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Donald J. Trump Impeachment Inquiry Page 3
“He implicates all of them,” the Fox News anchor remarked.
By Justin Baragona

During the first break in Wednesday’s impeachment hearings—which featured U.S. Ambassador to the EU and million-dollar Trump donor Gordon Sondland implicating President Donald Trump in a quid pro quo with Ukraine—Fox News anchor Chris Wallace declared that Sondland “took out the bus and ran it over” President Donald Trump and a number of his allies and aides.

“I think what Gordon Sondland was trying to do here is protect himself more than he is to protect anybody else,” Wallace said during Fox News’ special coverage. “To a certain degree, he took out the bus and ran over President Trump, Vice President Pence, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney,” he added. “He implicates all of them.”

Besides roundly trashing Trump and Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, throughout his testimony, Sondland also took aim at the State Department for not offering up any objection to Trumpworld’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to commit to investigations into the president’s political rivals. “And one of the things, it pains [Sondland] to say, this wasn’t a rogue operation,” Wallace explained. “I wasn’t a freelancer. Everybody knew. Everybody was in the loop on this.” Full Story

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) The question coming into Wednesday was whether Gordon Sondland would try to save himself or save President Donald Trump. He chose himself. Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union, in his opening statement before the House Intelligence Committee, laid out in no uncertain terms how he was part of a broader effort to force the Ukrainians to open an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for a White House meeting. "I followed the directions of the President," said Sondland.

Later, he added:
"Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the Presidential call. As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to 'run a fully transparent investigation' and 'turn over every stone' were necessary in his call with President Trump." Which, well, wow. That statement disrupts -- actually, destroys -- the defenses of both the White House and congressional Republicans who have insisted that the Ukrainians had no clue that there were any preconditions to getting what they wanted most -- a meeting between Zelensky and Trump and then, later, the release of the nearly $400 million in military aid from the US to Ukraine. And just in case there is any doubt as to what Sondland is saying, he made it plain: "I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?' As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."

Before we go any further, it's important to note that Sondland was appointed to his ambassadorial role by Trump. Sondland had financially supported Trump's inauguration -- to the tune of a $1 million donation. Sondland isn't part of the so-called "Deep State." He isn't a "Never Trumper" (although he did originally support Jeb Bush in the 2016 primary.) Sondland was also testifying under oath, meaning that if he lies, he is committing a felony -- a lesson that Roger Stone learned the hard way last week. Full Story

Kurt Volker’s testimony has complicated what was supposed to be an opportunity to amplify the GOP’s impeachment counter-narrative.
By Sam Brodey, Erin Banco, Spencer Ackerman

After weeks of decrying the impeachment process as a sham, Republicans finally got two of the witnesses they requested for testimony. But when one of them took the stand—the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker—he instead blew a massive hole in a central part of the GOP’s defense of President Trump.

Just moments after the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), used his platform to parrot the very same claims President Trump has used to justify his pressure campaign in Ukraine—that the Biden family’s business involvement in a Ukrainian gas company is worth probing and that Ukraine meddled significantly in the 2016 election—Volker dismissed those items as “conspiracy theories circulated by the Ukrainians.”

“They’re not things we should be pursuing as part of our national security policy with Ukraine,” said Volker. He also said in his opening remarks that he told fellow officials at the time he did not find it “credible” that Biden “would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President.” Three hours into the hearing, Nunes had already distanced himself from the officials his side had requested, saying instead they were Democrats’ witnesses and declaring that the GOP had called relevant witnesses like Hunter Biden.

Volker’s dose of cold water on the GOP’s Ukraine fever swamp was just one part of the larger effort from the career diplomat on Tuesday afternoon to distance himself from the more problematic elements of the apparent Trumpworld push to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations by dangling $400 million in U.S. security aid.

Still, Volker’s performance did little in the way of exciting committee lawmakers on either side of the aisle. Following the morning appearances, members in the audience had thinned out and the atmosphere in the hearing room turned sleepy. Lawmakers sat back in their brown swivel chairs and seemed desperate to try and stay awake during counsel questioning. Some leaned forward on their desks, hands on cheek, staring blankly at the witnesses. Others simply closed their eyes. Full Story

The ambassador is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee and will be revealing emails and texts to back up his claims.
By Josh Lederman

WASHINGTON — Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the E.U., pointed the finger at President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton in explosive public testimony on Wednesday in which he said explicitly that there was a "quid quo pro" linking a White House visit by Ukraine's president to investigations into a political opponent of the president.

Under fire from all sides after multiple witnesses contradicted his earlier deposition, Sondland blamed everyone but himself for the pressure campaign on Ukraine now driving impeachment proceedings against Trump. He showed up for his televised hearing with reams of new text messages and emails he said prove the highest levels of the White House and the State Department were in on it.

"They knew what we were doing and why," Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee in his opening statement. "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret." He said he knew that House members have asked "was there a quid pro quo," adding that when it comes to the White House meeting sought by Ukraine's leader, "The answer is yes."

Sondland also drew Pompeo more deeply into the effort than has previously been known, including emails to the secretary and a top aide in which the basic contours of the quid pro quo alleged by Democrats seem clear. At the time, the Trump administration had frozen military aid to Ukraine. On Aug. 11, Sondland emailed top Pompeo aide Lisa Kenna that he and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker "negotiated a statement" for Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to deliver. Kenna responds saying she's passing the message along to Pompeo.

Eleven days later, Sondland wrote Pompeo directly, suggesting Zelenskiy meet Trump in Warsaw "to look him in the eye" and say he should be able to proceed on issues important to Trump "once Ukraine's new justice folks are in place." Earlier, in a July 25 phone call, Zelenskiy had told Trump that installing his own prosecutors would remove an obstacle to opening the investigations of the Bidens and the 2016 election.

"Hopefully, that will break the logjam," Sondland wrote. "Yes," Pompeo responded three minutes later. Kenna followed up saying she would try to arrange the meeting. Ultimately, Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence to Warsaw instead. Sondland testified that he told Pence "before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations." Full Story

Republicans called Kurt Volker to testify and he promptly shut down the right wing's biggest allegation against Joe Biden
By Grace Panetta

Kurt Volker, the former US special representative to Ukraine who Republicans called to testify as a witness Tuesday in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, promptly shut down GOP allegations of corruption against the Bidens. Volker, who served as a diplomat in Ukraine, testified about his involvement in the Trump administration's efforts to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who served on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil-and-gas company, from 2014 to 2019.

One of the biggest GOP talking points in defending Trump against impeachment is that he was justified in asking Ukraine to investigate what he believed to be corruption on the part of Hunter Biden and a cover-up by his father in his capacity as vice president. But at the beginning of his testimony, Volker shattered that line of argumentation and denounced the allegations of corruption against the Bidens as "self-serving," "not credible," and a "conspiracy" pushed by Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. In his opening statement, Volker amended his previous testimony to clarify that he found the idea of Ukraine announcing investigations not into Burisma as an entity but specifically targeting the Bidens to be improper and "unacceptable."

A debunked theory has led to the impeachment inquiry

Trump and the GOP continue to make the discredited claim that Biden tried to help his son while vice president by calling for the firing of Viktor Shokin, a prosecutor they say was investigating Burisma. Hunter, the younger of Joe Biden's two sons, served on Burisma's board providing legal advice and receiving a reported salary of about $50,000 a month. Burisma was the subject of an investigation from the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office into whether its founder Mykola Zlochevsky engaged in tax evasion, money laundering, and corruption. Despite Trump and Giuliani's allegations, both US and Ukrainian government officials have confirmed there's no evidence that the Bidens did anything improper. Furthermore, Shokin was not actively investigating Burisma when Biden called for his removal and was denounced as being ineffective at his job. Full Story

Day 3, Part 3:Jennifer Williams' opening statement
CBS News - Jennifer Williams, Vice President Mike Pence’s special adviser for Europe and Russia, detailed her career Tuesday in her opening statement during the third day of public hearings in the impeachment inqury. She also explained why she found the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukraine's president "unusual." Watch her opening statement. Video

Ukraine Pol: I Was Joking When I Asked Vindman To Be Our Defense Minister
Vindman was pressed by Republicans about whether he was secretly loyal to Ukraine because of a job offer he’d received. But the offer itself was just a lighthearted joke.
By Erin Banco

During impeachment hearings on Tuesday morning, the lead Republican counsel pressed Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman on an offer he’d received to take the position of defense minister in Kiev. The line of questioning seemed designed to raise doubts about Vindman’s allegiance to the U.S. right as he was testifying about his concerns over President Donald Trump’s efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on his domestic political rivals.

But a former top national security official in Ukraine told The Daily Beast that he was “joking” when he offered Vindman the post and never actually had the authority to make such an offer.

Oleksander Danylyuk, the former Chairman of the National Security and Defence Council in Ukraine, said he only remembers speaking with Vindman once about the defense minister position. He said it he and Vindman had engaged in a light-hearted conversation about how the two used to live close to one another in the former Soviet Union. It was then that Danylyuk jokingly told Vindman that he should take the defense minister job in Ukraine.

