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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

1053d ago / 7:17 PM UTC

Pelosi gives impeachment update

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updated colleagues about the status of the impeachment inquiry in a letter on Monday.

In the letter, she says that the, "facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests."

Read the full letter below:

Dear Democratic Colleague,

As we enter this pre-Thanksgiving week, we must extend the Continuing Resolution to keep government open and advance our legislative agenda to meet the needs of the American people. 

Thank you to the many Members who participated in our Speaker’s Meeting on Jobs. The presentation of the challenges facing America’s working families and the solutions presented by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman DeFazio and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Pallone helped advance our infrastructure legislation. The discussion on USMCA was constructive and will continue this week.

At the same time we legislate, we continue to investigate and litigate, as the impeachment inquiry proceeds.

Last week, the country was impressed by the valor and patriotism of the dedicated public servants and career diplomats, appointed by the President, in speaking truth to power. This week, we will hear from additional witnesses who will courageously expose the truth and defend our democracy.

The facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests.

The weak response to these hearings has been, “Let the election decide.” That dangerous position only adds to the urgency of our action, because the President is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections.

There are also some who say that no serious wrongdoing was committed, because the military assistance to Ukraine was eventually released. The fact is, the aid was only released after the whistleblower exposed the truth of the President’s extortion and bribery, and the House launched a formal investigation.

None of us comes to Congress to impeach a President, but rather to make progress for America’s working families. However, our first order of business is our oath to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. As such, we are custodians of the Constitution and, For The People, defenders of our democracy.

Thank you for your patriotic leadership.

1053d ago / 7:03 PM UTC
1053d ago / 7:01 PM UTC

Trump tweeted as Marie Yovanovitch testified: Was it witness tampering?

Former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was testifying Friday in the House impeachment inquiry when suddenly President Donald Trump weighed in.

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Trump tweeted. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” The president also asserted his “absolute right” to recall ambassadors, as he had done with Yovanovitch, whose most recent post was in Ukraine, a country at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

Why it could be prosecuted as witness tampering

Federal criminal law contains a broad prohibition against illegitimately affecting the presentation of evidence in hearings. For example, it is unlawful to knowingly use intimidation or corrupt persuasion with intent to influence the testimony of any person in an official proceeding. An “official proceeding” includes hearings before Congress. Witness harassment also includes conduct intended to “badger, disturb or pester” and attempts to intimidate, even if the witness isn’t actually influenced, and even if the witness never actually received the threat.

Read the full analysis.

1053d ago / 6:41 PM UTC

McConnell says House impeachment timing could push Senate trial to 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggested Monday that the House impeachment inquiry could last until the end of the year, which would push the start of the Senate process up against the Democratic presidential primary season.

“Well, all I can tell you at this particular point is it looks to me like the House is gonna be on this until Christmas,” McConnell told reporters at an event in downtown Louisville. He added, “Then it comes over to the Senate, it displaces all other business, the chief justice of the United States is in the chair, senators are not allowed to speak, they have to sit there and listen, and I’m not sure how long it will go on."

If the House were to wrap up the impeachment inquiry on the timeline McConnell predicted, then the earliest the Senate would begin their trial would be in January, just weeks before the first votes are cast in the 2020 Democratic primary. McConnell said that he was confident that the Republican-controlled Senate would not vote to impeach President Donald Trump, and suggested that view might influence how long members would want to continue with the trial.

Read the story.

1053d ago / 6:35 PM UTC
1053d ago / 4:54 PM UTC

Schumer calls on DoD to protect whistleblowers, hand over Ukraine documents

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday requested that the Department of Defense notify its personnel of their rights to make protected disclosures to Congress and halt any efforts to prevent officials from cooperating with impeachment investigators.

The request, in a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, comes ahead of public testimony Tuesday from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top White House expert on Ukraine, and Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Vindman and Cooper "have been vilified and attacked by individuals in the media and elsewhere," Schumer wrote. "Some have even gone so far as to call LTC Vindman, a recipient of the Purple Heart after being wounded while serving in Iraq, a spy and question his loyalty to the United States."

Schumer added that he feared "these attacks will only increase after their participation in these public hearings."

Schumer asked Esper to brief him the actions being taken to ensure that Vindman, Cooper and others are protected from workplace reprisals and for their personal safety. The minority leader also asked the department to "immediately cease any efforts to prevent officials from cooperating with Congress" and to hand over documents related to U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Read the letter.

1053d ago / 4:22 PM UTC

House staffers on a summer trip to Ukraine learned U.S. aid was frozen. Stunned, here's what they did next.

Two days after a whistleblower secretly filed a complaint about President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine in August, two top congressional staffers arrived in Kyiv on a routine business trip that ended up setting off alarm bells on Capitol Hill.

The aides work for the Democratic leadership of the House Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for federal spending. They had been dispatched to make an on-the-ground assessment of the cash Congress has been pumping into former Soviet states — including Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine — to aid their defenses against Russian aggression.

But after traveling from Chisinau, Moldova, for two days of meetings and Ukrainian special-forces training observation in Kyiv and Berdychiv starting on Aug. 14, the staffers were shocked to learn from U.S. embassy officials that there was no new money coming into Ukraine, a congressional aide familiar with their trip told NBC News.

Read the full story here.

1053d ago / 4:17 PM UTC

Secretary of state takes heat from Trump

1053d ago / 4:01 PM UTC

Catch up on Article II: Tom Brokaw remembers Watergate

In a bonus Saturday episode of "Article II: Inside Impeachment," NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw discusses his time covering the fall of President Richard Nixon and the parallels he sees to today. 

Listen to that episode here.

And, in case you missed Friday's podcast, we heard from national political reporter Josh Lederman, who discussed a long day of public testimony from ousted Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and the case each party is making to voters at this stage in the inquiry.

Listen to that episode here.

1053d ago / 2:58 PM UTC

Trump says he will 'strongly consider' testifying in House impeachment probe

President Donald Trump said Monday that he is "strongly" considering testifying before the impeachment probe in light of recent comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who said he is more than welcome to present his case personally before the House Intelligence Committee.

"Our Crazy, Do Nothing (where’s USMCA, infrastructure, lower drug pricing & much more?) Speaker of the House, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, who is petrified by her Radical Left knowing she will soon be gone (they & Fake News Media are her BOSS), suggested on Sunday’s DEFACE THE NATION that I testify about the phony Impeachment Witch Hunt," Trump tweeted. "She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!"

Speaking with CBS's "Face the Nation" in an interview that aired Sunday, Pelosi said Trump can "come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants, if he wants to take the oath of office, or he could do it in writing."

Read the story.

1053d ago / 2:52 PM UTC

Impeachment hearings round up: What have we learned so far?

