With Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: They were there to bat cleanup, but both the GOP’s witnesses on Tuesday afternoon instead provided fresh fodder for the impeachment case against President Trump.
Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, formally requested the testimony of Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s former senior director covering Russia and Ukraine.
Neither of the Republicans had any desire to blame the president who appointed them for any misconduct. Both insisted that they didn’t see him do anything illegal. Each seemed content to throw Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and Gordon Sondland, the megadonor who became ambassador to the European Union and is testifying today, under the bus. But they also validated key testimony from other witnesses, deepened a damning fact pattern for Trump and said that the underlying conduct the president stands accused of would generally be inappropriate.
Volker said he “would have objected” if he knew at the time that Trump brought up Joe Biden repeatedly and specifically during the July 25 call with the Ukrainian president. “I have learned many things that I did not know at the time of the events in question,” the former envoy proclaimed.
Volker said he drew a line between pushing for an investigation of the company Burisma versus an investigation of Hunter Biden, who once sat on the company’s board. “In retrospect I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections,” he testified. “I don’t think raising the 2016 election or Vice President Biden or these things I consider to be conspiracy theories are … things that we should be pursuing.”
Trump’s former envoy also questioned the credibility of the sources that the former New York mayor seemed to rely on. “The allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and non-credible,” Volker said. “I have known Vice President Biden for 24 years. He is an honorable man, and I hold him in the highest regard.”
Volker said Trump never told him directly that the aid was being withheld unless the Ukrainians announced investigations. He said the president had expressed a “general negative view” of Ukraine that dated back to when he came onboard in 2017. Volker said this perception was somewhat understandable considering the Eastern European nation’s historic struggles with corruption.
But he also painted a picture of himself as out of the loop and unaware of the machinations happening behind the scenes. He said he connected Giuliani with a top aide to the new Ukrainian president because he hoped it would smooth the way for a White House meeting and improved bilateral ties. Eager to defend his own reputation, Volker was adamant that he never personally witnessed or participated in illegal conduct. “I was never involved with anything that I considered to be bribery at all,” he said. “Or extortion.”
-- Both Morrison and Volker said they believe it’s inappropriate for an American president to ask a foreign leader to investigate an American citizen. “I don’t believe it is appropriate for the president to do that,” Volker said in response to a question from Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.). “If we have law enforcement concerns with a U.S. citizen generally, there are appropriate channels for that.” Morrison said he agreed. Then Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) asked about a hypothetical scenario in which a mayor, governor or member of Congress withheld public funds from a law enforcement agency until it investigated his or her political rival. Morrison and Volker agreed that, too, would be improper.
-- Morrison said he reported details of the July 25 call to the National Security Council’s top lawyer. He said he worried about the political fallout if the call became public, not its legality, and insisted he wasn’t personally bothered by anything Trump said. “As I stated during my deposition, I feared at the time of the call on July 25th how its disclosure would play in Washington’s political climate,” he said. “My fears have been realized.” Morrison also acknowledged that Biden and Burisma were not on the talking points prepared for Trump in advance of the conversation and did not reflect official U.S. policy.
-- Morrison said he had a “sinking feeling” that the money Trump put a freeze on would expire if it wasn’t transferred to Ukraine by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. He noted that this would force the administration to explain to congressional appropriators why there had been a hold in the first place.
-- Morrison also testified that Sondland informed him that he had told a top aide to Volodymyr Zelensky “that the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted.” Under questioning by the Democratic counsel for the Intelligence Committee, Morrison said he was concerned that these were being identified as requirements.
-- Morrison said his predecessor Fiona Hill, who is testifying on Thursday, had warned him about the “Gordon problem,” referring to Sondland, when he took over. “I decided to keep track of what Ambassador Sondland was doing,” he explained. “I didn’t always act on things Gordon suggested [and] that he believed were important.”
-- Volker said he now remembers details of the July 10 meetings at the White House that he had forgotten, or omitted, during his closed-door deposition in October. Last month, he said there was no discussion of Giuliani or investigations and called the conversations uneventful. Other officials who were there have subsequently testified that John Bolton, then the national security adviser, abruptly ended a meeting in his office when Sondland broached the issue of investigations. On Tuesday, Volker said he now remembers that Sondland did, in fact, make “a general comment” about investigations, though he said it happened as the meeting was wrapping up anyway. “I think all of us thought it was inappropriate,” Volker said. “The conversation did not continue, and the meeting concluded.” Volker called it “something of an eye-roll moment.”
Volker said he still does not have any recollection of Sondland bringing up investigations a second time during a follow-up conversation with the visiting Ukrainians in the Ward Room of the White House. “I may have been engaged in a side conversation, or had already left the complex, because I do not recall further discussion regarding investigations or Burisma,” he said in his opening statement.
-- Volker and Morrison appeared together on an afternoon panel after the testimony of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe. Williams said she thought the July 25 call was “unusual” because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.” She said no one in the national security firmament supported withholding the aid until Trump froze it. Vindman, the National Security Council’s European affairs director, said he considered the president’s request that Ukraine investigate Biden to be “inappropriate.” The Army officer argued that “it is improper” for Trump “to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent.”
-- Interestingly, Morrison and Vindman agreed that moving the rough transcript of the July 25 call to a code-word-level server was not a big deal. But they disagreed on why it happened. Morrison said it was a mistake that resulted from an administrative error, but Vindman saw it as a deliberate attempt to hide a sensitive call. Vindman also said the omission of the word Burisma from the rough transcript of the call wasn’t nefarious but the result of the transcription software.
