Over the weekend
Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, moves to join a lawsuit directed by national security officials asking a court to tell him whether he should testify to Congress despite the White House’s order not to. It’s a quixotic move. It suggests Mulvaney may be open to testifying against the president. And it rubs the former National Security Council folks driving the lawsuit the wrong way: They and Mulvaney were at odds in the White House over Ukraine policy.
Republicans release a list of witnesses they want to call in the impeachment inquiry over the next few weeks, including the Bidens and the whistleblower, an attempt to move the focus of the inquiry away from Trump. Democrats get to control the process and almost certainly won’t approve those.
A longtime Republican congressman, Peter T. King, says he’s retiring — and that he’ll vote against impeaching Trump, an indication of how unified House Republicans are in backing up their president.
Democrats release the transcript of a deposition by a top Pentagon official working on Ukraine. Laura Cooper had testified the Pentagon didn’t understand why military aid to Ukraine was held up and it was her “very strong inference” that the Ukrainians knew it was frozen this summer, a factor that could go a long way in proving a quid pro quo.
Mulvaney pulls out of the lawsuit, saying instead that he’ll stick with the president’s orders on whether to testify. (Translation: He won’t testify at all, even with a subpoena.)
Republicans shrug off growing evidence to stand with Trump, issuing a memo that attempts to defend the president, though it misses the mark on a number of facts.
Democrats issue their own memo ahead of the first day of public hearings. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) warns members of the committee holding the hearings that every member “shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”
Democrats also announce eight witnesses will testify publicly next week, including three people who had either firsthand knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine call or what Trump may have wanted in Ukraine: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and diplomats Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker.
The first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin. U.S. diplomat William B. Taylor Jr. testifies there was a concerted effort by people in Trump’s orbit to force Ukraine to investigate Democrats to get its military aid. Taylor and fellow diplomat George Kent testified that effort undermined U.S. interests and national security.
Taylor: Holding up security aid, as Trump did, “for no good policy reason, no good substantive reason, no good national security reason, is wrong.”
Kent: “It was unexpected, and most unfortunate, to watch some Americans — including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas — launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine.”
Taylor offers a new piece of testimony that could more directly tie Trump to offering Ukraine a quid pro quo to get its military aid. He says a member of his staff overheard a conversation between Sondland and Trump in which the president was asking for “investigations.”
“I know nothing about that,” Trump tells reporters. “First time I’ve heard it.” (Sondland will testify publicly next Wednesday.)
In a closed-door lunch among Republican senators, some speculate about the idea of drawing out an impeachment trial against Trump to make life more difficult for the six Democratic senators running for president who need to spend January campaigning ahead of the primaries.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) debuts a potential article of impeachment against Trump: bribery.
“The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry and that the president abused power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into his political rival,” she tells reporters.
It’s a different tack than trying to prove Trump explicitly ordered a quid pro quo, which is difficult to pin down in part because people close to Trump refuse to testify. Bribery is specifically listed in the Constitution as an impeachable offense.
“It sounded like a threat,” ousted ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch says in public testimony, describing what she thought when she learned that Trump, in a July phone call to Ukraine’s new president, described her as “bad news” and said that “she’s going to go through some things.”
During the hearing, Trump releases his first phone call with Ukraine’s president, which was largely innocuous and not the one that had national security officials worried. He then attacks Yovanovitch, earning a rebuke from some House Republicans.
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
“I disagree with the tweet,” says House Intelligence Committee member Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).
David Holmes, the U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who overheard Sondland talking to Trump about “investigations,” testifies behind closed doors after Yovanovitch’s hearing. According to his opening statement obtained by CNN, Hale said he overheard Trump with his own voice ask: “So, he’s gonna do the investigations?” This call was on July 26, the day after Trump called Ukraine’s president and asked about the Bidens and Crowdstrike.
A top official at the White House budget office testifies behind closed doors. Mark Sandy is a career employee at the Office of Management and Budget, the office that actually held up the military aid to Ukraine. Political OMB officials have refused subpoenas. Sandy could shed light on who ordered it and why.
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