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Trump impeachment: Analysis and news on the House charges and Senate acquittal of the president

The Senate trial on the two articles of impeachment against Trump, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, ended with acquittal on both charges.
Image: Impeachment live blog
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The fast-moving impeachment of President Donald Trump, stemming from his dealings with Ukraine, moved to the Senate for trial in January after the House voted a month earlier to adopt two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The Senate voted in early February to acquit the president on both charges.

Trump's impeachment followed weeks of testimony related to his efforts to press Ukraine for investigations into Democratic rivals and hours of fiery debate over the process.

Trump is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. Read all of the breaking news and analysis on impeachment from NBC News' political reporters, as well as our teams on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

Trump impeachment highlights

Download the NBC News mobile app for the latest news on the impeachment inquiry

Who is Daniel Goldman?

The man questioning Taylor is Daniel Goldman, the Democrats’ lead impeachment hearing lawyer and the point man for grilling witnesses about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine. Goldman will have up to 45 minutes to question the witnesses. He cut his teeth prosecuting mobsters and also was an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan. Goldman was previously an analyst for MSNBC. The GOP has tapped Stephen Castor, general counsel for the House Oversight Committee, to be its lead. 

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

New impeachment depositions announced for this week

Midway through the hearing, Democrats added two more impeachment depositions to their docket.

Per two officials working on the impeachment inquiry:

David Holmes is expected to testify in closed session on Friday, Nov. 15. 

Mark Sandy is expected to testify in a closed session on Saturday, Nov. 16.

As the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, Holmes works directly with Taylor. Taylor testified earlier in Wednesday's hearing that an unnamed staffer overheard Trump on a phone call asking Sondland about the "investigations."

Sandy is an OMB official.

About that phone call...

Did the whistleblower's attorney call for a 'coup' in 2017?

Earlier this morning, Trump retweeted a White House video condemning the impeachment hearings, claiming that an attorney for the still anonymous whistleblower had advocated for a "coup" to overthrow the president in 2017.

That lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, in 2017 tweeted that he believed a “coup” was beginning when Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was fired for refusing to defend an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

There’s no evidence Zaid called for, encouraged, or incited any kind of action against the president. In a statement to Fox News, Zaid said “the coup comment referred to those working inside the Administration who were already, just a week into office, standing up to him to enforce recognized rules of law.”

Read more about Zaid's background here

Trump’s video also included a call to action: read the transcript of the July 25 call with the president of Ukraine that in part inspired the whistleblower's complaint. There is no transcript — there is a White House memo detailing the contents of call. It is not a complete transcript, according to the White House's own description. 

Schiff presses Taylor on overheard call between Trump and Sondland

Following Taylor’s opening statement, Schiff pressed him for details and clarity on his revelation that one of his staffers had overheard a July 26 conversation between Sondland and Trump in which the president asked about “the investigations.” 

Schiff asked Taylor if “the investigations” referred to desired probes into the Bidens and a conspiracy related to the 2016 election.

“That is correct,” Taylor said.

Taylor's opening statement details shadow Ukraine policy

Taylor shared several new pieces of information in his opening statement Wednesday, including his belief that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was an integral part of an “irregular” communication channel between Washington and Kyiv and that the Ukrainians were “ready to move forward” with the probes desired by the White House.

Taylor, however, also reiterated his belief that he felt it was “clear” that a proposed White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was tied to launching investigations into the Bidens and a conspiracy theory about alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — information he shared in his closed-door testimony in October.

“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskiy wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani,” Taylor testified Wednesday.

That “irregular” channel also included Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine; Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland; Energy Secretary Rick Perry — and Mulvaney.

Revealing new information, Taylor also testified that one of his staffers heard Sondland on the phone on July 26 with Trump and could hear Trump ask about “the investigations.” Sondland told Trump in the overheard conversation that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward with the desired investigations.

The staffer then asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine and Sondland said that “Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”

Earlier in his opening statement, Taylor reiterated that “withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the U.S. would be crazy.”

"I believed that then, and I believe it now."

Fighting Putin: Taylor explains why U.S. aide to Ukraine really matters

Bill Taylor provided something few others have for the American public: an easy-to-understand explanation of the importance of U.S. aid to Ukraine.

It wasn't quite as simple as "Vlad is bad," but it was close. "It is clearly in our national interest to deter further Russian aggression," Taylor said in his opening statement.

He explained how a corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian president allowed the military to atrophy and then fled to Russia in 2014 just before Vladimir Putin annexed parts of Ukraine and pushed his forces into others. But the Ukrainian people, with the support of the West, have fought back.

"In response to the Russian invasion, the new Ukrainian authorities — with an amazing outpouring of support from regular Ukrainian people — rebuilt the army, nearly from scratch, spending more than 5 percent of Ukrainian GDP on defense since the war started," Taylor said.

Image: FINLAND-US-RUSSIA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT
Russia's President Vladimir Putin listens while U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Finland's Presidential Palace on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

"The whole Ukrainian nation fiercely responded to the Russian attack. The nation united like never before. A rag-tag army developed into a strong fighting force. And the United States played a vital role."

Taylor testified that it would be "crazy" to withhold security assistance to Ukraine to serve a domestic political end.

The attacks are ongoing, he said, noting that he had been on the front line last week, and he pointed out that the aid is a signal that "we are Ukraine’s reliable strategic partner." By withholding aid, he said, the U.S. would undermine and humiliate the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which would benefit and please Russia.

Taylor reveals call between Sondland and Trump discussing Biden probe

Taylor made new revelations about Trump’s Ukraine conduct in his opening statement Wednesday, detailing a phone call between the president and Sondland where they discussed the Biden "investigations."

Taylor said he only recently learned of these comments, which occurred on July 26. Taylor said a member of his staff who accompanied Sondland to a meeting with a top Ukrainian diplomat told him of the remarks last Friday.

“Following that meeting, in the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv,” Taylor said. “The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations.’ Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.”

“Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine,” Taylor continued. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for. At the time I gave my deposition on Oct. 22, I was not aware of this information. I am including it here for completeness.”

Trump had asked Zelenskiy in their July 25 call to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory about Democrats and the 2016 election as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Read the full story.

Trump's not watching

Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said President Donald Trump is currently not watching the impeachment proceedings.

"He is in the Oval Office in meetings," she said. "He is working."

 

Fact checking Nunes' claim that Democrats 'made up' a version of Trump's Ukraine call

In his opening remarks, the ranking Republican on the panel brought up something that's been the subject of many presidential tweets: Chairman Schiff's parody of Trump's July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart.

"Democrats on this committee read out a purely fictitious rendition of the president’s phone call with President Zelenskiy," Nunes said. "They clearly found the real conversation to be insufficient for their impeachment narrative, so they just made up a new one."

This is misleading. During a hearing in September, Schiff parodied Trump’s rhetoric and exaggerated some of the president's language while making it clear at the time he was illustrating a point and not reading the White House's record of the July 25 conversation. Some of his phrasing matches the White House's own summary of what Trump said. Read more about the backstory behind Nunes' claim here

After Trump's attacks, Schiff acknowledged that the president was "right about one thing — your words needs no mockery."  Read the White House's record of the call here.

George Kent opening statement: Trump actions 'undermine the rule of law'

George Kent, a deputy assistant Secretary of State who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, testified Wednesday that he found it "unexpected and most unfortunate to watch some Americans — including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas — launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine."

Kent, in his opening statement Wednesday, named some of those individuals.

"Over the course of 2018-2019, I became increasingly aware of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and others, including his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to run a campaign to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch and other officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv," he said. "In mid-August, it became clear to me that Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine, leveraging President Zelenskiy’s desire for a White House meeting."

Kent reiterated several other elements from what he’d said during his behind-closed-doors testimony last month, saying Wednesday that "as a general principle, I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power."

"Such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country," he said.

Kent also said that he had raised concerns in a phone call in February 2015 with then-Vice President Joe Biden’s office that "Hunter Biden’s status as a board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest."

"Let me be clear, however. I did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny. In fact, I and other U.S. officials consistently advocated reinstituting a scuttled investigation of Zlochevsky, Burisma’s founder, as well as holding the corrupt prosecutors who closed the case to account," he added.

Schiff says he doesn’t know whistleblower amid Republican questioning

Republicans began Wednesday’s initial impeachment hearings by pressing House Intelligence Chairman Schiff about having the first whistleblower testify.

As Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, claimed Schiff was the only member of Congress who knew the whistleblower’s identity, Schiff said he actually was unaware of who the whistleblower is. Schiff claimed Jordan was making false statements. The whistleblower reportedly met with a member of Schiff’s staff before his official complaint — which multiple top Trump intelligence officials deemed credible and made in good faith — was released.

The exchange happened as Jordan and Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., pressed Schiff about having the whistleblower testify before the committee.

The whistleblower is a CIA employee who, according to their complaint, was provided information on Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine, which the whistleblower said amounted to the president soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election. Much of the whistleblower’s complaint has since been corroborated by Trump administration officials testimony before the impeachment committees, as well as the summary of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the White House released.

But that hasn’t stopped Trump and his allies from seeking to out the whistleblower. Some conservative media outlets have named an official purported to be the whistleblower.

The exchanges between Schiff and the Republicans came as GOP members slowed down the start of Wednesday’s hearing with parliamentary inquiries and points of order.

Witnesses sworn in

Image: Bill Taylor and George Kent are sworn in before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13, 2019.
Bill Taylor and George Kent are sworn in before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13, 2019.Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via Reuters

‘Cult-like?’ Nunes uses odd description of hearings that may anger colleagues

Nunes described witnesses as having auditioned for their roles in the “cult-like atmosphere” of closed-door hearings in prior weeks in the Capitol.

That may not sit well with Intelligence Committee colleague Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who was nearly killed while investigating the cult of Jim Jones as a staffer to then-Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif., in 1978. Speier survived several gunshot wounds while Ryan was murdered along with four others.

