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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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1045d ago / 3:23 PM UTC

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. 

1045d ago / 3:18 PM UTC

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.

1045d ago / 3:17 PM UTC

Yovanovitch describes emotional toll of her ouster

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." 

1045d ago / 3:12 PM UTC

Meet the two seasoned staff prosecutors now in impeachment spotlight

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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
1045d ago / 3:09 PM UTC

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. 

1045d ago / 3:07 PM UTC

Close Trump ally Mark Meadows spotted at hearing

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.

1045d ago / 2:59 PM UTC

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

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.

1045d ago / 2:56 PM UTC

Rep. Speier praises Yovanovitch

1045d ago / 2:54 PM UTC

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

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.

1045d ago / 2:54 PM UTC

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.

1045d ago / 2:51 PM UTC

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.

1045d ago / 2:48 PM UTC

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

White House press secretary Grisham said Trump "took the unprecedented steps to declassify and release the transcripts of both of his phone calls with President Zelenskiy so that every American can see he did nothing wrong.” 

 

1045d ago / 2:43 PM UTC

Yovanovitch: ‘I have no agenda’

Yovanovitch began her opening statement, which closely resembled the one she gave behind closed doors last month, connected her personal story of having parents who fled Communism and Nazism to eventually settle in the U.S. to her 33 years of service as a diplomat in the U.S. 

She said that “I have no agenda” other than implementing U.S. foreign policy regardless of which party is in power. She served in six presidential administrations — four Republican and two Democratic. 

She said her goal as ambassador to Ukraine was to make it a free democratic society with rule of law. She noted that it is a contentious region in which the U.S. is in a power struggle with Russia and said if Kremlin interests prevail, it could embolden Russian to expand its aggressions. She said her goal was to root out corruption to deter Russia. 

"When our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me," she said. "How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?"

She also laid out several key pieces of misinformation that she expected to come up, including allegations that she told Ukrainian officials who they should or should not prosecute. 

Read her full statement:

1045d ago / 2:41 PM UTC

Yovanovitch sworn in

Image: Former U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch Testifies At Impeachment Hearing
Former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill on Nov. 15, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
1045d ago / 2:38 PM UTC

Stefanik again raises point of order

Rep. Elise Stefanik again is the first Republican to raise a point of order in the proceedings. She also did so on Wednesday. With these public objections parroting the GOP talking points, Stefanik, from a more moderate New York district and thought of as someone who might be open to support the impeachment inquiry, is further cementing her position as someone who is not entertaining that option.

1045d ago / 2:33 PM UTC

Schiff, Republicans clash early in hearing

Tension was palpable after Schiff rejected several “points of order” made by Republicans, prompting one of them — Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, to exclaim, “Holy cow.”

Schiff said that if Nunes was going to read for the record the transcript of the April phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, they should also enter into the record the multiple “documents” pertinent to the investigation that the State Department, the White House Office of Management and Budget and other agencies have so far withheld from investigators, despite subpoenas.

1045d ago / 2:30 PM UTC

Trump watched Nunes' opening statement, Grisham says

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told reporters Friday, “The President will be watching Congressman Nunes’ opening statement, but the rest of the day he will be working hard for the American people.”

1045d ago / 2:27 PM UTC

Lots of signs today

Image: Trump Impeachment Inquiry
From left, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.; Republican counsel Stephen Castor; Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, at the impeachment hearing on Friday. Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images
1045d ago / 2:23 PM UTC

Nunes accuses Democrats of trying to 'overthrow a president'

Ranking member Devin Nunes, D-Calif., pivoted his opening statement away from Trump’s alleged actions and made it about the Democrats' “daylong TV spectacle” to “fulfill their Watergate fantasies.” He accused the Democrats of trying to “overthrow a president” on shaky, secondhand information because they lost the 2016 election.

He described the impeachment process so far as "being like some sort of strange cult" with "secret" depositions. Over 40 Republican members have been able to attend the closed-door hearings.

Nunes also read out loud from the White House summary, released earlier Friday, of Trump's first call with Zelenskiy in April.

