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Analysis after Marie Yovanovitch's impeachment testimony

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch gave public testimony Friday regarding the circumstances of her abrupt ouster from her post.
Image: Impeachment live blog illustration v3
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch gave public testimony Friday regarding the circumstances of her abrupt ouster from her post as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Catch up quickly:

5 things we learned from Yovanovitch's public testimony

Trump defends attacking Yovanovitch after Dems accuse him of 'witness intimidation'

Analysis: The devastating day Trump's presidency came into sharp focus

  • Also: A fate worse than firing — humiliation. "All we have is our reputations," Yovanovitch said.

Yovanovitch says Trump admin kneecapped her diplomatic efforts

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Trump attacks Pence aide who said Ukraine call was 'unusual and inappropriate'

President Donald Trump on Sunday blasted an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence who told House impeachment investigators earlier this month that Trump's asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to probe the Bidens and Democrats in a July 25 call was "unusual and inappropriate."

"Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released ststement [sic] from Ukraine," Trump tweeted. "Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!"

The president has labeled other Trump administration officials who have testified in the impeachment inquiry, including some career diplomats, as Never Trumpers. The term is a reference to conservatives during the 2016 election cycle who pledged never to support the then-Republican candidate, even as he breezed through the GOP primary onto the party's nomination.

Full story here.

Pelosi: Trump's conduct is 'so much worse' than Nixon's

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday that President Donald Trump's conduct is "so much worse" than that of former President Richard Nixon, adding that Trump is insecure about being an "imposter."

"I will make sure he does not intimidate the whistleblower," Pelosi said of the CIA employee whose complaint about Trump's conduct toward Ukraine led to the impeachment inquiry. "The president can come before the committee and speak all the truth that he wants ... He has every opportunity to make his case."

"But it's really a sad thing," Pelosi continued. "What the president did was so much worse than even what Richard Nixon did. At some point, Richard Nixon cared about the country enough to recognize that this could not continue."

Read more here.

GOP Rep.: Trump Ukraine actions 'alarming,' 'not okay'

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, told CNN's "State of the Union" that "of course" trading foreign aid for politics favors is "alarming."

"As I've said from the beginning, I think this is not okay," Turner, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said. "The president of the United States shouldn't even in the original phone call be on the phone with the president of another country and raise his political opponent. So, no, this is not OK."

But Turner lamented the process by which Democrats were conducting the impeachment inquiry, and, pointing to Holmes' testimony, said the newly disclosed call wasn't "scandalous" because Trump essentially said the same thing in the July 25 call, a summary of which was released by the White House.

GOP senator says whistleblower's sources 'exposed things that didn't need to be exposed'

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said Sunday that the administration officials who provided the whistleblower with information on President Donald Trump's conduct toward Ukraine "exposed things that didn't need to be exposed."

Johnson, who spoke with the president about why military aid was being withheld from Ukraine prior to the administration releasing the hold in mid-September, told NBC's "Meet the Press" he wanted "to point out is the damage being done to our country through this entire impeachment process."

"It's going to be very difficult for future presidents to have a very candid conversation with a world leader because now we've set the precedent of leaking transcripts," he said. "The weakening of executive privilege is not good. And by the way, these individuals that leaked this. If their interest was a stronger relationship with Ukraine, they did not accomplish this. Having this all come out into public has weakened that relationship and exposed things that didn't need to be exposed."

Read more here.

House releases two more impeachment transcripts

Haley Talbot

House impeachment investigators on Saturday released the transcripts from joint depositions of Deputy Assistant to the President Timothy Morrison and Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams.

Schiff said in a statement:

“The testimony released today shows that President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky immediately set off alarm bells throughout the White House. Both witnesses provided the Committees with first-hand accounts after personally listening to the call in the White House Situation Room. 

“Mr. Morrison confirmed Ambassador Taylor’s testimony to the Committees that the Ukrainians were told that U.S. military assistance, not just the White House meeting, was conditioned on their public announcement of political investigations that the President wanted.  Additionally, following the September 1 meeting between President Zelensky and Vice President Pence, Mr. Morrison confirmed that Ambassador Sondland informed one of President Zelensky’s top aides that American military aid was conditioned on the investigations.  Mr. Morrison informed John Bolton of the meeting and was told by Mr. Bolton to go see the lawyers, which he did.

“Ms. Williams testified that the President’s requests were ‘unusual and inappropriate’ and shed light on ‘possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold.’  She also confirmed, like Lt. Col. Vindman, that the Ukrainian President specifically mentioned ‘Burisma’ during the call, even though the White House call record does not reflect that.  Importantly, Ms. Williams also testified that in mid-May, President Trump instructed Vice President Pence to cancel plans to attend President Zelensky’s inauguration before the date for the inauguration had been set.

Both officials are testifying in open hearings this week. 

Read Williams' deposition here.

Ready Morrison's testimony here.

5 things we learned from Yovanovitch's public testimony

Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who is one of several figures at the center of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, spent more than six hours testifying before the House Intelligence Committee Friday.

The hearing didn't reveal much beyond what was learned from her closed-door deposition last month, but it did provide the American public the chance to hear the unconstrained, and at times emotional, account of a top diplomat who House Democrats hope can be one of the faces of their inquiry.

