the president, which is much more important as far as I'm concerned. This is a sham, and it shouldn't be allowed. Reporter: As for that phone call with Gordon sondland, trump said it didn't ring any bells. First time I've heard it. The one thing I've seen that sondland said is that he did speak to me for a brief moment and I said no quid pro quo under any circumstances. And that's true. And the other, I've never heard this. Reporter: From start to finish, the questioning was bitterly partisan. Democrats, eager to make the case that the president put his own political interests ahead of the national interest through a shadow foreign policy spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani. What interest you believe he was promoting, Mr. Kent? I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle. Ambassador Taylor, what interests do you believe he was promoting? I agree with Mr. Kent. Reporter: The Republicans raised doubts at every turn. You didn't listen on president trump's call and president zelensky's call? I did not. You never talked with chief of staff Mulvaney. I never did. You didn't meet the president. That is correct. President zelensky never made an announcement. This is what I can't believe. And you're their star witness. You're they're their first witness. Let me just say that I don't consider myself a star witness for anything. They do. I don't. Reporter: One Republican called this "A low rent Ukrainian sequel" to the rus probe. Insisting there's not even any proof of a crime. The security assistance was provided to Ukraine without the Ukrainians having done any of the things they were supposedly being blackmailed to do. For the millions of Americans viewing today, the two most important facts are the following. Number one, Ukraine received the aid. Number two, there was, in fact, no investigation into Biden. Reporter: Democrats quickly countered that's only because the anonymous whistleblower sounded the alarm. On September nine, when the inspector general informed congress that that complaint had been withheld, the white house also learned that congress now inevitably would learn about the complaint. It was less than 48 hours later that the military aid would be released. Reporter: For members of congress, this is a marathon. Early this morning, we traveled to the capitol with Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin, a member of house judiciary, the committee ultimately responsible for drafting articles of impeachment. I think their testimony is going to have an extraordinary consequence across the country as people absorb the shock of what they're seeing. Reporter: Over the course of the day, Raskin grew increasingly frustrated with his Republican colleagues. I was dismayed that the Republicans chose to recycle all of the discredited and debunked conspiracy theories about the past. Reporter: But Barbara Comstock takes a different view. She's a former Republican congresswoman from Virginia, a veteran of the Clinton impeachment. It's being looked upon as a partisan process because that's what it's been before. Reporter: The partisan divide you saw is also the divide in the country. Democrats called these "Paragons of the establishment." These men who had given their life to the values, the institutions that are at the highest levels of the American establishment. And for a lot of Americans, they don't trust that establishment anymore. They trust president trump. Adam Schiff has no credibility. Reporter: Today at trump tower, some of the president's most ardent fans hate-watched the hearings in the lobby bar. Our president is working. This is not stopping what he's doing. You see it every day. He's being successful, he's winning. And we're not tired of winning. Like he said, we're still kicking their . Reporter: But out in the country, the polls show Americans split down the middle over impeachment. 49 percent say the president should be impeached and removed from office. The rest not convinced. So, we asked our intrepid campaign reporters to take the pulse among voters in three early primary states. Iowa, New Hampshire, and south Carolina. I'm Sam Sergi in Des Moines Iowa and we are 82 days away from the Iowa caucuses. Reporter: Voter Stephanie Morrison told Sam she found the hearings unexpectedly informative. I had an opinion, an idea about the impeachment, that it perhaps wasn't a great thing. Listening to the details from ambassador Taylor, I believe. It's starting to change my mind a little bit with his details and his such detailed notes. I'm Chris Donato in Concord, New Hampshire, home of the first in the nation primary. Reporter: In New Hampshire, Chris found that that impeachment wasn't must see TV. Did you watch at all? I was out hunting today, it's the first day deer season! I think we would rather come to Sam's and Wal-Mart than watch the impeachment hearings. I think it is such a political exercise on both sides of the issue. I'm Briana Stewart in south Carolina people in this state prides itself on being the first in the south, the 4th state to cast their vote in the primary election. Reporter: Briana, our south Carolina reporter, got a mixed reaction today. Everyone needs to be held accountable at the same level. Normal person or the president so I think that should be our top priority right now. Do you care about this impeachment process? Oh absolutely, yes it's the leader of our country getting impeached that doesn't happen often, I hope it doesn't happen. Reporter: Today's hearing also touched on who hasn't been called to testify yet. There is one witness, one witness they won't bring in front of us. They won't bring in front of the American people. That's the guy who started it all, the whistle-blower. Thank you. I say to my colleague, I've be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President trump is welcome to take a seat right there. Reporter: Democrats rejected a Republican motion to subpoena the whistleblower to testify behind closed doors. Meanwhile, there are plenty of others, with firsthand knowledge, that the white house is blocking from appearing. I think it's important for the public and for that process to have more of the witnesses in front of them and including first-hand witnesses like Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton who so far the president does not want to testify. Reporter: None of which will make the impeachment process any but if lawmakers hope to build any consensus, it's important to get all the facts. Today clearly today was just the beginning.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.