“We both smiled and laughed,” Danylyuk said. “It was clearly a joke.” Danylyuk said he wouldn’t have been able to seriously offer Vindman the position without direct sign off from President Volodymyr Zelensky. Full Story

Jimmy Finkelstein, the owner of The Hill, has flown under the radar. But he's played a key role in the Ukraine scandal
By Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter, CNN Business

New York (CNN Business) James "Jimmy" Finkelstein, the owner of The Hill newspaper, is not a widely known media executive, but he is one of the era's most consequential. Finkelstein resides at the nexus of President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and John Solomon, the now-former executive at The Hill and current Fox News contributor who pushed conspiracy theories about Ukraine into the public conversation. While Solomon has received significant media attention for his work at The Hill, Finkelstein has stayed out of the headlines, despite having himself played a crucial role in the saga.

Beyond his relationship with Solomon, Trump, and Giuliani, Finkelstein was Solomon's direct supervisor at The Hill and created the conditions which permitted Solomon to publish his conspiratorial stories without the traditional oversight implemented at news outlets. And he has kept a watchful eye on the newspaper's coverage to ensure it is not too critical of the President. As one former veteran employee of The Hill told CNN Business, "Solomon is a symptom of the larger problem of Jimmy Finkelstein." This story is based on more than a dozen interviews with current and former staffers at The Hill, in addition to people familiar with other relevant pieces of information.

Those people described a staff still in "revolt" over Solomon's columns and the way they were handled, including a lack of communication to employees about them even after the articles were thrown into serious question by witnesses in the impeachment inquiry. After CNN Business reached out to a representative for Finkelstein and The Hill for comment Sunday night, the paper's editor-in-chief sent staff a note Monday morning notifying employees that editors "are reviewing, updating, annotating with any denials of witnesses, and when appropriate, correcting any [of Solomon's] pieces referenced during the ongoing congressional inquiry."

Finkelstein and a spokesperson for The Hill declined to comment for this story. Solomon did not return multiple requests for comment. Solomon, however, has previously defended his reporting, including as recently as Sunday when he said during a Fox News appearance he was "in consultation with some lawyers right now" about taking some legal action against some of his critics. In an email, Giuliani attacked CNN's reporting and questioned whether it would be a "wise use" of his time to respond to a list of detailed questions CNN posed to him. "Write what you want," Giuliani wrote, "If it's fair I'll be happily surprised?" Full Story

Devin Nunes used all his time in the impeachment hearing to try to out the Ukraine whistleblower
By Grace Panetta

In Tuesday morning's public hearing in the impeachment inquiry, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, spent his questioning time trying to get the witnesses to reveal the identity of the whistleblower who filed a complaint about President Donald Trump. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official, testified alongside Jennifer Williams, a State Department official in Vice President Mike Pence's office.

In early September, an anonymous whistleblower complaint lodged by a member of the intelligence community said that in a series of events culminating in a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election." The complaint detailed concerns that Trump, days after withholding a nearly $400 million military-aid package, used the call with Zelensky to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Vindman and Williams, who both listened in on the July 25 call, testified that they believed it was highly unusual and improper for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent. Full Story

The GOP counsel’s xenophobic attack on Vindman’s patriotism
Perhaps the grossest moment of the impeachment hearings to date.
By Zack Beauchamp

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, one of the key witnesses in the House Democrats’ impeachment hearings, is an Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient who has served in the US Army for the past 20 years. He also emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1979, when he was 4 years old — a fact that the attorney for House Republicans played on during a line of questioning during Vindman’s Tuesday morning’s hearing that seemed to imply he was unpatriotic and untrustworthy.

Vindman is important because he was a high-level US official on Ukraine who listened to President Donald Trump’s now-infamous July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and, afterward, raised concerns with his superiors about the appropriateness of Trump’s “demand” (his words) that Ukraine investigate the Bidens. As a veteran, he’s one of the Democrats’ most credible witnesses — proof that Trump’s behavior really was troubling. It’s vital for the Republican cause to discredit him.

Steve Castor, the Republican attorney, tried to do this by asking Vindman about a visit to Ukraine for Zelensky’s inauguration earlier this year. He specifically focused on a job offer Vindman received from Oleksandr Danylyuk, the former head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. Apparently, Danylyuk offered Vindman an opportunity to become Ukraine’s defense minister three times during the trip — and, each time, Vindman declined.

“Upon returning, I notified chain of command and the appropriate counterintelligence folks about this, the offer,” Vindman said. But Castor wasn’t satisfied. He continued to press Vindman on whether he ever considered the offer, resulting in an exchange in which he appeared to call Vindman’s patriotism into question: Full Story

Alexander Vindman has reached out to Army about his family's safety amid attacks by Trump and GOP lawmakers
By Ryan Browne, CNN

Washington (CNN) Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council official testifying publicly as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, has reached out to the US Army about the security of his family as he comes under repeated attack by Trump and his allies. The Army has had conversations with Vindman about the security of his family, a US defense official told CNN. These conversations were initiated at the request of the Vindmans, the source said. As of now, the Army does not believe there is an imminent security threat against the decorated veteran, the defense official said.

Vindman testified before congressional lawmakers on Tuesday, telling them that Trump's push for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden on a July call was "inappropriate," and he knew "without hesitation" that he had to report it. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden in Ukraine. "It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent," Vindman said in his opening remarks on the third day of public impeachment hearings.

'My family's safety'
In his opening remarks, the Iraq War veteran touched on the safety of his family as he expressed gratitude that his father had made the decision to emigrate to the US from Soviet Union. "I'm grateful to my father's -- for my father's brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free and -- free of fear for mine and my family's safety," Vindman said. Full Story

The big moments from Tuesday's public impeachment hearings
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) On Tuesday, the House's ongoing impeachment investigation held its third day of public hearings -- featuring National Security Council Ukraine expert Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, a member of Vice President Mike Pence's staff. I am watching the hearing and taking notes -- so you don't have to! Below, the biggest moments from the hearing.

Adam Schiff tries to prebut attacks on Vindman/Williams
Even before Vindman or Williams had said a word, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (California) sought to warn his Republican colleagues against attacking either of the witnesses. Of Vindman, who received a Purple Heart after being wounded by an IED in Iraq, Schiff said: "We have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character, and watched as certain personalities on Fox have questioned your loyalty. I note that you have shed blood for America, and we owe you an immense debt of gratitude." Noting that Trump had attacked both Williams and Vindman, Schiff later added, "I hope no one on this committee will become part of those vicious attacks." Will Schiff's warning change how Republicans will handle Vindman and Williams? Probably not. But it makes clear that Democrats will not let any attacks on either witness simply pass.

Devin Nunes really doesn't like the media
Listening to the opening statement of Rep. Devin Nunes (California), you'd be forgiven if you thought that Tuesday's hearing was an examination of the national media and its role in politics and policy. Nunes claimed that the media was responsible for, among other things, pushing the idea that Trump's 2016 presidential campaign colluded with the Russians (the Department of Justice decided to open the investigation, not the media) and working with Democrats to drum up controversy surrounding Ukraine (the witnesses called so far in the impeachment investigation have been members of the Trump administration.) Nunes also used his opening statement to defend a series of columns written by John Solomon, a former columnist for The Hill newspaper, raising questions about the conduct of Joe and Hunter Biden's activities in Ukraine. "Now that Solomon's reporting is a problem for the Democrats, it's a problem for the media as well," said Nunes. (The Hill is in the midst of an investigation into Solomon's columns.) How much did Nunes actually talk about the facts of the Ukraine investigation or the witness testimony we were going to hear? Uh, not much. Full Story

White House aide calls Trump's actions 'inappropriate' in push to investigate Bidens
By Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju, CNN

(CNN) Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide who has been criticized by President Donald Trump and his allies, told lawmakers Tuesday that Trump's push for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden on a July call was "inappropriate," and he knew "without hesitation" that he had to report it.

"It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent," Vindman said in his opening remarks on the third day of public impeachment hearings. "It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play."

Vindman told the committee, which is leading House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into Trump, that he believed the US President's request constituted a demand of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and he was concerned in particular about an investigation from a foreign power where there was "at best, dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation."

"The culture I come from, the military culture, when a senior asks you to do something, even if it's polite and pleasant, it's not to be taken as a request, it's to be taken as an order," Vindman said. "In this case, the power disparity between the two leaders, my impression is that in order to get the White House meeting, President Zelensky would have to deliver these investigations."

The testimony before the House Intelligence Committee from Vindman and Jennifer Williams, a State Department aide detailed to Vice President Mike Pence, represents the first public hearing from officials who listened into the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. Vindman reported his concerns about Trump's call, which is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, out of a "sense of duty" and defended his fellow witnesses from what he described as "reprehensible" attacks.

Vindman, testifying in his Army uniform as an active-duty soldier, invoked his father's decision to leave the Soviet Union and come to the US, noting that the testimony he was giving Tuesday would likely get him killed in Russia. "Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth," Vindman said. Tuesday's hearing kicks off a marathon week where impeachment investigators will hear publicly from nine witnesses at five impeachment hearings over the next three days, as Democrats race to collect public testimony this week about Trump's role in pushing Ukraine to open investigations and the withholding of US security aid and a one-on-one meeting.