Here are five things we learned from her public appearance. And in case you missed her day on Capitol Hill, catch up on key moments here.

ANALYSIS: The devastating day Trump's presidency came into sharp focus — in Congress, the White House and court

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's worlds collided in devastating fashion in Washington on Friday, exposing legal and political vulnerabilities that Democrats want to exploit as he works to survive impeachment and his 2020 re-election bid.

All three branches of government demonstrated, in one day and in unmatchable high-profile fashion, the cost Trump and his loyalists have been willing to impose on the nation and its citizens — including members of his inner circle at times — in pursuit of political and personal aims. And ultimately, those costs are at the heart of the argument Democrats will make for ousting Trump, one way or the other.

"The powers of the presidency are immense, but they are not absolute and they cannot be used for corrupt purpose," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on Friday. "The American people expect the president to use the authority they grant him in service of the nation, not to destroy others to advance his personal or political interests."

Read the full analysis here.

Madeleine Albright: 'I have been inspired by' Kent, Taylor, Yovanovitch

Trump campaign's McEnany: 'This has been a complete waste of everyone’s time'

“As both Adam Schiff and Marie Yovanovitch acknowledged, ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, who can dismiss them at any time for any reason, or no reason at all," Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. "Yovanovitch has no personal knowledge of anything the Democrats are using in their bogus quest for impeachment. This has been a complete waste of everyone’s time and a disservice to the taxpayers.”

Trump asks Supreme Court to block House subpoena for his financial records

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for President Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to put a hold on a subpoena from a House committee seeking eight years of his financial documents.

The case may produce the first action by the justices on the growing number of legal battles over access to Donald Trump's financial secrets. A lower court order upholding the subpoena takes effect on Nov. 20. So unless the Supreme Court acts quickly, the president's accounting firm, Mazars, will be required to turn the material over.

The Trump legal team told the justices in a court filing on Friday that if the lower court rulings are allowed to stand, any committee of Congress could subpoena any personal information it wants from a president.

"Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government — no matter which party is in power," Trump's team said.

Read the full story.

Trump defends attacking Yovanovitch after Democrats accuse him of 'witness intimidation'

Hallie Jackson

Dareh Gregorian and Hallie Jackson

WASHINGTON — Democrats may see it as "witness intimidation," but President Donald Trump says he was just offering his opinion when he bashed his former ambassador to Ukraine during her public testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

“I have the right to speak. I have the freedom of speech just as other people do,” Trump told reporters at the White House Friday hours after a tweet that Democrats equated with witness tampering.

"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch 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. It is a U.S. President's absolute right to appoint ambassadors," Trump tweeted as Yovanovitch was testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.

Democrats suggested the tweet was tantamount to a criminal act, and could be added to possible articles of impeachment. During a break in testimony, committee chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called the tweet "witness intimidation in real time." He also read Trump's tweets to Yovanovitch during the hearing and asked her to respond.

“Where I've served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better,” she said, including in Ukraine.

Read the full story.

White House's Gidley responds to questions about discrepancy on April call

Hallie Jackson

White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley gave a statement in response to questions about the discrepancy between the April readout (released months ago) of the call between Trump and Zelenskiy, which said the president emphasized rooting out corruption, and memo on the call (released Friday), in which there was no mention of such a thing.

“The President continues to push for transparency in light of these baseless accusations and has taken the unprecedented steps to release the transcripts of both phone calls with President Zelensky so that every American can see he did nothing wrong," Gidley said. "It is standard operating procedure for the National Security Council to provide readouts of the President’s phone calls with foreign leaders. This one was prepared by the NSC’s Ukraine expert.”

Yovanovitch acknowledges members of the audience as she concludes her testimony

Image: Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch Testifies At Impeachment Hearing
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch acknowledges members of the public in the audience as she concludes her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 15, 2019.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Dems give Yovanovitch a standing O, Nunes predicts 'plummeting' TV ratings for 'show trial'

The closing statements from Nunes and Schiff made it seem as though the two congressmen had participated in two different hearings.

In his, Nunes addressed “the American people,” telling them that “today’s show trial has come to an end” and announced that he and some of his colleagues would now be “heading down to the basement of the Capitol Building” where they’d be “hiding behind closed doors” to interview another witness in the inquiry — David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.

He closed by complaining that “television ratings must be plummeting right now” for the networks airing coverage of the hearing.

Schiff, on the other hand, lauded Yovanovitch for appearing.

“What you did coming forward … is give courage to others who witnessed wrongdoing,” he said. Schiff went on to summarize what he called Trump’s “corrupt intent” in conditioning military aid to Ukraine on the launching of an investigation into the Bidens.

The hearing ended with the Democratic members of the committee standing and giving a round of applause for Yovanovitch for her service to the State Department.

Yovanovitch says attacking foreign service officers 'deeply troubling’

Dartunorro Clark

Yovanovitch told Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., that there are morale issues at the State Department following the smear campaign against her and the lack of support from top department officials after she was recalled and later attacked by Trump.  

“It’s deeply troubling and there are morale issues at the State Department,” she said.

When Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., later asked if she was "concerned that other ambassadors may suffer the same fate as you," she replied, "yes."

GOP Rep. Zeldin says Democrats wanted Yovanovitch ‘to cry for the cameras’

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., told reporters Friday that Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee were trying to get Yovanovitch, to “cry for the cameras” during the second impeachment hearing. 

The remarks came when NBC News’ Garrett Haake asked Zeldin why Trump feels the need to attack Yovanovitch if he and Republicans are dismissing her testimony as irrelevant. 

“The reason why that 45 minutes was spent with her getting asked questions about her feelings is because House Democrats wanted to recreate what happened in the deposition," Zeldin said. "They wanted her to cry for the cameras. It’s unfortunate." 

Asked how he knows that that’s Democrats’ strategy, Zeldin said, “I was in the depositions, and inside of the depositions, what they wanted to use was the part of the July 25 call transcript where they take President Trump’s words, and then they want to ask her how she felt, and then they want to get her to cry. That’s what happened previously, and it was obvious that they were looking to do exactly the same thing that they did last time, to do it again.”

The detail that Yovanovitch had cried in her closed-door deposition was not widely known. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement after that initial interview that she was “overcome with emotion” at times and had to leave the room. 

Zeldin also suggested that it was acceptable for Trump to defend himself on Twitter on Friday morning when he smeared Yovanovitch amid her testimony, saying, “The president’s going to defend himself, whether it’s today, it’s yesterday, it’s tomorrow, it’s the hours, the days, the weeks that are ahead. The president of the United States know that this is a total sham.”

Schiff, Jordan zingers rouse silent crowd

Schiff and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, exchanged fiery words toward the end of Jordan’s allotment of time, breathing fresh air into a lengthy hearing that has already stretched nearly six hours.

After a long wind up outlining a question to Yovanovitch, the witness asked Jordan whether he had, in fact, asked her anything

As he attempted to restate the question, his time ran out, but Schiff allowed him to continue.

Jordan, however, once again engaged in a lengthy wind-up with no clear question, prompting Schiff to say, “I have indulged you with extra time, my indulgence is wearing out.”

Unimpressed, Jordan shot back, “Our indulgence with you wore out a long time ago.”

The audience was quiet all day, but during the exchange there was audible laughter when Schiff said his indulgence of Jordan was running out, then a chorus of “oooohs” when Jordan said his indulgence ran out a long time ago.

Heck's impassioned defense of Yovanovitch

Dartunorro Clark

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., gave a forceful defense of Yovanovitch and excoriated Trump for recalling her despite her decades of experience in U.S. foreign service. 

He questioned how “the most powerful person on the face of the earth" could remove her from her Ukraine post and then "ominously threaten that you will ‘go through some things.’”

"So I am angry, but I am not surprised,” he said. 

“Here's my message to you: There is nothing, Ambassador Yovanovitch, nothing he can say or do, not a thing, that will in any way diminish the nature and quality of the service you have rendered to our great nation. Not a thing."

Ratcliffe scores rare point in questioning on Bidens

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, pressed Yovanovitch on whether she had been briefed ahead of her confirmation hearing in 2016 for possible questions about then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son being on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma.

After Yovanovitch acknowledged she’d been directed to refer all questions regarding that matter to the vice president’s office, Ratcliffe pressed her on the question of whether Hunter Biden being on the company's board was improper.

“I think that it could raise the appearance of a conflict of interest,” she replied.

The moment marked a rare point on the board for Republican interrogators, many of whom have largely used their time allotments to say there’s nothing particularly tragic about Yovanovitch’s situation because she landed at Georgetown after her recall from Kyiv.

Jordan claims White House has shown 'unprecedented transparency'

Dem Rep. Quigley gets laughs with GOP 'Hallmark movie' quip

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., provided the hearing with some comic relief when he used his allotted time to mock Republican claims that Yovanovitch shouldn’t merit much sympathy because she’d ended up at Georgetown after being ousted from Ukraine.

“It’s like a ‘Hallmark’ movie — you ended up at Georgetown, it’s all OK,” he said, prompting chuckles in the room.

But he pointed out — with Yovanovitch agreeing — that it “wasn’t your preference to leave Ukraine” and it “wasn’t your preference to be defamed by” Trump.

“There’s nothing wrong with Georgetown,” Quigley said. 

“It's a wonderful place,” Yovanovitch said, leading Quigley to point out that it still would have been so if she’d ended up there purely because she wanted to — not because she had to return to Washington.

“It’s not the end of a ‘Hallmark’ movie, it’s the end of a really bad reality TV show brought to you by someone who knows a lot about that,” Quigley said.

Ukraine embassy official to arrive for closed-door testimony

David Holmes, counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, is scheduled to arrive within the hour for his 3 p.m. closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees.

GOP Rep. Stewart jabs at bribery allegation

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, was able to fire off one of the more effective lines of questioning on Yovanovitch, cornering her into yes-or-no answers about whether Trump had committed crimes in his Ukraine dealings.

Pointing to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that the testimony earlier in the week by Taylor and Kent presented evidence of bribery by Trump, Stewart bluntly asked Yovanovitch if she had “any information” regarding Trump “accepting any bribes.”