1053d ago / 2:36 PM UTC

Trump's impeachment ire turns on Pompeo amid diplomats' starring roles

, and

The impeachment inquiry has created the first rift between President Donald Trump and the Cabinet member who has been his closest ally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to four current and former senior administration officials.

Trump has fumed for weeks that Pompeo is responsible for hiring State Department officials whose congressional testimony threatens to bring down his presidency, the officials said. The president confronted Pompeo about the officials — and what he believed was a lackluster effort by the secretary of state to block their testimony — during lunch at the White House on Oct. 29, those familiar with the matter said.

Inside the White House, the view was that Trump “just felt like, ‘rein your people in,’” a senior administration official said. Trump particularly blames Pompeo for tapping Bill Taylor in June to be the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, the current and former senior administration officials said.

Taylor has provided the House Intelligence Committee with some of the most damaging details on the White House’s effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating one of the president’s potential rivals in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden.

Read the full story here.

1053d ago / 2:15 PM UTC
1053d ago / 2:10 PM UTC

This week in the impeachment inquiry

The House Intelligence Committee has scheduled eight more witnesses over three days for public testimony this week. In addition to the hearings, lawmakers could release additional testimony transcripts and provide more clarity this week about the impeachment timeline.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters on Friday that he was “not prepared to say” whether ex-White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill’s public hearing, scheduled for Thursday, would be the last such session in the impeachment inquiry.

After Hill’s hearing, members are scheduled to leave for Thanksgiving recess. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CBS in an interview that aired Sunday that being in recess "doesn't mean depositions couldn't be taken during that time. And then, when we come back [the week of Dec. 2], by then maybe a decision or maybe they have more hearings. And then I have six committees who have been working on all of this, and those six chairmen have been very involved in ... how we will proceed.”

Here's the schedule of public hearings this week:

Tuesday, Nov. 19

9 a.m.: Jennifer Williams, Russia and Europe adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.

2:30 p.m.: Former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and ex-White House Russia and Europe adviser Tim Morrison

Wednesday, Nov. 20

9 a.m.: Amb. to the European Union Gordon Sondland

2:30 p.m.: Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department, and David Hale, undersecretary for policy at the State Department.

Thursday, Nov. 21

9 a.m.: Fiona Hill, former top National Security Council adviser on Russia.

1054d ago / 4:00 PM UTC

This weekend's impeachment developments

In case you missed it, here's a recap of the impeachment developments from the weekend:

Trump on Sunday blasted an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence who told House impeachment investigators earlier this month that Trump's asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to probe the Bidens and Democrats in a July 25 call was "unusual and inappropriate." "Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released ststement [sic] from Ukraine," Trump tweeted. "Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday that Trump's conduct is "so much worse" than that of former President Richard Nixon, adding that Trump is insecure about being an "imposter." "I will make sure he does not intimidate the whistleblower," Pelosi said of the CIA employee whose complaint about Trump's conduct toward Ukraine led to the impeachment inquiry. "The president can come before the committee and speak all the truth that he wants. ... He has every opportunity to make his case."

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that "of course" trading foreign aid for politics favors is "alarming." "As I've said from the beginning, I think this is not okay," Turner, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said. 

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

House impeachment investigators on Saturday released the transcripts from joint depositions of former NSC official Timothy Morrison and Williams, Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, both of whom are expected to testify publicly this week. 

1054d ago / 3:45 PM UTC

1054d ago / 3:25 PM UTC

Read analysis and updates from Yovanovitch's testimony

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified publicly Friday about the circumstances of her abrupt ouster from her post as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. The following are some of the highlights from what was a busy day.

1054d ago / 3:00 PM UTC
1054d ago / 2:37 PM UTC

Swalwell reacts to Mark Sandy deposition

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., spoke briefly to reporters after leaving the closed-door deposition with OMB official Mark Sandy on Saturday. He said Sandy's testimony broadly “relates to the hold that the administration placed on security assistance in Ukraine.” 

He added “this investigation is most importantly about the $391 million in taxpayer dollars that was leveraged to ask the Ukrainians to investigate the president's political opponent. This is money that was authorized by Congress, signed into law by the president, in 2018, and every day that went by where that money was not given to Ukrainians, the Ukrainians were dying. They needed this money and the president selfishly used it for his own political interests while life and death was on the line on the eastern front of a hot war with Russia in Ukraine.” 

1056d ago / 10:59 PM UTC

5 things we learned from Yovanovitch's public testimony

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

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

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

1056d ago / 3:31 PM UTC

Fact check: Did Democrats seek out nude photos of Trump?

Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, claimed in his opening remarks that Democrats sought embarrassing photos of the president, reiterating a claim he made during Wednesday's public hearing.

This is misleading. The Atlantic reported last year that now-House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., was prank-called in April 2017 by Russian entertainers claiming to being a leading Ukrainian politician. One of the callers suggested he had evidence that the Russians had compromising material on the president in the form of nude photos. Schiff, then the ranking member on the Intel committee, asked for a few details, and says the FBI would be willing to review a recording the caller claimed to have, according to the magazine.

A Schiff spokesman told The Atlantic they did not trust the callers: “Before agreeing to take the call, and immediately following it, the committee informed appropriate law-enforcement and security personnel of the conversation, and of our belief that it was probably bogus.”

Schiff may sound gullible, but there's no evidence Schiff was on the hunt for nude photos of the president. And alerting and invoking law enforcement hardly suggests he was seeking nude photos for political use.

These prank callers have gotten other lawmakers, too: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was fooled in August.

1057d ago / 10:29 PM UTC

Trump let GOP Senators read first Zelenskiy call during White House lunch Thursday

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said Thursday that Trump let a group of just over half a dozen Republican senators read the transcript of his first call with Zelenskiy during a lunch at the White House today during a conversation that discussed everything from foreign policy, trade, as well as who could be called as a witness during a Senate impeachment trial.

"He didn't take out copies, it was sort of into the conversation a little bit when he said yeah, I've got the other transcript that we’ll release at the appropriate time, or something like that, in fact, it’s right here if anybody wanted to read it, and then we just kept talking," Cramer said.

Cramer said the conversation veered to the economy, Turkish President Erdogan’s visit on Wednesday, trade and the USMCA, as well as "impeachment stuff." Then, Republican senators passed the transcript around.

"He didn't make copies, we had one copy, a couple guys read it and handed it back to him then he said, 'here you guys want to see it too?' And he throws it over to me and Montana Sen. Steve Daines and I read it together," Cramer said.

"It's very short," Cramer said, "I would say there's one meaty page. You know the first page is kind of loose, if you will, like, you know, Mister President, congratulations on the victory, thank you, just sort of niceties, and then, you know, and just, you guys, there was nothing— it was pretty benign I should just say, it's pretty benign."