Moreover, the initial set of hearings, held by the Intel panel in conjunction with two other committees, included members of both parties, making the room an ideologically diverse one for a cult.

Nunes says this is a 'scorched earth war against President Trump'

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, teed up the Republican case against the Democrats during this hearing. 

In his opening statement, he seemed to pivot away from the guilt or innocence of the president, but instead focusing on the impeachment process being a vendetta orchestrated by the Democratic Party for losing the 2016 presidential election. 

He called it a “scorched earth war against President Trump” and complained about the process of the  inquiry, saying the closed-door hearings were a "cult-like atmosphere in the basement of the Capitol.”

He referred to the depositions as "secret," despite the fact that more than 40 Republican members were permitted to ask questions during the depositions.

Nunes called the impeachment process the “low-rent sequel” to the Russian investigation, which he called a hoax and part of a Democratic ploy to go after Trump by any means, and “an impeachment process in search of a crime.”  

He also defended Trump’s actions, saying they were directed at rooting out corruption in Ukraine and inquiring about Hunter Biden’s work at Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company he was a board member of from 2014 until earlier this year. 

Nunes also began to directly go after the witnesses, calling their closed-door testimony auditions for the Democrats. 

“What we will witness today is a televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats,” Nunes said.

Schiff's opening statement: ‘If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?’

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., delivered his opening statement in the first impeachment hearing Wednesday, describing what President Donald Trump and administration officials have said about the president's conduct toward Ukraine.

“The issue that we confront is the one posed by the president’s acting chief of staff when he challenged Americans to ‘get over it,’” Schiff said. “If we find that the president of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, or if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts — a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid — must we simply ‘get over it?’” 

“Is that what Americans should now expect from their president?” he continued. “If this is not impeachable conduct, what is? Does the oath of office itself — requiring that our laws be faithfully executed, that our president defend a constitution that balances the powers of its branches, setting ambition against ambition so that we become no monarchy — still have meaning? These are the questions we must ask and answer.”

Schiff said the impeachment proceedings are about whether Trump sought to exploit a U.S. ally and have them assist his re-election, and whether “such an abuse of power is compatible with the office of the presidency.”

Of investigations Trump pushed Ukraine to announce into Democrats and the Bidens, Schiff said, “Neither of these investigations were in U.S. national security interest,” though both were in Trump’s political interest.

“Some have argued in the president’s defense that the aid was ultimately released,” Schiff said. “That is true. But only after Congress began an investigation; only after the president’s lawyers learned of a whistleblower complaint; and only after members of Congress began asking uncomfortable questions about quid pro quos. A scheme to condition official acts or taxpayer funding to obtain a personal political benefit does not become less odious because it is discovered before it is fully consummated. In fact, the security assistance had been delayed so long, it would take another act of Congress to ensure that it would still go out.”

“And that Oval Office meeting that Zelensky desperately sought — it still hasn’t happened. Although we have learned a great deal about these events in the last several weeks, there are still missing pieces,” Schiff continued. “The president has instructed the State Department and other agencies to ignore congressional subpoenas for documents. He has instructed witnesses to defy subpoenas and refuse to appear. And he has suggested that those who do expose wrongdoing should be treated like traitors and spies.”

Members in the room react to opening statements

There are two full rows of seats reserved for members of Congress inside the hearing room, but most are empty. 

Trump allies Reps. Lee Zeldin and Mark Meadows are in attendance.

At the edge of the GOP section, Rep. Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, sits next to Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat.

After Rep. Devin Nunes accused Democrats of hypocrisy in his opening statement, Yoho could be heard saying “Hear, hear.”

Tlaib appeared to roll her eyes and look at her other neighbor, Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat.

What's going on inside the White House

A senior White House official says the president is in the Oval Office holding a series of meetings this morning (unrelated to the impeachment inquiry) prior to Turkish President Erdogan’s arrival at noon.

This appears to be a clear counterprogramming effort on the part of the White House — because here’s the reality check: We know the president is certainly keyed in on the hearing (just check his Twitter feed), and his aides are deployed on that rapid response effort on messaging and strategy.

And we're off...

At 10:06am, Schiff gaveled one for the first public impeachment inquiry hearing. 

Rep. Ratcliffe, R-Texas, immediately raised a point of inquiry. 

Kent, Taylor arrive for hearing

Image: Bill Taylor, top U.S. diplomat to the Ukraine, arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on the first day of impeachment hearings on Nov. 13, 2019.
Bill Taylor, top U.S. diplomat to the Ukraine, arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on the first day of impeachment hearings on Nov. 13, 2019.Jacquelyn Martin / AP
Image: George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13, 2019.
George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13, 2019.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images

Conway says he's 'horrified' and 'appalled' that Republicans are sticking by Trump

George Conway, outspoken Trump critic and husband of top White House official Kellyanne Conway, told MSNBC on Wednesday that he is “horrified” and “appalled” that Republicans are sticking by the president in the impeachment probe.

Conway, a conservative attorney,  said Trump’s conduct with regard to Ukraine is easy to explain.

“He is using the power of the presidency in its most unchecked area, foreign affairs, to advance his own interest, and not” the country’s, Conway said.

The attorney said impeachment was an “inevitability” of the Trump presidency, saying that Trump “always sees himself first.”

The impeachment proceedings are about “people doing the right thing by the country and not by their party,” Conway said. “This is about telling the truth about what really happened.”

But he said he is stunned that Republicans have stood by Trump through the episode. He said Trump’s allies are making “ridiculous arguments about process” and about Trump’s culpability.

“They couldn’t possibly believe this,” he said.

What's going on in the hearing room?

Only press, members of Congress and their staff currently are allowed in the room.

Directly behind the witness table are press tables. Directly behind those are three rows of seats for Congress, totaling between 68 and 70 seats for members.

About half a dozen members are already in, including Democratic Reps. Karen Bass and Dean Phillips and GOP Rep. Mark Meadows.

On the Republican side of the Dias are signs reading:

  • “I’m concerned if we don’t Impeach this president, he will get re-elected,” Rep. Al Green
  • “93 days since Adam Schiff learned the identity of the whistleblower.”
  • A tweet from WB attorney Mark Zaid from Jan 30, 2017 that reads “#coup has started. First of many steps. #rebellion. #impeachment will follow ultimately. #lawyers

 

Image:  Signs placed by Republicans at the first public impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill on Nov. 13, 2019.
Signs placed by Republicans at the first public impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill on Nov. 13, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Trump campaign says Pelosi 'lost control'

The impeachment hearings could turn out to be more unpredictable than you think

WASHINGTON — Most in Washington are already convinced how the public hearings in the impeachment inquiry, which begin this morning, will play out. House Republicans will sabotage the proceedings and muddy the waters. Democrats will struggle to win the message war, as they often do. And everything — as it almost always does — will break along partisan lines. 

Maybe they’re right; it’s probably the smart bet. But they also could be wrong, given how unpredictable President Trump can be; how unpredictable the witness answers could be; how these public hearings could play with the persuadable public; and how damning much of the available evidence already is.

Maybe the best news for Democrats entering today’s public hearing is how low the expectations are. There’s a good reason to have these low expectations. But it also creates a pretty low bar that becomes easier to clear.

While it’s obvious to focus on the politics and theatrics of the televised public hearings, don’t forget about the actual substance that’s on the line here. ...

Get the rest of First Read's take.

Republicans explain why they're not watching hearings

Dems release response to GOP strategy memo

Ahead of Wednesday's hearing, Democrats released several talking points in response to the Republican strategy memo on the impeachment proceedings. Here are some key excerpts:

GOP assertion: The July 25 call summary “shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure.”

Democratic response: President Trump’s own words in the July 25 call record are the best evidence of the president applying pressure on Ukraine to benefit his own personal political interests at the expense of the national interest. 

As one U.S. official made clear, the Ukrainian president — recently elected to lead a country that is heavily dependent on U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic support to fight of Russian aggression — could only view this as a “demand” by the American president. 

Multiple U.S. officials have testified that the call, as well as meetings and discussions before and after the call, established a clear campaign of extortion: Ukraine’s president would not receive a White House meeting or vital military assistance until and unless Ukraine opened sham investigations that President Trump wanted. 

GOP assertion: Ukrainian “President Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call.”

Democratic response: Ahead of the July 25 call, Ambassador Bill Taylor warned: “President Zelensky is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, re-election politics.”

Text messages and testimony by multiple witnesses show that both ahead of the July 25 call and for weeks after the July 25 call, U.S. officials pressured Ukraine to announce the investigations requested by Trump. Ukrainian advisors tried to push back, to no avail.

In early September 2019, Ukraine’s president was scheduled to appear on CNN and announce the investigations sought by Trump – yet more clear evidence of Trump’s pressure.

GOP assertion: “The Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold on U.S. assistance” during the July 25 call.

Democratic response: Two U.S. officials testified that Ukraine knew of the hold on security assistance weeks before it became public.

Defense Department official Laura Cooper: “I knew from my Kurt Volker conversations and also from sort of the alarm bells that were coming from Ambassador Taylor and his team that there were Ukrainians who knew about this.”

State Department official Katherine Croft: “I remember being very surprised at the effectiveness of my Ukrainian counterparts' diplomatic tradecraft, as in to say they found out very early on or much earlier than I expected them to.” Croft also emphasized that the Ukrainian officials “had no interest in this information getting out into the public.” 

Who is George Kent? Diplomat is testifying at Trump impeachment hearing

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

  • His father was a Navy veteran who captained a nuclear submarine
  • "I have served proudly as a nonpartisan career foreign service officer for more than 27 years, under five presidents — three Republicans and two Democrats," Kent said of his career. That included a stint as the senior anti-corruption coordinator in the State Department's European Bureau.
  • He's fluent in Russian, Ukrainian and Thai.

Here's what to expect from Kent's testimony.