On Tuesday afternoon, former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison, a former a top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council, will testify. Vindman testified that he reported his concerns to National Security Council lawyers through proper channels about both the July 25 call and a July 10 meeting in which a US ambassador proposed opening investigations to the Ukrainians in attendance. He said he raised these concerns privately "because they had significant national security implications for our country." Williams did not tie any motives to the President's request to Zelensky to investigate Biden, but explained why she believed it was unusual. "I can't speak to what the President's motivation was in referencing it, but I just noted that the reference to Biden sounded political to me," Williams said.  Full Story

The many contradictions of Gordon Sondland
By Jeremy Herb, Phil Mattingly, Lauren Fox and Kylie Atwood, CNN

(CNN) When Vice President Mike Pence departed a September meeting with the Ukrainian President, the US ambassador to the European Union moved quickly across the room on the mezzanine level of the Warsaw Marriott to corral one of the new President's top aides. After a meeting in which President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed concern over the status of US security assistance to Ukraine, Ambassador Gordon Sondland had a possible solution: publicly announce investigations into President Donald Trump's political rivals and the hold on the aid would be released.

It was a meeting that Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, left out of his initial deposition in front of House impeachment investigators -- and only came to light after Sondland amended that testimony. The episode was, however, described in more detail by others who have testified since, including one White House official who was so unsettled that it was reported to the White House counsel. The meeting -- and its halting disclosure -- underscores why Sondland, a hotel magnate who had little political and zero diplomatic experience but could seemingly get Trump on the phone when needed, has become a central witness in the House's impeachment inquiry -- and also its most problematic.

A review of thousands of pages of witness depositions, interviews with members inside the depositions, and conversations with sources with direct knowledge of how Sondland operated, reveal a picture of an unlikely diplomat -- one impressed with his own stature and access, who regularly unsettled seasoned foreign policy hands inside the White House, and whose operational security, sources said, left him a prime target to foreign intelligence services. It's also a window into a man who drove toward securing a deal, no matter how unseemly, that would deliver what, at least in Sondland's mind, was what Trump wanted most in Ukraine: a public statement announcing investigations into the son of a top political rival. Full Story

Trump administration knew in May Zelensky felt pressured to investigate Bidens
By Rene Marsh and Michael Warren, CNN

Washington (CNN) US administration officials knew as early as May 2019 that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky felt pressure from President Donald Trump's allies to conduct investigations that were politically useful to the American president. That's according to former Trump White House official Fiona Hill, who in recent testimony before Congress said she was told of that pressure contemporaneously by an American businessman and former Obama administration official who had met Zelensky's team on May 7. This account undercuts the argument from the President and his allies that the Ukrainians did not feel pressure to conduct investigations into Trump's political opponents, including 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden in Ukraine. Hill, who until last month was a top deputy at the National Security Council inside the White House, testified that she heard from one of the participants in that May 7 meeting, former State Department official Amos Hochstein. According to Hill, Hochstein told her on May 22 that the Ukrainians were concerned about the pressure that then President-elect Zelensky was already facing from Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. She also testified that in mid-May she mentioned these concerns to her boss, then-national security adviser John Bolton, as well as to Bill Taylor, the former Ukraine ambassador who in June became the top US diplomat in Ukraine as head of mission in Kiev. Hill testified that by mid-May she had also heard similar concerns about Giuliani's pressure campaign from US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Phil Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. Hill's account illustrates that US officials were aware Ukrainians felt they were being leaned on to investigate Trump's political rivals long before the July 25 phone call between the two countries' presidents.

Under pressure
On May 7, two weeks before his inauguration, Zelensky and his team held a meeting ostensibly about energy issues. But according to a person familiar with the meeting, the conversation became focused on pressure being put on Zelensky to investigate "corruption," specifically into the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, on whose board sat Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden. Full Story

House investigating whether Trump lied to Mueller
By Katelyn Polantz, CNN

Washington (CNN) The House of Representatives is now investigating whether President Donald Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller in written answers he provided in the Russia investigation, the House's general counsel said in federal court Monday.

"Did the President lie? Was the President not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?" House general counsel Douglas Letter told the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit about why the House now needs access to grand jury material Mueller collected in his investigation. Full Story

9 conspiracy theories impeachment will expose and debunk
By Marik von Rennenkampff, Opinion Contributor

The most basic definition of “corruption” amounts to exploiting one’s authority for personal advantage. President Trump faces an unprecedented inquiry into his abuse of the vast powers of the presidency for personal gain.  The origins of Trump’s constitutional predicament are firmly rooted in the president’s embrace of political conspiracy theories. In an era when hyperpartisan news sources dominate political discourse, fanciful and factually challenged political narratives spread like wildfire, radicalizing millions of Americans’ political leanings.

In particular, conspiracy theories surrounding the Steele dossier, the murder of Seth Rich, “Spygate,” “Pizzagate,”  “QAnon,” Benghazi, Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation, “millions and millions” of illegal votes, President Obama’s birth certificate, IRS “targeting,” and “Fast and Furious” among others, come to mind. Through indoctrination by partisan media sources, lurid conspiracy theories such as these lead far too many Americans to accept false narratives of egregious corruption or, worse, that millions of their fellow citizens are actively subverting the United States. The emergence of ever-more outlandish theories only reinforces such toxic assumptions. Worst of all, facts, truth and logic die an unceremonious death as political conspiracy theories propagate via hyperpartisan “news” sources and social media.

Against this backdrop, a brief examination of the conspiracy theories that precipitated President Trump’s current political crisis – and the objectively false narratives that emerged in its wake – are in order. Full Story

Gordon Sondland Stepped In ‘and Things Went Really Off the Rails’
“Erratic,” “very emotional,” and “lots of yelling.” Those are some of the words used to describe Sondland’s performance in a White House meeting with top Ukrainian officials.
By Erin Banco, Lachlan Markay

Ukrainian officials arrived at the White House on July 10 expecting something approaching normal. They were in Washington for a scheduled meeting with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton with a plan to propose a new path for U.S.-Ukrainian relations under the umbrella of energy and security cooperation. All seemed to go well—until U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland stepped in. “That’s when things really went off the rails,” one person in the room said.

It’s been widely noted in testimonies by multiple House impeachment witnesses that Sondland interrupted the conversation between Bolton and the Ukrainians when he suggested that the Kyiv officials open investigations into Hunter Biden and the gas company he worked for if they wanted President Volodymyr Zelensky to land a White House meeting with Donald Trump.

Bolton immediately cut the get-together short, witnesses said, in an attempt to save what had until then been a normal meeting. But what’s been less clear—until now—is what happened moments later, when Sondland guided the Ukrainians into the White House’s Ward Room. Three individuals familiar with the conversation described what happened next.

Sondland continued to not just relay, but demanded ferociously, that the Ukrainians open the Biden investigations, saying it was the only chance for Washington and Kyiv to develop any further meaningful relationship, two individuals with knowledge of Sondland’s overtures said.

Sondland raised his voice several times in his attempt to persuade the Ukrainian officials sitting across from him, including Andriy Yermak, a close aide to Zelensky, and Zelensky’s then-national security adviser Oleksandr Danylyuk. One individual told The Daily Beast that Sondland “got very emotional,” adding that “there was lots of yelling.” Another individual called the meeting “erratic” and said the Ukrainians began to ignore Sondland and instead turned to Fiona Hill, who ran the National Security Council’s Russia desk at the time, for clarification on Washington’s messaging. Full Story

Aide Confirms Trump Asked About Ukraine Investigation, Delivering Blow to GOP Defense
By Daniel Politi

Potentially bombshell testimony in the impeachment inquiry came from an unexpected source Friday. David Holmes, an aide to top U.S: diplomate in Ukraine William Taylor, said in private testimony that he overheard President Donald Trump and the U.:S. envoy to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, talk about Ukraine in July. Holmes says he was at a restaurant in Kiev when he heard Trump on a cellphone call loudly asking Sondland if the president of Ukraine had agreed to carry out a probe on former Vice President Joe Biden. Sondland apparently told Trump that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “loves your ass” and would do anything he asked.

“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to,’” Holmes told lawmakers, according to a copy of Homes’ opening statement that was posted by CNN. When the call ended, Holmes said he asked Sondland whether it was true that Trump didn’t really care about Ukraine. Sondland replied the president was only interested in “big stuff.” “I noted that there was ‘big stuff’ going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia,” Holmes went on, “and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the president, like the ‘Biden investigation’ that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.” Full Story

READ: Testimony Of Jennifer Williams, Aide To Vice President Pence
NPR Staff

The House Intelligence Committee has released the transcript of the closed-door deposition at the impeachment inquiry into President Trump by a foreign service officer detailed to work in the office of Vice President Pence.