“No,” she said.

Stewart followed up by asking whether she had “any information regarding any criminal activity” that Trump “has been involved with at all.”

“No,” she said.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., later tweeted out the exchange, which Trump retweeted.

ANALYSIS: A fate worse than firing

One big question that Yovanovitch couldn’t answer with certainty is why Trump and his team chose to smear her rather than just replace her in Kyiv. 

“All the president has to do is say he wants a different ambassador,” she said.

Both Republicans and Democrats were eager to make that point — Republicans to suggest there was nothing wrong with Trump calling her back to Washington and Democrats to argue that Trump’s campaign to discredit her was an abuse of his power that was necessary to set the stage for his deal with Ukraine.

For months, Trump and his allies bad-mouthed her to Zelenskiy and others in Kyiv. Yovanovitch said that could create a chilling effect on other diplomats around the globe, making it harder for ambassadors to feel like they have support from the administration when they’re executing foreign policy.

But the message sent from the president could be even stronger: that any diplomat who gets in the way of a shadow foreign policy team can expect a fate worse than firing — humiliation. In that way, Yovanovitch could be seen as an example to other career foreign service officers. While she didn’t speak directly to that, she explained the value of credibility in the diplomatic realm.

“All we have is our reputations,” she said.

Yovanovitch calls Sondland’s work in Ukraine ‘unusual’

Dartunorro Clark

A testy exchange emerged between Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and Yovanovitch when he tried to press her on the U.S. ambassador to the European Union's work in Ukraine. He argued that it’s in Gordon Sondland's portfolio, but she said that “it is unusual to name the U.S. ambassador to the European Union to be responsible for all aspects of Ukraine."  

Turner then talked over Yovanovitch as Schiff tried to get her to respond to a question to which Turner responded, "Not on my time, you're done.”

GOP poster says 'President Trump gave Ukraine missiles'

Leigh Ann Caldwell

The poster behind Republicans quoting Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, on impeachment has been replaced with a large poster that says: "President Obama gave Ukraine blankets. President Trump gave Ukraine missiles."

The above is a point that Republicans have been making both publicly and privately. They claim that it's a shallow argument that the president has harmed Ukraine's national security by his administration's temporary hold in military aid when the Obama administration refused to provide the weapons they needed. Note that the Republicans keep bringing up the Javelin missiles in testimony, including today.

Yovanovitch emphasizes 'it’s been a very, very difficult time'

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., asked how the smear campaign against Yovanovitch affected her and her family.

“It’s been a very, very difficult time,” Yovanovitch replied.

“There’s a question as to why the kind of campaign to get me out of Ukraine happened, because all the president has to do is say he wants a different ambassador,” she said.

Sewell also asked Yovanovitch if she is a “never-Trumper.” Yovanovitch replied that she wasn’t.

Earlier, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas., used his questioning to apparently suggest that any sympathy for Yovanovitch is misplaced because she landed a cushy job at Georgetown University after being recalled from the State Department and remains an employee of the agency.

OPINION: At impeachment hearings against Trump, GOP must not join in Democrats' showboating

Kelly Jane Torrance

The second hearing of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Friday followed House Democrats opening the proceedings to the public Wednesday — and it was about time. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, which is in charge of the inquiry, kicked off his opening statement on that occasion by predicting, “What we will witness today is a televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats.”

He was half-right. The impeachment hearings have indeed been “a televised theatrical performance.” But it’s been staged by both Democrats and Republicans. And so before we go much further in this process, I’d like to urge my fellow travelers on the right (I’m looking at you, Jim Jordan): Please don’t continue to grandstand on impeachment. It only hurts the cause and draws attention away from the invidious ways the Democrats themselves are piling on the drama.

Read the full piece.

Yovanovitch says she would have pushed back on Trump’s requests

Dartunorro Clark

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., got Yovanovitch, who was recalled before Trump’s July 25 call, to answer several hypotheticals about the president's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Himes asked, quoting the memo of the July 25 call, if she would have recommended that Trump ask about CrowdStrike, to which she said no.

Himes also asked if she would have recommended that Trump delay congressionally mandated aid and ask the Ukrainian president to find out about Biden's son. She also said no. The questions get at what the motive might have been for recalling her.

Hearing moves to 5-minute round

Haley Talbot

The staff questioning round has now ended. The committee has moved to the five-minute member round for the 22 lawmakers, alternating between Democrats and Republicans. Members can give their time to other members if they would like. The member questions should last roughly two hours, barring any breaks or procedural delays. 

Castor questions Yovanovitch's praise of Volker

Castor appears to be trying to draw a contrast between Yovanovitch’s prior praise for Kurt Volker, a former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, with the narrative being put forth by Democrats that Volker was an integral part of the shadow diplomacy team between Washington and Kyiv.

Castor brought up several instances where Yovanovitch had previously praised Volker, including once calling him “a brilliant diplomat.”

“I believe that to be true,” Yovanovitch said.

Castor, however, then brought up how the testimony of several figures in the impeachment inquiry, including Volker himself, has established Volker as part — along with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer; the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland; and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry — of an irregular, shadow diplomacy team team in Ukraine.