Who is Bill Taylor? Witness testifying at Trump impeachment hearing

Here's what you need to know about Bill Taylor:

  • He's a West Point graduate who spent six years as an Army infantry officer, including in Vietnam.
  • Worked on Senate staff, NATO and the departments of Energy and State.
  • Served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in the George W. Bush administration from 2006-2009. He left the State Department in 2013.
  • Taylor and two other former ambassadors to Ukraine wrote an article in 2014 criticizing the Obama administration for not doing more to support the country after Russia annexed Crimea.
  • In text messages former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker provided to Congress, Taylor is the diplomat included in the exchanges who voiced concern that the Trump administration was conditioning a coveted White House visit and military aid to Ukraine announcing investigations. In a text to Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Taylor wrote, "As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.

More on what to expect from Taylor's testimony.

Impeachment 101: Now that hearings are airing, what happens next?

OPINION: Impeachment gives Trump staffers a choice: Loyalty and maybe prison, or betrayal and derision

The emerging strategy of House Republicans to argue that White House advisers went rogue — without the authorization of President Donald Trump — to press Ukraine to provide dirt on a political opponent puts Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg, the president’s personal attorney and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and others in a precarious and even life-changing dilemma.

This gives those men a stark choice: They can stand mute while Republican members of congress and television analysts accuse them of potential criminal conduct in withholding congressionally authorized military aid to Ukraine and concealing evidence of this plot; or they can defend themselves by testifying in the upcoming impeachment proceedings that they were acting at the direction of the president.

Read more here.

Trump kicks off impeachment hearing day by bashing Schiff

White House readies for rapid response

The White House has a rapid response team set up and ready to go for Wednesday's impeachment hearing. Think of it as a debate-style setup with tweets and more ready to be deployed, according to an official.

The strategy will target what the White House sees as an unfair process, and the idea that Democrats are focusing on impeachment at the expense of other legislative priorities.

The White House points to the outreach it's been doing for weeks to members of Congress (in conversations with roughly 120 House members, they say) to build out their strategy.

It's not clear where Trump will be watching the hearings from (the residence or Oval Office or elsewhere). Keep in mind that he'll be otherwise occupied starting at midday once Turkish President Erdogan arrives.

Democrats bet impeachment hearings will mark beginning of the end of Trump's reality-TV presidency

Democrats are betting the reality-TV presidency of Donald Trump will begin to short-circuit Wednesday when they start putting names and faces to the bureaucrats who collectively contend he placed his own gain above American national security interests.

Democrats are confident enough that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., upped the ante on the eve of his panel's first publicly televised hearings by teasing the possibility that Trump will face impeachment on charges of bribery as well as high crimes and misdemeanors in an interview with National Public Radio.

Read more here.

Tillerson pushes back on Haley, says he never tried to undermine Trump

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pushing back on former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s claim in her new book that he and John Kelly tried to enlist her to resist Trump’s agenda.

In a statement given to NBC News by a Tillerson aide, he takes a swipe at Haley by saying she wasn’t in many of his meetings and “isn’t in a position to know” about his conversations with Trump. The statement was earlier reported by The New York Times. 

His statement:

"During my service to our country as the Secretary of State, at no time did I, nor to my direct knowledge did anyone else serving along with me, take any actions to undermine the President.

My conversations with the President in the privacy of the Oval Office were always candid, frank, and my recommendations straightforward. Once the President made a decision, we at the State Department undertook our best efforts to implement that decision. Ambassador Haley was rarely a participant in my many meetings and is not in a position to know what I may or may not have said to the President. 

I continue to be proud of my service as our country's 69th Secretary of State."

Democrats announce second week of impeachment public hearings

Schiff announced on Tuesday the schedule for next week's open impeachment hearings, which will last three days and feature testimony from eight current and former administration officials.

Tuesday, Nov. 19:

9am - Jennifer Williams and Alexander Vindman

2:30pm - Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison

Wednesday, Nov. 20:

9am - Gordon Sondland

2:30pm - Laura Cooper and David Hale

Thursday, Nov. 21:

9am - Fiona Hill

Here's his full announcement:

Washington, DC — Today, Chairman Adam Schiff announced that on Tuesday, November 19, Wednesday, November 20, and Thursday, November 21, 2019 the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will hold additional open hearings as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump.

On the morning of Tuesday, November 19, 2019, the Committee will hear from Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who serves as the Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 19, 2019, the Committee will hear from Ambassador Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a White House aide with the National Security Council focusing on Europe and Russia policy.  

On the morning of Wednesday, November 20, 2019, the Committee will hear from Ambassador Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, November 20, 2019, the Committee will hear from Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs and David Hale, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

On the morning of Thursday, November 21, 2019, the Committee will hear from Dr. Fiona Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia.

The Majority has accepted all of the Minority requests that are within the scope of the impeachment inquiry.

Additional details will be released in the coming days.

Graham says he won't 'bullshit' impeachment hearings

A handful of key Republican senators says they won’t be watching tomorrow’s first public impeachment hearing in the House, saying they either they have something else to do, or they have a problem with the process House Democrats have put together.

"This is bullshit, no, this is bullshit," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. "They’re doing damage to the president right now. This is a political exercise that’s different than anything that’s ever happened when it comes trying to impeach a president."

He added, "This is a calculated effort to dirty up Trump, to do damage and then they’ll decide to impeach. This is dangerous to the presidency as an institution, I don’t like it. If you really want to impeach him do what we did with Clinton and what they did with Nixon.”

 

Democrats look to make the most of their strongest witnesses

Democrats are debating how to choreograph week two of the public hearings.

"There's talk of having him (Alexander Vindman) as a closer, closing with your best witness. They're talking about where best to position Vindman," who testified behind closed  doors in uniform and is likely to show up once again in his dress blues for a public hearing, a visual the Democrats say will be powerful.

Bill Taylor, who is testifying Wednesday, and Vindman are the strongest witnesses and would be book ends.

"A good prosecutor leads with the strongest witness, and that's Taylor," one source said.

After establishing his long record of service and  apolitical pedigree, Democrats will "get that hook in" within the first 30 minutes and "they think Taylor can do it."

  • One of the big lessons of the former special counsel Robert Mueller testimony for Democrats was their failure "to get to the meat early" and let the witness tell the story.
  • "This is a much better and easier story for us to tell than the Mueller report…This will be the opposite of that…This is going to be primetime TV,” said one aide involved in the process.
Image: NSC Director for European Affairs Vindman arrives at House impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill in Washington
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, arrives to testify as part of the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into President Trump led by the House Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs and House Oversight and Reform Committees on Capitol Hill ion Oct. 29, 2019.Erin Scott / Reuters

Adam Schiff on what Democrats are hoping for

Schiff released the following statement ahead of the hearings:

“We want the American people to hear the evidence for themselves in the witnesses’ own words, and our goal is to present the facts in a serious and sober manner. The three witnesses this week will begin to flesh out the details of the president’s effort to coerce a foreign nation to engage in political investigations designed to help his campaign, a corrupt undertaking that is evident from his own words on the July 25 call record.

“Bill Taylor is a decorated Vietnam war veteran who has served his country for decades in an array of diplomatic postings. George Kent and Marie Yovanovitch, also career Foreign Service Officers, have spent decades in service of our country, advancing our interests and security. They will describe their own experiences and how American policy towards Ukraine was subverted to serve the president’s personal, political interests, not the national interest.

“We want these hearings to be conducted in a fair and thorough manner, as should all Americans, given the gravity of the alleged misconduct.”

 

A combative Trump and his White House brace for first public impeachment hearings

Trump has long criticized Democrats for conducting the impeachment inquiry behind closed doors. This week, he and his advisers are bracing for impact as those doors are thrown open and the cameras roll on public impeachment hearings.

As the Wednesday launch of those hearings approaches, Trump’s mood has veered between relishing the fight and seething with anger over the impeachment effort as he focuses heavily on his television defenders, according to one person close to the White House.

How Democrats view this week's impeachment inquiry hearings

Below are some insights on the impeachment inquiry as the open hearings get underway, from a Democratic aide working on the inquiry:

"This week the American people will hear evidence for themselves. This is a sober and serious occasion for us and not something any member take pleasure in."

"The first witnesses will lay out for the American people the timeline of the President’s serious misconduct wherein he used his presidential powers to pressure a foreign government to improperly interfere in our elections by investigating his political rival. Later in the week, we will hear from the first victim of the President’s scheme – Ambassador Yovanovitch," the aide said.

The witnesses "have all committed their lives and their careers to defending this country and everything it represents so we respect and honor their courage to participate in this investigations and look forward to their testimony," the aide added. “Our goal is to lay out the facts in a fair and thorough manner. Ultimately this is a very simple story – again, the President abused his office and his presidential powers to force and pressure a foreign government to interfere with our election on his behalf."

"Even though we don’t anticipate additional information beyond that, what we have already made public, there is a real value in hearing directly from the witnesses so the American people can hear it from their mouths and firsthand.”

"Following the public hearings that the President demanded for weeks and now opposes, Republicans will need to answer one question – are they going to defend the president or are they going to defend democracy."

"From our perspective, the pressure and the onus is now on the Republicans – they have to do one of two things. They either have to provide some evidence to exonerate the president or they have to admit that what the President did was ok to pressure a foreign government to interfere and taint our election on his behalf using the office of the presidency and the power of the presidency to do so."

"The evidence and the facts all substantiate the President’s words ‘do us a favor.’  They depict a sinister picture and scheme on the part of the president to achieve his desired deliverables. The one thing we've not heard back from either the White House or the Republicans is anything, any piece of evidence, one shred of evidence that would exonerate the president."

"We think it’s going to be a phenomenal week where the public gets to again hear for themselves the evidence and the extent of the president’s abuse of power and abuse of his office. And we do believe after they hear all of it that they will agree that it’s wrong for the President of the United States to try to use his office to taint our elections."

Schiff tends to write his own opening statement.

“I think he hopes to lay out the scope of what we have been looking at for the last month and a half and I think he hopes to lay out the stakes for the American people and why this matters. I don’t want to preview anything beyond that," the aide said.