-- The White House issued a statement from Pence’s national security adviser Keith Kellogg that said Williams never “reported any personal or professional concerns” to him, her supervisor, regarding the call. “As an exceedingly proud member of President Trump’s Administration and as a 34-year highly experienced combat veteran who retired with the rank of Lieutenant General in the Army, I heard nothing wrong or improper on the call,” Kellogg said in the statement. “I had and have no concerns.”
MORE TEAM COVERAGE:
-- Sondland is testifying more bluntly this morning than he did during his previous deposition that Trump and Giuliani sought to condition a White House invite for Ukraine’s new president to demands that his country publicly launch investigations that could damage Trump’s political opponents. Aaron Davis reports: “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?’” Sondland said in his opening statement. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
In his sworn opening statement, Trump’s ambassador also told the House Intelligence Committee that while he never knew for sure if the White House had frozen nearly $400 million in security assistance as part of the pressure campaign against Ukraine, he operated as if that was the case. “In the absence of any credible explanation for the hold, I came to the conclusion that the aid, like the White House visit, was jeopardized,” Sondland said. “My belief was that if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention” to launch the investigations Trump wanted, “then the hold on military aid would be lifted.”
-- "Sondland’s future — and possibly his freedom — could also rest on whether lawmakers believe he is telling the whole truth about his role and that of the president," Aaron and Rachael Bade report. "Lawmakers in previous inquiries have referred witnesses to the Justice Department if they believe they have lied under oath.”
-- Here are five question The Fix's Amber Phillips wants Sondland to answer:
- Was he acting of his own volition, or at Trump’s direction?
- What did he say to Trump – and what did Trump tell him – on a July 26 phone call from Kyiv?
- Sondland told the Ukrainians their military aid would come when their president made an “anti-corruption statement.” Was that code for investigations into the Bidens and 2016 election interference?
- Why didn’t Sondland remember the offer he gave to the Ukrainians in his original testimony?
- Why did he agree to testify?
-- Federal prosecutors scrutinizing Giuliani and two of his associates on Thursday will question a top executive at Ukraine’s state-owned gas company about his encounters with those associates as the pair pursued energy deals in Ukraine. Tom Hamburger and Roz Helderman report: “The executive of the Ukrainian company, Andrew Favorov, an American citizen, agreed to meet with prosecutors for the Southern District of New York who had asked to speak with him about his experiences with the two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The pair worked with Giuliani to gather information about the Ukraine-related activities of [Joe and Hunter Biden]. Favorov’s attorney, Lanny Breuer, said his client ‘will voluntarily sit down with the government attorneys.’ Breuer declined to comment further.”
-- A federal judge said she intends to rule no later than the end of Monday whether former White House counsel Donald McGahn must testify under subpoena before Congress. The House Judiciary Committee asked for an accelerated decision because it aims to call MGahn when likely writing articles of impeachment against Trump. Spencer Hsu reports: “U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of Washington entered an order Tuesday about her deadline intent ‘absent unforeseen circumstances’ shortly after a filing from House General Counsel Douglas N. Letter arguing last week’s opening of the hearings before the House Intelligence Committee was grounds for urgency. … William A. Burck, McGahn’s attorney, has said that McGahn will abide by the president’s instructions absent a court reversal.”
-- Republicans are running through a multitude of shifting – and, at times, contradictory – defenses and deflections as they continue to stick together against Trump's impeachment. Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report: “While those attacks — at least 22, according to a Washington Post tally — have done little to undermine the core allegations under investigation in the House, they have been remarkably successful in one respect: keeping congressional Republicans united against impeachment as the GOP casts the probe as partisan.”
-- Democrats on the Intelligence Committee and their attorney spoke the most yesterday. Philip Bump crunched the numbers: “We took C-SPAN’s closed captioning of the hearing and segmented each exchange by who was asking questions and who was responding. In total, [Schiff] spoke for more than half an hour, including lengthy introductory and closing statements. The total time that the witnesses … spent answering Democrats’ queries was about a minute longer than Schiff’s comments and questions. The witnesses spent about 10 more minutes answering Democratic questions than Republican ones, in large part because more Democratic members asked questions.”
-- “Vindman defended himself from claims that Morrison, his boss, had expressed concerns about his judgment, reading from his latest performance evaluation in which another former top NSC official described him as ‘brilliant’ and ‘unflappable,'" Toluse Olorunnipa reports. "On Tuesday, Trump also sought to downplay Vindman’s role and influence. ‘I never heard of him. I don’t know any of these people,’ Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. ‘I don’t know Vindman at all. What I do know is that even he said the transcript was correct.’”
-- Vindman’s uniform spoke loud at the hearing. His humanity spoke louder, writes fashion critic Robin Givhan: “When Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman appeared before the [Intelligence Committee], his striking presence in his serviceable eyeglasses and his military uniform exuded authority, ferocity and patriotism. As one of the Democratic committee members noted admiringly, Vindman was wearing a Purple Heart on his uniform. He also had a Combat Infantry Badge pinned on the left side of his chest, indicating he’d been involved in active ground combat. For civilian viewers, it was helpful to understand the meanings of some of the insignia on his jacket. But even without the details, anyone looking at the vast collage of medals spread across his chest could understand the story they told: that Vindman is one of the many dedicated individuals who choose to stand guard so that others might sleep easily.”
-- Vindman's Army uniform became a proxy symbol, either bolstering the claims of Democrats or cited as evidence by Republicans that Vindman is using his service as a shield from criticism. Alex Horton reports: “While active-duty service members routinely wear their full uniforms to testify on Capitol Hill, security experts say the scrutiny of Vindman’s uniform has become another data point in the politicization of the space between civil society and the military. The Army’s bible for appearance standards, AR 670-1, says all personnel ‘will wear an Army uniform when on duty, unless granted an exception by the commander to wear civilian clothes.’ ‘Most reactions to it imply a choice where there is not one. Commentators are projecting their own feelings without understanding military regulations, a pretty frequent occurrence in civil-military relations,’ said Loren DeJonge Schulman, a former Obama defense official who advised national security adviser Susan E. Rice.”