"I mean, Zelenskiy invited him to the inauguration and he said, well, let me check on that and see if I can make it, it was just that kind of niceties," Cramer said.

Trump did not say he when he was going to release it publicly, Cramer said.

1057d ago / 9:21 PM UTC
1057d ago / 6:35 PM UTC

'Evidence of bribery': Pelosi comments on impeachment hearing

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the testimony presented by two career U.S. diplomats at the first House impeachment hearing a day earlier had presented evidence of bribery committed by President Donald Trump.

"The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry and that the president abused power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into a political rival," Pelosi told reporters.

Pelosi’s comments come amid a Democratic shift in the language used to describe Trump's actions with regard to Ukraine that lie at the heart of the current impeachment inquiry. Lawmakers had called the president's moves a "quid pro quo," but have recently appeared to shift to a focus on more widely used terms that Democrats believe may resonate more deeply with voters.

Read the full story here.

1057d ago / 6:34 PM UTC
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1057d ago / 6:32 PM UTC

Timeline: The curious release of military aid to Ukraine

WASHINGTON — Military aid promised by the U.S. to Ukraine — and the strange circumstances under which it was held up and eventually released — is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

For Republicans, the key fact is that Ukraine received the money, regardless of any request from Trump for an investigation of Joe Biden or the 2016 U.S. elections. For Democrats, withholding the aid for investigations is an abuse of power, regardless of what happened in the end.

Here's a look at key dates involving the nearly $400 million in military assistance that had been approved for release in the early months of 2019. 

Read the full story here.

1057d ago / 5:00 PM UTC

Graham on the impeachment inquiry: 'Nothing happened here'

1057d ago / 4:32 PM UTC

ANALYSIS: Hearsay might be barred in court. A congressional hearing is entirely different.

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

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

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

Even within the context of court proceedings, the hearsay rule is riddled with exceptions, with well over 30 situations where a statement might resemble or be hearsay but is considered reliable enough to be allowed into evidence anyway.

Read the full analysis here

1057d ago / 4:14 PM UTC

Article II: Inside Impeachment — Public hearings kick off

On the latest episode, Article II looks at the first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry. Host Steve Kornacki talks to Geoff Bennett, NBC News White House correspondent, about the testimony of top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor and State Department senior official George Kent and delve into the Democrats' and Republicans' strategies.

Download the episode here.

1057d ago / 3:54 PM UTC
1057d ago / 3:53 PM UTC

White House looks both to be in the impeachment fray — and appear above it

and

WASHINGTON — White House aides and advisers said they believed that the first day of public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry on Wednesday weren't enough to change the minds of the public — or that of any Republicans in the Senate — as President Donald Trump tried to portray himself as someone mostly, at least for the moment, above the fray.

One White House aide called the day a "nothing-burger.” Others close to the White House said they doubted the testimony would alter anyone's opinion — even as they acknowledged that acting Ukrainian Ambassador Bill Taylor came across as a credible witness.

“Not one Senate vote was changed today,” said one person close to the White House.

Trump largely stuck to his scheduled counter-programming schedule of White House events, as the first public impeachment hearings unfolded on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. In between morning and afternoon tweetstorms quoting his favorite defenders, the president claimed he was “too busy” to watch the proceedings, spending much of the day in meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed by a brief news conference.

Read the full story here.

1057d ago / 3:53 PM UTC
1057d ago / 3:38 PM UTC

Far from the spotlight, how presidential candidates spent the impeachment hearing

Elizabeth Warren was campaigning in New Hampshire, Joe Biden was meeting with union members in Washington, and Andrew Yang appeared on a popular radio show in New York — but their candidacies were caught in the shadow of the public impeachment hearing.

Warren was in Concord on Wednesday, where she filed to officially get on the ballot in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. "I'm officially in!" she exclaimed, before answering reporters' questions about what was happening almost 500 miles away in Washington, where diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent were testifying in the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.

The split-screen day — 2020 candidates on the campaign trail, nationally televised impeachment proceedings back at the Capitol — gave the presidential contenders their first good look at the news tsunami they will be contending with for weeks and potentially months, even as voting in the early states draws near. And it shows how the large field of White House hopefuls will be forced to compete for attention as the effort to remove the president picks up steam.

Read the full story here.

1057d ago / 3:33 PM UTC
1057d ago / 3:31 PM UTC

ANALYSIS: Plenty of substance but little drama on first day of impeachment hearings

WASHINGTON — It was substantive, but it wasn't dramatic.

In the reserved manner of veteran diplomats with Harvard degrees, Bill Taylor and George Kent opened the public phase of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Wednesday by bearing witness to a scheme they described as not only wildly unorthodox but also in direct contravention of U.S. interests.

"It is clearly in our national interest to deter further Russian aggression," Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said in explaining why Trump's decision to withhold congressionally appropriated aid to the most immediate target of Russian expansionism didn't align with U.S. policy.

But at a time when Democrats are simultaneously eager to influence public opinion in favor of ousting the president and quietly apprehensive that their hearings could stall or backfire, the first round felt more like the dress rehearsal for a serious one-act play than the opening night of a hit Broadway musical. During five and a half hours of testimony, the two men delivered a wide-ranging discourse on America's interests in Eastern Europe, diplomatic protocol and democratic norms — and how they believe Trump subverted all of them in service of political goals.

Read the full analysis.

1057d ago / 3:09 PM UTC
1057d ago / 11:44 AM UTC

What's coming up in the presidential impeachment inquiry

We're watching for a press conference by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., which is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. on Thursday. It will be followed by one by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at 11:30 a.m. 

We’re also on the lookout for the testimony transcripts of career diplomat Phillip Reeker, President Donald Trump's top adviser for Russian and European affairs, Tim Morrison, and David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, among others. It is not clear which, if any, will be released  today.

1058d ago / 10:56 PM UTC

DOD watchdog will not investigate aid to Ukraine, cites impeachment inquiry overlap

The inspector general's office for the Department of Defense is declining to open an investigation into the department's delay in providing military assistance funds to Ukraine, but will leave the door open to beginning one in the future.

The department's lead inspector announced the decision in a letter sent to Sen. Dick Durbin Tuesday night, on the eve of the first day of public impeachment hearings.

Durban and a group of senators first requested that the inspector general open an investigation into the delay in September, then again earlier this month. In his two page letter, Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine noted that the same topic is one of the key issues in the impeachment inquiry currently underway in the House of Representatives.

Read the full story here.

