The newest testimony in the impeachment probe is a big deal. Here's why.

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands during a meeting in New York o
President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Another week, another round of explosive testimony in the impeachment inquiry — this time from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient who’s a top Ukraine expert in President Trump’s National Security Council.

What’s significant about Vindman’s testimony today is that he’s a firsthand witness to Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president.

And he underscores what concerned him about the call and an earlier White House meeting: The Trump administration was asking a foreign country for help in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

“On July 25, 2019, the call occurred. I listened in on the call in the Situation Room with colleagues from the NSC and the office of the Vice President,” Vindman says in his released opening statement. “As the transcript is in the public record, we are all aware of what was said.”

“I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman adds. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”

Vindman also recounts that he was an eyewitness to an earlier July 10 meeting in DC with Trump administration officials and Ukraine’s national security official Oleksandr Danylyuk.

“The meeting proceeded well until the Ukrainians broached the subject of a meeting between the two presidents,” he says. “The Ukrainians saw this meeting as critically important in order to solidify the support of their most important international partner. Amb. [Gordon] Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador [John] Bolton cut the meeting short.”

“Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. [Fiona] Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.”

“Following the debriefing meeting, I reported my concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel. Dr. Hill also reported the incident to the NSC’s lead counsel,” Vindman concludes.

National Security Council Director for European Affairs Alexander Vindman prepares to lay flowers in honor of fallen Ukrainian soldiers in a photo posted on the U.S. Embassy Kiev Twitter account on May 31, 2019.U.S. Embassy Kiev via Twitter

President Trump continues to focus on the whistleblower, whose complaint kicked off this scandal.

“[T]he Whistleblower disappeared after I released the transcript of the call. Where is the Whistleblower? That is why this is now called the Impeachment Hoax!” Trump tweeted late last night.

But you no longer need the whistleblower — or his whereabouts — when you have firsthand and eyewitness accounts that corroborate the whistleblower’s original claims.

Oh, one other thing: Yesterday, we wrote that today’s and tomorrow’s political news would answer whether al-Baghdadi’s death would be an indelible moment — or a mere blip — in Trump’s presidency.

Well, outside of the dog, guess what’s the big political story we’re talking about today…

Officials cringe at Trump’s description of military raid on al-Baghdadi

Speaking of al-Baghdadi’s death, NBC’s Courtney Kube and Carol Lee have this story:

“President Donald Trump painted a vivid picture for the world of the deadly U.S. military raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a raid that only a small number of people witnessed in real time,” Kube and Lee write.

“A ‘beautiful’ and ‘talented’ dog got injured. A robot had been on standby to aid in the hunt for al-Baghdadi if needed. U.S. Special Operations Forces arrived in eight helicopters and were on the ground for about two hours. They entered al-Baghdadi's compound within seconds by blowing holes in the side of the wall. They chased al-Baghdadi into a web of underground tunnels — many of them dead ends — that they already knew existed. Before the U.S. forces left for the 70-minute, "very low and very, very fast" helicopter ride back along the same route from which they arrived, they captured some of al-Baghdadi's henchmen and seized ‘highly sensitive material and information’ outlining the origin of ISIS and plans for future plots.”

“A few of those colorful details were wrong. Many of the rest were either highly classified or tactically sensitive, and their disclosure by the president made intelligence and military officials cringe, according to current and former U.S. officials.”

We’re one week out until KY-GOV and MS-GOV

The gubernatorial contests in Kentucky and Mississippi take place exactly one week from today, on Nov. 5.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

And Nov. 16 brings us the gubernatorial runoff in Louisiana.

All three races are competitive.

2020 Vision: Steyer’s now spent $30 million in TV ads

Wealthy Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer has now spent nearly $30 million in TV and radio advertisements, according to ad-spending data as of Oct. 28 from Advertising Analytics.

Steyer’s spending over the airwaves is seven times greater than the second-biggest advertiser in the presidential race (President Trump’s re-election campaign) and 15 times greater than his nearest Democratic rival (Pete Buttigieg).

Almost all of Steyer’s spending has been targeted in the early nominating states — $7.1 million in Iowa, $7 million in New Hampshire, $5 million in Nevada and $6.3 million in South Carolina — as the Democratic National Committee has used early-state and national polls to set the qualifications for upcoming debates.

On the campaign trail today

Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall in Laconia, N.H…. Kamala Harris hosts her own town hall in Council Bluffs, Iowa… Amy O’Rourke stumps for her husband in South Carolina… and Pete Buttigieg raises money in Boston.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Several Democratic presidential candidates spoke at the national J-Street Conference in D.C. yesterday. NBC’s Gary Grumbach noted that palpable excitement for Sanders at the conference: He took the stage to “a standing ovation and loud cheers from the hundreds in the room. As the only Jewish presidential candidate this cycle, it was clear the crowd was excited to see him. Sanders told the crowd that he believes military aid [to Israel] should be contingent on the nation’s relationship with Gaza. ‘My solution is to say to Israel is you get 3.8 billion dollars every single year. If you want military aid, you're going to have to fundamentally change your relationship to the people of Gaza.’”

At a fundraiser in Florida, Joe Biden discussed how his opponents were treating him in the presidential contest. NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor flagged from the pool report, “Biden said he was getting ‘beat up because I’m not the socialist,’” referring to Sanders. Biden continued, “I’m not the one promising Medicare for All, which by the way costs $34 trillion over 10 years.”

Data Download: And the number of the day is … 20 points.

That’s the margin of President Trump’s victory in Oregon’s 2nd district in 2016 — where Republican Rep. Greg Walden announced yesterday that he plans to retire. Walden, a former NRCC chairman and top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement that “the time has come to pursue new challenges and opportunities.”

Mitt Romney won the district in 2012 by 16 points, and Walden had received more than two-thirds of the vote in each of his reelection races until 2018, when he beat Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, 56 percent to 39 percent.

Walden is currently the only Republican in Oregon’s congressional delegation.

Tweet of the day

The Lid: Yes, Virginia

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we previewed next week’s legislative elections in Virginia.

ICYMI: New clips you shouldn’t miss

A Kurdish informant proved to U.S. intelligence that he had access to al-Baghdadi by turning over his used underwear and a sample of his blood.

The House’s first vote on the impeachment inquiry will force lawmakers on the record.

Alex Seitz-Wald profiles the attorney representing the whistleblower.

Monica Alba and Stephanie Ruhle write about the method behind Team Trump’s merchandise madness.

And happy 50th birthday to MSNBC’s Ali Velshi. “The award-winning journalist not only hosts two hours on MSNBC five days a week … he also instructs a ‘Business Communications for Impact’ course at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, splitting his time between New York City and Philadelphia,” per MSNBC’s PR team.

TRUMP AGENDA: Boeing’s CEO testifies on the Hill

The CEO of Boeing is heading to the Hill for the first time since the 737 Max crashes.

The Washington Post looks at the Democratic infighting about whether Nationals fans chanting “lock him up” at the president went too far.

2020: Jeff Sessions’ comeback?

Jeff Sessions may want his old job back.

Here’s Pete Williams on what the N.C. gerrymandering court ruling means.

States in the West are grumbling about how little they’re seeming to register in the 2020 race so far.

The Republican Party of Florida is postponing its biggest annual fundraiser, and it looks like a pretty bad sign for the party.

RIP Kay Hagan.