-- There have been six episodes in which top Trump administration and Ukrainian officials discussed a potential quid pro quo, according to congressional testimony, public statements and documents. We’ve gathered the evidence here.
-- Commentary from The Post's opinion page:
- Dana Milbank: “Republicans portrayed Vindman as disloyal. They have no sense of decency.”
- Media columnist Margaret Sullivan: “‘I don’t know what to believe’ is an unpatriotic cop-out. Do better, Americans.”
- David Von Drehle: “Coach Jordan goes to war for Team Trump.”
- Alexandra Petri: “There was definitely no irony in Alexander Vindman’s testimony. Right?”
- Max Boot: “Why the Republican attacks on Alexander Vindman mark a new low.”
- Marc Thiessen: “The Democrats’ impeachment bombshells aren’t exploding.”
- Erik Wemple: “Devin Nunes’s anti-media rant, annotated.”
- Paul Waldman: “At hearing, Republicans sink to new lows in trying to expose whistleblower.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” Vindman said in his opening statement. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Baltimore’s former mayor Catherine Pugh has been indicted by a federal grand jury on wire fraud and tax evasion over lucrative book deals for her self-published Healthy Holly children’s series. Ann Marimow and Peter Hermann report: “Pugh resigned in May after revelations about the deals she allegedly cut with companies connected to the city and state government, setting off another political crisis and setback for the city. Pugh, 69, was the second Baltimore mayor to leave office in the past decade while facing corruption allegations.
“The indictment accuses her of a years-long scheme dating to 2007. … Federal agents sought financial documents and other information related to almost $800,000 she allegedly was paid for the books, an enormous amount in the world of children’s literature. Pugh is expected to surrender to U.S. Marshals before a court appearance Thursday, prosecutors said. Two former Baltimore employees, Gary Brown Jr, 38, and Roslyn Wedington, 50, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and to filing false tax returns, prosecutors said in a statement.”
-- Uber plans to record audio of customers during rides in the U.S. Faiz Siddiqui scoops: “The new feature, which is first to be piloted in some Latin American cities next month, allows users to opt in to activate an audio recording on any trip or all trips, according to internal communications viewed by The Washington Post and confirmed by Uber. In markets where it’s available, users would likely be given a blanket warning that trips are subject to recording — and that the feature will be active in their market. Riders and drivers will not be able to listen back. ‘When the trip ends, the user will be asked if everything is okay and be able to report a safety incident and submit the audio recording to Uber with a few taps,’ according to an email written by an Uber executive ... ‘The encrypted audio file is sent to Uber’s customer support agents who will use it to better understand an incident and take the appropriate action.’ … The new feature raises privacy concerns over the potential to run afoul of wiretapping and eavesdropping statutes aimed at ensuring people are not recorded without their consent.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- U.S. military aid is helping Ukraine fend off Russian aggression, but the drama surrounding the impeachment inquiry is making Kyiv nervous. Sergey Morgunov, Will Englund and Michael Birnbaum report: “Powerful night-vision devices remove the cover of darkness. Counterartillery radar detects and pinpoints the batteries during firing. Surveillance drones, troubled at first by Russian hacking when introduced in 2016, have since proved their worth, Col. Yevhen Bondar said. It all came from the United States, over the course of five years and part of about $4 billion in military and security assistance designed to counter the Moscow-backed separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. … The block on a nearly $400 million aid package, approved by Congress, was lifted Sept. 11, in time to beat the end of the federal fiscal year. For its part, Ukraine is spending nearly 5.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and security this year, or about $10 billion. The Trump-ordered delay was felt in Ukraine — but not so much in terms of spot shortages of military materiel, because equipment such as this always moves in fits and starts. The real fallout has been one of perception among Ukrainian officials and others — the worry that the White House cannot always be counted on to be in Kyiv’s corner.”
-- But, but, but: $35 million in Pentagon aid still hasn’t reached Ukraine, despite White House assurances, reports the L.A. Times.
-- And Zelensky refused to confirm or deny whether he was prepared to publicly announce an investigation into Burisma after his July 25 call with Trump. CNN posted a video that shows him rolling his eyes when asked on Tuesday, before he brushed off the question. “I think everybody in Ukraine is so tired about Burisma,” he said. “We have our country. We have our independence. We have our problems and questions. That’s it.”
-- Two U.S. service members were killed overnight when their helicopter crashed in Afghanistan while supporting combat operations. Sayed Salahuddin and Susannah George report: “The military said the fatalities brought to 19 the number of U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan this year, adding that the incident is under investigation. The Taliban said the helicopter was shot down as Afghan and U.S. forces were preparing to launch an attack in the area, according to a statement from Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. The 19 service members killed so far this year by hostile forces, surpasses the total of 13 who died in 2018.”
-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is searching for a safe exit from his position ahead of a Senate run, three GOP sources tell Time: “Pompeo’s plan had been to remain at the State Department until early spring next year, ... but recent developments, including the House impeachment inquiry, are hurting him politically and straining his relationship with Trump. So Pompeo is rethinking his calendar, say the top Republicans, one who served in the Trump Administration, another who remains in government, and a third who served in several high-ranking posts and is active in GOP politics. The timing of Pompeo’s resignation now will be decided by his ability to navigate the smoothest possible exit from the administration, the three Republicans say.”