“I think he tried to do what he thought was right,” Yovanovitch said.

Jordan and Nunes chat with Castor

Image: Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch Testifies At Impeachment Hearing
From left, ranking member Devin Nunes confers with minority counsel Steve Castor and Rep. Jim Jordan during testimony from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch's before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Nov. 15, 2019.Alex Wong / Getty Images

Yovanovitch reminds Castor what American intel has said

Dartunorro Clark

In response to persistent questioning about the unfounded claim that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, Yovanovitch reminded Castor what American intelligence already concluded: It was Russia. 

"Our own U.S. intelligence community has determined that those who interfered in the election were in Russia," she said. 

White House defends Trump tweet criticizing Yovanovitch

Hallie Jackson

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told NBC News in a statement that Trump's tweet about Yovanovitch "was not witness intimidation, it was simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to."

She added, "This is not a trial, it is a partisan political process — or to put it more accurately, a totally illegitimate, charade stacked against the President. There is less due process in this hearing than any such event in the history of our country. It’s a true disgrace."

Ex-DNC staffer referenced by GOP speaks out

Josh Lederman

Alexandra Chalupa, the former DNC contractor at the center of the theory of Ukrainian interference in 2016, is responding on Twitter after her name was invoked several times today in the Yovanovitch hearing. She says she “never worked” for a foreign government and hasn’t been to Ukraine:

Earlier this month NBC reported exclusively from Ukraine on a new effort to push this theory, which holds that Chalupa coordinated with Ukrainian embassy officials to dig up dirt on Paul Manafort. Here’s more background on Chalupa from our story.

Although Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American who was a part-time DNC contractor in 2016, acknowledges contact with the embassy during that period, she wrote on Facebook that it's "nonsense" to claim she was running a research operation or seeking Manafort dirt from the embassy. Ukraine's embassy denies working with her on anything election-related, and the DNC says she never did opposition research for the party.

Either way, there have been no indications that the top levels of Ukraine's government ordered or were aware of attempts to interfere in 2016. In contrast, U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia's extensive efforts to intervene in that same election were directed by the Kremlin.

Yovanovitch pushes back on conspiracy theory question

Dartunorro Clark

Yovanovitch pushed back on unfounded allegations that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to oppose Trump’s candidacy and that a Democratic operative was working with the D.C. embassy to get intelligence. But she testified that she would not have been privy to that unfounded claim because it happened in the U.S.

Bizarre Twitter trend emerges on Friday

A conservative talking point on today’s hearing has quickly formed and spread in what resembled a coordinated effort.

“I hired Donald Trump to fire people like Yovanovitch,” had been tweeted by nearly a thousand individual accounts by noon, retweeted tens of thousands of times. A version was tweeted by the president’s son, Donald Trump. Jr.

The statement was first tweeted by Cari Kelemen, a right-wing YouTuber from Texas, and gained steam when a popular far-right account, catturd2, told its 119,000 followers to “get it trending.”

The campaign continued to grow after far-right personalities like conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec pushed the statement.

Castor questioning slowing things down

Castor seems to be using his questioning of Yovanovitch to slow down the pace of the hearing and to attempt to press her on what she knew about corruption in the Ukrainian government and at Burisma Holdings — the Ukrainian gas company that former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter joined as a board member in 2014.

Castor asked Yovanovitch if there was a “perception problem brought to your attention as ambassador” regarding Biden being on the board while his father was the vice president.

“I was aware of it,” Yovanovitch replied. 

Moments earlier, to open his questioning, Castor directed questions at Yovanovitch about Burisma, in which he referenced multiple names — of Ukrainian government officials and Ukrainian officials at Burisma — that have the effect, and possibly the purpose, of slowing down the hearing and making it less compelling for viewers.

Castor, who has been getting guidance from Jordan here and there, doesn't appear to be scoring many points.

Why Nunes attempted to let Stefanik cut in

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Geoff Bennett

Leigh Ann Caldwell and Geoff Bennett

At the start of this portion of the hearing, Nunes attempted to yield his time to allow Rep. Elise Stefanik to question Yovanovitch directly. Stefanik is the only female GOP member on the committee.

The effort echos the time when the all-male group of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee yielded to an outside female counsel to question Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing.

But the House-approved rules governing the impeachment proceedings make clear that only Schiff, Nunes, or the Republican and Democratic counsels can ask questions during the initial 45-minute period. Schiff reiterated that point and Castor began his inquiry.

 

Yovanovitch returns to witness table

Image: Marie Yovanovitch
Former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch looks on after returning from a break during the second public hearings held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill on Nov. 15, 2019.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

White House pushes back on 'witness intimidation' concerns

Hallie Jackson

Hans Nichols

Hallie Jackson and Hans Nichols

White House officials are pushing back on the argument from Adam Schiff and others that Trump's Twitter attacks on Yovanovitch constitute witness intimidation argument. Per a senior administration official: “It’s well within the president’s right to have an opinion on her job performance. That’s not intimidation.” The official argued Yovanovitch is “not immune from having people criticize her record.”

