Thursday Reads/Impeachment Hearings Live BlogPosted: November 21, 2019
Whew! Yesterday was a simply mind-boggling day that is guaranteed to go down in history–if Russia (and/or China, Turkey, North Korea) doesn’t succeed in winning a second term for Trump. Gordon Sondland threw everyone under the bus–he testified that “everyone was in the loop”–Trump, Mulvaney, Pompeo, Perry, Giuliani–and theirs was not an track in our foreign policy but the main track. And more is coming today.
The New York Times: Impeachment Inquiry Updates: Fiona Hill and David Holmes to Testify.
Who: Ms. Hill and Mr. Holmes will testify during a morning session. There is no afternoon session scheduled.
What: The House Intelligence Committee, led by its chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, will continue to examine the case for impeaching Mr. Trump. The Republican minority, led by Representative Devin Nunes of California, will again work to poke holes in testimony implicating the president.
When and Where: The morning proceedings start at 9 Eastern in the House Ways and Means Committee chambers. It will most likely last until the afternoon.
[Fiona] Hill is expected to tell lawmakers about the concerns she had with the merits of the Ukraine affair, in which Trump sought concessions from Ukraine’s president in exchange for engagement and continued financial assistance that had been authorized by Congress.
The U.S. had been sending aid to Ukraine since it was invaded by Russia in 2014 to help its military against Russian and Russian-backed forces still operating in the east.
The national security establishment opposed the freeze of that aid for several weeks this summer.
Hill told impeachment investigators in her closed deposition that she resented the smear campaign run against the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Hill also is a key witness about the former national security adviser, John Bolton, who has been described as an important player in the Ukraine saga but from whom Congress has not heard directly….
During that encounter, Sondland called Trump on his mobile phone to talk about the “investigations” that Trump wanted from his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Holmes said in his deposition that Sondland t.old him Trump only cared about “big stuff” that affected him, like what Holmes called the “Biden investigation” Trump wanted from Ukraine.
Sondland says he didn’t know in real time that the investigation connected with the word “Burisma” — a Ukrainian company that for a time paid the son of former Vice President Joe Biden — was, in effect, code for the Biden family.
CNN has Hill’s opening statement: Former top Russia adviser to reject GOP claim that Ukraine meddled in US politics.
A former top White House official will offer on Thursday a full-throated rebuttal to the narrative pushed by President Donald Trump and his GOP allies about Ukraine’s role meddling in American politics, according to a source familiar with her testimony.
Fiona Hill, who served as Trump’s top Russia adviser until she left the administration this summer, will also warn the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry that the Kremlin is prepared to strike again in 2020 and remains a serious threat to American democracy that the United States must seek to combat, the source said.
In her brief opening statement, Hill will offer a strong pushback to the claims peddled by Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and some congressional Republicans that Ukraine may have interfered in the 2016 elections to help Hillary Clinton.
Multiple witnesses have said that the moving forward on the 2016 election interference investigation — along with a probe into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter — amounted to conditions placed on the country before roughly $400 million in military aid for the country was released and a key meeting in Washington between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could take place.
Both Giuliani and Trump have urged the Ukrainian government to announce probes into any role the country may have had in the 2016 elections, something Trump brought up himself in his now-infamous July phone call with Zelensky.
But Hill in her testimony will argue that such a theory amounts to a fictional narrative at a time when the US should be focused on the real threat: Russia, which she warns could once again seek to interfere in the 2020 elections while the US is focused on Ukraine.
During Sondland’s testimony yesterday, Trump made a complete spectacle, screaming ineffectually at the assembled press on the White House lawn.
That is really really not normal. This man needs a complete neurological exam STAT. Speaking of Trump’s obvious dementia symptoms, Newsweek offers this quote from the new book by Anonymous: Trump Regularly ‘Can’t remember what he’s said or been told,’ White House Insider Says.
President Donald Trump regularly struggles to “remember what he’s said or been told,” an anonymous senior government official behind a new exposé on the inner workings of the White House has claimed.
Much of the nearly 260 pages of the anonymous official’s tome, A Warning, which hit bookshelves on Tuesday, has been dedicated to sounding the alarm about Trump’s alarming behavior.