-- “Republicans tasked with keeping the party’s Senate majority in the U.S. Senate still see Pompeo as their best option in the open-seat race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts," the Kansas City Star reports: "At a ‘Save the Senate’ event on Nov. 8 at Trump International Hotel in Washington, the National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Kevin McLaughlin told a room full of lawmakers, lobbyists, and GOP donors to call Pompeo and urge him to run ... The gathering took place just weeks after the NRSC, the party’s main campaign arm for Senate races, met with Republican Rep. Roger Marshall, the western Kansas congressman pursuing the seat. Marshall leads all current candidates in fundraising by about $1 million. ‘I think they certainly understand that we’re the frontrunner and I feel like we’re getting a lot of good support from them right now,’ Marshall said Tuesday when asked about the October meeting.”
-- Iran’s security forces may have killed more than 100 protesters as part of a brutal crackdown on demonstrations. Erin Cunningham reports: “The government has acknowledged only five deaths, including four members of the security forces, and has blamed the protests on foreign enemies and saboteurs. If confirmed, the higher death toll would signal a much wider scale of unrest — a crisis taking place under a near-total information blackout. London-based Amnesty said at least 106 demonstrators have been killed in 21 cities since protests began Friday, citing what it said was verified video footage and credible witness testimony. Security forces have used firearms, water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters, according to the report, which also cited the use of live ammunition.”
-- A small group of protesters is still inside Hong Kong's Polytechnic University after a series of mass arrests. Tiffany Liang, Anna Kam, Casey Quackenbush and Gerry Shih report: “Hong Kong’s police force said Tuesday that it had apprehended 1,100 people over the past day alone, as months of violent clashes appeared to reach something of a climax. It said many of the detainees would be charged with rioting and possession of offensive weapons. It was the largest number of arrests and injuries on a single day since the protests began five months ago. … In Hong Kong, concerns rose over the relative handful of protesters who have so far refused to leave the besieged campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, with authorities urging them to come out peacefully but refusing to rule out action to flush them out. ... In Washington, the U.S. Senate, in a unanimous vote, passed legislation Tuesday aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong ... The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act now goes to the House of Representatives, which earlier approved its own version of the measure."
-- A former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong said he was repeatedly tortured by Chinese secret police over a two-week period over the protests. Simon Denyer, Tiffany Liang and Casey Quanckenbush report: “Simon Cheng, in an account of his treatment published on Facebook, described being handcuffed and shackled, blindfolded and hooded, deprived of sleep, made to sit absolutely still or hung in a uncomfortable spread-eagled position for hours on end, and constantly threatened during incessant interrogations. British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said his government was shocked and appalled by the ‘brutal and disgraceful treatment’ to which Cheng was subjected after being detained during a business trip to Shenzhen in mainland China in August, and said it had summoned the Chinese ambassador in London to protest. But China said its ambassador would never accept Britain’s ‘false allegations.’”
-- Trump’s troop withdrawal from Syria has allowed the Islamic State to gain strength, according to a chilling study by the Pentagon. From Politico: “The withdrawal and incursion allowed ISIS to ‘reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad,’ the quarterly report from the lead inspector general on the U.S. military campaign against ISIS stated. The report cited information from the Defense Intelligence Agency. … ‘In the longer term, ISIS will probably seek to regain control of some Syrian population centers and expand its global footprint, the DIA said,’ the inspector general added.”
-- Israel struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria in response to rocket fire on the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. (NBC News)
-- Some Israelis are celebrating the Trump administration's decision to no longer consider their settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law. Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash report: “At a hastily arranged meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, settler leaders gathered Tuesday at Alon Shvut, a settlement south of Jerusalem, to relish a rare international endorsement of their presence there. ‘I admit I am very moved,’ Netanyahu said at the gathering. He called the Trump administration’s latest policy shift toward Israel ‘an achievement that will stand for generations.’ For many living in Israel’s settlements, the news from Washington was a welcome relief from the drumbeat of condemnation from the international community, including a recent European requirement that products from the settlements carry special labeling. … But observers said their eagerness to do more — add settlements, expand settlements, annex parts of the West Bank — was likely to be met with disappointment, at least in the short term. Like so much else in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the bombshell announcement was a noisy outburst not likely to make much difference on the contested ground any time soon.”
-- Counterprogramming: On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan mix of officials are showing support for Enes Kanter, the NBA star and Turkish dissident, after Trump welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House last week. Jacob Bogage reports: “Kanter’s jersey from his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder hangs in the office of Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma. He talks about the NBA with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat known throughout the Senate as a basketball devotee. He has discussed Interpol red notices with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and joked about Boston sports fans with Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.). Then last week, Kanter, a center for the Boston Celtics, stood shoulder to shoulder with Wyden and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) in the Capitol as they introduced human rights legislation aimed at Turkey. ... Kanter has used that attention and the spotlight of his NBA career to crusade for a more democratic Turkey, befriending and recruiting to the cause American lawmakers from each city he has played in during his nine-year NBA career. Few other prominent Turks have taken a stand against Erdogan in Washington.”
-- Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his challenger, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, had their first debate last night ahead of the Dec. 12 general election. William Booth and Karla Adam report: “The debate on ITV showcased a dozen ordinary voters allowed to ask their questions. ... Johnson promised he had a Brexit deal ready to pop into the oven, heat and serve. Corbyn said it was ‘nonsense’ to say Johnson could complete Brexit by January. He said a trade deal with the European Union would take seven years to negotiate. … Johnson said he would get Brexit done — and challenged Corbyn again on his position on Britain’s leaving the European Union. Corbyn said he would quickly negotiate a new, softer Brexit deal with the E.U. and then take it to the public in a second referendum. … Corbyn is trailing overall in a sample of recent opinion surveys and, given that he did not break through during the debate, will hope to generate more excitement Thursday with the launch of his party’s election manifesto.”