1058d ago / 10:54 PM UTC

Watch highlights from first public impeachment hearing: Kent and Taylor

1058d ago / 10:23 PM UTC

Schiff, Jordan react after first public impeachment hearing

1058d ago / 10:20 PM UTC

Trump said he heard public testimony was 'a joke'

Trump said that although he didn't watch the first open hearing in the House impeachment inquiry Wednesday, he heard it was "a joke" and said he still wanted to learn the identity of the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment investigation.

"I hear it's a joke. I haven't watched, I haven't watched for one minute because I've been with the president which is much more important as far as I am concerned," Trump said, speaking to reporters at the White House alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "This is a sham, and it shouldn't be allowed."

"I want to find out who is the whistleblower, and because the whistleblower gave a lot of very incorrect information, including my call with the president of Ukraine, which was a perfect call and highly appropriate," Trump added.

Read more here

1058d ago / 9:44 PM UTC
1058d ago / 9:43 PM UTC

5 things we learned from George Kent and Bill Taylor's impeachment testimony

Bill Taylor and George Kent, the first two witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's dealings in Ukraine, testified for more than five hours Wednesday in a public hearing that saw both men share new — and sometimes shocking — pieces of information.

Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, had previously testified last month, for hours, in a closed-door setting before the three committees leading the inquiry.

Here are five things we learned from their public appearance on Wednesday.

1058d ago / 9:40 PM UTC
1058d ago / 9:40 PM UTC

When was military aid for Ukraine released?

The whistleblower complaint, made by a still-anonymous member of the intelligence community about Trump's dealings with Ukraine, made its way to the White House by Sept. 9, Schiff said in his closing remarks. The existence of the complaint also became known to the House Intelligence Committee on that date,  which the White House also learned, Schiff added.  

Military aid for Ukraine was released "less than 48 hours later."

1058d ago / 9:38 PM UTC

Democrats vote to table motion to subpoena the whistleblower

1058d ago / 9:31 PM UTC

Bill Taylor departs after giving testimony

Image: Bill Taylor, top diplomat to Ukraine, leaves after giving testimony at an impeachment hearing on Nov. 13, 2019.
Bill Taylor, top diplomat to Ukraine, leaves after giving testimony at an impeachment hearing on Nov. 13, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
1058d ago / 9:19 PM UTC

Trump campaign manager bashes 'unelected, career government bureaucrats'

"The entire world can read the transcript of President Trump’s conversation with President Zelensky, so people don’t need to rely on third-party opinions when they can see the facts for themselves," said Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale.

He added, "Despite that, today we heard from Democrats’ hand-picked star witnesses, who together were not on the Ukraine phone call, did not speak directly to President Trump, got third-hand hearsay from one side of a different phone call in a restaurant, and formed opinions based on stories in the pages of the New York Times. We hate to break it to these unelected, career government bureaucrats who think they know best: the President of the United States sets foreign policy, not them. And disagreement on policy is not an impeachable offense."

1058d ago / 9:06 PM UTC

1058d ago / 9:03 PM UTC
1058d ago / 8:54 PM UTC

Schiff lays out thrust of inquiry case, denies knowing the whistleblower

Schiff, in his closing remarks, reiterated the allegation that Trump abused his office and leveraged a high-profile meeting and military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and, in effect, invite foreign interference in U.S. elections to help his re-election. 

“You described a situation in which those in the service of the president made it clear to the Ukrainians they need to publicly announce these investigations or they weren't going to get that meeting and they weren't going to get that military assistance,” Schiff said, referring to the testimony of Taylor and Kent. 

Schiff noted that this hearing is just one of several scheduled for the coming days and weeks to bolster the Democrats’ case. Democrats on Tuesday announced a second week of open hearings in the House impeachment inquiry, including with E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker, and top Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Before wrapping up, Schiff again denied knowing the identity of the whistleblower before the complaint was filed. 

Nunes, meanwhile, ended the hearing where he began, by decrying the process and demanding Democrats call the whistleblower and other Democratic operatives to testify.

"You are not allowing those witnesses to appear before the committee, which i think is a problem," he said.

The California Republican said the hearings should stop until lawmakers get answers to the extent of alleged "prior coordination" with the whistleblower; the extent of what Nunes claimed was Ukraine election meddling against the Trump campaign, a reference to the conspiracy theory that Trump and Giuliani have been chasing; and the reason Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma hired Hunter Biden to its board and whether his position affected any Obama administration actions.

1058d ago / 8:47 PM UTC

Schumer says senators should 'keep their ears and minds open' on impeachment

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday's impeachment hearing shows why the investigation must "continue unimpeded."

"The new revelations show exactly why the investigation must continue unimpeded so all the facts come out and why every senator should not prejudge until all the facts are out," he said. "We heard some new facts today, and that's all the more reason senators should keep their ears and minds open."

1058d ago / 8:47 PM UTC

Republicans argue witnesses don't have 'firsthand' knowledge of events. Is that right?

Republicans repeatedly argued — on Twitter and in the hearing room — that Wednesday's witnesses lacked firsthand knowledge of a pressure campaign on Ukrainian officials, and placed emphasis on the fact that Kent and Taylor never spoke directly to Trump. 

This argument is in part misleading. Kent and Taylor had direct knowledge of the Trump administration's diplomatic mission in Ukraine, and testified to those facts. Republicans are correct in noting that these two particular officials do not have firsthand knowledge of Trump's conversations, or those of his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

In their sworn depositions and in the open hearing, Taylor, the current acting ambassador to Ukraine, and Kent, a top State Department official, referred to conversations, emails and meetings they participated in or were told about involving high-level diplomats, senior Ukrainian officials and the Ukrainian president. They refer to contemporaneous notes and official documents. 

Taylor, answering questions from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, confirmed that he was not on Trump's July call with Ukraine's president that triggered a whistleblower complaint, nor had he spoken directly with Mulvaney, who Taylor said was part of a secondary, "irregular" diplomatic channel that worked to pressure Ukraine to conduct investigations, and that he had never met the president. 

"This is what I can’t believe, and you're their star witness," Jordan said.

Impeachment investigators have interviewed 15 witnesses in closed-door questioning and subpoenaed more. At least one, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, was on the call at the heart of the impeachment inquiry and is scheduled to testify publicly next Tuesday. Meanwhile, Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, who multiple witnesses testified spoke directly with Trump and claimed to act accordingly, is scheduled to testify publicly next Wednesday. 

Notably, more than a dozen White House staffers and Cabinet officials with firsthand knowledge have not complied with congressional subpoenas, including Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and a slew of other government staffers. The White House has sought to limit what witnesses can say. Kent and Taylor testified that they had been directed by the State Department not to testify when invited by congressional investigators, only doing so once they were subpoenaed.

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., pointed this out during the hearing on Wednesday.