Jennifer Williams was assigned to Pence's team in the spring to work on European and Russian issues. She was the first person from his office to testify in the inquiry into whether Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine while seeking a political favor. Trump denies he made such an offer. At the time of her deposition on Nov. 7, her lawyer, Justin Shur, told NPR that Williams' "testimony will largely reflect what is already in the public record." Full Story

Fact check: A list of 45 ways Trump has been dishonest about Ukraine and impeachment
By Daniel Dale, CNN

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump is dishonest about a whole lot of things. But he is rarely as comprehensively dishonest as he has been about his dealings with Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry they have triggered. Relentless deceit has seemed to be his primary defense strategy in the court of public opinion. Trump has made false claims about almost every separate component of the story, from his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the whistleblower who complained about the call to Democrats' impeachment inquiry hearings. The President is dissembling about so many different topics at once that it can be difficult to keep track of what is true and what isn't. To help you fight Trump-induced dizziness, here are brief fact checks of 45 separate false claims Trump has made on the subject of Ukraine or impeachment.

The phone call with Zelensky

1. Trump released an "exact transcript" of his call with Zelensky. (The document says on its first page that it is "not a verbatim transcript.")

2. Trump did not ask Zelensky for anything on the call. (Trump asked Zelensky to look into former Vice President Joe Biden, look into a debunked conspiracy theory about Democratic computer servers, and speak with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.)

3. Zelensky criticized former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch "out of the blue" on the call. (Trump brought up Yovanovitch first.)

4. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was "angry" when she saw the rough transcript of the call, and she said, "This is not what the whistleblower said." (Pelosi has said no such thing in public, and there is no evidence she has said anything like that in private. Her public statement on the call was scathing.)

5. "Everybody" that looked at the text of the call agreed that it was "perfect." (Some of Trump's staunch defenders agreed with this characterization, but clearly not "everybody" did.)

6. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke to Trump about the call and said, "That was the most innocent phone call that I've read." (McConnell said he doesn't recall speaking to Trump about the call. His public statement on the call was far less effusive than Trump's description.)

7. People are not talking about the call anymore. (People continue to talk about the call, a central focus of the impeachment inquiry.)

8. The Washington Post made up fictional sources for its article on how Trump had allegedly tried to get Barr to hold a news conference saying Trump had broken no laws in the call. (There is no evidence that the Post invented sources. Other major news outlets, including CNN, quickly reported the same thing the Post did.)

The whistleblower

9. The whistleblower was "sooo wrong." (The rough transcript and witness testimony have proven the whistleblower to have been highly accurate.)

10. The whistleblower, a second whistleblower and the first whistleblower's source have all "disappeared." (There is no evidence for this. Whistleblowers do not have an obligation to speak publicly after filing their complaints.)

11. The whistleblower had "all second hand" information. (While the whistleblower did get information about the call from other people, the whistleblower also had "direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct," noted Michael Atkinson, the Trump-appointed inspector general for the intelligence community.)

12. The whistleblower "said 'quid pro quo' eight times." (The whistleblower did not even use the words "quid pro quo" in the complaint, much less specify a number of times Trump allegedly said those words. Trump may have been referring to a Wall Street Journal article that had asserted that Trump urged Zelensky "about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani" on a probe that could hurt Biden; the article did not say this claim came from the whistleblower.)

Trump's impeachment tantrums reveal a fragile ego obsessed with saving his legacy
Fear is dominating Trump's decision-making right now. It’s a sense of panic, masquerading as strength.
By Kurt Bardella, NBC News THINK contributor

As the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, gave public testimony during the House Intelligence Committee’s second public impeachment hearing Friday, President Donald J. Trump unleashed a bizarre tweet attack, claiming, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”

Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019

Aside from the absurdity of blaming the ambassador for decades of turmoil in Somalia, Trump’s clear intent, as committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., noted, was to intimidate future witnesses and maybe even convince them not to testify.

While Trump may have deluded himself into believing that this kind of bullying projects strength, I think it reveals the exact opposite. Donald Trump is afraid. This is a man who has spent the entirety of his adult life plastering his name on skyscrapers and casinos; this is a man who is obsessed with his own legacy. And that’s why impeachment is the permanent stain that Trump deserves — and one he clearly fears.

Axios reported recently that Trump has said privately impeachment is a “bad thing to have on your resume.” He doesn’t want impeachment to be the first thing written about him in the world's history books.

Conventional wisdom suggests that there are enough votes in the Democrat-controlled House to successfully impeach Trump, while the Senate will vote against it. But when it comes to Trump and how he is wired, it may not matter if he is thrown out of office. The fact that he would go down in history as only the third president ever to be impeached would psychologically cripple him. Full Story

State department aide confirms Trump-Sondland call about Ukraine investigations
By Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, CNN

(CNN) David Holmes, the state department aide who overheard President Donald Trump's conversation with the US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, said that Sondland told Trump that the Ukranian President would do "anything you ask him to," and that he confirmed the Ukrainians were going to "do the investigation." "Sondland told Trump that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky 'loves your ass,'" Holmes said, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by CNN. "I then heard President Trump ask, 'So, he's gonna do the investigation?' Ambassador Sondland replied that 'he's gonna do it,' adding that President Zelensky will do 'anything you ask him to.'"

Holmes explained that Sondland placed the call to Trump, and he could hear Trump because the call was so loud in the restaurant where they were with two others. "While Ambassador Sondland's phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the President's voice through the earpiece of the phone. The President's voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume," Holmes testified. Full Story

Yovanovitch says John Solomon's columns were used to push false allegations
By Olivia Beavers

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified Friday that a shadow campaign led by Rudy Giuliani and his associates appeared to be behind what she said were false attacks against her that led to her ouster. She singled out columns in The Hill written by former conservative opinion contributor John Solomon, which the staff counsel to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) highlighted during the committee's second public impeachment hearing.

In response to questions from staff counsel Daniel Goldman, Yovanovich said the origin of the attacks against her was a series of opinion articles in The Hill authored by Solomon. She also said the allegations came in part from Yuriy Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general of Ukraine. "This effort by Giuliani and his associates resulted in a series of articles in The Hill publication that were based on allegations in part from Lutsenko," she said.

Goldman in his questioning highlighted three categories of attacks against Yovanovitch. "One category included the attacks against you, which you referenced in your opening statement including that you had bad-mouthed the president and had given the prosecutor general a do-not-prosecute list," Goldman said. "There was another that included allegations of Ukrainian interference in a 2016 election and then there was a third that related to allegations concerning Burisma and the Bidens, is that accurate?"

"Yes," Yovanovitch answered, adding that they "seemed to be promoted by those around Mayor Giuliani." "These attacks were being repeated by the president himself and his son," she added, which she said made her "worried." Such allegations also received pickup on Fox News, she noted. Yovanovitch said it was false that she had bad-mouthed the president and handed Lutsenko a do-not-prosecute list, a charge initially included in a column by Solomon in The Hill after an interview with Lutsenko. Yovanovitch and the State Department have pushed back on that claim, saying it is false there was such a list.

Ukrainian media quoted Lutsenko as changing his story, though in an interview with The New York Times last month, Lutsenko blamed the confusion on an interpreter for his interview with Solomon and said Yovanovitch had asked him to target certain politicians and activists who worked with the embassy on its anti-corruption efforts. Yovanovitch has maintained on Wednesday that she did not speak negatively about the president, which was a point that led some to press for her removal.

"Also untrue are unsourced allegations that I told unidentified embassy employees that President Trump's orders should be ignored because 'he was not going to be impeached' — or for any other reason," Yovanovitch testified Wednesday. She added that such remarks would be inconsistent with her training as both a U.S. foreign officer and an American ambassador. Full Story

Mike Pompeo 'on shifting sand' as impeachment probe reveals his Ukraine role
By Deirdre Shesgreen USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – It was Sept. 22 when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fielded a straightforward question about just-emerging reports that President Donald Trump had sought to pressure Ukraine's president to open two investigations motivated by domestic politics: “What do you know about those conversations?”

Pompeo offered an evasive answer, giving the impression that he was unfamiliar with the details of Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky. That phone call triggered a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election. "So you just gave me a report about a, I see, whistleblower complaint, none, none of which I've seen," Pompeo told ABC News on that Sunday morning.

It has now become clear that Pompeo was, in fact, intimately familiar with the campaign by Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to get Zelensky to say publicly that Ukraine would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and would also probe a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Critics say that Pompeo's credibility has collapsed amid revelations that the State Department chief enabled Giuliani to run a shadow foreign policy operation that undermined Ukraine, a vital U.S. ally under attack from Russia. The scandal has left America's top diplomat weakened in Washington and on the world stage, former diplomats say.

Testimony takeaways:How Democrats and Republicans are laying out their arguments for impeachment “So far, the choices that the secretary of State appears to have made have alienated him from his team, diminishing his ability to carry out our foreign policy,” said Lee Feinstein, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and longtime State Department official. Every secretary of State faces a delicate balancing act of trying to keep the president’s confidence while giving him blunt advice and navigating complex geopolitical relationships, Feinstein and others say. Full Story

The most important moments of the first day of public impeachment hearings
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) The House Intelligence Committee opened historic impeachment hearings Wednesday to investigate whether President Donald Trump (and his allies) abused his office in an attempt to strong-arm Ukraine into opening an inquiry into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
I am monitoring the highly anticipated -- and hugely high-stakes -- hearing as it happens. Below, my thoughts on the biggest moments so far.