-- Years after freezing new projects, China is back to building coal power plants. Gerry Shih reports: “In the past two years, China has expanded its coal fleet by 43 gigawatts — roughly the entire coal-fired capacity of Germany, according to Global Energy Monitor, a group that tracks construction in the Chinese power industry using public announcements and satellite images. Excluding China, global coal power capacity would otherwise be dropping as countries in Europe and elsewhere decommission old facilities and switch to other energy sources, the group said in a report released Wednesday."
-- Venice’s plan to protect itself from flooding became a disaster in itself. Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli report: “It is among the most ambitious works of civil engineering in modern Italian history, an underwater fortress of steel designed to rise from the depths during high tides to protect the lagoon city of Venice. But decades after being conceived, the project remains incomplete and unusable, little more than a refuge for the clams and barnacles that have made the machinery their home. Venice, meantime, remains vulnerable, as demonstrated by the tides that inundated the city last week, flooding piazzas, churches and hotels, depositing layers of salt that eat away marble. The city’s 6 billion euro flood barrier has been under construction since 2003 and was originally supposed to take eight years. Now, the best guess is that it will be ready by 2021 or 2022. Some experts say that, given the pace of sea-level rise, it may be obsolete just decades after it starts operating. Others wonder, given its sorry history, whether the system will ever be ready. Parts of the underwater project are already corroding.”
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED:
-- Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, days after being pardoned for war crimes by Trump, has been ordered to appear before Navy leaders today, where he is expected to be notified that he'll be ousted from the Navy SEALs. From the Times: “Navy officials had planned to begin the process of taking away Chief Gallagher’s Trident pin, the symbol of his membership in the SEALs, earlier this month. But as he waited outside his commander’s office, Navy leaders sought clearance from the White House that never came, and no action was taken. Admiral [Collin] Green now has the authorization he needs from the Navy to act against Chief Gallagher, and the formal letter notifying the chief of the action has been drafted by the admiral … The Navy also plans to take the Tridents of three SEAL officers who oversaw Chief Gallagher — Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, Lt. Jacob Portier and Lt. Thomas MacNeil — and their letters have been drafted as well … Removing a Trident does not entail a reduction in rank, but it effectively ends a SEAL’s career. … The move sets up a potential confrontation between Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly championed Chief Gallagher, and Admiral Green, who has said he intends to overhaul discipline and ethics in the SEAL teams and sees Chief Gallagher’s behavior as an obstacle.”
-- White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is facing backlash after she claimed without evidence that aides to former president Barack Obama left behind disparaging messages on the day Trump was inaugurated. Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey report: “Grisham said that White House aides left ‘Obama books' throughout the White House and taped a big ‘You will fail’ sign on the door of the press office before Trump aides moved in — claims that sparked a chorus of condemnation from former Obama administration officials. Grisham then modified her assertions later in the day, changing key parts of her story and saying she viewed the alleged conduct as little more than a harmless prank. … Grisham did not provide evidence to back up her allegations. No other administration official has made any similar allegations publicly in the 34 months since Trump entered the White House. Five former senior administration officials present on Day One in 2017 said they do not remember witnessing or hearing of any notes like the ones that Grisham described. ‘Not in my office,’ said one of the former officials.”
-- The American Medical Association called for an immediate ban on all electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. From the AP: “The AMA cited a surge in underage teen use of e-cigarettes, which typically heat a solution that contains nicotine. ‘It’s simple, we must keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people,’ Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA’s president, said in a statement. The doctors’ group said a separate health issue also prompted its action — the recent U.S. outbreak of lung illnesses linked to vaping. Most of those sickened said they vaped THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana, not nicotine. Officials believe a thickening agent used in black market THC vaping products may be a culprit.”
-- Scott Gottlieb, who served as Trump's commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration for the first two years of the administration, explained what he thinks the Trump administration should do on vaping: “E-cigs aren’t safe, but when used properly they are not nearly has harmful as lighting tobacco on fire and smoking it. Yet providing adult smokers with a safer alternative to cigarettes cannot come at the expense of addicting a generation of young people to nicotine with these same products. New data from the Food and Drug Administration shows almost a third of teens now vape. And according to a study published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association, young people who start out using nicotine through e-cigs are more likely to become long-term smokers. The solution is to get e-cigs out of the hands of kids but preserve the devices’ potential to help adult smokers fully quit cigarettes."
-- The House passed a short-term spending bill to avert a government shutdown on Friday, setting up a December showdown over Trump’s border wall that could fall in the midst of impeachment votes. Erica Werner reports: “The legislation, which passed 231 to 192, extends government funding through Dec. 20. It must pass the Senate and be signed by Trump before midnight Thursday. If not, government funding would expire, causing many agencies to begin to shutter operations and furlough staff. The Senate is expected to act on the legislation ahead of the deadline. A senior administration official said Tuesday that Trump is expected to sign the bill. …
"Ahead of the vote, lawmakers of both parties bemoaned their failure to agree on the 12 annual spending bills for 2020, and the resulting need to enact short-term measures once again. … And in an ominous sign of increased partisanship around the spending process, only 12 House Republicans voted in favor of the short-term spending bill Tuesday -- many fewer than the 76 Republicans who supported the last stop-gap bill."