The official also insists Schiff was asking leading questions to try to get the ambassador to say she felt intimidated earlier in the hearing, when Schiff read portions of the July call transcript back to her, including the part where the president told Zelensky that “she's going to go through some things.”

The official argues that since the call was never intended to be made public, Yovanovitch would never have known about the president’s remarks anyway — so, in the White House’s view, the comments couldn’t have amounted to intimidation if the expectation was that Yovanovitch would never see them.

Castor presses Yovanovitch on any role in the central events

Dartunorro Clark

Castor, the GOP’s counsel, pressed Yovanovitch on the merits of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, asking her about whether she was involved in the July 25 call and the efforts to freeze aid. 

It’s an interesting line of questioning because she was recalled before those events happened and he seems to be setting up an argument, as Nunes did, that she is not a material fact witness in this inquiry even though Democrats have argued that her removal is part of the larger effort by Trump to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. 

She also testified that her removal was championed by the Ukrainian establishment because of her anti-corruption work and that effort was also pushed by Giuliani and his associates.

Trump camp decries 'hearsay.' But many firsthand witnesses have defied subpoenas.

"Another day, another Democrat star witness with no firsthand knowledge and all hearsay,” wrote Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Twitter. It's a familiar talking point for Republicans — they used it on Wednesday, too.

But Trump's White House has told witnesses — many of them with first-hand knowledge of events and conversations — not to testify in the inquiry. In a letter to top Democrats from White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the White House claimed that the president and his administration “cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry.” The White House has also pressured witnesses who agreed to speak with investigators to limit their testimony.

“Past Democrat and Republican administrations would not be inclined to permit senior advisers to the president to participate in such a ridiculous, partisan, illegitimate proceeding — and neither is this one," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said this month.

Here are the witnesses in Trump's administration who have defied subpoenas in the inquiry, according to an NBC News count.

  • Mick Mulvaney, acting chief of staff
  • Robert Blair, assistant to the president and senior adviser to the acting chief of staff
  • John Eisenberg, legal adviser at National Security Council (NSC)
  • Michael Ellis, deputy NSC legal adviser
  • Brian McCormack, associate director at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
  • Michael Duffey, associate director at OMB
  • Wells Griffith, special assistant to the president and senior director at NSC
  • T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, counselor at the Department of State
  • Russell Vought, acting director at OMB
  • Charles Kupperman, former deputy assistant to the president for national security affair

Kupperman has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to decide whether he should testify or not; his subpoena was withdrawn while the lawsuit progresses. 

Nunes questions reason for Yovanovitch's public testimony

Nunes, kicking off questioning for GOP members on the committee, points out that  Yovanovitch was not a “firsthand” witness to dealings related to the freeze on military aid to Ukraine that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

He also complains that he’s “not sure what the ambassador is doing here today” because she wasn’t on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

He goes on to say that the House Intelligence Committee “has turned into the House impeachment committee.”

Hearing reconvenes after break for votes

Haley Talbot

The hearing is being gaveled back in now at 12:20 p.m.

Trump administration thinking on impeachment politics

Josh Lederman

A Trump administration official working on impeachment says officials are closely watching the polling on impeachment and comparing it with contemporaneous polling on Brett Kavanaugh ahead of his confirmation vote to the Supreme Court. Right now they see the same trend as with Kavanaugh: that the polls show the public remains deeply divided and, as long as that continues, they’re OK. If it starts to move, they worry that vulnerable GOP senators like Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona may turn.

The other element the administration is watching, according to the official, are the filing deadlines to get on the ballot for various House districts compared to when the House vote is held on impeachment. Here’s the thinking: Right now you have Democrats in battleground districts who, if the filing deadline for their district has passed and they’re going to sail through their primary, may be inclined to vote with Republicans against impeaching the president.

But if their filing deadlines haven’t passed, those Democrats could be vulnerable to a late-entry primary challenge from the left if they vote against impeachment, making them more likely to stick with Pelosi on the vote. The administration is hoping to peel off at least a few Democratic House members so that they can argue there was bipartisan opposition to impeaching and only partisan support for impeaching.

The official says the witness that most worries administration officials is the Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U., because of the possibility he may perjure himself and the unpredictability of what he’ll say, given that he’s already contradicted his initial testimony in his follow-up declaration. The concern is that if he’s seen as having lied, it reflects negatively on the administration because he’s a political appointee, furthering the narrative about Trump and his political appointees versus the honorable, by-the-book career bureaucrats.

Swalwell says Dems will consider Trump's attacks for possible articles of impeachment

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters that the president is engaging in witness intimidation and said investigators will consider it for potential articles of impeachment. 

“Innocent people don’t intimidate and he’s just acting more guilty,” Swalwell told reporters. 

When asked if it could be added to an article of impeachment as obstruction of justice, he said, “It will be considered. It will be considered, yes. With other obstructive acts like going after the whistleblower.”

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which would consider articles of impeachment, tweeted, “The President is engaging in witness tampering during a Congressional impeachment hearing. That is a crime. Every Republican should have to say whether they’re okay with him doing that.”

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., tweeted that the president’s attacks on Yovanovitch were “highly concerning” and Congress won’t “tolerate such behavior.” 