Nune’s opening statement, nearly identical to the one he made at the start of Wednesday's hearing, sets the foundation for what the GOP’s argument will be during the hearing —  this should be about the whistleblower and his or her motivations, not Trump.

1045d ago / 2:21 PM UTC

ANALYSIS: Republicans blasted 'hearsay' impeachment testimony. But they were in Congress, not court.

One of the Republican themes during Wednesday's impeachment hearing was that the witnesses — Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official — were not credible because they were relaying, in some instances, second-, third- or even fourth-hand information.

In court, such testimony might be barred as “hearsay” — defined as an out-of-court statement that a party offers as evidence to prove the truth of the matter being asserted. Hearsay is generally inadmissible. But hearsay is a rule of evidence, applying only to court proceedings, and even then with so many exceptions that it's often admissible anyway.

First, hearsay is admissible in many government settings, including administrative proceedings, parole hearings, and preliminary hearings in a criminal case; a congressional hearing is not even a court, so it’s not governed by the rule of evidence that makes hearsay inadmissible.

Read the full analysis here.

1045d ago / 2:17 PM UTC

Schiff lauds Yovanovitch in opening statement

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., used his opening statement to laud today’s witness, Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, as a lifetime diplomat who had valiantly tried to fight corruption in the country.

He praised Yovanovitch for her 33 years of service in the Foreign Service and for her efforts to take on graft there, reiterating several details that she herself shared during her closed-door testimony last month.

“In April 2019 the United States Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was in Kyiv when she was called by a senior State Department official and told to get on the next plane back to Washington. Upon her return to D.C., she was informed by her superiors that although she had done nothing wrong, she could no longer serve as ambassador to Ukraine because she did not have the confidence of the president,” Schiff said.

“In her time in Kyiv, Ambassador Yovanovitch was tough on corruption, too tough on corruption for some, and her principled stance made her enemies,” Schiff said.

Read the full statement:

1045d ago / 2:12 PM UTC

And they're off

Schiff gaveled in the second public impeachment hearing at 9:06 a.m. 

1045d ago / 2:06 PM UTC

First open hearing drew 13 million TV viewers

About 13.8 million people tuned in to the first day of impeachment hearings, according to media analytics company Nielsen, indicating strong interest from the general public in the proceedings. 

Wednesday’s hearing was the first of at least five days of open hearings. Its audience was about the same as former special counsel Robert Mueller drew in July, though smaller than the approximately 20 million people who watched Brett Kavanaugh's hearing. That hearing also aired across ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. (NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC, MSNBC and NBC News.)

1045d ago / 2:05 PM UTC

Unlike Bill Clinton, Trump is unable to compartmentalize impeachment

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WASHINGTON — The previous American president who was impeached talked Thursday about the current American facing impeachment.

And here was Bill Clinton’s advice to President Trump: don’t forget about focusing on your day job.

"Look, you got hired to do a job. You don't get to — every day's an opportunity to make something good happen," Clinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper. "And I would say, 'I've got lawyers and staff people handling this impeachment inquiry and they should just have at it. Meanwhile, I'm going to work for the American people.' That's what I would do."

But here’s what Trump has been doing:

“While we are creating jobs and killing terrorists, the radical left, Democrats [are] ripping our country apart. They are trying to overthrow American democracy and erase the votes of tens of millions of Americans,” he said last night at his rally in Louisiana.

Get First Read's take.

1045d ago / 1:51 PM UTC

Trump rips Pelosi ahead of impeachment hearing

1045d ago / 1:49 PM UTC

Yovanovitch arrives for hearing

Image: Marie Yovanovitch
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify to the House Intelligence Committee, on Nov. 15, 2019, on Capitol Hill.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
1045d ago / 1:46 PM UTC

Posters are up

The posters on tripods on the Republican side of the dais read:

  • “I have never seen a direct relationship between investigations and security assistance.” Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko November 14, 2019.

Trump also mentioned the statement in a pair of overnight tweets

  • 95 days since Adam Schiff learned the identity of the whistleblower.
  • “I’m concerned if we don’t impeach this president, he will get re-elected.” Al Green

The number of chairs in the audience for members of Congress has been cut in half, from the about 70 on Wednesday to about 35 today. There are now seats reserved for a House staff with credentials.

1045d ago / 1:37 PM UTC

OPINION: Republicans' Sixth Amendment impeachment objection has ominous implications

Not every constitutional law question has two sides. We don’t lose sleep, for example, over how many senators represent each state (two), or whether representation in the House must be proportional (yes), or whether the president really has to be at least 35 years old at the time he is sworn in (he does). Much of the time, the text of the Constitution is clear beyond any reasonable dispute — leaving no room for even the most compelling policy arguments that the text should be understood to mean something else.

But you wouldn’t know this from the latest legal objection to the ongoing House impeachment proceedings — that they violate the president’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

The right to confront is one of nearly a dozen different individual rights protected by the Sixth Amendment. Those rights apply, per the first four words of that provision, “[i]n all criminal prosecutions.” Thus, federal criminal defendants today have a panoply of protections all designed to ensure the fairness of their trial — ranging from the right to a speedy and public trial to the right to the assistance of counsel in their defense. But only in criminal cases. 

Read the full piece.

1045d ago / 1:27 PM UTC

Trump on Yovanovitch: 'I don't know much about her'

1045d ago / 1:25 PM UTC

Budget official expected to defy White House, testify in impeachment inquiry

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A top official at the Office of Management and Budget indicated Thursday he is willing to testify in the House impeachment inquiry, his attorney said.

Mark Sandy would be the first employee from the OMB to defy the White House and appear before Congressional investigators. The White House has urged administration officials not to comply with what they are calling a sham investigation.

“If Mr. Sandy is subpoenaed, he will testify this Saturday,” Barbara Van Gelder, an attorney at Cozen O'Conner, said in an email.

Sandy is considered a critical witness who can provide insight into the withheld security aid to Ukraine, which is at the basis of the impeachment inquiry opened by House Democrats.

Read the full story here.

1045d ago / 1:17 PM UTC

Here's what Yovanovitch said during her October deposition

Key details from Yovanovitch's Oct. 11 deposition closed-door testimony:

  • Said she was a victim of false claims promoted by right-wing media outlets that she'd been badmouthing the president and had presented Ukrainian officials with a "do not prosecute" list.
  • When she asked him for advice on how to deal with the campaign against her, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told her she should tweet out support or praise for Trump if she wanted to save her job. "He said, 'You know, you need to go big or go home,'" Yovanovitch said, adding that she declined to take his suggestion because it would not have been appropriate for an ambassador.
  • A top State Department official, John Sullivan, told her she was being removed on the president's orders because he'd lost confidence in her, even though she had "done nothing wrong." "He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018," Yovanovitch said.
  • She was "surprised and dismayed" when she found out the contents of the president's July 25 call with his Kyiv counterpart.
1045d ago / 1:00 PM UTC

How to watch the impeachment hearing: Day 2 schedule, witnesses and more

The first public presidential impeachment hearings in over 20 years will continue on Friday with Yovanovich's testimony.

The hearing is slated to start at 9 a.m. ET Friday, an hour earlier than the first hearing on Wednesday, which featured testimony from diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., will make an opening statement, followed by an opening statement by the ranking member on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and then a statement from the witness.

Here's how to watch the hearing.

1045d ago / 12:54 PM UTC

Who is Marie Yovanovitch?

Here's what you need to know about the longtime diplomat:

  • She was born in Canada after her parents fled Nazi and communist regimes, and moved to Connecticut when she was 3 years old.
  • Her nickname is Masha.
  • She's a graduate of Princeton, where she studied the former Soviet Union.
  • Yovanovitch has been a foreign service officer for 33 years, and served in six presidential administrations — four Republican and two Democrat.
  • She's been appointed ambassador three times — twice by Republican George W. Bush and once by Democrat Barack Obama. She was ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 2005 to 2008 and ambassador to Armenia from 2008 to 2011. She was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from August 2016 until her abrupt removal in May.
1045d ago / 12:37 PM UTC

Yovanovitch testimony will describe the 'first chapter' in Trump's Ukraine efforts, official says

House Democrats are holding their second public hearing with Yovanovitch to go into more detail about how President Donald Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals began, a Democratic official working on the impeachment inquiry told reporters Thursday evening.

"Ambassador Yovanovitch was really the first chapter of that story in that she was unceremoniously removed by the president for being very effective in her job in trying to root out corruption in Ukraine,” the official said.

The intention in the first public hearing with Bill Taylor and George Kent "was to provide the beginning-to-end storyline" of the president's actions, the official said.

“After a vicious smear campaign that was based on false allegations and propagated by the president and his allies, Yovanovitch was inappropriately fired," the official said. "This set the stage for the president’s scheme when he began to press Ukraine to investigate his political rival and affect the 2020 elections.”

Yovanovitch was the “first casualty” of the president’s Ukraine pressure campaign efforts, and her removal shows “even more evidence of abuse of power by the president to really set the stage for this irregular channel to really begin their pressure campaign,” the official said.

The way Trump described Yovanovitch in the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “leads many people to believe this was not an appropriate removal” and that it was “an attempt to remove somebody who was standing in the way of efforts by people like Rudy Giuliani to do the president’s political bidding in Ukraine.” 

1045d ago / 12:18 PM UTC
1045d ago / 10:51 PM UTC

Scalise calls allegations against Trump 'baseless,' 'disgraceful'

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House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., called the allegations against President Donald Trump "baseless" and "disgraceful" when asked about Speaker Nancy Pelosi's comments that the witnesses' testimony at the first public impeachment hearing Wednesday "corroborated evidence of bribery." 

“I think it's disgraceful that these liberals here in Washington continue to try to throw baseless allegations and accusations at the president, when they've tried for years to push an impeachment narrative," Scalise told reporters Thursday.

He claimed that Pelosi, who refrained from launching a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump for much of the year despite pressure from her caucus, is "obsessed" with impeaching the president.

On Wednesday's testimony, Scalise said Democrats "don't have anything. There are no impeachable offenses," adding that they "refuse to bring issues that would actually help families, lower drug costs, do other things that matter to people, because they don't like the results of the 2016 election.”

1045d ago / 10:29 PM UTC
1045d ago / 10:26 PM UTC

Trump: Impeachment has been 'very hard on my family'

BOSSIER, La. — President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that the impeachment process was taking a personal toll, calling impeachment a "problem" that had been "very hard on my family."

“I have one problem. And it has been very hard on my family," he said at a campaign rally in Louisiana, adding that "impeachment, to me, is a dirty word."

"It’s been very unfair, very hard on my family. Me, it’s my whole life, it’s crazy," he said. "What a life I lead. You think this is fun, don’t you? But it’s been very hard on my family. Very, very hard."

The president left Washington, D.C. — and sporadic attempts to appear above the impeachment fray — behind Thursday night, attacking Democrats organizing the public hearings that began this week and the career diplomats testifying in those sessions.

Read the full story here.

1045d ago / 10:20 PM UTC

Graham: Not going to let Trump be convicted 'based on a bunch of hearsay'

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., vowed Thursday not to vote for proceeding with a Senate impeachment trial unless the whistleblower comes forward.

"I will not allow trial in the Senate to go forward with my vote unless the whistleblower comes forward, even though they're offering hearsay," Graham told reporters outside a Judiciary Committee meeting.

"Now, I want to know, is there a connection between the whistleblower, the CIA, Biden or any other Democrat that would ... cast suspicions over their motives?" Graham asked. "I want to get to the bottom of this. We're not going to let the president of the United States be tried based on anonymous accusation. We're not going to let him be convicted in the Senate based on a bunch of hearsay."

Graham, who chairs the Judiciary panel, said a Senate trial would legitimize "a process that I think is a danger to the presidency itself. You’re having hearings in the House where Democrats only call witnesses, the whistleblower is being shielded from examination. It’s fundamentally unfair."

Graham added that if the tables were turned, with a Democratic president and a majority of Republicans in the House, a similar situation would "destroy the presidency over time. And how would you, as a member of Congress, like to be on the receiving end of this? Somebody said you did something wrong, the whistleblower complaint, but you can’t find out who they are, and all the accusations against you are based on hearsay. This is a dangerous precedent to set for the country."