-- Former House speaker John Boehner returned to a Capitol transformed from heated partisanship into a cauldron of constitutional standoff. Paul Kane reports: “Officially there to unveil a portrait that will hang in a venerated room just off the House floor, Boehner brought with him one last bid to get his former colleagues to embrace a style that charmed friends and enemies alike. He remains an eternal optimist who views the world as a ‘glass half full’ — usually with red wine in one hand, a Camel cigarette in the other, handkerchief stuffed into his coat pocket to wipe away his ever-flowing tears. ‘It doesn’t cost anything to be nice. I’d like to think we were able to disagree without being disagreeable,’ Boehner told several hundred well-wishers inside Statuary Hall. ‘And I’d like to think that we tried to do the right things for the right reasons.’ Boehner rejected the chance to weigh in on impeachment, as he did again Tuesday in an interview with Fox Business Network, where he and one of his lobbying partners, Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), the former member of House Democratic leadership, touted a pension plan supported by their firm. ‘I’ll just observe,’ Boehner said of Trump.”
-- Customs and Border Protection issued a new edict regarding which U.S. officials are worthy of a framed portrait on the agency’s walls: Just the president. Maria Sacchetti reports: “The shrinking photo gallery is the result of an agency mandate to feature only Senate-confirmed leaders and elected officials on its walls. Because Trump has said he prefers to keep many top officials in ‘acting’ positions to make it easier to fire them, and because the president has repeatedly refused to nominate the agency’s leaders for confirmation, Trump’s photo will stand alone. … CBP issued the edict because Trump last week replaced acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan with acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf. Because McAleenan was CBP’s most recently confirmed commissioner, he appeared on the agency’s walls in that capacity, agency spokeswoman Stephanie Malin said. The agency displays only portraits of officials in ‘confirmed leadership positions.’”
-- Two jail workers were charged with falsifying records of checks on Jeffrey Epstein the night he died. Devlin Barrett reports: “A grand jury charged Tova Noel and Michael Thomas with conspiring to defraud the United States and making false records while working at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. They are accused of repeatedly signing false paperwork that they conducted regular checks Aug. 10 on Epstein and other inmates. Epstein was found hanging in his cell early that morning, and the city’s medical examiner ruled his death a suicide. For ‘substantial portions of their shifts, Noel and Thomas sat at their desk, browsed the Internet, and moved around the common area’ of the section of the jail where Epstein was held, known as the Special Housing Unit, or SHU, the grand jury charged. The indictment charges that Noel and Thomas repeatedly signed false ‘count slips’ even though they failed to conduct the required counts at midnight, 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. They also failed to check more frequently on Epstein, as had been ordered by higher-ups at the jail, according to the indictment. The document repeatedly notes that its charges are based on ‘video from the MCC’s internal video surveillance system.’”
-- The Arizona man who sold ammunition to the gunman who carried out the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas pleaded guilty. From NBC News: “Douglas Haig, 57, of Mesa, Arizona, admitted he made ammunition without a license. Haig came under investigation when armor-piercing bullets found inside Stephen Paddock's hotel room had Haig's fingerprints on them. Haig has admitted selling 720 rounds of tracer ammunition to the shooter in the weeks before the massacre that killed 58 people. Haig's guilty plea involves the illegal manufacture of armor-piercing rounds.”
-- Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wants compassion for the Trump supporter convicted of making death threats against her. Lateshia Beachum reports: “Patrick W. Carlineo Jr., 55, of Addison, N.Y., entered the guilty plea before Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci for threatening to assault and murder the freshman congresswoman and for being a felon in possession of firearms ... The plea stems from a March call that Carlineo made to Omar’s Washington, D.C., office. … Although he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Omar wrote an open letter to Geraci requesting that he refrain from sentencing Carlineo to a long prison term and a large fine. Carlineo needs compassion and restorative justice that will allow him to understand the consequences of his actions and to make amends, she wrote. ... Carlineo told an FBI special agent that ‘if our forefathers were still alive, they’d put a bullet in her head' ... He told investigators that he was a President Trump-loving patriot who ‘hates radical Muslims’ in the government ... Carlineo told FBI agents that he had a shotgun and a .22 caliber firearm at his home that he claimed belonged to his girlfriend but later admitted to belonged to him..."
-- A white teen girl with a detailed plan for a racist attack on black churchgoers in her notebook was arrested in Georgia, police said. Derek Hawkins reports: “The 16-year-old girl was charged with attempt to commit murder after students at her high school told administrators she had a notebook filled with ‘detailed plans’ to kill members of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Ga., according to police. The alleged plot was ‘definitely racially motivated,’ said Sgt. Kevin Holbrook of the Gainesville Police Department. The notebook, he said, contained ‘manifesto-type’ language that discussed how she wanted to assault black parishioners with butcher knives and other sharp-edged weapons."
-- An Air Force master sergeant, Cory Reeves, was demoted after being accused of spreading white nationalist propaganda, but he is allowed to continue serving. Katie Shepherd reports: “The episode highlights a growing concern about active-duty military and veterans joining the ranks of white supremacist organizations. The leaked Discord chat logs, published by the nonprofit media collective Unicorn Riot in March, led journalists and activists to expose members of the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps as members of Identity Evropa, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center."
-- A white supremacist manifesto received by Syracuse University students prompted a fresh wave of concern on the campus where nearly a dozen racist incidents in the past two weeks have sparked calls for outside investigations. Kim Bellware reports: “Since Nov. 7, when racist scrawls were discovered in dormitory bathrooms and hallways, the campus of nearly 23,000 students has been shaken by at least 10 more hate-fueled episodes ... The incidents have drawn national attention and spurred sit-ins, protests and intervention from the state’s top elected officials. Freshman Dumebi Ebemor said Tuesday that university officials had not canceled classes after the distribution of the manifesto, which Syracuse police later said appears to be identical to the white supremacist manifesto shared by the gunman in the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand. The racist screed was sent to students in the university’s Bird Library via the Apple file-sharing feature AirDrop."