Adam Schiff appeals to history -- and the future
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff's opening statement had a very clear message: These hearings aren't about just Trump. They're about how the presidency functions (and should function) within our democracy -- and about the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches built into the Constitution.

"Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander-in-chief," said Schiff at one point. At another, citing the Trump's administration's refusal to allow its senior officials to testify before Congress, Schiff said such a move "is not what the Founders intended," adding: "The prospects for further corruption and abuse of power, in this administration or another, will be exponentially increased."

In closing, Schiff asked, "Is that what Americans should now expect from their President? 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?" The goal of Schiff's repeated invocations of history -- he mentioned the Founders twice and the Constitution three times -- was to cast these hearings less as a partisan effort directed at Trump and more as a necessary defense of the democratic principles on which the country was founded. This isn't about Trump or even a particular political party, Schiff was saying. This is about how we want our government to work -- and not work. Full Story

GOP's defense of Trump, Democrats' rebuttal and more from the impeachment inquiry
Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN

(CNN) The day before the first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry, House Republicans published an 18-page memo arguing that the system focused on President Donald Trump is flawed, that he did nothing wrong and that there was no pressure applied to Ukraine.
The four basic points in the GOP argument:

   The July 25 call summary "shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure." Ukrainian "President (Volodymyr) Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call." "The Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold on U.S. assistance" during the July 25 call.
   The security assistance hold was lifted on September 11.

The argument is that Trump never explicitly tied funding to the investigations and that he didn't pressure Zelensky even though he repeatedly brought up investigations.

Annotating the argument
I spent Tuesday going line-by-line through Republicans' playbook. Read our annotated version here.

Protecting Trump and focusing on July 25
Republicans focus almost entirely on the July 25 call and what Trump said there, largely ignoring the incriminating testimony of Bill Taylor and Lt. Col.
Alexander Vindman. It's a document to protect Trump, in other words, and not a document to suggest nothing improper occurred. Their focus will be the call because that's where Trump is exposed.

The talking points in action
House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana would not answer directly when asked if he thinks Taylor, the current top US official in Ukraine, is a credible witness. "The bottom line is the only two people who are at the heart of this are President Trump and President Zelensky -- so what other people think about a conversation is really secondary to the fact the two men ... in the conversation said it was a good call."

The Democratic rebuttal
Democrats didn't wait until Wednesday's scheduled hearings to respond. They released their rebuttal late Tuesday; that's here. Full Story

Pentagon official testifies that she was told Ukrainians were alarmed by stalled aid
By Jeremy Herb, CNN

(CNN) A key Pentagon official told House impeachment investigators that former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker told her Ukrainian officials were alarmed in August that US security aid was being held up — an indication Kiev was aware of the delay earlier than it was reported publicly, according to a deposition transcript released Monday. Laura Cooper, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, told lawmakers behind closed doors last month that she met with Volker in August to discuss the hold on aid. She said Volker told her in their meeting that he was attempting to lift the hold on the aid by having the Ukrainians deliver a public statement that they would launch the investigations being sought by President Donald Trump.

She described Volker seeking a statement from the Ukrainians about opening investigations into election interference that would trigger a release in the aid. "I knew from my Kurt Volker conversation and also from sort of the alarm bells that were coming from Ambassador (Bill) Taylor and his team that there were Ukrainians who knew about this," Cooper said, describing the Ukrainians as aware of the freeze on aid in August 2019. "The context for the discussion that I had with Ambassador Volker related specifically to the path that he was pursuing to lift the hold would be to get them to make this statement, but the only reason they would do that is because there was, you know, something valuable."

Cooper's deposition was one of three transcripts released Monday by House Democrats. They also made public the interviews last month of two former deputies of Volker, Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson. According to his opening statement, Anderson told lawmakers last month that then-national security adviser John Bolton cautioned about the influence Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had on US-Ukraine policymaking during a meeting in mid-June with top US officials. Full Story

Trump’s lie about impeachment transcripts is one of his laziest yet
The president suggested Adam Schiff “doctored” impeachment hearings transcripts. He did not.
By Aaron Rupar

It’s not exactly news these days when Donald Trump tells a lie. As of August, he had made more than 12,000 false or misleading claims over the course of his presidency. Even so, Trump began one of the most critical weeks of his presidency — the House will hold its first public impeachment hearings starting Wednesday — with a whopper that ranks among the most unpersuasive he’s ever pushed. On Twitter, Trump suggested that House Intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) released doctored transcripts of impeachment depositions conducted behind closed doors — an explosive claim belied by the fact that not a single Republican or witness who has been in the room for them has said anything of the sort.

Shifty Adam Schiff will only release doctored transcripts. We haven’t even seen the documents and are restricted from (get this) having a lawyer. Republicans should put out their own transcripts! Schiff must testify as to why he MADE UP a statement from me, and read it to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2019

Schiff’s committee conducted the initial round of impeachment inquiry depositions behind closed doors in part to prevent witnesses from being able to sync up their stories. Despite Republican complaints that the process has been partisan, the 2,677 pages of transcripts that were released over the course of last week show that Republicans were very involved in the questioning. An almost exclusively party-line vote on October 31 set the stage for the public hearings that will begin this week. Ahead of the release of the transcripts, Trump preemptively complained on Twitter that Schiff “will change the words that were said to suit the Dems [sic] purpose.” But the transcripts were vetted by lawyers ahead of their release and nobody has complained about them. Nonetheless, Trump persists.

Trump’s tweet on Monday represents a departure from what he told reporters last Friday, when he said he wasn’t concerned about any of the impeachment hearing transcripts because it “has all been fine.” In reality, officials who testified in closed-door hearings before impeachment investigators broadly corroborated a whistleblower’s complaint alleging that Trump used military aid to Ukraine as leverage as part of an effort to get the Ukrainian government to do political favors for him. Perhaps most notably, the whistleblower’s account was corroborated in testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who was on Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reportedly said, “I did not think it was proper.” Full Story

Pentagon official testifies Trump directed freeze on aid to Ukraine
Asked if the president was authorized to order that type of hold, Laura Cooper said there were concerns that he wasn’t.
By Adam Edelman and Dareh Gregorian

Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators last month that President Donald Trump directed the relevant agencies to freeze aid to Ukraine over the summer, according to a transcript of her testimony released Monday. Cooper, during Oct. 23 testimony before the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump's Ukraine dealings, testified that she and other Pentagon officials had answered questions about the Ukraine assistance in the middle of June — so she was surprised when one of her subordinates told her that a hold had been placed on the funds after an interagency meeting in July.

“I got, you know, I got a readout from the meeting — there was discussion in that session about the — about OMB [Office of Management and Budget] saying that they were holding the Congressional Notification related to” Ukraine, Cooper testified, according to the transcript. Cooper, according to the transcript of her testimony, described the hold as "unusual." Cooper said that she attended a meeting on July 23, where "this issue" of Trump's "concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance" came up. She said the president's concerns were conveyed by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Days later, on July 26, she testified that she found out that both military and humanitarian aid had been impacted. Asked if the president was authorized to order that type of hold, Cooper said there were concerns that he wasn't. "Well, I'm not an expert on the law, but in that meeting immediately deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion because there was broad understanding in the meeting that the funding — the State Department funding related to an earmark for Ukraine and that the DOD funding was specific to Ukraine security assistance. So the comments in the room at the deputies' level reflected a sense that there was not an understanding of how this could legally play out. And at that meeting the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible," she said, according to the transcript. Full Story

New York Times: Parnas' lawyer says Giuliani told associate to offer Ukraine aid in exchange for Biden investigation
By Caroline Kelly, CNN

(CNN) - A lawyer for Rudy Giuliani's indicted associate Lev Parnas said Giuliani directed Parnas to issue an ultimatum earlier this year to a representative of incoming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, warning him that if the new government didn't announce an investigation into Joe Biden, the US would freeze military aid and Vice President Mike Pence would not attend Zelensky's inauguration.

Parnas' lawyer Joseph Bondy made the comments to The New York Times, which reported Sunday that Parnas believed Giuliani -- President Donald Trump's personal attorney -- was acting with Trump's authorization and traveled to Kiev to convey the message just prior to Zelensky's inauguration in May. But both Giuliani and the meeting's other participants denied Parnas' account to the Times.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing in Ukraine by either Joe Biden or his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. The account from Parnas, who along with other Giuliani associate Igor Fruman pleaded not guilty last month to criminal charges that they funneled foreign money into US elections, suggests that he is willing to implicate Trump and Giuliani in the unraveling Ukraine scandal.