"You'd have a lot more direct testimony and direct evidence if you weren't blocking that ability," he said.

1058d ago / 8:41 PM UTC

Kent says plainly that Giuliani was looking for ‘political dirt’

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., pressed both Kent and Taylor on Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy efforts, and they both agreed it was not in the interest of U.S. national security. 

“Was Mr. Giuliani promoting official U.S. interests?” she asked. 

Kent: "I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt."

Taylor: "I agree"

Fun fact: Demings also questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller in July and got him to say that Trump was not entirely truthful in his written answers in the Russia probe.

1058d ago / 8:38 PM UTC

Taylor notes that Pompeo cable was a career first

During an exchange with Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., Taylor said that the first time he sent a first-person cable to the secretary of state in his 30-year career in the foreign service was in August to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

Taylor emphasized that sending a cable to America’s top diplomat was a rare move.

Asked whether Taylor heard back from Pompeo, Taylor said, "Not directly."

Kent said that he was on vacation when the cable came in, "but my understanding is that it made it to his intended recipient."

Kent, however, said he’s unsure if anything was done, saying, "I can’t honestly say what happened with the cable at the highest level."

In August, then-White House national security adviser John Bolton recommended that Taylor send a first-person cable to Pompeo directly relaying his concerns about the U.S. security assistance to Ukraine that was held up by the Office of Management and Budget more than a month earlier, on July 18. 

"I wrote and transmitted such a cable on Aug. 29, describing the 'folly' I saw in withholding military aid to Ukraine at a time when hostilities were still active in the east and when Russia was watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian government,” Taylor said about the cable in his opening statement Wednesday. 

1058d ago / 8:25 PM UTC

Warren says 2020 campaign won't keep her from a potential Senate impeachment trial

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, told reporters on Wednesday that her campaign wouldn't keep her from attending a potential Senate impeachment trial.

"I have constitutional responsibilities," she said. "I took an oath of office as did everyone in Congress. Part of that oath of office is the basic principle that no one is above the law, that includes the president of the United States, and if the House goes forward and sends an impeachment over to the Senate then I will be there for the trial."

Warren also said she had not been able to catch up on the first day of the impeachment hearings in the House today. 

1058d ago / 8:21 PM UTC

McConnell criticizes government business 'put aside' for impeachment hearing

1058d ago / 8:17 PM UTC

Hearing room bursts out laughing after Democrat snaps back at Jordan

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., got a round of laughs in the hearing room for a joke he made in response to a lengthy rant from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, about how impeachment investigators need to have “the person who started” the impeachment probe, meaning the first whistleblower, come testify.

Welch retorted, "I'd like to see the person who started it come testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there."

Laughs followed.

1058d ago / 8:09 PM UTC

Ratcliffe seeks to find out about Democrats’ interactions with the whistleblower

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, sought to engage in a "colloquy" with Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., during his round of questioning to find out details about what Schiff knows about the whistleblower and any interactions with the person. 

Schiff then said that Ratcliffe should direct his questions to the witnesses. 

"I’m not trying to find out the identity," Ratcliffe said. "I’m just trying to find out the date that this happened." 

Republicans have been focused on the whistleblower approaching a member of the majority staff before filing their official complaint about what they knew about the Trump-Zelensky phone call. Republicans claimed both before and throughout the hearing that Schiff knows the identity of the whistleblower, but Schiff made clear Wednesday that he doesn’t know who the person is. Democrats have said that during the closed-door depositions that Republicans have sought to out the whistleblower. 

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., chimed in and read from the rules of the public hearings that what Ratcliffe was seeking to do regarding the whistleblower was not in accordance with the resolution passed by the House that outlined procedures for the hearings. 

Ratcliffe pushed further asking Schiff, "Are we ever going to find out the details?"

"Mr. Ratcliffe, your time is dwindling. I suggest you use it," Schiff responded. 

1058d ago / 8:01 PM UTC

Hurd's questioning highlights Dems' point on timing of Trump's interest in Ukraine corruption

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, sought to make the point in his line of questioning that the Trump administration provided substantial military aid to Ukraine in fiscal year 2017 and 2018, trying to highlight that the administration was very supportive of Ukraine.

But that point also highlights something else important: that Trump did not become enamored with Urkainian “corruption” until earlier this year, which happens to also be when Biden began running for president. It’s a point Democrats have sought to make in the impeachment process.

Of course, the two “corruption” investigations Trump sought were probes of the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory involving the Democrats and the 2016 election.

1058d ago / 7:55 PM UTC

The diplomat who overheard Trump call once won award for dissenting

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The U.S. diplomat who is said to have overheard a phone call between President Donald Trump and E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland in which Trump asked about "investigations" once won an award for voicing dissent within the government when he saw something amiss. 

David Holmes, now the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is the latest character to be drawn into the impeachment saga when he was unexpectedly added to the hearing calendar for a closed-door deposition on Friday. He’s expected to be questioned by House investigators about events during and around Sondland’s visit to Kyiv in July, including what he overheard Sondland on his cellphone discussing with Trump. During public testimony Wednesday, Bill Taylor revealed that a staffer recently told him about the conversation. Two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News that Holmes is the staffer in question.

Holmes has a history of speaking up when he disagrees, according to an NBC News review of archived materials from the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents U.S. diplomats. In 2014, he won AFSA’s William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent, which honors a midcareer foreign service officer for intellectual courage in speaking up.

At the time of the award, Holmes was senior energy officer as U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He was recognized for his work on Afghanistan and South Asia during which he filed a formal dissent channel message in February 2013. He argued that the division of authority for Afghanistan-Pakistan policy among different parts of the State Department “hindered our diplomatic effectiveness.”

“My efforts over this period, and then my formal dissent, were intended to give a voice to an important perspective that I felt lacked an advocate,” Holmes was quoted as saying in an article in the September 2014 edition of The Foreign Service Journal, the union’s monthly magazine.

A dissent cable is a unique State Department mechanism that lets diplomats voice disagreement about U.S. policies, with protections against retribution. They’ve been used previously during the Vietnam War and in 2017 when diplomats objected to Trump’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority nations. Read more about Holmes' background here

1058d ago / 7:48 PM UTC

Kent, Taylor say they aren’t 'Never Trumpers': 'No, sir'

Kent and Taylor, under questioning from Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said they are not "Never Trumpers."

Trump has accused administration officials who have testified before the committee of being "Never Trumpers." On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, "NEVER TRUMPERS!"

When Swalwell asked Kent if he was a "Never Trumper," meaning a conservative who refuses to support the president, Kent said he was just a career foreign service official who has served for nearly three decades under Republican and Democratic presidents.

Taylor was more succinct in his answer.