-- We are co-hosting a Democratic debate tonight with MSNBC. Here’s what you need to know:
- Debate coverage starts at 8 p.m. EST, and the debate will run from 9 to 11 p.m. EST.
- It’s being held in Atlanta at the Tyler Perry Studios, and you can watch online on washingtonpost.com or on our apps, as well as on MSNBC.
- Ten candidates qualified to be onstage, meaning this debate has two fewer candidates than last month.
-- Dave Weigel sketches out what he's watching for tonight:
- What does Pete Buttigieg do under pressure? “Every other campaign has some level of contempt for the South Bend, Ind., mayor. Some have expressed it subtly, like [Elizabeth] Warren decrying ‘consultant-driven’ campaigns; some have been more direct, like former HUD secretary Julián Castro warning that Buttigieg can't excite nonwhite voters. … In the past, Buttigieg has gotten around tough questions with the help of rival candidates who didn't want to attack him.”
- Can Warren fight from a corner? “The Massachusetts senator's slip in the polls could benefit her in one small way: It's put more pressure on Buttigieg. … Warren's campaign has readied itself for attacks on her past and has been occasionally surprised when they haven't come.”
- Does Bernie Sanders still treat Warren like a partner? “For the first time, Sanders and Warren do have slightly different plans: Warren would use her first budget to begin enrolling people in an expanded version of Medicare but not end duplicative private insurance until three years later. The question is whether Sanders, who is generally viewed by voters as more trustworthy than Warren, explores that question or defends the overall goal of his legislation, shared by Warren, against all comers.”
-- Biden is planning a major Iowa push after tonight's debate as concerns grow about his weaknesses in the first voting state. Matt Viser and Holly Bailey report: “Biden’s campaign once shrugged off the potential impact of losing the caucus vote on Feb. 3, but concerns lately have grown about just how poorly he might do. Desperate to avoid a humiliating showing that might have broader repercussions, Biden is planning a renewed focus on Iowa, with an expectation that both he and his wife, Jill, soon will make the kind of extended trips to the state that other candidates have for months. They also have launched a new digital campaign and could have additional endorsements in the works.”
-- Biden has durable support from a multiracial coalition of working-class workers who see him as one of their own. From the Times: “In dozens of interviews, from parades and union rallies to black churches and political picnics, working-class Democrats who support Mr. Biden explained their views in practical terms: they know and trust the Scranton native from his long tenure as a Delaware senator and as Barack Obama’s vice president, they find his incremental policy proposals realistic and they think he can win. … Surveys in this race indicate a return to the longstanding tradition in Democratic primaries of voters splitting along class lines, and illuminate a key slice of Mr. Biden’s base. … For some voters, Mr. Biden appeals because there are strategic assumptions at work: many black working-class Democrats believe that white America will only support a well-known white male, such as Mr. Biden, while a number of working-class white Democrats also believe he is the most acceptable nominee. Some voters cited the misogyny and racism that female candidates and candidates of color have experienced in previous races.”
-- There are two Rhodes Scholars running for president, but Buttigieg gets way more credit for this than Cory Booker. From HuffPost: “HuffPost searched mentions in U.S. publications for 2019, finding that news outlets cited Buttigieg’s Rhodes scholarship 596 times. Booker had just 79 mentions.” Booker also attended Stanford and Yale Law.
-- Documents reveal that a massive “dark-money” group pumped $140 million into Democratic and left-leaning causes in 2018. From Politico: “The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a little-known nonprofit headquartered in Washington, spent $141 million on more than 100 left-leaning causes during the midterm election year, according to a new tax filing from the group. The money contributed to efforts ranging from fighting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other Trump judicial nominees to boosting ballot measures raising the minimum wage and changing laws on voting and redistricting in numerous states. The spending was fueled by massive anonymous donations, including one gift totaling $51.7 million. That single donation was more than the group had ever raised before in an entire year before [Trump] was elected.”
-- Liberal groups, anxious over Trump’s growing lead in the money race, are committing to spend in general-election swing states during the primaries. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “By the time voters coalesce around a nominee, Democratic operatives worry, it will be too late to overcome Trump’s fundraising advantages in the general election. Already, pro-Trump committees have spent more than $500 million on his reelection — far more than previous incumbents at this point in the election. As a result, more than a dozen groups backed by high-dollar Democratic donors have pledged to spend at least $420 million through the primary season, focused largely on general-election swing states. Their efforts range from running anti-Trump digital ads to funding legal challenges to voter restriction that could hamper Democratic turnout. ‘We can’t wait until we have a candidate to do this work,’ said Tara McGowan, founder and chief executive of Acronym, a politically active nonprofit supporting Democrats."
