William B. Taylor Jr., acting ambassador to Ukraine, testified Wednesday in the first open hearing of the impeachment inquiry about a July phone call between President Trump and U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that was overheard by a member of Taylor’s staff in which Trump purportedly asked about “the investigations.”

The conversation was said to have occurred on July 26, a day after Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden at a time when U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being withheld.

Trump, asked about Taylor’s new testimony, said he had no recollection of such a call with Sondland.

Besides Taylor, members of the House Intelligence Committee also heard from George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

●Historic impeachment hearings begin, with GOP and Democrats pushing dueling messages on Trump’s conduct.

●Aides are counseling Trump not to fire Mick Mulvaney, as the acting White House chief of staff changes course again.

●At a donor dinner, an associate of Trump personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani said he discussed Ukraine with the president, according to people familiar with his account.

●How the decline of public trust shaped Trump’s, Nixon’s and Clinton’s endgames.

November 13, 2019 at 6:00 PM EST
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Pentagon inspector general won’t open investigation into military aid delay

The Defense Department watchdog turned down a request from Senate Democrats that he open an investigation into the Pentagon’s hold on military aid to Ukraine, at least while the impeachment inquiry is ongoing.

Acting inspector general Glenn Fine said in a letter sent to the Democrats that he didn’t want to open an investigation “that could lead to the DoD OIG potentially interfering with, duplicating, or otherwise impacting the ongoing House investigation.”

Fine left the door open to investigating the circumstances around the delay in military assistance in the future, writing that after the impeachment process concludes, “we would again consider investigating such DoD matters that have not been sufficiently addressed and that warrant additional scrutiny.”

Colby Itkowitz

November 13, 2019 at 5:00 PM EST
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Trump says he doesn’t recall speaking to Sondland the day after his call with Zelensky

At a news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump said he had no recollection of speaking to Sondland the day after his July 25 call with Zelensky.

The president was asked to respond to new testimony from Taylor that an aide overheard Sondland speaking to Trump on the phone on July 26. During the call, Trump asked for an update on his request that Ukraine investigate the Bidens, Taylor said, citing the aide.

Taylor said that after the call, the aide asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine and Sondland said Trump cares “more about the investigations of Biden.”

“I know nothing about that,” Trump said Wednesday. “First time I’ve heard it. ... I don’t recall. Not at all. Not even a little bit.”

Colby Itkowitz

November 13, 2019 at 4:45 PM EST
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Trump calls hearing a ‘joke,’ says he will release transcript of his first call with Zelensky on Thursday

Trump told reporters that he plans to release the transcript of his April phone call with Zelensky on Thursday.

“I’m going to be releasing — I think on Thursday — a second call, which actually, was the first of the two,” Trump said at the news conference with Erdogan.

Trump was also asked for his reaction to the impeachment hearing.

“I hear it’s a joke. I haven’t watched for one minute because I’ve been with the president,” he said.

“I’ve heard just a report. They said it’s all third-hand information. Nothing direct at all,” Trump added later. “Can’t be direct because I never said it. And all they have to do is look very, very simply at the transcript.”

Colby Itkowitz

November 13, 2019 at 4:20 PM EST
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Jordan refers to ‘our administration,’ then quickly backtracks

In remarks to reporters after the hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) made a brief reference to the Trump administration as “our administration,” before quickly backtracking.

“Look, Ukraine’s . . . one of the three most corrupt countries on the planet,” Jordan said. “President Trump and our administration — his administration — was checking them out.”

Mike DeBonis

November 13, 2019 at 4:10 PM EST
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Panel votes down effort to make whistleblower testify

The House Intelligence Committee summarily shot down an effort by Republicans to subpoena the whistleblower for closed-door testimony, voting 13 to 9 to deny GOP members their motion to make the anonymous individual a witness in the impeachment inquiry.

“We need to hear from the whistleblower. We need to understand what the inspector general meant by indices of bias. We need to speak to his motives,” Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who introduced the motion, said after it had been voted down.

Democrats initially expressed an interest in interviewing the whistleblower without revealing the person’s identity, but that swiftly faded after the impeachment probe got underway.

In recent weeks, Democrats have opposed Republican efforts to make the whistleblower a more central part of their impeachment inquiry, noting that many others have come forward with more-detailed information, essentially making the individual’s testimony superfluous.

Karoun Demirjian

November 13, 2019 at 4:00 PM EST
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Trump campaign dismisses Taylor, Kent as ‘unelected, career government bureaucrats’

In a statement immediately after the impeachment hearing, Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign disregarded the testimony from Taylor and Kent as “third-hand hearsay.”

“We hate to break it to these unelected, career government bureaucrats who think they know best: the President of the United States sets foreign policy, not them,” said Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager. “And disagreement on policy is not an impeachable offense.”

Colby Itkowitz

November 13, 2019 at 3:50 PM EST
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Schiff closes by saying Kent and Taylor have outlined a ‘deeply troubling’ story

Schiff closed out the hearing by summarizing what he called a “deeply troubling” story about a “dedicated ambassador” who was smeared and a president who sought to work through an “irregular channel” to undercut national security interests to promote his own political objectives in Ukraine.

The ambassador is former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who will appear for the second public impeachment hearing Friday. Still more witnesses are expected to appear in public hearings next week.

Schiff also reminded lawmakers that regardless of their political leanings, they would ultimately have to decide whether they think the president can invite a foreign country to intervene in elections.

Karoun Demirjian

November 13, 2019 at 3:45 PM EST
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Taylor sent cable to Pompeo warning that it was ‘folly’ to withhold aid

Taylor said he sent a diplomatic cable directly to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — the only such missive he has sent in his career — warning that withholding U.S. aid to Ukraine would be “folly.”

Taylor said he never received a “direct” answer from Pompeo.

Near the end of hours of questioning, Taylor described how he was told by a senior Trump administration official to send the cable directly to Pompeo to make sure that the State Department was aware of his concerns.

The House Intelligence Committee has not received the classified cable, but Taylor described it in general terms. He said he told Pompeo that the U.S. aid to Ukraine “at this particular time is very important,” and that Ukraine “is important for our national security and we should support it. