The second week of public hearings in the House's impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump kicked off on Tuesday with testimony from four current and former administration officials.
Former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council staffer Tim Morrison testified beginning around 3:30 p.m. ET. Earlier Tuesday, NSC staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, testified for around 4.5 hours starting at 9 a.m ET.
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Heck: A 'painful irony' Trump pardons war criminals and demeans Vindman
Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., gave an impassioned defense of Vindman, who has been attacked by the GOP and Trump allies. Heck said there was a “rich but incredibly painful irony” in the GOP and the president attacking Vindman within a week of Trump, contrary to the advice of military advisers, pardoning military officers who were convicted of war crimes.
Heck has played this role before in the last two hearings, often using his time to thank the witnesses for their service and serve as a sort of anger translator to push back on GOP attacks.
Heck: A 'painful irony' Trump pardons war criminals and demeans VindmanNov. 19, 201902:15
Former Obama official on White House tweet criticizing Vindman: 'Astonishing'
Ratcliffe uses a poster of Pelosi during questioning
Castro’s twin quip offers a moment of levity
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, drew laughter in the hearing room when he quipped about being an identical twin before questioning Vindman, who also has an identical twin brother.
“It’s great to talk to a fellow identical twin. I hope that your brother is nicer to you than mine is to me and doesn’t make you grow a beard,” Castro said.
Castro’s brother, Julián Castro, is the former HUD secretary and 2020 presidential hopeful. The two have been regularly mistaken for each other, especially since Julián’s presidential run.
Julián Castro fired back on Twitter shortly after:
Hurd points out Trump doesn’t ever stick to talking points
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas., is making it clear in his questioning of Vindman that there was nothing out of the ordinary with Trump not addressing corruption with Zelenskiy in his April 21 phone call, even though Vindman had put together talking points suggesting he do so.
Hurd, reminding Vindman that he regularly prepared talking points for his superiors, asked him, “Do they always use them?”
“No,” Vindman replied.
“Is President Trump known to stick to a script?” Hurd asked.
“I don't believe so,” Vindman said.
“So is it odd he didn’t use your talking points?” Hurd asked.
“No,” Vindman said.
A summary of the April 21 call released by the White House last week did not mention corruption.
Lindsey Graham criticizes 'bribery' charge
Vindman explains why he corrected Nunes
As GOP Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah questioned Vindman on why he wanted Nunes to address him as "Lt. Col." instead of "Mr.," Vindman says "the attacks I've had in the press and Twitter have kind of" served to marginalize "me as a military officer.”
Stewart says he is sure Nunes meant “no offense” by not referring to him by his military title.
Stewart then segued into suggesting that, because Vindman is a military officer, he might have wrongly assumed Trump was demanding the investigations from Zelenskiy — because Trump doesn't have a military background so maybe he was just asking and didn't know better.
Vindman said earlier, citing his military background, that when a superior such as Trump asks for something, it's an order, not just a request, especially when the person being asked is someone far less powerful, like Zelenskiy.
Army providing 'supportive assistance' to Vindman during impeachment inquiry
Vindman is receiving “supportive assistance” from the Army amid his role in the impeachment inquiry and as he draws public attention, a Defense Department official said Tuesday as Vindman testified on Capitol Hill.
“The Army is providing supportive assistance to help Colonel Vindman with the public attention,” said Col. Kathy Turner, an Army spokeswoman.
She wouldn’t elaborate on that assistance, such as safety or security measures.
“As a matter of practice, the Army would neither confirm nor deny any safety or security measures taken on behalf of an individual; however, as we would with any soldier, the Army will work with civilian authorities to ensure that he and his family are properly protected,” Turner said.
According to The Associated Press, the Army and local law enforcement are providing security for Vindman. This comes after the Army conducted a security assessment to assess whether Vindman and his family are secure, the official told the AP.
A U.S. official told NBC News that the Army will put necessary measures in place to ensure Vindman can serve his country. The official said that some of the options for security could be moving Vindman and his family to a military base.
The U.S. official, however, said there is no imminent threat to Vindman.
Vindman says he’s seen changes at work due to his role in inquiry
Responding to questions from Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., about whether they’ve been treated differently at their respective jobs in the weeks since their roles in the impeachment inquiry became public, Vindman and Williams answer differently.
While Williams replied, “I have not,” Vindman said he has.
“I did notice I was being excluded from several meetings that would have been appropriate for my position,” he said.
When asked by Speier whether he felt those exclusions merited “reprisals” for his role, Vindman said, “I’m not sure if I could make that judgment.”
Vindman added, however, that it was “out of the course of normal affairs.”
Vindman says Giuliani’s efforts did not ‘help’ U.S. foreign policy
Vindman testified that Guiliani’s work in the Ukraine and efforts to open investigations into the Bidens was not part of and did not help official U.S. foreign policy.
“It certainly wasn’t helpful and it didn’t help advance U.S. national security interests,” he told Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.
This is not the first time a witness has said this, but it underscores the Democrats’ claim that this was an unusual, off-the-books operation that is not a part of any official administration policy, but designed to help the president’s re-election.
Trump: GOP 'absolutely killing it' during hearing
Trump told reporters that he thought Republicans were "killing it" at the impeachment hearing today.
“I just got to watch” the hearing and Republicans “are absolutely killing it,” he said. He said Democrats are using this as a political game and touted his poll numbers.
When NBC News asked if he found Vindman — whose testimony was still ongoing as the president met with his Cabinet — to be a credible witness, Trump said that he had watched the hearing for just a “little while” prior to the meeting, but “had never heard of him.”
“I don't know him,” Trump said. “I never saw the man. ... What I do know is that even he said the transcripts were correct.”
Williams ‘surprised’ by president's 'never Trumper' attack, Vindman responds he’s ‘never partisan’
When questioned by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., Williams said she did not expect to be attacked by Trump, who called her testimony a “presidential attack” and dubbed her a “never Trumper.”
“It certainly surprised me. I was not expecting to be called out by name,” she said before saying she is not biased against the president.
Himes also asked Vindman if he was a "never Trumper," to which he replied, “I am a 'never partisan.'”
Himes also excoriated the Republicans for questioning Vindman’s loyalty to the U.S., saying it’s a new low from the GOP to try to cast such doubt on someone who won medals after being wounded in front-line combat.
Vindman tells Himes: 'I'd call myself never partisan'Nov. 19, 201902:47
Jordan suggests Vindman had contact with the whistleblower
Responding to questions, Vindman acknowledged that he had discussed the July 25 call with two people.
The first person, he said, was George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and five other countries.
Before he addressed who the second person was, his attorney interrupted to say Vindman won’t say who the second person is other than to say the person is in the intelligence community.
Schiff then, once again, instructed everyone present that “this committee will not be used to out the whistleblower.”
Trump tweets out new impeachment ad
Vindman brings receipts to respond to allegation he had bad judgment
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked Vindman about comments from Tim Morrison, another NSC official, who expressed skepticism about Vindman’s judgment.
Vindman responding by reading a recent performance review filed by Trump’s former top Russia analyst Fiona Hill, which praised his abilities and labeled him a top military official.
VIndman also said he “never” leaked any information.
“Never would,” Vindman said. “Preposterous I would do that.”
Vindman tells Jordan he would 'never' leak informationNov. 19, 201902:11
White House: Nothing to see here
White House officials working on impeachment rapid response say this is the "Democrats’ hearing dud."
One official said the testimonies "have been nothing more than an endless debate over two individuals’ personal opinions about a call that every American can read for themselves."
"This is a debate over minutiae – neither witness has actually provided any facts about the president taking any improper action," the official said. "No one has testified about anything the president actually did."
"This entire political circus has been about personal opinion and conjecture," the official added.
And we're back
The short break has ended. The 5-min round for members to ask questions will now begin alternating between Democrats and Republicans.
WATCH: Schiff interrupts Nunes as he goes after leaks, whistleblowerNov. 19, 201904:14
Castor asks Vindman about being offered Ukrainian defense post
Castor asked Vindman whether he was offered the post of Ukrainian defense minister by Ukrainian politician Oleksandr Danyliuk.
Vindman said it occurred three times, but that he dismissed the offers immediately and reported them to his superiors and to counterintelligence authorities.
“I turned it down every time,” he said.
Castor’s questions appear to be a clear effort to discredit the allegiance of Vindman — who was born in Kyiv, then part of the USSR, and fled with his family to the U.S. as a child.
Several conservatives have used the same tactic, including multiple Fox News personalities.
The committee is now taking a short break in the hearing with Vindman and Williams for roughly 5 to 10 minutes. The 5-minute rounds for questions by individual members will start once they return.
What is Castor asking Williams about?
Castor is using his 45 minutes to pepper Williams with questions about Ukraine policy that she does not have the answers to: “I don’t know” is a refrain she’s stated multiple times.
Responding to a question from Castor, Williams also testified she has “no basis” to say that Pence was told not to go to Ukraine and that it was possibly a mere schedule conflict.
The line of questioning appears to be an effort by Castor to cast her as a witness who lacks material knowledge about the matters at hand — even though she, along with Vindman, were both on the July 25 call that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
Vindman corrects Nunes, ‘Ranking member, it’s Lt. Col. Vindman, please’
Nunes began a line of questioning about the whistleblower, which prompted Schiff to chime in and say, “I want to make sure there’s no effort to out the whistleblower.”
Nunes then turned back to the NSC adviser, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, “Mr. Vindman, you testified in your deposition that you did not know the whistleblower.”
Vindman pointedly responded, ‘Ranking member, it’s Lt. Col. Vindman, please.”
Nunes continued by repeating his question with Vindman’s military title.
Vindman was promoted to the rank of Army lieutenant colonel in 2015. He received a Purple Heart after he was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2004.
Nunes goes after leaks, whistleblower, and Schiff interrupts
Nunes asked both Williams and Vindman, point-blank, whether they leaked, or directed anyone to leak, any information surrounding the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy.
Blasting the media and leakers of confidential information to the media has been a central strategy of Nunes and other House Intelligence Committee Republicans during the public hearings. The line of questioning also appeared to be a direct play by Nunes to get either witness to expose the whistleblower.
Asked if she discussed the July 25 call with the press, encouraged anyone to do so or if she knows of “any individuals” who did,” Williams replied “no” each time.
Vindman also said no each time, but added, “I do not engage with the press at all.” He added, “We have an NSC press shop to engage in these types of questions."
After repeated questions from Nunes on leaks about the July 25 call, Schiff eventually interrupted and reminded everyone that the hearings would not be used to "out the whistleblower."
Wallace: Nunes' questioning may backfire
Vindman says April 21 readout ‘not entirely accurate’
Vindman explained the disconnect between the readout on the April 21 call between Trump and the Ukranian president and the call summary released by the White House. The readout claimed rooting out corruption was discussed, but a summary released by the White House earlier this week did not mention that.
According to the summary, the tone of the call was largely congratulatory, with Zelenskiy quickly inviting Trump to visit his country, and later Trump issuing a general invitation to the White House.
Vindman told Goldman, the Democrat’s counsel, that he would not call the readout false necessarily, but rather "not entirely accurate," because readouts are often used as messaging to promote policies consistent with U.S. policy and indicate what is important to an administration.
Vindman outlines secret filing system for transcript
Vindman, under questioning from Goldman, said that it was explained to him that the summary of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy was transferred to a private, more secure server “to avoid leaks” and to help “preserve the integrity of the transcript.”