How to watch the Trump impeachment hearing: Schedule, witnesses and more

The first public presidential impeachment hearing in over 20 years is set to be held before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, with witnesses Democrats believe will bring to life allegations that President Donald Trump has abused the power of the presidency.

The witnesses will emphasize the "simple abuse of power case" and illustrate the damage that abuse has caused, multiple sources have told NBC News. Republican lawmakers are expected to focus on the witnesses' lack of direct interaction with the president while giving credence to a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine and not Russia that meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Click here to find out how to watch and what to expect.

ANALYSIS: Trump public impeachment hearings: More like Watergate or Clinton?

Starting Wednesday, Americans will have the opportunity to see for themselves what's been happening behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. The question is whether the House Intelligence Committee's public hearings will change public opinion on impeachment — or lock it into place.

Support for impeaching and removing President Donald Trump now stands at about 49 percent in a running average of polls. Opposition is at 46 percent. Notably, these numbers are almost exactly in line with the 2016 election result, when Trump received 46 percent of the national popular vote to Hillary Clinton's 48 percent. In other words, public opinion on impeachment now resembles the basic political divide that has defined the Trump era.

This is why, as of now, it is likely that Trump will be impeached in the House and acquitted by the Senate. It would take significant defections from either party to produce any other outcome. The hope among Democrats is that the hearings will feature televised testimony so compelling that public opinion breaks decisively toward impeachment, thereby scrambling the politics on Capitol Hill. For encouragement, they often invoke a past impeachment inquiry in which public hearings did play a crucial role.

Read the full analysis here.

On eve of first impeachment hearing, Schiff releases memo outlining procedures

WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on Tuesday released a six-page memorandum outlining the procedures for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry. 

“The hearings will be conducted in a manner that ensures that all participants are treated fairly and with respect, mindful of the solemn and historic task before us,” Schiff said in the memo, released on the eve of the first House impeachment hearing. 

“These procedures are consistent with those governing prior impeachment proceedings and mirror those used under Republican and Democratic House leadership for decades,” he added.

The release came with career diplomat William Taylor and State Department official George Kent scheduled to testify publicly Wednesday before the Intelligence Committee. On Friday, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is expected to testify. 

Schiff said in the memo that he would not allow Republicans to use the hearings to further “sham investigations” into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, or to promote “debunked conspiracies.” 

“Nor will the Committee facilitate any efforts by President Trump or his allies to threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously and lawfully raised concerns about the President’s conduct,” he wrote. 

During the impeachment hearings, only Schiff and the committee's ranking member, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., are allowed to deliver opening statements, with each of them having equal time. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has been added to the committee to ask questions for the minority.

The memo also reiterated that the format will entail Democratic and Republican staff counsels questioning witnesses for periods of up to 45 minutes per side, a rule that was included in a House-passed resolution that outlined the rules for the impeachment inquiry. 

It also said that only members of the Intelligence Committee may participate in the hearings — those not on the panel are not permitted to sit on the dais and question witnesses, but are allowed to sit in the audience. And it included a call for decorum: “The Code of Official Conduct for Members of Congress requires that every Member ‘shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.’”

Nikki Haley grilled over Trump's Ukraine conduct, truthfulness

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday defended President Donald Trump’s July call with the leader of Ukraine, but said that “it’s never a good practice for us to ask a foreign country to investigate an American. It's just not a good practice."

“Having said that, there’s no insistence on that call, there are no demands on that call, it is a conversation between two presidents that’s casual in nature,” Haley said in an interview on "Today" with NBC News' Savannah Guthrie.

In the interview, Guthrie also pressed Haley on Trump's fitness for office and her claims that top officials sought to undermine the president.

Read more about what happened in the interview.

The impeachment inquiry has been all about Ukraine, but what about Russia?

WASHINGTON — The central charge in the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is that President Trump used his office and powers to compel a foreign nation (Ukraine) to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

But ahead of tomorrow’s public hearings, there are two additional questions worth exploring, especially after Monday’s release of three more transcripts of depositions.

One: Why was Trump and his administration pursuing a strategy on Ukraine that aligned with Russia’s interests — and against the United States’ expressed national interests?

And two: Why aren’t House Democrats trying to connect the Russian dots? (Is it a hangover after Mueller?)

First Read gives these questions a look.

GOP memo outlines 'key pieces of evidence' against impeachment case

A staff memo circulated Monday night among Republican members of the three House investigative committees conducting the Ukraine investigation outlines several points that the lawmakers claim will undermine Democrats' case for impeachment, a Republican source with direct knowledge confirmed to NBC News.

The memo, first published by Axios, lays out "four key pieces of evidence":

  • The July 25 call summary — the best evidence of the conversation — shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure, the memo claims.    
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call, it says.
  • The Ukrainian government was not aware of a hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call. 
  • Trump met with Zelenskiy and U.S. security assistance flowed to Ukraine in September 2019 — both of which occurred without Ukraine investigating Trump's political rivals, the memo says.

Democrats, however, allege that the call in question did not exist in isolation and was part of a coordinated Ukrainian pressure campaign and bribery plot.

Trump says he will release transcript of earlier Ukraine call

Trump on Monday said he is planning to release a transcript of an April phone call during which he congratulated Zelenskiy on his election victory. The phone call took place before Zelenskiy was in office.

The whistleblower’s complaint that triggered the impeachment inquiry centers around the July call, not the first congratulatory call in April. It's not the first time he has suggested that the call be released. In September, he told reporters that he thinks they "should ask for the first conversation also" since it was "beautiful."

Former Volker aide said there were worries Trump had 'Ukraine fatigue'

A former top aide to Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker testified there were concerns President Trump had "Ukraine fatigue."

Christopher Anderson, who was Volker's aide until this past July, said those worries were stoked by two incidents. The first occurred in Nov. 2018, when Ukraine accused Russia of firing on three of its vessels in the Black Sea. 

The attack was condemned in statements from the State Department and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, "but there never was a statement from the White House that I'm aware of," Anderson said. Asked if that was unusual, he said, "We received questions from Ukrainian counterparts and journalists as to why there wasn't a stronger statement."

About a month later, the Navy planned to send a warship to the Black Sea in a show of support for Ukraine. Anderson described the plan as "routine," but "then there was a news report on CNN, and then the White House asked the Navy to cancel that" because the president was upset about the report.

Asked how he knew that Trump was upset, Anderson said that then-national security adviser John Bolton "relayed that he was called at home by the president, who complained about this news report."

Anderson was also asked about a statement he'd made that Bolton was concerned about Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's influence on Ukraine policy. 

"To the best of my recollection, he made a joke about every time Ukraine is mentioned, Giuliani pops up and that the President was listening to Giuliani about Ukraine," Anderson said.

 

House investigators release transcript of Catherine Croft's testimony

House impeachment investigators on Monday released the transcript of testimony from Catherine Croft, a special adviser for Ukraine at the State Department.

Croft had testified behind closed doors for more than five hours before the three House committees leading the inquiry, providing investigators with information that largely corroborated depositions given to them by other key figures in the inquiry, including Fiona Hill, then a top White House adviser for Europe and Russia, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.

As NBC News reported after Croft's testimony on Oct. 30, she told investigators that she participated in a video conference where an official at the Office of Management and Budget reported that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had placed a hold on U.S. security assistance to Ukraine. The only reason given was that the order came "at the direction of the president,” Croft said.

Read the NBC News story here, and read the full transcript of her testimony here.

The Inquiry: What to expect from public hearings

Article II - Battle Lines - Monday, Nov. 11

On today's episode of the Article II podcast, Steve Kornacki is joined by MSNBC Washington Correspondent Garrett Haake to tell you what to expect from this week of televised public testimony.

The two discuss:

  • The format of the  public hearings
  • What we know about the three witnesses scheduled to testify, plus why Democrats are asking them to testify first
  • A look at the Republican counterstrategy, including the introduction of a list of requested witnesses and a new addition to the House Intelligence Committee
  • Whether public hearings will change the trajectory of the impeachment inquiry

The episode answers listener questions about whether witness can refuse to answer a question and how public sentiment around impeachment shifted during public hearings for the Nixon and Clinton inquiries.

Click here for the full segment.

Former Trump official balks at Mulvaney's bid to join impeachment testimony lawsuit

WASHINGTON — A former Trump administration official and lawyers for the House Intelligence Committee urged a federal judge Monday to block Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, from joining an existing lawsuit over a subpoena to testify in the House impeachment inquiry.

Mulvaney sought to intervene in a suit filed late last month by Charles Kupperman, President Donald Trump's former deputy national security adviser, that named both the House and Trump as defendants. Faced with a subpoena to testify before the House and also a letter from the White House counsel instructing him not to do so, Kupperman asked a federal court to rule which command he should obey.

Read the full story here.

Pentagon official testifies Trump directed freeze on aid to Ukraine

Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators last month that President Donald Trump, through the Office of Management and Budget, directed a mid-July freeze in military aid to Ukraine, according to a transcript of her testimony released Monday.

Officials offered no explanation for the hold, Cooper told Congress. Asked if the president was authorized to order that type of hold, Cooper said there were concerns that he wasn’t.

Read the transcript of Pentagon official Laura Cooper's impeachment testimony

House impeachment investigators on Monday released a transcript of testimony that Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, gave last month.

Cooper's closed-door testimony was delayed for over five hours after a group of House Republicans stormed the secure room where the deposition was taking place.

Read her testimony below:

Trump appears to suggest he regrets signing whistleblower law

Protesters chant 'lock him up' outside Trump's Veteran's Day event

Protesters outside Trump's Veteran's Day event in New York City on Monday shouted "lock him up" during his speech. Watch footage from the crowd below:

What to expect when you're expecting an impeachment hearing

House Democrats are carefully choreographing this week’s public impeachment hearings to emphasize their “simple abuse of power case against President Trump,” multiple sources tell NBC News.

Their strategy is reliant on two key components: the witness list and the hearing format.