"No, sir," he told Swalwell.

1058d ago / 7:41 PM UTC

Kent says smear campaign against Yovanovitch was led by Giuliani, corrupt Ukrainians

Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., asked Kent about the smear campaign against former Ambassador the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Kent said that the smears against her were led by corrupt people in Ukraine and also promoted by Giuliani. He stopped short of saying that the smear campaign was directly linked to Trump’s decision to remove her. 

"You can't promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people,” Kent said. "Rudy Giuliani's smear campaign was ubiquitous in the spring of 2019 on Fox News and on the internet and Twittersphere."

1058d ago / 7:31 PM UTC

What to know about Rep. Ratcliffe

Several GOP lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee yielded some of their allotted questioning time to Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, on Wednesday, who repeatedly asked the witnesses simple yes or no questions without letting them elaborate or fully answer. 

Image: Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, arrives for a House Intelligence Committee hearing on impeachment on Nov. 13, 2019.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, arrives for a House Intelligence Committee hearing on impeachment on Nov. 13, 2019.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

During one round of questioning during the hearing, Ratcliffe asked Taylor a sequence of questions but didn’t give him the chance to respond. 

Ratcliffe served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas at the end of the George W. Bush administration. Trump nominated Ratcliffe in July to serve as his next director of National Intelligence to replace Dan Coats, but Ratcliffe withdrew himself from consideration in early August after lawmakers questioned his lack of qualifications and reports that he may have overstated his accomplishments on his résumé. 

Ratcliffe has served in Congress since 2015 and has been a staunch defender of Trump and his policies.

1058d ago / 7:16 PM UTC

Jordan argues that because the investigations didn’t happen, Trump did nothing wrong

In another line of questioning, Jordan highlighted what is becoming a more prominent Republican defense of Trump’s conduct: Because Ukraine didn’t end up investigating the Bidens and Democrats and the roughly $400 million in military aid was released, Trump did nothing wrong.

“What you heard didn’t happen,” Jordan said to Taylor in trying to discredit his understanding of the administration’s efforts toward pressuring Ukraine to probe the Bidens and Democrats.

As The New York Times reported, Ukrainian President Zelenskiy was set to deliver a statement on CNN on Sept. 13 announcing the investigations in order to secure a White House meeting and the military aid. But earlier that week, Congress was alerted to the whistleblower complaint. Then, on Sept. 11, the Trump administration released the hold on aid.

As Schiff said earlier in the hearing, the Trump administration released the aid after facing significant pressure from lawmakers to do so, not to mention the effect of the timing of the whistleblower account being reported to Congress.

1058d ago / 7:12 PM UTC

Texas GOP Rep. shouts at Taylor

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, spent much of his five minutes of questioning yelling at Taylor.

During a particularly fraught exchange during his questioning, Ratcliffe repeatedly asked Taylor whether he had any evidence that Zelenskiy was "lying" when he told reporters that he was not aware of a military aid hold or of any conditions being placed on the military aid to his country when he had held the July 25 call with Trump.

"Yes or no," Ratcliffe demanded to know. 

"If I can respond," Taylor said, before being interrupted by Ratcliffe, who yelled, "My time is short, yes or no?"

"I have no reason to doubt what the president said,” Taylor said.

Ratcliffe, with sweat on his brow, then replied, “where is the impeachable offense in that call?”

"Shout it out! Anyone?" he continued. Ratcliffe then attempted to withdraw his question and have the clock suspended for his five-minute allotment.

"I have one minute left," he said. "I withdraw the question," he said. 

1058d ago / 6:57 PM UTC

Kent knocks down the equivalence between Biden and Trump

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Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., pressed Kent on the difference between Biden acting on Obama administration orders and getting rid of a corrupt prosecutor in Ukraine and Trump pressing the country to open an investigation into the Bidens. 

Kent testified that the former Ukrainian prosecutor undermined a U.S.-backed assistance program and it was a part of American foreign policy to lobby for his removal. He also said that he did not see in the transcript of the July 25 call a genuine interest from Trump to end corruption in Ukraine. 

"I don’t think he was trying to end corruption in Ukraine, I think he was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine — at Joe Biden," Himes said. 

1058d ago / 6:42 PM UTC

What was Joe Biden's role in Ukraine?

Moments ago, the Republican counsel questioned Kent and Taylor about former Vice President Joe Biden's role in Ukraine. 

Here's a quick primer: Beginning in 2014, Biden led diplomatic efforts in Ukraine to bolster the country’s fledgling democracy and root out corruption after mass protests ousted a Russian-backed president. He specifically called for the removal of Viktor Shokin, the Ukraine prosecutor general who was widely believed to be corrupt. 

“I said: ‘You’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in’ — I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’ ” Biden said at a 2018 event, recounting his actions. “Well, son of a b---- , he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”

The removal of the prosecutor was U.S. government policy at the time, and widely agreed to among the international community as the right move. In his closed-door testimony, Kent testified last month that the International Monetary Fund, the European Union countries and the U.S. agreed that Shokin should be removed as prosecutor general.

1058d ago / 6:41 PM UTC

Schiff tried to get at the heart of Trump’s demand

Schiff’s exchange with Kent and Taylor is important because he’s trying to pull out of them a confirmation that Trump’s interest in corruption was a cover to manufacture an investigation into the Bidens. Schiff noted that Trump didn't mention corruption during the July 25 call. He didn't mention corrupt oligarchs, but mentioned the Bidens and CrowdStrike. 

“He was interested in the Bidens?” Schiff said. 

“Yes, sir,” Kent replied. 

Schiff argued that Trump wanted to put Zelenskiy in a box. Kent testified that Zelenskiy, however, expressed trepidation about getting involved in foreign elections. 

1058d ago / 6:37 PM UTC

Members begin questions

The staff questioning round has now ended.

The committee has moved to the five-minute member round for the 22 members alternating between Democrats and Republicans.

As a reminder, in this round members can give their five minutes time to another member.

The member questions should last roughly two hours barring any breaks or procedural delays. At this point, we don’t know if/when another break will occur. 

1058d ago / 6:32 PM UTC

Castor presses Taylor on 'irregular' Ukraine channel

Castor, after a series of confusing questions that even longtime Republicans took issue with, eventually arrived on a line of questioning that seemed to strike a chord.

Pointing out Taylor’s criticism in his opening statement and prior testimony of the "irregular" diplomatic channel between the U.S. and Ukraine, Castor asked Taylor "did you try to wrest control of the irregular channel?"

"I did not try to," Taylor replied.

Responding to questions about why, Taylor said it was because "both channels were interested in having a meeting between President Zelenskiy and President Trump."

"There’s no reason to kind of wrest control if we were going in the same direction," he added.