Their comments come after Trump attacked Yovanovitch’s reputation in a tweet during the hearing. When asked to react to the president’s remarks, the former ambassador said “it’s very intimidating.”

Pelosi tweets support for Yovanovitch

Klobuchar: 'Her words speak for me'

Trump confidant Roger Stone found guilty on all counts in federal trial

Dartunorro Clark

A federal jury in Washington on Friday found Trump associate Roger Stone guilty of seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering in a case that was an offshoot of the Mueller probe.

The longtime Trump confidant faces prison time on the charges, which stemmed from his alleged efforts to find out when WikiLeaks would be releasing emails hacked from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016.

What's going on inside the White House today?

+2

Hallie Jackson

Hans Nichols

Eamon Javers, CNBC

Hallie Jackson, Hans Nichols and Eamon Javers, CNBC

Top staffers to President Donald Trump have been huddling behind closed doors in the West Wing. White House counsel Pat Cipollone, leaving the office of Hogan Gidley, declined to answer questions about whether the president’s real-time tweets on Yovanovitch amounted to witness intimidation.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, leaving press secretary Stephanie Grisham’s office, also did not answer questions.

Despite the White House’s insistence that the president “will be working hard for the American people” today, he is clearly engaged in the hearing nonetheless.

Trump attacked Yovanovitch as she testified in the impeachment inquiry. Here's her response.

Schiff says Trump is intimidating Yovanovitch 'in real time'

Emma Thorne

During the break, Schiff accused Trump of intimidating Yovanovitch "in real time," and the impeachment investigators will take that "very seriously."

"What we saw today is, it wasn’t enough that Ambassador Yovanovitch was smeared, it wasn’t enough that she was attacked, it wasn’t enough that she was recalled for no reason, at least no good reason," Schiff told reporters. "But we saw today, witness intimidation in real time by the President of the United States, once again going after this dedicated and respected career public servant in an effort to not only chill her, but to chill others who may come forward. We take this kind of witness intimidation and obstruction of inquiry very seriously."

ANALYSIS: Trump attacks on Yovanovitch show 'profound lack of understanding'

Trump campaign spokesman tweets 'what's relevant'

Trending: Miss Universe

Today’s hearing is all over Twitter, accounting for many of the major trending topics. 

Among them, Miss Universe. The president referred to the pageant in his first call with Zelenskiy, a transcript of which was released Friday morning.

Hearing breaks for votes

Lawmakers are taking a brief break from Yovanovitch's testimony in order to attend floor votes, Schiff said.

Kent previously testified that Putin, Orban poisoned Trump's views on Ukraine

Josh Lederman

George Kent, a senior State Department official responsible for Europe, told Congress last month that he was briefed on conversations President Donald Trump had with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in which the two foreign leaders talked Trump into a negative view about Ukraine and its new leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Kent told House investigators that Putin and Orban, along with Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, had “shaped the president’s view of Ukraine and Zelenskiy.” He said Trump’s conversations with the two leaders accounted for the change in Trump’s view of Zelenskiy from “very positive” after their first call on April 21 to “negative” just one month later when he met with advisers on Ukraine in the Oval Office.

In the interim, Trump spoke by phone with Putin on May 3, and hosted Orban at the White House on May 13.

Read the full story here.

Yovanovitch responds to Trump attacks

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Schiff read out loud Trump's tweets attacking Yovanovitch and asked her to respond.

“Where I've served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better,” she said, including Ukraine where she said “there are huge challenges” but they’ve made a lot of progress since 2014.

That progress, she said, was made in part by the work of the U.S. and by her work as ambassador to Ukraine.

Schiff asked Yovanovitch how the president’s words might affect other witnesses in the impeachment inquiry.

“It’s very intimidating,” she said.

Schiff told Yovanovitch, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”

Trump lashes out at Yovanovitch on Twitter during hearing

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Trump on Friday smeared Yovanovitch as she testified.

In a second tweet in the thread, Trump wrote, “They call it 'serving at the pleasure of the President.' The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First! With all of that, however, I have done FAR more for Ukraine than O.”

Trump’s claim, however, that Zelenskiy was the one who spoke unfavorably about Yovanovitch is not true. 

In the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, Trump said about Yovanovitch: “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that.”

Zelenskiy responded: “It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100 percent. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous president and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new president well enough.”

Trump then responded: “Well, she’s going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.” 

Yovanovitch said she felt threatened by Trump comments

Goldman asked Yovanovitch how she felt about Trump’s statement that she was going to “go through some things” -- a phrase the president used about her in his July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, according to the White House summary of the call.

“I didn’t know what to think, but I was very concerned,” she said. 

“What were you concerned about?” Goldman asked.

“It didn’t sound good. It sounded like a threat,” Yovanovitch replied.

“Did you feel threatened?” Goldman asked.

“I did,” Yovanovitch said. 

Yovanovitch says she never heard of a president recalling an ambassador based on false info

In a poignant line of questioning, Daniel Goldman, the attorney leading the questioning for the Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee, was able to extract from Yovanovitch exactly how unusual — and unprecedented — her ouster from Ukraine was.