IMPEACHMENT WITNESSES

House Democrats characterize their first three witnesses – Amb. Bill Taylor, George Kent, and Amb. Marie Yovanovitch -- as respected, apolitical public servants with long, storied careers.

All three gave House investigators damning accounts of President Trump’s interactions with the new Ukrainian government. Democrats expect the American public will trust the testimonies, as the witnesses detail the alleged impeachable offenses underlying Trump’s Ukraine maneuvers. 

Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut told Chuck on "Meet the Press" that the public will “hear immensely patriotic, beautifully articulate people telling the story of a president who ... extorted a vulnerable country by holding up military aid.”

“They are all strong character witnesses. All three bring credibility to impeachment inquiry,” a Democratic aide tells NBC News, adding that Amb. Bill “Taylor is going to lay everything out” on Wednesday and Yovanovitch is going to “tug at America’s heartstrings” on Friday.

Taylor -- the current top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine -- told House investigators that Trump directed officials to tie foreign aid for Ukraine to demands that the country open an investigation into the Biden family and the 2016 election. A second Democratic aide says Taylor’s “exquisite note-taking” will lend credibility to his testimony, which “corroborates the whistleblower complaint.”

REPUBLICAN DEFENSE

Republicans have the task of trying to separate President Trump from the string of damning testimonies. 

The GOP witness list – which includes Hunter Biden, the anonymous whistleblower, and a former DNC consultant – highlights the degree to which Republicans want to change the subject away from Trump’s interaction with his Ukrainian counterpart.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has already signalled that most of the names on the GOP request list are non-starters. Calling Hunter Biden, Democrats say, would have the effect of creating the political investigation into the Bidens that Trump wanted the Ukrainians to open.

Democrats could find some rhetorical value in allowing at least one of the GOP witnesses, as a means of pushing back against process arguments.

Don’t be surprised if Democrats allow Tim Morrison, the top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council, to appear for public testimony.

Republicans will also attempt to undermine the witnesses by pointing out that their most damning information comes to them secondhand -- from EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland or from NSC officials -- not from firsthand conversations with key players such as President Trump, Rudy Giuliani or Mick Mulvaney.

HEARING FORMAT

The House voted to change the format for the impeachment hearings when it approved a resolution establishing the procedures for the inquiry. It allows House Democrats to keep control of the proceedings and explore lines of inquiry at greater length.

The hearings will kick off with opening statements from the House Intelligence Committee chairman and ranking member, plus the witnesses.

Following that, the committee will move to a questioning period of 90 minutes, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Chairman Adam Schiff and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes, can use the time to question the witnesses themselves or instruct a committee lawyer to do it instead.  

Once the first 90 minutes is up, Schiff will decide if more time is needed for additional Q&A. That’s when the format reverts to a traditional congressional hearing, with lawmakers each getting five minutes to pose questions.

“If the American people only watch the first hour, they’ll hear plenty,” a third Democratic source familiar tells NBC. “The first hour of each hearing is designed to be a blockbuster.”

A message for Trump in NYC

Image:
Signs spelling out the word "impeach" hang in a building overlooking the site where President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attended the New York City Veterans Day Parade at Madison Square Park in New York on Nov. 11, 2019.Andrew Harnik / AP

Dem Rep. releases Veteran's Day impeachment ad

Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran, released a video on Monday explaining her support for impeachment.

"I didn't come to Washington to impeach the president, but I also didn't spend 20 years in the Navy to allow our Constitution to be trampled on," she says.

Watch below:

Trump claims, without evidence, that Schiff releasing doctored transcripts

After push from Rick Perry, his backers got huge gas deal in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — Two political supporters of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal from the Ukrainian government soon after Perry proposed one of the men as an adviser to the country's new president.

Perry's efforts to influence Ukraine's energy policy came earlier this year, just as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's new government was seeking military aid from the United States to defend against Russian aggression and allies of President Donald Trump were ramping up efforts to get the Ukrainians to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Ukraine awarded the contract to Perry's supporters little more than a month after the U.S. energy secretary attended Zelenskiy's May inauguration. In a meeting during that trip, Perry handed the new president a list of people he recommended as energy advisers. One of the four names was his longtime political backer Michael Bleyzer.

Read the full story here.

Trump's defender: How a little-known GOP lawmaker became a point man on impeachment

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., has called the impeachment probe into President Donald Trump a "charade," a "clown show," and a "cocktail that is" House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff's "favorite drink to get America drunk on."

Naturally, there's an occupant in the Oval Office who's taken notice of his strong words. And, in turn, a once little-known, 39-year-old lawmaker representing eastern Long Island has become one of the president's point men in battling impeachment, teaming up with fellow anti-impeachment crusaders such as House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

Read more about Zeldin's rise here.

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Impeachment inquiry update for Monday, Nov. 11

House Democrats have not indicated which, if any, testimony transcripts will be released Monday. The investigative committees will continue to release transcripts ahead of Wednesday’s first public impeachment hearing, however. 

There are no closed-door depositions scheduled for this week.

Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who had been scheduled to appear before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Monday, was rescheduled for Friday. 

Graham ups attacks against whistleblower before public hearings

Only 3 Senate Republicans aren't defending Trump from the impeachment inquiry. Here's why.

For those Senate Republicans who are refusing to condemn the House-led impeachment inquiry, three may be the loneliest number.

While a resolution denouncing the House Democrats' fast-moving probe hasn't received a vote, GOP Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska declined to sign on as co-sponsors — the only ones out of 53 Republicans — leaving the door ajar to the possibility that they could vote to convict President Donald Trump if impeachment moves to its trial phase in the Senate.

But unlike the blowback Romney and Collins have faced for breaking with the party's defense of the president, Murkowski could end up seeing her part in this micro-rebellion embraced by voters in her state. Experts on Alaska politics told NBC News that the state tends to reward an independent streak in its politicians.

In other words, Murkowski can fall out of line with Trump — but not fall out of favor with Republican voters in her state.

Full story here.

OPINION: From Nixon to Trump, the historical arc of presidential misconduct is deeply troubling

During the Watergate investigation, I contributed to an unprecedented history of presidential misconduct that the impeachment inquiry of the House Committee on the Judiciary requested in 1974.

Now, 45 years later, I’ve edited an expanded version, covering all U.S. presidencies through Barack Obama’s. Looking over that 230-year span, what I’m forced to conclude is deeply troubling: Since the early 1970s, the behavior of American presidents has worsened in alarming ways.

Read more here.

Hallie Jackson: Trump watching closely to see who defends him

Democrats push back on GOP efforts to have whistleblower, Hunter Biden testify

Democrats on Sunday pushed back on Republican requests for testimony from the whistleblower who helped launch the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, requested the whistleblower, the younger Biden and his business partner Devon Archer testify before House investigators in a letter Saturday to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the committee's chairman. Later Saturday, Schiff poured cold water on that request, saying the impeachment probe would not serve "to carry out the same sham investigations into the Bidens or debunked conspiracies about 2016 U.S. election interference" Trump asked Ukraine to conduct.

More on the partisan debate over whether the whistleblower should testify.

GOP senator: Trump advisers had to 'convince' Trump to release Ukraine aid

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said Sunday that "most" of President Donald Trump's advisers were trying to figure out "some way" to get him to release a hold on roughly $400 million in Ukrainian military aid, an effort at the center of Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

"I understand that most of President Trump's advisers wanted the military aid released," Johnson, who had personally pushed Trump to release the aid, told CNN's "State of the Union." "And they were trying to figure out some way, shape or form to convince President Trump to approve that release. It's certainly what I was trying to do in my phone call to him on Aug. 31. So I don't have a problem with advisers trying to figure out some way shape or form to convince the boss to do this."

Read more here.

Rand Paul downplays quid pro quo efforts

John Bolton gets a book deal

John Bolton ⁠— the former Trump national security adviser who has emerged as a key figure in the impeachment inquiry ⁠— has inked a book deal with Simon & Schuster, a source with direct knowledge tells NBC News.

Bolton was represented by the Javelin literary agency, whose clients include former FBI director James Comey and the anonymous Trump administration official whose book, "A Warning,” comes out next week.

Trump trashes 'sinister' impeachment effort during Atlanta event

President Donald Trump on Friday called the impeachment inquiry a "deranged, hyper-partisan impeachment witch hunt, a sinister effort to nullify the ballots of 63 million patriotic Americans."

He made the remarks in Atlanta at an event to announce the African American outreach effort by his re-election campaign. 

"Not happening, by the way," he said of the impeachment effort. "It's failing, it's failing fast, it's all a hoax."

On Wednesday, Democrats hold the first in a series of public hearings in their impeachment inquiry; several witnesses plan to testify next week. 

Image: U.S. President Trump speaks at a campaign event in Atlanta, Georgia
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a "Black Voices for Trump" campaign event in Atlanta on Nov. 8, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

'Absent yourself': What Schiff told Gaetz when he crashed a secure hearing

The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry released transcripts on Friday detailing the moment Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was spotted in a secure room when a deposition was taking place.

Gaetz was in the room, called a SCIF, during testimony by Fiona Hill, a former top adviser to President Donald Trump on Russia and Europe. In the transcript, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is quoted as saying: "Mr. Gaetz, you're not permitted to be in the room. Please leave." At another point, Schiff tell Gaetz to "absent yourself" from the SCIF.

Read more about the tense exchange.

Former Trump adviser who testified to Ukraine pressure campaign said she was victim of harassment

Fiona Hill, President Donald Trump's former top adviser on Russia and Europe, told House investigators that her time in the Trump administration was marked by death threats, “hateful calls” and “conspiracy theories,” a harassment campaign she said was revived after it was learned she would cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, according to a transcript of her deposition released Friday.

"I received, I just have to tell you, death threats, calls at my home. My neighbors reported somebody coming and hammering on my door," she told investigators in closed-door testimony of her time in the White House. "Now, I'm not easily intimidated, but that made me mad."