Vindman said he “didn’t take it as anything nefarious,” but that the decision to have it “segregated into a separate security system” was “made on the fly.” It's notable because the movement of the summary to the server has raised questions about whether anyone in the White House was trying to hide what was discussed on the call.
Vindman details Ukranian concerns over aid
Vindman testified that he was asked by Ukrainian officials in August to substantiate rumors that the military aid was on hold. He said that he told the officials he was not aware of the hold. His testimony gives a behind-the-scenes picture of how Ukrainians were growing increasingly worried about the aid after Trump pressured the Ukrainian president on the July 25 call. Vindman's interactions with the Ukrainian officials also gave rise to conservative attacks on his loyalty, making his answers on his reasons for speaking with the officials important.
Vindman: 'I knew I had to report' Trump's call with UkraineNov. 19, 201902:02
Vindman: No credible evidence to support theory that Ukraine interfered in 2016 election
Responding to a question about Trump's pushing the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory, Vindman said he was not aware of any credible evidence that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
He said he was well aware, though, that Russia had promoted that theory.
The CrowdStrike theory, about which Trump asked Zelenskiy, essentially contends that Ukraine, and not Russia, was involved in hacking Democratic Party emails and that a Democratic National Committee server may be in Ukraine. The theory runs counter to the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies, and former Trump homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said it was “debunked.”
Republicans have pointed to a 2017 Politico story reporting that Ukrainian embassy officials in Washington helped a DNC staffer research allegations involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is now in prison stemming from his business activity in Ukraine.
Vindman: Not aware of evidence that Ukraine interfered in 2016 electionNov. 19, 201903:09
Williams says request for probes ‘sounded political to me’
Goldman, the counsel for House Oversight Committee Democrats, pressed Williams for her interpretation of Trump’s request on the July 25 call that Zelenskiy launch an investigation into the Bidens.
“I thought that the reference to specific individuals and investigations, such as former Vice President Biden and his son” was “political in nature,” she said.
She added, “I can’t speak to what the president’s motivation was" but “it sounded political to me.”
Williams: Trump's call 'struck me as political in nature'Nov. 19, 201901:05
Vindman address father in opening statement: 'I will be fine for telling the truth'
Meet the two seasoned staff prosecutors now in the impeachment spotlight
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.
Read more about the questioners here.
Vindman describes his 'real-time' reaction to the July 25 call
Responding to Schiff’s request for his “real-time reaction” to the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy, Vindman answered bluntly:
“Without hesitation, I knew that I had to report this to the White House counsel. I had concerns and it was my duty to report my concerns to the proper people in the chain of command,” said Vindman, who was listening in on the call.
Vindman reiterated that it was “inappropriate” and “improper” for “the president to demand an investigation into a political opponent.”
He said what occurred on the call would “undermine Ukraine policy” and “undermine our national security.”
Schiff then asked Vindman whether he felt Trump put pressure on Zelenskiy when he asked for a “favor” on the call to open the investigations.
Citing his military background, Vindman said: “When a senior asks you to do something, even if it's polite and pleasant, it's not to be taken as a request. It's to be taken as an order."
Vindman testimony gets wide praise on Twitter
Vindman: ‘I did this out of a sense of duty’
Lt. Col. Vindman delivered a powerful opening statement, sharing his story as a son of immigrants who came to America for a better life and instilled a sense of duty to serve in the U.S. military. He said he never expected to testify about the president’s actions, but he did so out of a “sense of duty.” He also thanked his father for his sacrifice.
Vindman’s account is significant because Republicans have attempted to paint previous witnesses as unreliable given their second- or third-hand knowledge about the pressure campaign. Vindman said that he witnessed Ambassador Sondland ask Ukrainian officials to open the investigation in order to get the aid — a meeting then-national security adviser John Bolton cut short. He also said that the July 25 call was “inappropriate” and he reported his concerns immediately.