Trump has consistently denied that restored aid was directly offered in exchange for an investigation, and Giuliani has denied encouraging Ukraine to impact the 2020 election. Giuliani rebutted Parnas' claim, telling the Times, "Categorically, I did not tell him to say that." Full Story

Trump impeachment: whistleblower will not testify in public, Democrats say
BY Martin Pengelly in New York

The whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump will not testify in public, House intelligence chair Adam Schiff said. “The committee ... will not facilitate efforts by President Trump and his allies in Congress to threaten, intimidate and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm,” Schiff said in a letter to ranking Republican Devin Nunes released on Saturday night. The impeachment inquiry concerns Trump’s attempts to have Ukraine investigate his political rivals, in return for nearly $400m in military aid and a White House visit for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The whistleblower, an intelligence official, raised concern about a 25 July phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy in which the US president raised the notion of his counterpart doing the US “a favour”. The incomplete White House memo about the 25 July call remains a key point of contention. Trump said on Saturday he would soon release details of another call with the Ukrainian leader.

House committees led by Schiff have so far heard testimony in private. Transcripts released this week were mostly damaging to the White House, bringing acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney firmly into the spotlight over his apparent role in offering the quid pro quo. Full Story

Top White House official told Congress ‘there was no doubt’ Trump sought quid pro quo with Ukrainians
By Shane Harris

In vivid and at times contentious testimony before House impeachment investigators, the senior White House official responsible for Ukraine described what he believed was an unambiguous effort by President Trump to pressure the president of Ukraine to open investigations targeting American politicians in exchange for a coveted Oval Office meeting. Under questioning from Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and other Democrats, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said “there was no doubt” about what Trump wanted when he spoke by phone on July 25 to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — particularly in contrast with an April call between the two shortly after Zelensky’s election.

“The tone was significantly different,” Vindman said, according to a transcript of his Oct. 29 deposition released Friday. Vindman went on to tell Welch, “I’m struggling for the words, but it was not a positive call. It was dour. If I think about it some more, I could probably come up with some other adjectives, but it was just — the difference between the calls was apparent.” Welch asked Vindman if he had any doubt that Trump was asking for investigations of his political opponents “as a deliverable” — in other words, as part of a quid pro quo. “There was no doubt,” Vindman said.

In a crucial discussion of what constitutes a quid pro quo, Vindman was grilled by a Republican member of the committee about why he believed Trump had made a “demand” that Ukraine launch an investigation of Hunter Biden in return for a White House meeting for Zelensky. Biden is the son of former vice president Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and was once employed by a controversial Ukrainian energy firm. Vindman, explaining what he called the vast “power disparity” between Trump and Zelensky, told Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) that Trump’s request for a “favor” from Zelensky was fairly interpreted as a demand. Full Story

Bolton's lawyer says he has information on Ukraine that hasn't been disclosed
By Zachary Cohen and Ariane de Vogue, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Former national security adviser John Bolton has "personal knowledge" of relevant meetings and conversations "that have not yet been discussed in testimonies thus far" as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, but he is still refusing to testify until a federal judge rules in an ongoing legal fight between House committees and the White House, according to his lawyer. Bolton's lawyer, Charles Cooper, wrote a letter to lawmakers Friday in which he teased the idea that his client could offer new details related to the impeachment probe, as well as additional context about events that have been described in other witness testimony. Bolton "was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far," the letter reads.

But despite underscoring Bolton's value as a potential witness, Cooper makes clear that his client is unwilling to testify until the court reaches a decision in the legal fight over claims of immunity for White House officials. Trump's former national security adviser is at the center of several key events related to the investigation. Those include suggestions that he had raised concerns about the President and Ukraine, calling efforts by some top officials to help push for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and matters related to the 2016 election a "drug deal," according to testimony last month from former top White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill. Several witnesses in the probe have already testified that Bolton had concerns about Trump's dealings with Ukraine and encouraged his staff to sound the alarm about potentially illegal actions by the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

The House committees conducting the inquiry opted not to subpoena Bolton after his attorney threatened to fight such a move in court, according to a committee official, and, unsurprisingly, the former national security adviser was a no-show Thursday. "We would welcome John Bolton's deposition and he did not appear as he was requested today. His counsel has informed us that unlike three other dedicated public servants who worked for him on the NSC and have complied with lawful subpoenas, Mr. Bolton would take us to court if we subpoenaed him," the official said in a statement provided to CNN. "We regret Mr. Bolton's decision not to appear voluntarily, but we have no interest in allowing the Administration to play rope-a-dope with us in the courts for months. Rather, the White House instruction that he not appear will add to the evidence of the President's obstruction of Congress," they added. Full Story

Trump ally Jim Jordan gets a seat on House Intel Committee for public impeachment hearings
by Jordan McDonald

President Donald Trump will get another vocal defender in the ongoing impeachment probe as it enters the public stage. GOP Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who has been a fervent ally of Trump, has been assigned to the House Intelligence Committee to fight for “fairness and truth” as the impeachment proceedings enter the public phase, according to a statement from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Jordan joins the ranks of the president’s most ardent Republican defenders already on the panel, including Reps. Devin Nunes of California and John Ratcliffe of Texas. The assignment comes soon after another man said Jordan, when he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University in the early 1990s, ignored his claim that he had been the subject of sexual abuse by Dr. Richard Strauss. Independent investigators have ruled that Strauss, who died in 2005, sexually abused 177 male students over about 20 years.

A Jordan spokesman did not return CNBC’s request for comment on the latest Strauss-related accusation. In the impeachment hearings, Jordan will likely be at odds with Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is leading the public inquiry and has drawn the ire of conservatives pundits and politicians, including Trump.

Jordan was part of a failed effort to censure Schiff in October over Schiff’s recounting of Trump’s controversial July 25th call with Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky during a September 27 hearing. A partial transcript of that call was made public after a whisteblower complaint exposed it. Full Story

John Bolton trying to 'walk that tightrope' over role in Trump's impeachment inquiry
By Zachary Cohen and Kylie Atwood, CNN

(CNN) - John Bolton has already left his mark on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, even if he doesn't show for a scheduled deposition Thursday morning. Trump's former national security adviser is at the center of several key events related to the investigation, including suggestions that he had raised concerns about the President and Ukraine, calling efforts by some top officials to help push for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and matters related to the 2016 election a "drug deal," according to testimony last month from former top Russia adviser Fiona Hill. Chances looked slim that Bolton would comply with the Democratic-led investigation's request to appear Thursday morning, as his lawyer has said Bolton will not testify voluntarily, but it remained unclear if he would comply with a subpoena, should one be issued at the last moment.

Several witnesses in the probe have already testified that Bolton had concerns about Trump's dealings with Ukraine and encouraged his staff to sound the alarm about potentially illegal actions by the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. But despite those apparent misgivings, it appears Bolton has little interest in playing the role of star witness for House Democrats. "Bolton still wants to be a player in GOP politics and Trump still has such high approval ratings," a source close to Bolton said. "So far, he has tried to walk that tightrope. I expect he will continue to do that," the source added, noting that Bolton is unlikely to try to take on Trump directly due to concerns that attacking the President might make it difficult for Bolton to attract wealthy GOP donors to his super PAC.

Bolton has already injected $50,0000 into the campaigns of conservative Republican candidates. Despite his abrupt and unceremonious departure from the Trump administration, Bolton's willingness to cooperate in the impeachment proceedings remains a mystery. He has kept a low profile in recent weeks and stayed tight-lipped about his plans regarding a potential deposition -- not even discussing the matter with some of his closest allies. In fact, Bolton has taken multiple trips abroad in recent weeks, including a weeklong stint in Asia, just as the pace of impeachment proceedings began to intensify and several of his former staffers from the National Security Council prepared to testify, according to sources familiar with his trip.

Not a 'Never Trumper'

While Trump has labeled some witnesses in the impeachment inquiry -- including another career official who still serves on the National Security Council -- as "Never Trumpers," the President would have a hard time making the same case about Bolton. A hawkish neoconservative who served in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Bolton famously promised Trump he "wouldn't start any wars" when he was hired last March. His reputation followed him to the White House, where he repeatedly clashed with the President over various foreign policy issues, including Iran and North Korea -- a dynamic that ultimately led to his ouster in September. Bolton was kicked out of the White House just one day before the hold on the US assistance to Ukraine was lifted. He had been gone for about two weeks when the White House released the transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Full Story

Top US diplomat says Giuliani pushed Ukraine to 'intervene' in US politics in impeachment transcript
By Jeremy Herb and Marshall Cohen, CNN

(CNN) - The top US diplomat in Ukraine told House impeachment investigators that President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was pressing Ukraine "to intervene in US domestic policy or politics" by launching investigations into Trump's political rivals, according to a transcript of Bill Taylor's deposition released Wednesday. Taylor told Congress in closed-door testimony last month he saw the requests as so dangerous that he believed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should ignore them -- even if it meant losing a one-on-one meeting with Trump.

"If President Zelensky, in order to get that meeting (with Trump), were going to have to intervene in U.S. domestic policy or politics ... by announcing an investigation on that would benefit someone in the United States, then it's not -- it wasn't clear to me that that would be worth it," he said. Taylor's testimony corroborates a major allegation from the whistleblower complaint, which said that Giuliani and Trump were trying to solicit help from the Ukrainians to boost his reelection chances in 2020. Giuliani wanted Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic National Committee servers.

Taylor also testified that it was his "clear understanding" US security aid to Ukraine wouldn't be released unless the country's president announced he would investigate Trump's political rivals. And he said that it was Giuliani, representing Trump's interests, who was behind what then-national security adviser John Bolton described as a "drug deal." "I think the origin of the idea to get President Zelensky to say out loud he's going to investigate Burisma and the 2016 election, I think the originator, the person who came up with that was Mr. Giuliani," Taylor said.

Taylor's testimony is among the most significant for the Democratic impeachment investigation into allegations that $400 million in security aid and a meeting between Trump and Zelensky were conditioned on Ukraine announcing investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that hired former Biden's son Hunter to serve on its board. In his opening statement, which was published when he testified on October 22, Taylor explained that Sondland told him "everything" Ukraine wanted was conditioned on the investigation. There is no evidence of wrongdoing in Ukraine by either Joe or Hunter Biden.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, announced Wednesday that Taylor would testify next week on Wednesday, the first day that Democrats will hold public impeachment hearings. Taylor, a career official who remains at his post in Kiev, provided a damning account of how Trump told his appointees to establish a quid pro quo with Ukraine, trading much-needed US military assistance for political favors from Zelensky. In the wake of his testimony, Trump accused Taylor of being a "Never Trumper." Trump made this claim even though there is zero public evidence to support his assertion, and available information paints Taylor as a respected and apolitical career diplomat. In what's likely a preview of next week's public hearings, Republicans pressed Taylor on whether he had direct knowledge of the President's intentions. Full Story

Thanks to Rand Paul, Russian Media Are Naming the Alleged Whistleblower
Outing “the whistleblower” is the most egregious, but certainly not the only, example of Kremlin-funded media cheerleading the fight against impeachment. They love “their” Trump.
By Julia Davis

Standing beside an approving Donald Trump at a rally in Kentucky on Monday night, Republican Sen. Rand Paul demanded the media unmask the whistleblower whose report about the president’s alleged abuse of power dealing with Ukraine sparked impeachment proceedings.American news organizations resisted the pressure, but—in a 2019 re-play of “Russia, if you’re listening”—Kremlin-controlled state media promptly jumped on it.

Shortly after Sen. Paul tweeted out an article that speculated in considerable detail about the identity of the whistleblower—with a photograph, a name, and details about the purported political history of a CIA professional—Russian state media followed suit. As if on cue, the Kremlin-controlled heavy hitters—TASS, RT, Rossiya-1—disseminated the same information. But unlike Rand Paul, one of the Russian state media outlets didn’t seem to find the source—Real Clear Investigations—to be particularly impressive, and claimed falsely that the material was published originally by The Washington Post.

This was the most egregious, but certainly not the only example of Kremlin-funded media cheerleading for Trump’s fight against impeachment as proceedings against him unfold with growing speed. As a chorus of talking heads on Fox News have picked up on Trump’s talking points, which is predictable—they’ve also been echoed across the pond, albeit with a tinge of irony. “Have you lost your minds that you want to remove our Donald Ivanovych?” asked Vladimir Soloviev, the host of the television show Evening with Vladimir Soloviev.

“When they say that Trump is weakening the United States—yes, he is. And that’s why we love him.”
— Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio and a prominent fixture on Russian state television

Russian experts, government officials, and prominent talking heads often deride the American president for his Twitter clangor, haphazard approach to foreign policy, clownish lack of decorum, and unfiltered stream of verbalized consciousness. But all the reasons they believe Trump “isn’t a very good president” for America are precisely their reasons for thinking he is so great for Russia.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian client whose regime teetered on the brink of collapse only to be saved definitively by Trump’s chaotic approach to the Middle East, recently said that “President Trump is the best type of president for a foe.” The Russians heartily agree. The Trump presidency has been wildly successful for Russia, which is eagerly stepping into every vacuum created by the retreat of the United States on the world stage. Full Story

First public hearings in Trump impeachment inquiry to begin next week
A House resolution formalizing procedures for the probe as it entered a new phase passed last week, largely along party lines.
By Rebecca Shabad and Dartunorro Clark

WASHINGTON — Public hearings in Congress will begin next Wednesday in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Wednesday. The first open hearing, to be held Nov. 13, is slated to feature testimony from career diplomat William Taylor and State Department official George Kent. The second hearing, scheduled for Nov. 15, is expected to include testimony from former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Schiff said that there would be additional announcements of witnesses expected to testify publicly. “These will be the first of the public hearings,” he told reporters in a brief statement outside the secure room in the basement of the Capitol where David Hale was testifying Wednesday in his closed-door deposition.

According to the House Intelligence Committee’s website, both hearings are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET on both days. The House is currently on recess until next week. Schiff said that he thought the public would see that the “most important facts are largely not contested” in the Ukraine case, which involves Trump enlisting his administration to participate in the “illicit” effort to get Ukraine to dig up dirt about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

It will be an “opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses themselves,” Schiff said. He added that while Democrats are moving forward with the “open phase” of the impeachment inquiry, they are still in the process of gathering depositions. Taylor currently serves as the chargé d'affaires for Ukraine, and Kent serves as the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s European and Eurasian bureau. Taylor testified before the three congressional committees conducting the depositions last month that Trump directed officials to tie foreign aid to Ukraine to demands that the country open an investigation into the Biden family and the 2016 election.

Taylor told lawmakers that "it was becoming clear" to him as early as July that almost $400 million of U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being withheld on the condition that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy commit to investigating the Burisma energy company, as well as a conspiracy theory about alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Full Story

Former Ambassador To Ukraine Says She Was Told To 'Watch Her Back'
By Domenico Montanaro

Ousted former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told congressional investigators that she was warned to "watch her back" by a senior Ukrainian official, according to the transcript of Yovanovitch's newly released closed-door deposition before Congress. The Ukrainian official told her that Rudy Giuliani's associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have since been arrested on an unrelated charge, wanted a different ambassador in the post. Why?

"I guess for — because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine or additional business dealings," Yovanovitch told House Intelligence Committee members, which include Republicans. "I didn't understand that, because nobody at the embassy had ever met those two individuals. And, you know, one of the biggest jobs of an American ambassador of the U.S. Embassy is to promote U.S. business. So, of course, if legitimate business comes to us, you know, that's what we do — we promote U.S. business." The October 11 testimony is among the first transcripts of closed-door depositions from individuals at the center of the Ukraine affair, which has landed President Trump in an impeachment inquiry.

The transcripts, released Monday, are of the separate, hours-long depositions of Yovanovitch and Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. McKinley, a career foreign service officer, said Yovanovitch's treatment "raised alarm bells," "had a very serious effect on morale" at the State Department and described "bullying tactics." "I'm just going to state it clearly," McKinley told Congress. "As a foreign service officer, to see the impugning of somebody I know to be a serious, committed colleague in the manner that it was done raised alarm bells for me."

Yovanovitch, who has decades of diplomatic experience, was recalled as ambassador in May, and, on his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump referred to her as "the woman" and "bad news." The Ukrainian official who gave Yovanovitch the heads-up of Parnas's, Fruman's and Giuliani's involvement was Arsen Avakov, the country's minister of internal affairs. He told Yovanovitch that he had become aware of Giuliani's pressure campaign to get Ukraine to investigate conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

On his call with Zelenskiy, Trump asked for the same investigations to be undertaken as "a favor," according to a White House-released record of the call. Trump's request came right after Zelenskiy asked to buy more U.S. weapons. The U.S. also was withholding military funding that had already been allocated by Congress. Trump encouraged Zelenskiy to work with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr on the investigations. (There's no indication that Barr played any role in the affair.)

Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was vice president and handling issues related to Ukraine. There is no evidence of wrongdoing from either Biden, but Trump and Giuliani have used the fact of Hunter Biden's serving on the board as a way to politically deflect to the Bidens. Full Story

Attorney offers to let GOP submit questions to whistleblower
The offer would allow Republicans to ask questions of the whistleblower directly, without going through the Democratic-controlled committee.

A lawyer for the whistleblower who filed the complaint that sparked the House's impeachment probe told CBS News he has offered to have Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee submit questions to the whistleblower. The offer would allow Republicans to ask questions of the whistleblower directly, without going through the Democratic-controlled committee.

Attorney Mark Zaid told CBS News he contacted ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on Saturday to tell him his client would answer Republicans' written questions under oath and penalty of perjury if lawmakers submitted them to the whistleblower's legal team, according to CBS. The whistleblower, whose identity remains undisclosed, sparked the inquiry by reporting on a phone conversation between President Donald Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that involved a request for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked about the offer on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday but said he was not aware of it. "I have never received that offer, and I'm the lead Republican in the House," McCarthy said. McCarthy said Nunes had not told him about the offer prior to Sunday, adding "let's see how they submitted." Full Story

Trump ‘invents insane conspiracy theory’ in wild impeachment outburst
‘Democracy erodes when previously unthinkable conduct becomes so routine,’ academic says
By Zamira Rahim

Donald Trump has accused Adam Schiff, the congressman leading the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, of corruption. The president is under increasing pressure from Congress over his alleged behaviour during a call with the leader of Ukraine. In a series of increasingly angry tweets Mr Trump said congressional testimony from inquiry witnesses should not be released publicly.