The transcript confirmed NBC News’ reporting that Hill told Congress that Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, sidestepped the National Security Council and typical White House process to advocate for a shadow policy on Ukraine. Hill also revealed new details about how Giuliani's work undercut and derailed the diplomats charged with overseeing Ukrainian-U.S. relations.

Read the full story

Trump says of his EU ambassador, 'I hardly know the gentleman'

Gordon Sondland is President Trump's ambassador to the European Union and donated $1 million to his inaugural committee, but Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that "I hardly know the gentleman."

Sondland has become a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry. He told investigators that Trump told him there was "no quid pro quo" calling for Ukraine to say it was investigating Joe and Hunter Biden in order to get military aid, and that he wasn't sure why the money was frozen. He updated his testimony this week to acknowledge that he'd told a top aide to Ukraine's president that the country wouldn't get the aid until it committed to investigating the 2016 elections and the Bidens.

Sondland and other witnesses have testified about conversations he'd had with Trump. One witness, former White House adviser Fiona Hill, told investigators that Trump had put Sondland "in charge of Ukraine" earlier this year. 

Trump distanced himself from his diplomat on the White House lawn on Friday.  

"Let me just tell you, I hardly know the gentleman, but this is the man who said there was no quid pro quo, and he still says that," Trump told reporters. "And he said that I said that, and he hasn't changed that testimony. So this is a man that said — as far as the president is concerned — there was no quid pro quo. Everybody that's testified — even the ones that are Trump-haters, they've all been fine. They don't have anything." 

The president had warmer words for Sondland before he testified, however, tweeting that he's "a really good man and great American."

Whistleblower's lawyer sends cease-and-desist letter over Trump's 'reckless' attacks

A lawyer for the whistleblower whose complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the White House urging the president to stop attacking his client.

“I am writing out of deep concern that your client, the president of the United States, is engaging in rhetoric and activity that places my client, the intelligence community whistleblower, and their family in physical danger,” the lawyer, Andrew Bakaj, wrote in a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Thursday.

“I am writing to respectfully request that you counsel your client on the legal and ethical peril in which he is placing himself should anyone be physically harmed as a result of his, or his surrogates’, behavior,” he wrote.

Bakaj alleged Trump's attacks constituted witness tampering and had succeeded in intimidating his client, saying "as a direct consequence of the President’s irresponsible rhetoric and behavior, my client’s physical safety became a significant concern," prompting them to opt out of giving lawmakers a closed-door deposition in favor of written answers to questions.

Read the full story.

Trump says he has 'no problem' releasing earlier phone call with Ukraine

President Donald Trump said Friday that he is willing to provide a transcript of his first call with the president of Ukraine, which occurred in April.

“I have the second call, which nobody knew about," Trump said, speaking to reporters as he left the White House on Friday morning, referring to that spring conversation. "I guess they want that to be produced also. ... I had a call before this [July] one with the president of Ukraine. I understand they'd like it, and I have no problem giving it to them."

About two weeks after Trump made that earlier call, in which he offered congratulations on the night of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's April 21 election, the Ukrainian leader and a small group of advisers discussed how to navigate the insistence from Trump and Rudy Giuliani for a probe of the Bidens and how to avoid becoming entangled in the American elections, The Associated Press reported.

Read the full story here.

Hill's and Vindman's testimony expected to be released Friday

The House committees leading the impeachment probe are expected to release the transcript of former White House official Fiona Hill’s deposition Friday at about midday, sources with knowledge of the timing told NBC News. 

The transcript of testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, is also expected to be released Friday, one of the sources said.

Hill reportedly told Congress last month that then-national security adviser John Bolton wanted no part of the effort to get the Ukrainians to investigate President Donald Trump’s political opponents and told her to report the situation to the top lawyer at the National Security Council, NBC News previously reported. Hill told lawmakers she considered what was happening to be a clear counterintelligence risk to the United States.

Vindman, a firsthand witness to Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, told House impeachment investigators last week that a White House meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — as well as the delivery of nearly $400 million in security and military aid — was "contingent" on Ukrainian officials carrying out investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election, NBC News previously reported.

Ivanka Trump: Whistleblower's ID 'not particularly relevant' to impeachment

RABAT, Morocco — Ivanka Trump on Friday echoed her father's view that the House impeachment investigation is an attempt to overturn the 2016 election. But in an interview with The Associated Press, she parted ways with President Donald Trump by calling the identity of the impeachment whistleblower "not particularly relevant."

The Republican president and some of his allies have been pressing the news media to publicize the whistleblower's name, but Ivanka Trump said the person's motives were more important. And she declined to speculate on what they may have been.

"The whistleblower shouldn't be a substantive part of the conversation," she told the AP, saying the person "did not have firsthand information."

Read the full story here.

Mulvaney won't testify in impeachment probe, source tells NBC News

A senior administration source has told NBC News that White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney will not testify Friday as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

“He won’t be showing up,” the source told NBC News.  

When asked if Mulvaney would comply with the subpoena by House Democrats, a second official pointed to an earlier statement from White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.

“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,” Gidley said.

Read the full story here.

House investigators subpoena Mulvaney for Friday testimony

From an official working on the impeachment inquiry:

Late Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney for a previously scheduled deposition on Friday morning.

“On Oct. 17, 2019, Mr. Mulvaney admitted from the White House briefing room that the President withheld vital military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit the President’s personal and political interests, not the national interest. Other testimony during this inquiry also has indicated that Mr. Mulvaney could shed additional light on the President’s abuse of the power of his office for his personal gain.  

Mr. Mulvaney has the opportunity to uphold his oath to the nation and constitution by testifying tomorrow under oath about matters of keen national importance. We hope Mr. Mulvaney does not hide behind the President’s ongoing efforts to conceal the truth and obstruct our investigation.”

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

WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. diplomat told Congress that he was briefed on conversations President Donald Trump had with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in which the two foreign leaders talked Trump into a negative view about Ukraine and its new leader.

George Kent, a senior State Department official responsible for Europe, told House investigators that Putin and Orban, along with Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, had “shaped the president’s view of Ukraine and (President Volodymyr) 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.

Read more here.

NBC News' Garrett Haake reports on George Kent's testimony

Career diplomat took notes, believed Trump Ukraine conduct was ‘injurious to the rule of law,’ transcripts show

State Department official George Kent, a key witness in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, told House investigators last month he'd created memos of specific conversations he'd witnessed related to White House’s attempted quid pro quo that he said were “injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the U.S,” according to a transcript of his testimony made public Thursday.

Lawmakers have focused on Kent and other witnesses to establish that the Trump administration froze aid money as part of an attempt to pressure Ukraine to open politically advantageous probes.

Read his full transcript.

Chris Jansing breaks down the latest developments in the impeachment inquiry

Kennedy says he didn't mean to be disrespectful when he called Pelosi 'dumb'

Donald Trump Jr. defends tweeting name of person he said is the whistleblower

During a contentious exchange on ABC's "The View," Donald Trump Jr. defending tweeting the name of a person who some conservative outlets have alleged is the Ukraine whistleblower, saying that the name had been "out there."

"I think the reality of the answer is the whistleblower's name was on a little website called thedrudgereport a couple of days ago," he said. "I literally quote tweeted an article that had the guy's name in the title of the article."

"The name has been out there for five days," he later added.

Joe says Sen. Kennedy's Pelosi bash is degrading, hard to turn back from

John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, skips impeachment deposition

WASHINGTON — Former White House national security adviser John Bolton failed to appear Thursday for his closed-door deposition in the House impeachment inquiry, following the lead of other current and former Trump administration officials who have chosen not to show up.

Last week, Bolton — who was fired by Trump in September — was formally invited to testify before the three congressional committees in charge of questioning witnesses, but his lawyer, Charles Cooper, quickly made clear that his client was unwilling to appear voluntarily. Bolton has not been issued a subpoena, sources familiar with the inquiry said.

Bolton's no-show comes after his former top deputy, Charles Kupperman, skipped his own scheduled deposition amid efforts by the White House to block his appearance. Kupperman then filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to rule on whether he must testify under a congressional subpoena.

Read the full story here.

ANALYSIS: As proceedings go public, Dems try to keep it simple

WASHINGTON — For the first time next Wednesday, with cameras rolling, House Democrats will begin broadcasting a dramatic story about the corruption of American democracy and governance that they contend not only reaches into the Oval Office, but bears the unmistakable fingerprints of President Donald Trump.

Their challenge in impeaching Trump is keeping the tale of his Ukraine scandal simple as they try to move forward through a thicket of Republican defensescharacters unfamiliar to the public; and constitutional, legal and political principles most Americans haven't considered since their last civics class.

"We have a tendency to get in the weeds on this," said Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., a former senior official in the Obama Justice Department who represents the Virgin Islands in Congress, and a member of the three-committee panel that has been conducting impeachment hearings behind closed doors. "I use the words extortion and bribery. I think those are words that Americans can understand."

Read the full analysis here.

Sen. Harris: If impeachment gets to Senate, I will be there

Trump denies report that he wanted Barr to publicly clear him on Ukraine

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is denying he wanted Attorney General William Barr to hold a press conference to declare he broke no laws during a phone call in which he pressed Ukraine's president to investigate Democrats.

Trump tweeted early Thursday that the story, first reported by The Washington Post, "is totally untrue and just another FAKE NEWS story with anonymous sources that don't exist."

The Post said Barr rebuffed the request, which came in September around the time the White House released a rough transcript of Trump's July 25 call at the center of the House impeachment probe. The paper cited unidentified people familiar with the effort.

House Democrats are investigating Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate political rivals as aid money was being withheld.

Trump insists he did nothing wrong.

Pence adviser set to give evidence in closed-door hearing

Jennifer Williams, a special adviser on Russian and European affairs and long-serving State Department staffer, is expected to give evidence on Thursday.

Williams is the first witness from Vice President Mike Pence's national security team to appear for closed-door testimony. House investigators expect to learn more about how much Pence knew about Trump's Ukraine maneuvers.