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who left the Republican Party on July 4 to become an independent after concluding that Trump committed impeachable offenses, said Volker and Morrison didn't help the GOP's case:
Today was really bad for Pres. Trump, especially the afternoon testimonies of Volker and Morrison—probably the worst yet for the president. Republicans keep pressing witnesses on their legal understandings, but they are there as fact witnesses, and the facts are consistently bad.— Justin Amash (@justinamash) November 20, 2019
From a former Republican congresswoman who was defeated in Virginia last November:
This is a witness the Republicans wanted to testify.... https://t.co/I1zloycJDQ— Barbara Comstock (@BarbaraComstock) November 19, 2019
Another former GOP congressman, who represented Florida and has emerged as a Trump critic, mocked an ex-colleague:
Nunes needs a hug.— David Jolly (@DavidJollyFL) November 19, 2019
The official White House Twitter account attacked a current White House official in the middle of that official's testimony before Congress:
Tim Morrison, Alexander Vindman's former boss, testified in his deposition that he had concerns about Vindman's judgment. pic.twitter.com/xwHOt4bsHS— The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 19, 2019
The White House's director of social media also attacked Vindman from his government account, prompting this observation from a Post colleague:
This is the equivalent of the executive editor of The Washington Post tweeting that one of his reporters can't be trusted. I can't imagine a more toxic work environment. https://t.co/ka35qAd3vS— Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe) November 19, 2019
The president's son also attacked the Army officer:
What a joke... Can anyone watch this and believe that Vindman has any credibility? His lawyer tells him not tot talk to anyone so he doesn't tell his superiors but tells his brother and the whistle blower and others... Just not his boss... only those who set this farce up? GTFO https://t.co/pH8AerBo96— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 19, 2019
Twin jokes were made during Vindman's testimony:
Let’s be clear—if I knew it’d look like that I wouldn’t have suggested it. https://t.co/CLeRBskQfJ— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) November 19, 2019
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) brought props:
Ratcliffe says he printed out all of the deposition transcripts that have been released so far pic.twitter.com/RxzDnhWnyD— Rebecca Shabad (@RebeccaShabad) November 19, 2019
A Politico reporter compared Volker's private deposition with his public testimony:
Big change from Volker's first testimony to his opening statement today.— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) November 19, 2019
Left: he says "no" when asked categorically whether investigations were brought up in July 10 meeting
Right: He says Sondland did bring up investigations, and he found it "inappropriate" pic.twitter.com/VNeV93wNPI
One of our national security correspondents explained how Volker's story still doesn't really add up:
Volker assertion that he saw "sharp distinction" between Burisma and Biden is an assertion of fairly astonishing ignorance -- he never googled Burisma? Never wondered why it Trump/Giuliani so interested in one company? Missed Giuliani public statements? & on & on— Greg Miller (@gregpmiller) November 19, 2019
And a CNN correspondent observed another damning fact pattern that's now taken as a given:
still striking that while there is debate over explicit linkage of security assistance to statement of investigations into political rival, there is zero debate that same statement - targeting political rival & 2016 - was openly discussed in exchange for a White House meeting— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) November 19, 2019
The two witnesses in the morning went back to work at the White House after their testimony:
After several hours of testimony,— Matt Viser (@mviser) November 19, 2019
Jennifer Williams and Alexander Vindman walk outside of the Capitol and get into a taxi.
Imagine you’re that cab driver. “Hey. How’s your day going so far?”
Former Obama aides pushed back on White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham's allegations that they left hateful notes behind for their Trump counterparts:
I actually left an iPhone charger if anybody’s seen it, but no, nobody left unimaginative notes written at a sixth-grade level. https://t.co/DeaTk5W6wk— Cody Keenan (@codykeenan) November 19, 2019
Actual notes Obama aides left behind for their replacements were shared online:
NEW: Read the note that former Obama press secretary Josh Earnest left on his desk for Sean Spicer.— Josh Lederman (@JoshNBCNews) November 19, 2019
He wrote it wasn't hard to set aside his political views "and genuinely root for you to success in this role."https://t.co/FqrJdEz8cI pic.twitter.com/FcP8ZzHKOY
Here is what @AmbassadorRice wrote in her book "Tough Love" about the note she left Michael Flynn: "On a White House stationary card, I reiterate my best wishes for his success in a job so crucial to the nation's security. I offer to help him, if ever I could..." https://t.co/5INvhdTYKP— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) November 19, 2019
ABC's White House correspondent shared some images from the day the Trump aides moved into their offices:
I was in the West Wing on the evening of January 20, 2017, talking to several incoming Trump officials as they moved into their offices. I saw no offices "filled with Obama books" and nobody mentioned "you will fail" notes. Here are photos I took at the WH that night pic.twitter.com/TUZhbO6QbN— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) November 19, 2019
Bernie Sanders took a stance in support of minor league teams:
Sean is absolutely right. Closing down Minor League teams, like the Vermont Lake Monsters, would be a disaster for baseball fans, workers, and communities across the country. We must protect these teams from corporate greed. https://t.co/g8BZi6HGeH— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 19, 2019
And Bei Bei the panda is flying to China with a really nice set up:
The FedEx Panda Express flies again! We put panda decals on this 777F just for Bei Bei’s ride from Washington DC to China. Bei Bei will be the only cargo on this special direct flight, unless you count the 66 pounds of bamboo, snacks & water. #ByeByeBeiBei https://t.co/m6atXXmSUe pic.twitter.com/GSPBVrZObu— FedEx (@FedEx) November 16, 2019
If you were a giant panda taking a 16-hour flight to China, what would you want on your playlist? As we say #ByeByeBeiBei with our @NationalZoo, we invite you to change "baby" to "Bei Bei" and share your picks with #BeiBeiMixTape. pic.twitter.com/2n5VuLiXBG— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) November 15, 2019
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who participated in the impeachment inquiries into Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, shares what's different about this time:
Stephen Colbert said Vindman wasn’t afraid to clap back:
Here's one such moment:
Nunes: "Mr Vindman, you testified in your deposition that that you did not know the whistleblower."— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 19, 2019
Vindman: "Ranking member it's Lt. Col. Vindman, please."pic.twitter.com/ittG8hkszM
Seth Meyers said Republicans are trying to attack the impeachment hearing witnesses because they have no defense:
Trevor Noah took a look at another D.C. scandal: