The House Judiciary Committee on Monday heard from lawyers for both Democrats and Republicans on findings from the Intelligence Committee's impeachment inquiry over allegations that President Donald Trump withheld aid to Ukraine in order to pressure its government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
Witnesses for the Intelligence Committee included majority counsel Daniel Goldman and the Republicans' lawyer, Steve Castor. Also on the witness list was Barry Berke, majority counsel for the Judiciary Committee. The hearing began at 9 a.m.
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TRUMP IMPEACHMENT HIGHLIGHTS
- The House will announce articles of impeachment against President Trump on Tuesday, multiple sources told NBC News. They are expected to be abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
- The Monday hearing, which included roughly nine hours of testimony, was marked by interruptions and fiery exchanges.
- Rudy Giuliani's role in the push by Trump to investigate a political rival once again became the focus during an intense round of questioning by the Democrats' lawyer.
- As the Republicans' lawyer was being questioned, the Justice Department inspector general released its long-awaited report examining the origins of the probe into Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
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'Talk to Rudy': Everything's coming up Giuliani during impeachment questioning
Once again, the focus during an intense round of questioning by the Democrats' lawyer is Giuliani's role in the push by Trump to investigate a political rival.
The U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, testified last month that he handled communications with Giuliani and that the president's personal lawyer played a key role in shaping the president’s view of Ukraine and alleged efforts to investigate Biden.
Sondland said Trump was "skeptical" of Ukraine and that he thought Ukraine was not serious about reform. Sondland said the president thought Ukraine tried to take him down in 2016 and as a result Trump "directed us to 'talk with Rudy.'"
"We understood that 'talk with Rudy' meant talk with Mr. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Let me say again: We weren’t happy with the president’s directive to talk with Rudy," he said. "We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. 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."
Trump is staring down at least 2 articles of impeachment: Abuse of Power and Contempt of Congress.
The debate among Democrats right now revolves around whether they nod to obstruction in the broader Abuse of Power article or break it out into a separate one.
If you noticed, neither Berke nor Goldman used the words “bribe” or “extortion”and that was intentional. It appears that despite a lot of public and internal pressure to do this, a separate count on bribery/extortion is unlikely.
Some advising Democrats, see Larry Tribe tweet below, say the fact that Trump’s demand that Zelenskiy not only investigate the Bidens but, essentially, undo any smear against Putin (blame Ukraine instead of Russia for 2016 meddling) is cause enough for the committee to nod to obstruction in a broader Abuse of Power article.
Others want a separate count related to Mueller given the counts in his report and a two-year investigation. But critics say that would be vulnerable to the fact that the main witness to obstruction, Don McGahn, and his refusal to testify is still being adjudicated. His live testimony is considered indispensable. The same argument can be made about the grand jury material (it’s all still in the courts and being adjudicated.)
Castor: Biden isn't a front-runner
Republican counsel Castor dodged a question on whether Trump viewed Biden as a front-runner in the 2020 election.
“I wouldn’t agree with that,” Castor said. “It’s too early.”
And what about all the things Trump tweeted about Biden?
"I try to stay off Twitter, lately," Castor countered.
We'll let the polling speak for itself.
Analysis: Castor's 'don't trust, verify' defense of Trump's posture toward Ukraine
Castor's defense of Trump, who ran as an anti-corruption outsider in 2016, is that he believed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who ran as an anti-corruption outsider, might actually be so corrupt that it was best to freeze aid appropriated by Congress and the president, thus empowering Russia, to make certain that Zelenskiy wasn't corrupt.
Castor cites op-ed in The Hill as evidence of Ukrainian electoral interference
In his opening rebuttal to the House Democrats, Castor cited a three-year-old op-ed in The Hill as evidence of Ukrainian electoral interference — which Republicans have cited in recent weeks as a key piece to back up assertions that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
The op-ed, from Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., was critical of Trump's remarks about Ukraine, Crimea and Russia — remarks that were counter to U.S. policy and the Republican Party's platform at the time that the contested territory was Ukraine's and not Russia's. Russia invaded Crimea and annexed it in 2014.
"Recent comments by Republican nominee Donald Trump about the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea — occupied by Russia since March 2014 — have raised serious concerns in Kyiv and beyond Ukraine," the ambassador, Valeriy Chaly, wrote. "Many in Ukraine are unsure what to think, since Trump's comments stand in sharp contrast to the Republican party platform. Since the Russian aggression, there has been bipartisan support for U.S. sanctions against Russia, and for such sanctions to remain in place until the territorial integrity of Ukraine is restored. Efforts to enhance Ukraine's defense capacity are supported across the aisle, as well, to ensure that Ukraine becomes strong enough to deter Russia’s aggression."
"Even if Trump's comments are only speculative, and do not really reflect a future foreign policy, they call for appeasement of an aggressor and support the violation of a sovereign country's territorial integrity and another's breach of international law," he continued. "In the eyes of the world, such comments seem alien to a country seen by partners as a strong defender of democracy and international order."
Of course, the repeated citation of this op-ed in recent weeks followed former Trump national security council official Fiona Hill testifying before the House Intelligence Committee that the theory of Ukrainian interference was a product of Russian misinformation meant to clear the nation of its efforts in 2016. And, Hill said that while individual Ukrainians may have sought to influence the election, it did not mirror the top-down effort from the Russian government.
"Really?" tweeted the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, in response to Castor citing the op-ed. "Can you trace for me the causal impact on American voters from the publication of a Hill oped (what’s the distribution of that publication?) by a Ukrainian ambassador? If truly an act of “influence”, an incredibly ineffective one!"
"That also is a ridiculous argument," he wrote. "By that metric any criticism of Obama policy in 2016 by foreign governments — and there was a lot — was meddling."
Giuliani claims he found 'overwhelming' evidence against Biden during Ukraine trip
The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said Monday he plans to release a report regarding his recent trip to Ukraine in an attempt to counter the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Giuliani said in an interview on "War Room: Impeachment," a podcast hosted by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, he was going to do an outline of the report and “try to present” it to Republicans and Attorney General William Barr at the end of this week. He also said that he “certainly would like to” meet with House Republicans before a vote on articles of impeachment.
Giuliani has been at the forefront of efforts among the president and his allies to turn up information in Ukraine to try and undercut the impeachment probe. He has also been at the center of the allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
"I was going to do an outline of it and try to present it at the convenience of the Republicans in Congress and the attorney general at the end of this week," he said. "I should have it ready by Wednesday or Thursday, I don't know exactly when it will be made public."
Giuliani said he had "overwhelming" evidence that would be damaging to the Bidens and the Democrats, but did not disclose it during the interview.
This past Saturday, Trump said he is waiting to see what Giuliani gathers because he did not know what his attorney found.
"I just know that he's come back from someplace. He says he has a lot of good information. I have not spoken to him about that information yet."
Castor doubles down on conspiracy theory
Castor tried to justify the president’s actions on Ukraine on Monday, raising the allegations of corruption that surrounded Hunter Biden's Ukrainian employer and mentioning Ukrainian officials who didn’t like the president. One even wrote an op-ed, he recalled.
“These facts are important in assessing the president’s state of mind,” Castor said during testimony.
But while there may well be some Ukrainians who did not like the president — the president has many detractors here at home — there’s no evidence that the election interference orchestrated by the Russian government started in Ukraine as the president has repeatedly said. This is a conspiracy theory.
An 'alternative facts' for the age of impeachment
Expect to hear Republican lawyer Steve Castor's words replayed by Democrats.
Here's what he said about evidence collected in the investigation: "There are conflicting and ambiguous facts throughout the record."
Here's how Merriam-Webster defines a fact: "something that has actual existence ... an actual occurrence ... a piece of information presented as having objective reality."
Some party lawyer pleasantries
As Goldman and Castor stood up for the break, Castor turned to Goldman, patted him on the back and said, “Good job.”
Hearing is back in session
After the recess, Steve Castor, a lawyer for the Republicans, is beginning his presentation.
Nadler denies Republican witness requests, which include whistleblower and Schiff
Nadler denied Collins' witness requests — including the initial whistleblower and Rep. Adam Schiff — in a Monday letter, echoing Schiff's earlier rejection of a similar witness list provided by Rep. Devin Nunes during the House Intelligence Committee hearings.
Collins had requested eight witnesses in addition to any who were "requested by" Trump. Nadler wrote that since he understands Trump "is not requesting any witnesses to appear in our impeachment proceedings," there "is no further reason to address that request."
On other witnesses, Nadler said he agreed with Schiff that these hearings would not be used "as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the president pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit, or to facilitate the president's effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm."
But, Nadler said he remains "prepared" to hold a meeting after Monday's hearing if Collins wants to revisit the requests or make any additional ones.