Article II - The Best Defense - Wednesday, November 6th

On today’s episode, Steve Kornacki talks to Jon Allen, politics reporter for NBC News, about the different arguments Republicans are taking against impeachment.

The two discuss:

  • Why Republicans are unable to unify around a single defense of the President
  • The three main arguments Republicans are using to protect the President from being removed from office
  • The calculations made by Senate Major Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in their defenses of the President up until this point
  • How Republicans could change their strategy as impeachment moves towards the Senate

The episode also answers a listener question about whether the establishment of a quid pro quo is required for the House to move forward with impeachment.

Listen here.

The Inquiry: Bill Taylor testimony released

House Democrats pull Kupperman subpoena

House Democrats have withdrawn their subpoena of former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman, according to a letter from the chairs of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry to Kupperman's lawyers.

"Dr. Kupperman still has an opportunity to fulfill his solemn constitutional duty," the chairs wrote. "Like the many dedicated public servants who have appeared before the Committees despite White House efforts to prevent or limit their testimony — including current and former White House officials who worked alongside your client — Dr. Kupperman can still add his testimony to the inquiry's record."

Kupperman filed a lawsuit days before he was scheduled to give closed-door testimony last month asking a federal judge to determine whether he is required to testify in the House impeachment inquiry. The lawsuit said Kupperman was told by White House lawyers not to appear. 

A House Intelligence Committee official said Wednesday there was "no proper basis for a witness to sue the Congress in court to oppose a duly authorized congressional subpoena. Nevertheless, given the schedule of our impeachment hearings, a court process that leads to the dismissal of Dr. Kupperman’s flawed lawsuit would only result in delay, so we have withdrawn his subpoena." 

Any testimony from Kupperman would bring the inquiry closer into the orbit of John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, who was said not to want to get involved with the president's efforts in Ukraine. Bolton, who has been scheduled to testify before the committees on Thursday, will not appear voluntarily his lawyer, who also represents Kupperman, has said. 

The lawyer, Charles Cooper, said last week that Bolton could be added to Kupperman's lawsuit.

 

Intel officials want CIA Director Gina Haspel to protect Ukraine whistleblower from Trump

WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump and his allies continue to denounce the CIA whistleblower whose complaint led to an impeachment investigation, pressure is building on the spy agency's director, Gina Haspel, to take a stand on the matter, current and former intelligence officials tell NBC News.

"It will be incumbent on her to protect the whistleblower — and by extension, the organization — moving forward," Marc Polymeropoulos, a recently retired CIA officer who oversaw operations in Europe and Russia, said in an interview. "This is a seminal moment for her leadership, and I'm confident she will do the right thing."

So far, Haspel has been publicly silent as Trump has railed about the whistleblower, a CIA analyst, on Twitter. So has the director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire.

Read the full story here.

Bondi to wind down Qatar lobbying job to join White House as 'special government employee'

Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general joining the White House communications team to work on impeachment, is currently lobbying for Qatar and will be winding down that role to join the White House team.

Bondi was added in July to lobbying firm Ballard Partners’ $115,000-a-month contract with the Embassy of Qatar in Washington, according to a document filed in July with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit and reviewed by NBC News. Bondi was named “key personnel” for the contract and would be “personally and substantially engaged” in delivering services to the country, according to a consulting agreement filed with the DOJ.

Ballard Partners extended its ongoing contract with the Qatari embassy in July to provide advocacy on US-Qatari relations and guidance on combatting human trafficking. A spokesman for the Embassy of Qatar had no immediate comment.

Bondi will be leaving Ballard Partners and will stop working on all her client accounts early next week, a person familiar with her lobbying arrangement said. But she will remain with the firm until she goes to the White House, which this person estimated will not happen for a couple more weeks, adding that her background check isn’t yet complete. This person said Bondi is currently expected to only be at the White House for four months, but presumes that ultimately she might stay through the reelection campaign.

Bondi’s status at the White House will be as a “special government employee,” a senior administration official told NBC News’ Kristen Welker. That status that allows people in the private sector with particular expertise to be brought into the government part time under less-stringent ethics rules than would apply to normal federal employees, including allowing them to continue their outside work. Those rules will limit Bondi to working on government issues no more than 130 days out the year.

Former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker was serving under this same status while continuing his outside work at a lobbying firm, NBC News reported in September. 

 

 

Giuliani defends Ukraine work amid Taylor testimony

White House to add staff for impeachment response

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is bringing former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and ex-Treasury spokesman Tony Sayegh on board to help bring structure to the White House's often chaotic response to the House impeachment inquiry.

Trump has downplayed the need for additional help on impeachment, calling any such effort necessary. “I don’t have teams, everyone is talking about teams," he said late last month. "I am the team. I did nothing wrong.”

But the White House has struggled to find a coordinated messaging response on impeachment as polls have shown a growing number of Americans supporting Trump’s impeachment. Democrats are planning the first public hearings starting next week.

Read the full story here.

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Top diplomat in Ukraine directly ties Trump to quid pro quo

President Donald Trump was adamant that his Ukrainian counterpart publicly announce investigations into a conspiracy related to the 2016 election and the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators last month.

According to a transcript of Taylor’s testimony released Wednesday, it became clear that “everything” — from the release of military aid to a White House visit — was tied to the public announcement of the probes, despite Trump’s repeated insistence that there was no quid pro quo.

"That was my clear understanding, that security assistance money would not come until the president [of Ukraine] committed to pursue the investigation," Taylor told Congress.

Read more about his testimony here or check out the full transcript.

Risch: Senate Foreign Relations won't call witnesses until House finishes inquiry

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, responded Wednesday to questions about whether he would call former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, before his committee by referring to a letter he sent the panel's Democrats last week saying he won't hear witnesses on the Trump administration's actions related to Ukraine until the House completes its impeachment inquiry.

“Due to the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, I believe it would be more appropriate for our committee to wait on examining these matters until after the House completes its process (one way or another),” Risch’s letter said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Tuesday when asked about having Hunter Biden testify that Risch would have jurisdiction to do so. Graham, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, added that he hoped the Foreign Relations chairman would look into questions about Joe Biden's calls for the removal of Ukraine's prosecutor general in 2016 and his son Hunter's work for a Ukrainian gas company.

Ranking member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and other committee Democrats sent Risch a letter earlier last month calling for hearings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other State Department officials about the administration's actions on Ukraine, including the circumstances of the hold on military aid and the ouster of then-Amb. Marie Yovanovitch. Pompeo was on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was the focus of the whistleblower complaint at the center of the impeachment inquiry, NBC News previously reported.

ANALYSIS: The Trump chaos theory for how to beat impeachment

WASHINGTON — The Republican defense of President Donald Trump is all over the place — a situation that is both less than ideal, but perhaps good enough for the White House.

The only two points GOP lawmakers agree on right now are that they aren't ready to remove Trump from office and they think Democrats don't play fair. Otherwise, they've been unable to formulate a clear, cohesive message in support of a commander in chief facing serious consequences over the wide-ranging campaign he ran to pressure Ukraine into investigating 2020 rival Joe Biden.

Instead, and often in lieu of delving into the facts of the case, they've lined up behind one of a series of arguments for Trump staying in place. Read those arguments and the rest of the analysis here.

Hoyer condemns GOP efforts to out whistleblower

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) released a statement on Republican efforts to out the whistleblower: 

"Efforts by some Republican Members of Congress to 'out' the whistleblower who revealed President Trump’s abuse of power are a blatant attempt at witness intimidation.  Not only does this shamefully put the whistleblower and his or her family at physical risk, it is also a clear attempt to deter other courageous patriots from revealing abuses and unlawful behavior in this Administration.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for Republicans in Congress to defend President Trump’s attempt to coerce Ukraine into assisting his re-election campaign. That fact does not justify this dangerous effort to distract the American people from the evidence at hand.  Our laws do not permit retaliation against witnesses and anonymous tipsters in criminal cases, and we should not tolerate it in this case either. I call on federal law enforcement to look closely at the concerning statements made recently by some Republican Members of Congress and for our intelligence agencies to take all necessary steps to protect the whistleblower’s anonymity."

Rand Paul defends calling for whistleblower's unmasking

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., defended his comments about the whistleblower when speaking to reporters on Wednesday, saying he believes the whistleblower needs to answer questions about whether he or she knows if there was any conflict of interest with Hunter Biden.

NBC News pressed Paul about a tweet from whistleblower attorney Andrew Bakaj that said, "Let me be absolutely clear: @RandPaul will be personally responsible for anything harmful that happens."

Paul said, "I think attorneys are always advocates for their clients and you can’t really trust what they say. But they’re advocates for their clients. Look, I’ve been a victim of political violence twice, once at the shooting at the ballfield, and once was six of my ribs broken, so I don’t wish any harm to anyone."

Durbin asks if Ukraine call was so routine, 'why do they hide it?'

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters Wednesday that he can’t follow the logic of the Republican response to the release of the most recent deposition transcripts, asking if the Trump-Ukraine call was so routine, “why do they hide it? Why do they have to put it in a secret server after it was disclosed?” 

"They obviously knew that something happened in that conversation that was not normal, was not acceptable, and they were doing everything they could to conceal it," he continued. "If you conceal the evidence, you obviously have guilt in mind."

Asked about Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham's remarks that he sees no evidence of a quid pro quo in the witnesses' testimony, Durbin responded, "He doesn’t want to see it. He ought to take a closer look. It’s pretty obvious. Lin’s a good lawyer and he should know better. If you don’t wanna see something, you’re not going to see it."

Meadows: Defending Trump is 'getting easier' as more officials testify

Fiona Hill's lawyer disputes Sondland's testimony

The lawyer for former top White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill is accusing Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland of making up testimony about purported conversations he and Hill had over coffee.

"Sondland has fabricated communications with Dr. Hill, none of which were over coffee," her lawyer, Lee Wolosky, wrote on Twitter. "Dr. Hill told Sondland what she told lawmakers — the lack of coordination on Ukraine was distastorous, and the circumstances of the dismissal of Amb Yovanovitch shameful.”

