Jordan not concerned about changes to White House notes, claims whistleblower 'bias'

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he wasn’t concerned about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony about changes in the notes released by the White House about President Donald Trump’s Ukraine call.

"No, I mean, there's a process," Jordan said. "The changes I think that were outlined in the press were not a big deal, if in fact that was the case."

Jordan also said he and other House Republicans would like to speak to the U.S. officials whose information formed the basis of the whistleblower’s complaint to determine if any of them had a bias, which he suggested was the case for the whistleblower. 

"What we're focused on is determining people's credibility and what their bias and motive is," Jordan said. "We know one thing — well, there are a couple of things about this whistleblower. The Oversight Committee probably deals with more whistleblowers than any committee in Congress. You always look for two things when a whistleblower comes forward. Did they have firsthand knowledge, and what is their bias and/or motive? This individual, whomever he may be, has problems in both areas."

The inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, wrote to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on Aug. 26 and mentioned an "indicia of an arguable political bias on the part of the Complainant in favor of a rival political candidate" in considering the credibility of the whistleblower's complaint. But Atkinson, a Trump appointee, determined this did not change the facts surrounding the issue, “particularly given the other information the ICIG obtained during its preliminary review” of the complaint, and concluded the complaint was "credible" and of "urgent concern."

Johnson recounts Ukraine conversation with Trump, omits '2016' mention

Sen. Ron Johnson on Monday sent a letter to Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee recounting a discussion he had with Trump about a hold on financial aid to Ukraine — but omitted that Trump had tied the issue to the 2016 campaign in their talk. 

Johnson sent the 10-page letter to Reps. Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan after they asked him to share "any firsthand information you have about President Trump's actions toward Ukraine between April and September 2019."

Johnson said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month that E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland had told him in August that almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine had been frozen because the Trump administration was trying to get a new prosecutor appointed in Ukraine. That prosecutor would move to "get to the bottom of what happened in 2016— if President Trump has that confidence, then he’ll release the military spending," he quoted Sondland as saying.

Johnson told the paper the suggestion made him "wince" because "I don't want to see those two things combined."

Johnson also told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that he'd discussed the 2016 election with the president.    

 "He was very consistent on why he was considering it. It was corruption overall generalized, but yeah, no doubt about it, what happened in 2016, what happened in 2016, what was the truth about that, and then the fact that our NATO partners don’t step up to the plate,” Johnson told the paper in an interview posted on the paper's website.

In his letter to Nunes and Jordan, however, Johnson said his memory of that conversation is fuzzy. 

"I did not memorialize the conversation in any way, and my memory of exactly what Sondland told me is far from perfect. I was hoping that his testimony before the House would help jog my memory, but he seems to have an even fuzzier recollection of that call than I do," Johnson wrote.

He said he spoke to former national security adviser John Bolton after talking to Sondland, and Bolton suggested he call Trump and Mike Pence. 

"I requested calls with both, but was not able to schedule a call with Vice President Pence. President Trump called me that same day," Johnson wrote. 

"The president was not prepared to lift the hold, and he was consistent in the reasons he cited. He reminded me how thoroughly corrupt Ukraine was and again conveyed his frustration that Europe doesn’t do its fair share of providing military aid," Johnson wrote.  

Johnson said he asked if "there was some kind of arrangement where Ukraine would take some action and the hold would be lifted. Without hesitation, President Trump immediately denied such an arrangement existed."

 

Article II podcast: What are voters saying?

On the latest episode of Article II, host Steve Kornacki talks to Vaughn Hillyard, a political reporter for NBC News, about where voters stand on impeachment after the first week of public hearings.

The two discuss:

  • Who’s watching the public hearings? What television viewership tell us about partisanship around impeachment
  • What Vaughn’s conversations with voters in Michigan and Georgia reveal about who is following the impeachment developments and how the news is shaping political opinion
  • What new polling reveals about the level of engagement Americans have with this inquiry

 Listen to the full episode here.

How to watch week 2 of the impeachment hearings: Schedule, witnesses and more

The first public presidential impeachment hearings in over 20 years continue on Tuesday with lawmakers' busiest day yet, as they're set to hear testimony from four witnesses — three of whom were listening in on the July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Two of the three, National Security Council staffer Lt. Col. Alex Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, thought the call was troubling. The third, former NSC staffer Tim Morrison, said at his closed-door deposition that he didn't think there was anything illegal about the call, but recommended it be secured for fear it would leak.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee had asked that Morrison and the fourth of the day's witnesses, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, be called to testify publicly. Both have defended the president — but both have also provided information corroborating Democrats' assertions that Trump was withholding aid in order to force its president to announce an investigation into Joe Biden's son Hunter.

Read more about how to watch.