Castor then asked again, why, if Taylor held growing concerns about that channel, he didn’t make that attempt but later expressed his worries so sharply.

"I was concerned when the irregular channel was going against the overall direction and purpose of the regular channel," Taylor said.

1058d ago / 6:20 PM UTC

GOP counsel asks if Hunter Biden speaks Ukrainian

GOP counsel Steve Castor, as part of an apparent attempt to cast Hunter Biden’s joining of the Burisma board as suspect, peppered Kent and Taylor with questions about the son of the former vice president.

Castor asked Kent whether he knew if Biden was an "expert" in "corporate governance."

"I have heard nothing about prior experience," Kent said.

"Do you know if he speaks Ukrainian?" Castor asked a moment later.

"I do not," Kent said.

"Do you know if he possesses any other elements other than that he is the son of a sitting vice president?" Castor asked.

"I do not," Kent replied. 

1058d ago / 6:12 PM UTC

Early reviews on GOP counsel are in

1058d ago / 6:12 PM UTC

Schiff, GOP argue over arguing

Schiff and Republican members of the Intelligence Committee argued at the onset of Republican questioning about, well, their ability to argue.

Schiff had interrupted a question from the Republican side pertaining to "facts not in evidence," telling Taylor he did not have to answer it, but that the chairman was not objecting to the question.

That led to an argument over whether rules of a courtroom are in play, and Republicans countered that they would have objected to many Democratic questions under the standard Schiff had expressed to Taylor.

1058d ago / 6:05 PM UTC

White House official responds to Taylor testimony on Trump-Sondland call

Taylor testified earlier Wednesday that one of his staffers had informed him about overhearing a July 26 call between Sondland and Trump in which Trump asked Sondland about “the investigations,” 

A White House official responded to Taylor's testimony, saying, “This alleged new phone call makes no mention whatsoever of any alleged quid pro quo. Even if this hearsay account is accurate, no one was very concerned about it since they have just now reported it. Not only was Taylor not on the call with the alleged call between President and Sondland, but the person who relayed the account to Taylor wasn’t even on the call either. House Democrats are relying on a game of telephone.”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told NBC News later Wednesday, “The latest 'evidence' is an anonymous staffer who told someone he overheard someone else talking to POTUS on the phone. All the 'evidence' in this case is second- and thirdhand hearsay.”

Two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News that the staffer who overheard the call is David Holmes, a State Department official just added to the calendar to testify in closed session Friday.

1058d ago / 6:03 PM UTC

Trump allies on impeachment hearing: Boring!

Trump’s allies think Wednesday’s initial impeachment hearing is a snoozer.

"This is horribly boring... #Snoozefest," Trump’s son Eric tweeted, adding in another tweet, "For as much time as the Democrats have spent trying to orchestrate ‘political theater’ they have done a terrible job. This clown show is horribly boring."

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted, “This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money.”

And Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a close ally of the president, told reporters, “I don’t know about you but it’s hard for me to stay awake and listen to all of this.”

1058d ago / 5:50 PM UTC

Trump: I'm 'too busy' to watch impeachment hearings

President Donald Trump said Wednesday afternoon he hadn't had time to watch the first public impeachment hearings.

"I'm too busy to watch it," he told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, less than three hours after the session began on Capitol Hill. "It's a witch hunt, it's a hoax. I'm too busy to watch it, so I'm sure I'll get a report."

Despite his claim that he hadn't been able to watch the proceedings, the president did take a jab at the Democratic staffer questioning witnesses.

"I see that they are using lawyers that are television lawyers ...they took some guys off television," said Trump. "You know, I'm not surprised to see it, because Schiff can't do his own questions."

1058d ago / 5:35 PM UTC
1058d ago / 5:35 PM UTC

Who is Steve Castor? GOP questioner in Trump impeachment inquiry

The man doing the questioning for the GOP minority is Steve Castor, the House Intelligence Committee counsel for Republicans.

He was reportedly brought over to the Intelligence Committee from the Oversight Committee by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a new addition to the panel himself.

Castor has served as counsel for Oversight for 14 years, and helped question witnesses during its probes of the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and into allegations the IRS was focusing on political targets during the Obama administration.

He earned his law degree from George Washington University, and previously worked doing commercial litigation in Philadelphia and Washington, according to a biography on the Federalist Society website. Castor is listed as a contributor to the conservative group.   

Image: Rep. Devin Nunes and Rep. Jim Jordan speak to Steve Castor, Republican staff attorney for the House Oversight Committee, on Nov. 13, 2019.
Steve Castor, center, Republican staff attorney for the House Oversight Committee, on Wednesday. Susan Walsh / AP

Transcripts from the closed-door depositions in the impeachment inquiry to date show Castor repeatedly trying to get witnesses to give identifying information about the whistleblower who raised a red flag about President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart. That's led to some tense exchanges, including during the testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on National Security Council.   

At one point, Castor asked Vindman to whom he had expressed his concerns about the July 25 call, a question Vindman’s lawyer objected to, believing it was an effort to get Vindman to name the whistleblower.

"If you want to keep going down this road, we're going to just keep objecting, OK?" Vindman's lawyer said.

"There's a little bit of a disconnect, because in your statement you say you don't know who the whistleblower is," Castor replied.

1058d ago / 5:34 PM UTC

State Dept. official testifying Friday is staffer who overheard Trump-Sondland call

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Two sources familiar with the matter tells NBC News that David Holmes, the State Department official just added to the calendar to testify in closed session next week, is the staffer for Bill Taylor who overheard E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s phone call in which President Trump asked about "the investigations."

Holmes is a new character in the Ukraine saga. He is the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. As today’s hearing was getting underway, two officials working on the impeachment inquiry told NBC News that Holmes is expected to testify in closed session next Friday, Nov. 15.

At the same time, Taylor was revealing that one of his own staffers had informed him just last Friday about a phone call on July 26, in which the staffer was with Sondland and overheard a call between Sondland and Trump.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

1058d ago / 5:31 PM UTC

Kent: 'No factual basis' behind CrowdStrike conspiracy theory

Kent, responding to questions from Goldman, said he "had not heard of CrowdStrike until l read the transcript" of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

Goldman then asked if the theory behind CrowdStrike — the name of the cybersecurity company that’s been at the center of a far-right conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election — had “any factual basis.”

“To my knowledge, there is no factual basis,” Kent said. Trump mentioned “CrowdStrike” in the July 25 call, according to the transcript of it.

Goldman then asked Kent who he did believe interfered in the 2016 election.

"It’s amply clear that Russian interference was at the heart of the interference in the 2016 election cycle," Kent said.

Asked in the same exchange by Goldman if there was any basis to the accusation that Joe Biden did anything wrong in Ukraine, Kent replied, "None whatsoever."