Wolosky confirmed to NBC News that he sent the tweet but did not provide additional information about his accusation. Sondland’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, declined to comment.

In his deposition, Sondland referred at least four times to having coffee with Hill when they overlapped in the Trump administration, including once in the White House and another time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Sondland, in the transcript of his deposition, described Hill as being visibly emotional during a coffee he said they had at the White House when Hill was leaving the administration. He said she was “sort of shaking, she was pretty mad,” describing her as unloading her pent-up frustrations with Trump, then-national security adviser John Bolton and the administration on her way out.

Hill’s lawyer noted in his tweet that she was critical in her testimony about the way Ukraine policy was handled and the ouster of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, among other things. Hill’s main point of contention with Sondland appears to be not whether she criticized the administration, but whether she did so in a private coffee meeting with him.

Graham says he's 'not going to read the transcripts'

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Wednesday that he is "not going to read these transcripts" of testimony in the impeachment inquiry, saying, "the whole process is a joke."

Kurt "Volker, the special envoy, said there was no quid pro quo," Graham said. "Sonderland has changed his testimony to say he presumes there was. What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward the Ukraine, it was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to. They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo. So, no, I find the whole process to be a sham and I'm not going to legitimize it." 

In his testimony, special envoy to Ukraine Volker told House investigators that no quid pro quo was communicated to him and that he did not believe the timeline of events bore out that kind of leverage based on his understanding of when the Ukrainians became aware of the hold on military aid.

Graham, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, also said Rudy Giuliani should stop his Ukraine efforts, adding that he lent no credence to a 2016 conspiracy theory that Trump and his personal lawyer have been chasing about Ukrainian involvement in hacking Democrats' emails.

"I think we should not do this in the future," Graham said. "You know, who was the guy, Sidney Blumenthal, did this whole crap in Libya, you know, running around representing Clinton in Libya. I think that’s bad public policy. 

"I don’t know what Rudy was trying to do, if he was trying to defend Trump against allegations of, you know, working with Russia," Graham added. "There’s a theory out there that the Ukrainians hacked into the emails, not the Russians. I don’t buy that for one minute. I find no credibility to the idea it was the Ukraine who hacked into the DNC. It was the Russians, I’m convinced it was the Russians."

FLASHBACK: Bill Taylor's opening statement

Ahead of Bill Taylor's public hearing next week and the transcript of his impeachment testimony, which we're expecting later Wednesday, here's a reminder of what he said during his opening statement last month:

President Donald Trump has insisted there was no "quid pro quo" in his dealings with the Ukrainian government, and "no pressure" on Ukraine's president to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

But in his remarkable 15-page statement delivered to Congress on Tuesday, Trump's top diplomat to Ukraine painted a picture of both.

Read the six most astonishing revelations here.

Bill Taylor transcript coming today, Schiff says

Schiff announced on Wednesday that impeachment investigators would be releasing the transcript of Bill Taylor's deposition later in the day. He said what we will see from the transcript is that the GOP had equal time to ask questions. 

Donald Trump Jr. tweets name of person he says is the whistleblower

Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, tweeted on Wednesday the name of a person who some conservative media outlets have alleged is the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint triggered the House impeachment inquiry.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the unnamed whistleblower, whose right to anonymity is protected by federal law. On Oct. 14, he tweeted that the whistleblower "must testify" before Congress and that "we must determine the Whistleblower's identity to determine WHY this was done to the USA." 

In recent days, some of Trump's staunchest Republican allies have called on the media to reveal a name, and on Sunday, Trump intensified his own calls for the person to be exposed. "The whistleblower should be revealed," Trump told reporters outside the White House.  

Trump Jr. said in follow up tweets that he did not coordinate with the White House. 

NBC News is not reporting the name of the whistleblower as long as that person wishes to remain anonymous, due to security and safety concerns, and will not publish the names of anyone purportedly identified by outside parties as the whistleblower. NBC News has confirmed, however, that the person is a CIA employee who was detailed to the White House.

Mark Zaid and Andrew Bakaj, lawyers for the whistleblower, have been publicly opposing GOP pressure to reveal the identity of the whistleblower, not only because of his or her personal safety but because they insist that the person's identity is now irrelevant since the claims contained in the complaint have been corroborated by the testimony of other named witnesses in the impeachment probe. 

"Identifying any suspected name for the whistleblower will place that individual and their family at risk of serious harm. We will not confirm or deny any name that is published or promoted by supporters of the president," the attorneys said in a statement Wednesday

"We will note, however, that the publication of a name shows the desperation to deflect from the substance of the whistleblower complaint. It will not relieve the president of the need to address the substantive allegations, all of which have been substantially proven to be true," Zaid and Bakaj added.  

First public hearings in Trump impeachment inquiry to begin next week, Schiff says

Public hearings in Congress will begin next week in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Wednesday.

"Next week, the House Intelligence Committee will hold its first open hearings as part of the impeachment inquiry," said Schiff, the committee's chairman. "On Wednesday, November 13, 2019, we will hear from William Taylor and George Kent. On Friday, November 15, 2019, we will hear from Marie Yovanovitch. More to come."

Read more on the open hearings here.

Mulvaney won't testify, Conway says

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney will not give closed-door testimony Friday to House investigators, senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday.

"I’m told no," Conway said when asked whether Mulvaney would appear. 

When asked if she is worried she will be called to testify, Conway said, “I’m not worried about that,” adding that she is unsure if she would be called.

Asked why the White House won't let officials testify, Conway said, “Why would we try to be complicit in an impeachment inquiry that we're not even sure what it’s about. What is it about? If I gave you a blank piece of paper, literally what would you write on it? What are we telling the American people right here and right now as to why we're impeaching the president?"

"Frankly, we don’t do that against anyone who’s being accused of anything," Conway added. "We don’t say, 'Come, let's book you, let’s put you on trial, and we'll figure it out as we go along if anything kind of pops. I mean this is just — that is just not the way our rule of law works."

In their request for Mulvaney's testimony, the chairmen of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry wrote that their probe has revealed he might have been "directly involved" in alleged efforts by Trump and others "to withhold a coveted White House meeting and nearly $400 million in security assistance" to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president's political rivals.

White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Tuesday that the administration wouldn't be inclined to allow senior advisers to participate in the inquiry.

Trump impeachment witness breaks week's no-show pattern

WASHINGTON — One witness was expected to appear Wednesday for a scheduled deposition before three House committees stemming from the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, arrived on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to give his scheduled deposition before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees in closed session.

Hale, a career diplomat, is likely to face questions regarding the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who said that she was fired at the direction of President Donald Trump. Philip Reeker, another career diplomat, told investigators at a previous hearing that Hale had stopped the publication of a statement in support of Yovanovitch.

Read the full story here.

Democrats zero in on three witnesses for public hearings

In preparing the next phase in their impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, Democrats have identified three witnesses as the strongest candidates for public hearings, NBC News has learned.

In the next few weeks, Democrats hope to feature the testimonies of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the nation's current senior diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor and Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, according to three sources with knowledge of the deliberations.

The sources stressed the ability of Taylor and Vindman give a firsthand accounts of their understanding that aid to Ukraine was tied to the country's revival of investigations that would serve the president's personal political interests. 

Trump official set for questions on Ukraine ambassador removal

David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs, is due to appear at a closed door hearing Wednesday and is likely to face questions on the removal of Amb. Marie “Masha” Yovanovich, who has said she was fired by the direction of President Donald Trump

Career diplomat Phillip Reeker told investigators at a previous hearing that Hale had stopped the publication of a statement in support of Yovanovich.

Vindman will testify, if asked

A source familiar with the matter tells NBC News that Vindman will testify publicly in the impeachment inquiry, if asked. This source says he has not yet been asked.

Vindman will return to Capitol Hill on Thursday to review the transcript of his testimony, according to the source familiar.

Updated Friday impeachment inquiry deposition schedule

From an official working on the impeachment inquiry:

The following witnesses are expected to testify in closed session on Friday, Nov. 8:

— Acting White House Chief of Staff John Michael “Mick” Mulvaney

— OMB Associate Director for National Security Programs Mark Sandy

The Committees are in ongoing discussions with other witnesses and we look forward to their testimony.

Two Trump officials expected to show up for impeachment interviews

There is a good chance that David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, shows up tomorrow for his closed-door deposition with House impeachment investigators, according to two sources familiar.

Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy aide to Mike Pence, is also expected to show up for her scheduled deposition on Thursday, according to two sources familiar. 

'Talk to Rudy': Impeachment transcripts detail Giuliani's outsized influence in Ukraine policy

Rudy Giuliani was mentioned more than 430 times during House impeachment investigators' interviews with two key U.S. diplomats, transcripts released on Tuesday show, underscoring the former New York mayor's outsized role in U.S.-Ukraine policy.

More than anyone else, Giuliani shaped Trump's view of Ukraine and caused headaches for top State Department officials, as Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine, detailed in their testimonies last month.

Here are some of the most noteworthy references to Giuliani in those documents.

Impeachment faces first big test in Kentucky governor's election

Graham unconcerned about new transcripts: 'We got some guy presuming something'

Judiciary Chairman Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) spoke to NBC and CNN following the Sondland and Volker transcripts being released. On the transcripts, Graham said he hasn’t read the deposition but “bottom line, Mueller meant something to me, I'm not impressed with this whole line of impeachment,” adding “I'm not going to entertain impeaching the President over this matter, period. Done.” Graham also referred to Sondland as “some guy presuming something.” When asked if he will call Hunter Biden to testify, Graham says it doesn’t fall under his jurisdiction but he hopes Senator Risch (R-ID), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will look at it.

Separately, NBC asked Graham if Giuliani will come in and testify before his committee, to which Graham said “I don’t think he’s coming,” adding that he spoke to him again and Giuliani “never got back” to him on that.