While the anonymous author, who is described only as a “senior official in the Trump administration” admits they are not “qualified to diagnose the president’s mental acuity,” they can say that “normal people who spend any time with Donald Trump are uncomfortable by what they witness.”
“He stumbles, slurs, gets confused, is easily irritated, and has trouble synthesizing information, not occasionally but with regularity,” the official warns.
Often, they say, “the president also can’t remember what he’s said or been told.”
“Americans are used to him denying words that have come out of his mouth,” the senior official writes. “Sometimes this is to avoid responsibility.”
However, they say it often “appears Trump genuinely doesn’t remember important facts.”
One clear example of that, the official recalls, is when the president claimed he was not sure if he had “ever even heard of a Category 5” hurricane, despite having been briefed on at least four other Category 5 hurricanes during his time in office.
“Was he forgetting these briefings?” the author questions. “Or more problematic, was he not paying attention at all? These are events that affect millions of Americans, yet they don’t seem to stick in his brain.”
The official writes that while Trump has often claimed to be highly intelligent, they say they have “seen the president fall flat on his face when trying to speak intelligently” on a number of topics on which he claims to be an expert.
“You can see why behind closed doors his own top officials deride him as an ‘idiot’ and a ‘moron’ with the understanding of a ‘fifth or sixth grader,'” the unnamed senior official says.
More at the link.
One of the biggest reveals from Sondland’s testimony was that Mike Pompeo was involved in the entire Ukraine affair. The New York Times: Pompeo Emerges as a Major Trump Enabler in Ukraine affair.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has for months deflected questions about whether the Trump administration demanded political favors from Ukraine in exchange for military aid. He has refused to explain why he recalled the American ambassador, declared that it was “inappropriate” for his diplomats to testify before Congress and declined to hand over documents to impeachment investigators.
On Wednesday, Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, filled in the blanks: He said Mr. Pompeo and his top aides “knew what we were doing, and why,” and recited emails he wrote to Mr. Pompeo about the quid pro quo demanded by President Trump. “Everyone was in the loop,” Mr. Sondland said.
Mr. Sondland’s testimony has undercut any notion that Mr. Pompeo, the administration’s most powerful national security official, was not a participant in Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine. It also firmly places him at the center of one of the nation’s biggest foreign policy controversies in nearly two decades, since the debate over the intelligence that led to the war in Iraq.
Whatever Mr. Pompeo’s future plans, Mr. Trump’s secretary of state is now tied intimately to the Ukraine controversy. Even before Mr. Sondland’s testimony, Mr. Pompeo was rumored to be seeking an exit from the State Department, perhaps to run for a Senate seat in Kansas, his adopted home state, with an eye toward a presidential bid once Mr. Trump leaves the stage.
Lock. Him. Up.
I’ll end with two breaking news stories.
The FBI last month requested an interview with the whistleblower whose complaint fueled the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and Ukraine, a person familiar with the situation said Wednesday.
An agent from the FBI’s Washington field office reached out to the whistleblower’s lawyers last month to seek an interview about the substance of the complaint, according to this person, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the request with The Associated Press.
The person said it was clear from the FBI that the whistleblower was not regarded as the target of any investigation but rather a potential witness. It was not immediately clear what specifically the FBI might be looking into. The requested interview has not taken place.
Could this be related to the reportedly ongoing counterintelligence investigation?
The New York Times: Prosecutors Subpoena Trump Fund-Raisers Linked to Giuliani Associates.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan issued subpoenas in recent weeks to several players in President Trump’s fund-raising apparatus as part of an investigation into two associates of Rudolph W. Giuliani who have been charged with violating campaign finance laws, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The subpoenas went to a lobbying firm run by a top fund-raiser for Mr. Trump, Brian Ballard, and to two people who have helped raise money for America First Action, a super PAC created to support the president and allied candidates, the people said.
Mr. Ballard and the America First fund-raisers worked to varying extents with Mr. Giuliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, American citizens who helped Mr. Giuliani wage a pressure campaign on Ukraine that is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.
The recent activity by prosecutors and F.B.I. agents shows that they have cast a wide net as they collect evidence about Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who were arrested last month. It also comes as the same prosecutors look into whether Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, violated a federal lobbying law in some of his dealings with Ukrainians.
Lock Giuliani up with Pompeo.
Please treat this post as an open thread/live blog for today’s hearings.