“If Shifty Adam Schiff, who is a corrupt politician who fraudulently made up what I said on the ‘call’, is allowed to release transcripts of the Never Trumpers [and] others that are [and] were interviewed, he will change the words that were said to suit the Dems purposes,” he wrote on Sunday evening. In an extraordinary claim, the 73-year-old alleged that Mr Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, could manipulate witness transcripts. Full Story

Trump threatens smear campaign against Alexander Vindman, the Purple Heart recipient who said the White House left out some phrases from its Ukraine call memo
By Alexandra Ma, Business Insider US

US President Donald Trump has threatened to release damaging intelligence against the White House national security aide who testified that the White House omitted some phrases from its summary of the phone call that sparked Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient who is a top official on the White House National Security Council, testified last Tuesday that the White House left out some information from its memo summarizing Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Examples included direct mentions by Zelensky of Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter worked, and by Trump of the elder Biden discussing Ukraine corruption. Hours after news outlets reported on Vindman’s testimony, Trump claimed that the White House aide was a “Never Trumper,” or a member of the Republican movement that opposed Trump’s candidacy in 2016. There is no evidence that Vindman was part of this group. But when reporters asked about it Sunday, Trump threatened to release information “real soon.”

Here’s how the exchange went down, as can be seen in the video below: Reporter: Sir, what evidence do you have that Col. Vindman is a Never Trumper? Trump: We’ll be showing that to you real soon, OK? The president then ignored a follow-up request to describe the information he claimed to have. Full Story

Amid impeachment drive, the pro-Trump search for dirt on Ukraine and the Bidens goes on
Those working in common cause with the president's and Giuliani's campaign to get Ukraine to investigate Trump's political opponents are moving ahead.
By Josh Lederman

KYIV — While Congress heard closed-door testimony last week about President Donald Trump pushing Ukraine to investigate his opponents, Rudy Giuliani was holding his own private Ukraine meeting in his Manhattan office. Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer at the center of the firestorm as Trump faces likely impeachment, met with former Ukrainian diplomat Andriy Telizhenko, who alleges that Ukraine's government conspired with the Democratic National Committee to hurt Trump in 2016.

"We discussed what's happening in Ukraine, political updates, what the new (Ukrainian presidential) team is up to, what are the reforms going to be," Telizhenko said in an interview with NBC News. Giuliani has interviewed him for hours about his Ukraine allegations, although Telizhenko said their most recent meeting wasn’t focused on investigations. "We're friends now. He respects our country."

Far from keeping their heads down, those working in common cause with the president's and Giuliani's campaign to get Ukraine to investigate Trump's political opponents are moving ahead unabated, interviews in Kyiv and Washington with several of those involved reveal. Their efforts come despite intense scrutiny from Congress, law enforcement and the media. Under oath, a parade of current and former U.S. officials have testified that Trump and his envoys leveraged a coveted White House meeting and military aid to Ukraine to pressure new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to commit publicly to investigations into both the 2016 election and the Biden family.

In Ukraine, a group of parliamentarians are even working to stand up a new investigative commission — the Ukrainian analogue to a congressional select committee — to probe what they say was a Ukrainian government campaign to smear former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in a bid to take down Trump in 2016. They also want to investigate the Bidens.

"Ukraine was involved in like the biggest scandal in recent U.S. political history, let alone Ukrainian. Definitely most of my colleagues here pretend it doesn't exist," said Oleg Voloshin, a lawmaker and Manafort associate, in an interview just outside the Rada, Ukraine's Parliament. "It started here, and it should finish here." In Telizhenko's case, it's the continuation of a collaboration that started earlier this year when he said he saw Giuliani appear on Fox News alongside Victoria Toensing, a pro-Trump lawyer who State Department inspector general documents show worked with Giuliani on Ukraine. Full Story

All four White House officials scheduled for House inquiry depositions Monday won't testify
By Pamela Brown, Rene Marsh and Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Washington (CNN) - All four White House officials who are scheduled to give depositions on Monday during the House's impeachment inquiry won't show up, as a source with knowledge of the situation tells CNN that National Security Council lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis will not testify. The two officials will join Robert Blair, assistant to the President and senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Brian McCormack, associate director for natural resources, energy & science at the Office of Management and Budget, in not testifying on Monday, CNN reported earlier. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was scheduled to appear Wednesday, will not participate in a closed door deposition, an Energy Department spokesperson said Friday.

An administration official says Eisenberg isn't showing up due to executive privilege while Blair, Ellis and McCormack aren't going to appear because they won't be able to have an administration lawyer present. Blair's attorney, Whit Ellerman, told CNN Saturday that "Blair is caught between the assertions of legal duty by two coequal branches of government, a conflict which he cannot resolve." Two other OMB officials, Michael Duffey and Russell Vought, also won't show up to their depositions later this week, a source with knowledge of the situation tells CNN. As more witnesses in the impeachment probe continue to refuse to give testimony, House investigators are signaling they are prepared to begin the next phase of their inquiry -- even if their subpoenas are ignored across the board. Full Story

Inside the Republican Plan to Deep-Six the Trump Impeachment Hearings
Trump allies plan to call for witnesses who could bolster their narrative and hammer away at the anonymous whistleblower whose account launched the inquiry in the first place.
By Sam Brodey

As House Democrats ramp up their impeachment push, their adversaries on the Republican side are preparing to unleash a counter-push to disrupt impeachment proceedings, discredit the whistleblower, and interrogate every person the whistleblower spoke with. In a show of unity, House Republicans unanimously voted on Thursday against a resolution recognizing the framework of the impeachment inquiry and outlining its next phase. Though that resolution passed, it was a chance for the GOP to lock arms on the proceedings and beat back lingering questions over just how committed Hill Republicans are to risk their political hides in defense of the president.

With the party now relatively focused, the Republicans leading the counter-impeachment campaign are taking this moment to lay out their next steps, which will continue to center on claims that the impeachment process is profoundly unfair to Trump and Republicans—and that the whole Ukraine matter was a sham to begin with. According to GOP lawmakers and aides, the party’s game plan includes calling for witnesses who could bolster their narrative and hammering away at the anonymous whistleblower whose account launched the inquiry in the first place. They’re also holding out the possibility of more tactics to disrupt impeachment—like last week’s stunt to shut down the inquiry’s secure hearing room. Lawmakers are also likely to release a report when the probe is concluded to counter the report the Democratic majority will release to form the basis for impeachment.

Through it all, Republicans will need to pull off a tricky balancing act: keeping a focus on process—which many in GOP leadership believe is the best way to lower the public’s confidence in the impeachment inquiry—while keeping satisfied a mercurial president, who has proven eager to air his anger at Republicans he deems insufficiently loyal, or insufficiently interested in defending him on substance.

According to Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman and an ally of the president, House Republicans have been doing a “decent job given the tools they have,” but added it would be better if they had a few more of a certain kind of Republican—naming specifically Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Jim Jordan (R-OH)—out there defending the president.

“Everyone was an activist during the Clinton thing on the Democratic side,” said Kingston, who served in the House during President Clinton’s impeachment. “Everybody needs to get off the bench and start talking about it.” One subject that particularly riles up Republicans—and marries their fairness arguments with the Trump-friendly case that the Ukraine probe is some kind of deep-state machination—is the anonymous whistleblower. At first, Republicans dismissed the whistleblower’s complaint because it was not based on firsthand information. Full Story

GOP lawmakers guide a White House grappling with closed-door impeachment
By Jeremy Diamond and Pamela Brown, CNN

Washington (CNN)As House Democrats build their case for impeaching President Donald Trump through a succession of closed-door depositions, a pair of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill are quietly offering guidance to the White House lawyers responsible for crafting the President's defense strategy. Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who have attended the depositions, have been informally helping attorneys in the White House Counsel's office sort through publicly reported aspects of the testimony to the extent they can, according to four administration officials.

The conversations are primarily aimed at helping White House lawyers get a better grasp of the allegations being leveled at Trump and potential weak points as the White House begins to craft a legal strategy to defend Trump during his impeachment trial, two administration officials said. White House lawyers have not been permitted to attend the closed-door depositions -- a top GOP complaint about the impeachment inquiry -- and people familiar with the matter said the conversations are aimed at helping the White House gauge the seriousness of leaked allegations from the testimony that have painted a damning picture of the President's conduct.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Meadows said he has only shared "broad characterizations" and is "not sharing specifics" of the testimony with the White House, pointing to House rules preventing him from disclosing details of the testimony, which are held in secure rooms called Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, or SCIFs. When some witnesses -- such as US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland -- have backed up aspects of the President's defense of his conduct, he has pointed that out. Full Story

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