Vindman — whose loyalty to the United States has come under attack from some in conservative media — excoriated the “reprehensible” and “cowardly” attacks on career foreign service officers and others who have appeared or were expected to do so, saying they do this work out of patriotism and not partisanship.
In a powerful close, Vindman thanked his father for deciding to come to America, saying his testimony was proof it was the right decision. "Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth," he said.
Williams lawyer objects to question about Pence call
Schiff opened his questioning by asking Williams about a Sept. 18 call between Pence and Zelenskiy, but her lawyer chimed in, saying that the Office of the Vice President has deemed the call “classified.”
Schiff then asks if Williams could provide information of the call in a classified setting, and she says she’d be “happy to.”
The Hill reviewing and correcting articles from conservative reporter referenced by Nunes
Moments ago, Nunes lavished praise on John Solomon, the conservative reporter whose columns in The Hill play a major role in the Ukraine story, and accused the media of “furiously smearing and libeling him.” He noted that “The Hill told its staff yesterday it would conduct a review of Solomon’s Ukraine reporting.”
NBC News has obtained from an employee of The Hill the email sent Monday to staff by The Hill’s Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. It says that "in light of recent congressional testimony and related events, we wanted to apprise you of the steps we are taking regarding John Solomon’s opinion columns which were referenced in the impeachment inquiry."
It goes on:
"Because of our dedication to accurate nonpartisan reporting and standards, we are reviewing, updating, annotating with any denials of witnesses, and when appropriate, correcting any opinion pieces referenced during the ongoing congressional inquiry. As previously stated, the views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill."
"We reiterate that we do not condone sending material out before publication," the letter adds. "The Hill remains committed to giving voice to views across the political divide."
Williams says Trump-Ukraine call 'unusual'
Williams opens by noting that she’s served as a Foreign Service officer for nearly 14 years, through both Republican and Democratic administrations — possibly an attempt early on to combat any accusations that she is politically biased. In his opening statement, Schiff prefaced that Williams has done a lot of work for Republicans
She goes on to repeat what she told Congress during her closed-door testimony: that she found the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy “unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter."
Here's her full opening statement:
Williams: Trump's call with the president of Ukraine was 'unusual'Nov. 19, 201906:13
Witnesses sworn in
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.
Nunes calls media 'puppets of the Democratic party'Nov. 19, 201908:39
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.
Pence aide Jennifer Williams arrives for hearing
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.
Giuliani lashes out at witnesses ahead of Tuesday hearings
Vindman arrives for hearing
'Never seen anything' like it: Official testifies about Trump-Sondland restaurant call
A top official at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine told impeachment investigators he had "never seen anything like" the late July phone conversation he overheard between President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, in a Kyiv restaurant.
"This was an extremely distinctive experience in my Foreign Service career," David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, said in a deposition Friday, according to a transcript released late Monday. "I've never seen anything like this, someone calling the president from a mobile phone at a restaurant, and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language. There's just so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly."
The call Holmes is referencing is one first brought up by the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, during last week's public testimony. Taylor said one of his staffers, later revealed to be Holmes, overheard a phone call on July 26 during which Trump asked Sondland about "the investigations," meaning the probes into the Bidens and Democrats.
Eight weeks of impeachment has taken a toll on Trump
It’s been a rough last eight weeks for Trump and the GOP: Eight whole weeks have now passed since Democrats began their impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, and it’s hard to overstate just how damaging those eight weeks have been for Trump and the GOP.
Let us list the ways.
- Every week (and sometimes every day) has produced a new bombshell revelation. The most recent was from State Department official David Holmes, who testified he overheard a phone conversation between Trump and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland: “I then heard President Trump ask, quote, ‘So he’s going to do the investigation?’ unquote. Ambassador Sondland replied that, ‘He’s going to do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will quote, ‘Do anything you ask him to.’”