Embassy official who overheard Trump-Sondland call to testify Thursday

David Holmes, the official from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine who overheard Amb. Gordon Sondland’s call with President Trump, will testify publicly on Thursday alongside ex-White House Russia expert Fiona Hill, according to a Democratic official working on the impeachment inquiry.

Pompeo says Yovanovitch was pursuing 'appropriate' policy in Ukraine

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday when asked about Trump's attacks on ex-Ukraine Amb. Yovanovitch that she was "driving towards the appropriate Ukraine policy."

“It is worth noting that the Ambassador Yovanovitch’s departure preceded the arrival of Bill Taylor," Pompeo said. "So there's some ideas out there that somehow this change was designed to enable some nefarious purpose, you all should all just look at the  simple fact that it was Bill Taylor that replaced Ambassador Yovanovitch, who, in each case has been driving towards the appropriate Ukraine policy, which I'm happy to talk about."

Pompeo added that he thinks Taylor has been an effective envoy, although he did not say whether he had confidence in him. "The State Department is doing a fantastic job," Pompeo said, addressing the question more broadly. "I think we've delivered in a way that the Obama administration has not delivered on Ukraine, I think the Ukrainian people, and if you listen to their leadership, I think they think the same.” 

While Yovanovitch was testifying Friday, Trump attacked her on Twitter, saying everywhere she went "turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian president spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him."

Asked on Monday if he agreed with the tweet, Pompeo deferred to the White House stating, “I don't have anything else to say about the Democrats' impeachment inquiry.”

Trump's attack on Yovanovitch prompted Democrats to accuse Trump of witness intimidation. Trump, meanwhile, has fumed for weeks that Pompeo is responsible for hiring State Department officials whose congressional testimony threatens to bring down his presidency, according to four current and former senior administration officials.

Senate GOP support for Trump remains steady ahead of Week 2 of hearings

As the second week of the House's public impeachment hearings begins, Senate Republicans are not wavering on their support for Trump.

Even as a number of witnesses appear to corroborate that Trump was personally involved in pushing for Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, and holding up military aid along the way, Senate Republicans still appear to be unwavering in their opposition to convicting the president if/when the case makes it to the upper chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reiterated Monday in Kentucky that he expects to get the case, but that he does not expect the president to be removed from office. As we know, that would take 20 Senate Republicans to join every single Democrat to get the two-thirds majority needed to convict. That has never happened to a president in history, and looks unlikely this time around, particularly as the Senate trial will likely bleed into an election year. 

And while most of the impeachment inquiry story lives in the House, Republicans have asked Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., for information about his interactions with the Trump administration involving Ukraine and the military aid that was held up. They sent that request in a letter to Johnson on Friday, which he mentioned on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, and he’s working on a response (likely in writing.)

House investigating whether Trump lied to Mueller, lawyer tells court

The House of Representatives’ top lawyer told a federal appeals court Monday that the House is investigating whether President Donald Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller, and the attorney urged the judges to order the release of still-secret material from Mueller’s investigation.

Two of the three judges who heard arguments at the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, and Thomas Griffith, an appointee of George W. Bush — seemed prepared to order at least some of the material sought by the House to be turned over.

House General Counsel Douglas Letter told the judges that the need for the still-secret material redacted from the Mueller report is “immense” because it will help House members answer the question, “Did the president lie? Was the president not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?" in his written responses to the probe.

Read the full story here.

Pelosi gives impeachment update

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updated colleagues about the status of the impeachment inquiry in a letter on Monday.

In the letter, she says that the, "facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests."

Read the full letter below:

Dear Democratic Colleague,

As we enter this pre-Thanksgiving week, we must extend the Continuing Resolution to keep government open and advance our legislative agenda to meet the needs of the American people. 

Thank you to the many Members who participated in our Speaker’s Meeting on Jobs. The presentation of the challenges facing America’s working families and the solutions presented by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman DeFazio and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Pallone helped advance our infrastructure legislation. The discussion on USMCA was constructive and will continue this week.

At the same time we legislate, we continue to investigate and litigate, as the impeachment inquiry proceeds.

Last week, the country was impressed by the valor and patriotism of the dedicated public servants and career diplomats, appointed by the President, in speaking truth to power. This week, we will hear from additional witnesses who will courageously expose the truth and defend our democracy.

The facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests.

The weak response to these hearings has been, “Let the election decide.” That dangerous position only adds to the urgency of our action, because the President is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections.

There are also some who say that no serious wrongdoing was committed, because the military assistance to Ukraine was eventually released. The fact is, the aid was only released after the whistleblower exposed the truth of the President’s extortion and bribery, and the House launched a formal investigation.

None of us comes to Congress to impeach a President, but rather to make progress for America’s working families. However, our first order of business is our oath to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. As such, we are custodians of the Constitution and, For The People, defenders of our democracy.

Thank you for your patriotic leadership.