1058d ago / 5:19 PM UTC

Taylor says Trump felt 'wronged' by Ukraine

Taylor said Trump felt "wronged" by Ukraine over the 2016 election and "this was something he felt they owed him to fix," meaning opening the investigations.

However, when Fiona Hill, the deputy assistant to the president who served on the National Security Council, testified during her closed-door hearing last month, she said top advisers had briefed Trump that the evidence did not support the theory that Ukraine meddled in the election.

Hill said that Tom Bossert, then Homeland Security adviser, and others had briefed the president during his first year in office on the interference in the 2016 election and debunked the conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the election. 

1058d ago / 5:16 PM UTC

Hoyer: Trump has created 'a cesspool of corruption, chaos and crisis'

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer held his weekly off-camera briefing with reporters today and was asked about a variety of topics including impeachment hearings, timeline of the inquiry, government funding and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

He said he has asked members not to schedule anything for the week of Dec. 16. He was asked several questions on the public perception of impeachment.

"This is not about polls," he said. "This is about each member deciding whether or not they believe the conduct clearly corroborated by many, many witnesses rises to high crimes and misdemeanors."

Hoyer also said: "The president said he was going to get rid of the swamp. What he has created is a cesspool of corruption, chaos and crisis."

1058d ago / 5:16 PM UTC

The point when Taylor says it was ‘clear' release of aid was conditioned on probes

While Taylor learned on July 18 from the Office of Management and Budget that security assistance was being held up for an unspecified reason, he said Wednesday that he didn’t understand until early September that the release of the money was conditioned on Ukraine investigating the Bidens and a 2016 election conspiracy theory. 

Goldman had asked Taylor about the moment in September after Vice President Mike Pence met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Warsaw. 

Taylor replied that he learned that after that meeting, Sondland had meetings in Warsaw and described to Andriy Yermak, assistant to Zelenskiy, that the U.S. security assistance was also held up “pending announcement” by Zelenskiy in public of these investigations. 

Taylor said that before that point, he only understood that a possible Trump-Zelenskiy meeting at the White House was conditioned on pursuing those investigations. But it was after the Sept. 1 meeting between Pence and Zelenskiy that it became "clear" to him that both the military aid and the possible face-to-face meeting was dependent on the announcement of those probes. 

1058d ago / 5:11 PM UTC

Drag queen sashays into Trump impeachment hearings

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Spotted towering over the gray and blue suits packed into the first day of President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing was an enormous blond wig — that of Pissi Myles, a drag performer from Asbury Park, New Jersey.

“It’s a crazy day in Washington! I’m flipping my wig over the high-energy proceedings today," Myles told NBC News. "Tensions are high, and the bar for who’s allowed in the Longworth House is very, very low.”

Image: Pissi Myles reports with her cell phone during the first public impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill on Nov. 13, 2019.
Pissi Myles reports with her cellphone during the first public impeachment hearings on Wednesday. Jacquelyn Martin / AP
1058d ago / 5:09 PM UTC
1058d ago / 5:06 PM UTC

Taylor explains what Sondland meant by "stalemate"

Goldman pressed Taylor by what he felt the word "stalemate" meant when Sondland used it during a Sept. 8 phone call with Taylor.

"Ambassador Sondland also said that he had talked to President Zelenskiy and Mr. Yermak and had told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskiy did not 'clear things up in public, we would be at a stalemate,'" Taylor had said in his opening statement. Andriy Yermak is a top adviser to the Ukrainian president. 

"What I understood, in that meeting, the meaning of stalemate is that the security assistance would not come," Taylor said in response to Goldman’s question.

1058d ago / 5:06 PM UTC

President Trump tweets out web video, Eric Trump weighs in on hearings

As the hearings move on, President Trump tweeted out a web video touching on the impeachment inquiry and attacking the Democratic presidential candidates before claiming to be the only man to "stop this chaos."

And Trump's son Eric weighed in with his take on the House proceedings:

1058d ago / 5:01 PM UTC

Taylor says he kept notes on 'all' of his conversations

In his questioning of Taylor, Goldman asked whether Taylor had kept notes about a Sept. 1 call he’d held with Sondland.

“I did,” Taylor replied.

Goldman then asked whether Taylor had kept notes “related to most of the conversations, if not all of them, that you recited in your opening statement?”

“All of them,” Taylor said.

1058d ago / 4:55 PM UTC

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
1058d ago / 4:51 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 4:50 PM UTC

About that phone call...

1058d ago / 4:45 PM UTC

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. 

1058d ago / 4:45 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 4:34 PM UTC
1058d ago / 4:32 PM UTC

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."

1058d ago / 4:30 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 4:23 PM UTC

Taylor reveals call between Sondland and Trump discussing Biden probe

and

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.

1058d ago / 4:02 PM UTC

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."

 

1058d ago / 3:59 PM UTC
1058d ago / 3:58 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 3:56 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 3:50 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 3:48 PM UTC

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
1058d ago / 3:44 PM UTC

‘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.

1058d ago / 3:39 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 3:34 PM UTC

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.”

1058d ago / 3:33 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 3:16 PM UTC
1058d ago / 3:13 PM UTC

What's going on inside the White House

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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.

1058d ago / 3:08 PM UTC

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. 

1058d ago / 2:47 PM UTC

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
1058d ago / 2:42 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 2:39 PM UTC

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
1058d ago / 2:15 PM UTC

Trump campaign says Pelosi 'lost control'

1058d ago / 2:12 PM UTC

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

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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.

1058d ago / 2:07 PM UTC

Republicans explain why they're not watching hearings

1058d ago / 1:48 PM UTC

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.” 

1058d ago / 1:28 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 1:28 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 1:22 PM UTC

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

1058d ago / 1:13 PM UTC

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.

1058d ago / 1:11 PM UTC

Trump kicks off impeachment hearing day by bashing Schiff

1058d ago / 1:07 PM UTC

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.

1059d ago / 1:47 AM UTC

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.

1059d ago / 12:52 AM UTC

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."

1059d ago / 12:39 AM UTC

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.

1059d ago / 12:35 AM UTC

Graham says he won't 'bullshit' impeachment hearings

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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.”

 

1059d ago / 11:06 PM UTC

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
1059d ago / 9:52 PM UTC

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.”

 

1059d ago / 9:14 PM UTC

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

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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.

1059d ago / 9:11 PM UTC

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.

1059d ago / 8:32 PM UTC

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

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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.

1059d ago / 8:10 PM UTC
1059d ago / 5:12 PM UTC

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.

1059d ago / 4:44 PM UTC
1059d ago / 3:46 PM UTC

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.’”