- Republicans have been forced to give changing and conflicting defenses – Trump’s July 25 call was perfect; there was no quid pro quo; if there was a quid pro quo, it’s not impeachable; the testimony against Trump is merely hearsay; let the voters decide about the president’s actions.
- During it all, Trump has tweeted more and more, including that tweet Friday directed at witness Marie Yovanovitch: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”
- The president has uttered more and more falsehoods about Ukraine and impeachment (CNN has counted 45 different false claims.)
- And during this time period, the GOP has lost gubernatorial elections in the red states of Kentucky and Louisiana, as well as control of the legislature in increasingly blue Virginia.
The good news for Trump is that the totality of the last eight weeks hasn’t changed his political standing. A new NPR/PBS/Marist poll has his approval rating essentially unchanged at 41 percent, and it shows the public is divided about his impeachment/removal from office.
But what the impeachment inquiry has done is produce the worst version of Trump – the tweeting, the dissembling, the changing explanations.
As we wrote on Friday, he can’t compartmentalize.
Impeachment witnesses explode Trump defense, expose Perry, PenceNov. 19, 201916:55
Johnson recounts Ukraine conversation with Trump, omits '2016' mention
Sen. Ron Johnson on Monday sent a letter to Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee recounting a discussion he had with Trump about a hold on financial aid to Ukraine — but omitted that Trump had tied the issue to the 2016 campaign in their talk.
Johnson sent the 10-page letter to Reps. Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan after they asked him to share "any firsthand information you have about President Trump's actions toward Ukraine between April and September 2019."
Johnson said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month that E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland had told him in August that almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine had been frozen because the Trump administration was trying to get a new prosecutor appointed in Ukraine. That prosecutor would move to "get to the bottom of what happened in 2016— if President Trump has that confidence, then he’ll release the military spending," he quoted Sondland as saying.
Johnson told the paper the suggestion made him "wince" because "I don't want to see those two things combined."
Johnson also told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that he'd discussed the 2016 election with the president.
"He was very consistent on why he was considering it. It was corruption overall generalized, but yeah, no doubt about it, what happened in 2016, what happened in 2016, what was the truth about that, and then the fact that our NATO partners don’t step up to the plate,” Johnson told the paper in an interview posted on the paper's website.
In his letter to Nunes and Jordan, however, Johnson said his memory of that conversation is fuzzy.
"I did not memorialize the conversation in any way, and my memory of exactly what Sondland told me is far from perfect. I was hoping that his testimony before the House would help jog my memory, but he seems to have an even fuzzier recollection of that call than I do," Johnson wrote.
He said he spoke to former national security adviser John Bolton after talking to Sondland, and Bolton suggested he call Trump and Mike Pence.
"I requested calls with both, but was not able to schedule a call with Vice President Pence. President Trump called me that same day," Johnson wrote.
"The president was not prepared to lift the hold, and he was consistent in the reasons he cited. He reminded me how thoroughly corrupt Ukraine was and again conveyed his frustration that Europe doesn’t do its fair share of providing military aid," Johnson wrote.
Johnson said he asked if "there was some kind of arrangement where Ukraine would take some action and the hold would be lifted. Without hesitation, President Trump immediately denied such an arrangement existed."
How to watch week 2 of the impeachment hearings: Schedule, witnesses and more
The first public presidential impeachment hearings in over 20 years continue on Tuesday with lawmakers' busiest day yet, as they're set to hear testimony from four witnesses — three of whom were listening in on the July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Two of the three, National Security Council staffer Lt. Col. Alex Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, thought the call was troubling. The third, former NSC staffer Tim Morrison, said at his closed-door deposition that he didn't think there was anything illegal about the call, but recommended it be secured for fear it would leak.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee had asked that Morrison and the fourth of the day's witnesses, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, be called to testify publicly. Both have defended the president — but both have also provided information corroborating Democrats' assertions that Trump was withholding aid in order to force its president to announce an investigation into Joe Biden's son Hunter.