Goldman asked Yovanovitch if she had “ever heard of a president recalling an ambassador without cause” due to information “that the State Department itself knew to be false?”

“No,” she replied.

Yovanovitch describes emotional toll of her ouster

Dartunorro Clark

Yovanovitch was asked about her reaction to learning about her abrupt ouster.

"Terrible, honestly," she said. "It’s not the way I wanted my career to end."

She also said she was "shocked" when she learned that Trump had called her "bad news."

"The color drained from my face," she said, becoming visibly emotional. "I even had a physical reaction. Even now, words kind of fail me."

She added that "it kind of felt like a vague threat" when Trump told Zelenskiy in their July call that she was "going to go through some things." 

Meet the two seasoned staff prosecutors now in impeachment spotlight

Dartunorro Clark

Dartunorro Clark and Dareh Gregorian

The fast-moving impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals is not only putting the partisanship on the House Intelligence Committee on full display, it's also catapulting the lead lawyers for both parties into the national spotlight.

Daniel Goldman is the Democrats' lead counsel and Steve Castor represents the Republicans. Both lawyers have extensive experience in Washington and in the courtroom and led the questioning of the closed-door depositions of witnesses in the inquiry. Both will have 45 minutes to grill witnesses on behalf of their respective sides as the inquiry moves forward.

Read the full story here.

Image: Daniel Goldman questions Bill Taylor during an impeachment hearing on Nov. 13, 2019.
Daniel Goldman questions Bill Taylor during an impeachment hearing on Nov. 13, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Yovanovitch describes the moment she was recalled

Yovanovitch is re-telling the story of the late-night April 2019 phone call she received from the State Department abruptly calling her back to the U.S. During the call, Carol Perez, the director general of the Foreign Service, told Yovanovitch there was “great concern” for her safety and that she needed to return to Washington on “the next plane.”

Yovanovitch had shared this story with House investigators during her closed-door testimony last month but revealed new details on Friday, including that she had just finished hosting a dinner party at her residence in Ukraine honoring an anti-corruption activist in the country who had died after being attacked with acid. 

Close Trump ally Mark Meadows spotted at hearing

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Jordan left his seat to talk to two staff members at the end of the dias. At about the same time, South Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, who is sitting in the audience, stood up and walked to the back of the room. After Jordan finished talking to his staff, the staff walked to Meadows and the three walked out the hearing door

Meadows, a fierce Trump ally, is not on the Intelligence Committee but is extremely involved in the Republican strategy. Meadows was spotted at the White House yesterday afternoon.

No mention of Trump's desire to reform corruption in notes on first call

Hallie Jackson

Flashback to April 21 and this readout from the White House about the initial call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy: 

The White House, at the time, said the president expressed commitment to work with Ukraine “to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”

There’s nothing in the so-called transcript just released by the White House that specifically reflects the president’s desire for corruption reform. As we’ve noted before, the administration itself specifically notes that this memo “is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion” and is instead compiled from notes and recollections of staffers listening in.

Rep. Speier praises Yovanovitch

Yovanovitch says Trump admin 'kneecapped' her diplomatic efforts in Ukraine

Dartunorro Clark

Yovanovitch excoriated the Trump administration in her opening statement, claiming that the administration “kneecapped” her efforts in Ukraine to make the country more democratic and, in turn, protect U.S. national security. 

"If our chief representative is kneecapped, it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States,” she said. “The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage. This is not a time to undercut our diplomats.” 

Her statement is a powerful repudiation of the unfounded allegations casting her as someone who was working to advance corruption in the country. Though she did not mention Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, her comments appeared to be squarely aimed at his leadership.

White House releases record of first Trump-Zelenskiy call

The White House on Friday released a record of President Donald Trump's first phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, a call in which the two chat amicably and there's no mention of the Bidens or the 2016 election.

The record of the April call was released at 9 a.m., just as the second of the House's public impeachment hearings stemming from Trump's July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was set to begin.

Trump tweeted earlier this week that the April call was "the first, and therefore more important, phone call."

Read the full story here.

ANALYSIS: Impeachment in one paragraph

Schiff’s opening statement showed how this hearing will be a microcosm of the entire impeachment case against Trump — that he would stop at nothing, even subverting American interests and harming patriotic citizens, to gain an election advantage.

The short version of Schiff’s statement: Yovanovitch was smeared and fired because she was doing her job — fighting Ukrainian corruption on behalf of the U.S. — too well at a time when Trump was trying to corrupt the new Ukrainian president. 

Here’s how Schiff closed:

“Ambassador Yovanovitch was serving our nation’s interests in fighting corruption in Ukraine, but she was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the president’s personal and political agenda. For that she was smeared and cast aside. The powers of the presidency are immense but they are not absolute, and they cannot be used for corrupt purpose. The American people expect the president to use the authority they grant him in service of the nation, not to destroy others to advance his personal or political interests.”

And the storyline is important for a second reason that might turn out to be larger over time. Even if Trump is not removed from office, the narrative offered by Yovanovitch bolsters the Democrats’ argument that Trump’s campaign trail mantra of putting “America first” is untrue.

Grisham: Trump released call notes 'so every American can see he did nothing wrong'