Trump has packed schedule, but likely still paying attention to hearings
The president has been in the residence this morning, according to a White House official, but is likely to join local radio stations this morning to talk USMCA/trade as part of the White House’s “radio row” media day.
Press secretary Stephanie Grisham adds that other participants “include senior administration officials, Cabinet members and I believe some members of Congress.” The president is also set to lead a Cabinet meeting at 11:30 in the West Wing. It’s part of the White House counterprogramming strategy to try to show the president is hard at work as Democrats focus on impeachment.
Two officials are downplaying today’s hearings, telling us they don’t think it will be a game changer.
The president is likely engaged in this third day of public impeachment hearings, however. He has suggested that both witnesses, Jennifer Williams and Alexander Vindman, are “never-Trumpers,” despite no evidence that’s the case.
Nunes slams media, Democrats in opening statement
Ranking member Devin Nunes’ opening statement was different from his opening statements in the last two hearings, in which he said the Democrats were operating a “cult” and out to “overthrow” Trump.
In this opening, he excoriated the media for their coverage of the hearings as damning for the president, claiming that they are working with the Democrats to hurt Trump.
Nunes then pivoted to what he called the real story that the media is trying to “smother,” which, again, is the potential political motivations of the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry. The statement accusing the media of bias against Trump and questioning the motives of the whistleblower mirrors allegations in conservative media and Trump's Twitter feed.
Schiff defends Vindman, Williams from attacks
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff defended both Vindman and Williams from recent attacks on their character in his opening statement.
“Ms. Williams, we all saw the president’s tweet about you on Sunday afternoon and the insults he hurled at Ambassador Yovanovitch last Friday,” he said, pointing to Trump’s Sunday tweet labeling her a “Never Trumper.” “You are here today, and the American people are grateful.”
“Colonel Vindman, we have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character, and watched as certain personalities on Fox have questioned your loyalty,” Schiff continued. “I note that you have shed blood for America, and we owe you an immense debt of gratitude.”
Schiff said the two witnesses are not appearing because they “are for or against impeachment.”
“That question is for Congress, not the fact witnesses,” he said. “If the president abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his re-election campaign and did so by withholding official acts — a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid — it will be up to us to decide, whether those acts are compatible with the office of the presidency.”
And we're off...
The Williams and Vindman public hearing was just gaveled in by Chairman Schiff at roughly 9:08 a.m.
What's going on inside the hearing room
The Republicans have three posters behind their side of the dias.
- A tweet from Adam Schiff from Sept 24 reading: "We have been informed by the whistleblower’s counsel that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the acting DNI as to how to do so. We’re in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistleblower’s testimony as soon as this week."
- "99 Days since Adam Schiff learned the identity of the whistleblower." (Schiff maintains he doesn’t know the identity of the WB.)
- A quote from Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., from Sept. 17. We’ve spent millions of dollars, in my opinion, tons of money, tons of time, tons of hurt, fracturing the nation apart. I haven’t seen this to be a good thing." (Van Drew was one of two Democrats to vote against the impeachment inquiry.)
About 35 seats are reserved in the audience for members of Congress.
Most Democratic members have entered the hearing room and are standing behind their seats in the dias.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., is talking in a not discreet huddle with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Andre Carson, D-Ind.
Members of the audience have been let in.
Republicans are now trickling in. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, still with no suit jacket, is about to take a seat.
Both counsels are seated.
Schiff has not yet walked in.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misidentified a House Democrat at today's hearing. It is Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana, not Rep. Colin Allred of Texas.
Diplomats testify that State Dept. called Sean Hannity about Yovanovitch allegations
"Call Sean Hannity," then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump once said during a 2016 presidential debate.
That's exactly what three U.S. diplomats who testified in the House impeachment inquiry said a top State Department official did, seeking information on whether the Fox News host had any "proof" of the allegations leveled against then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on his program.
In testimony released Monday night, David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, told impeachment investigators Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself called Hannity, essentially asking, "If there are these allegations, I need to see what the evidence is."
Yovanovitch was ousted from her post in May following a lengthy campaign from Trump allies to sully her reputation. One such allegation was that she gave then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko a "do not prosecute list," a claim she denied and one that Lutsenko eventually walked back after initially promoting. Hale testified that "no one" he met in the State Department, including Pompeo, found the allegations credible.
Responding to Hale's testimony on his Monday night program, Hannity, who has taken aim in Yovanovitch in recent days, said, "How many times do I have to say, we barely mentioned this woman."
"Four times in passing," Hannity said, adding, "No, I never got a call from Secretary of State Pompeo or anybody else. Why would they lie about this?"
"I know nothing about this woman," he continued. "Now I do. Oh. Now I know a lot about her."
In her deposition, Yovanovitch said the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Phil Reeker told her that either Pompeo or a close deputy called Hannity to ask whether he had "proof of these kinds of allegations or not."
Meanwhile, George Kent, a top diplomat overseeing Ukraine, testified that he was aware of a top State Department official calling Hannity in late March or early April.
A Fox News spokesperson pointed NBC News to Hannity's comments from Monday night when reached for comment. The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment from NBC News.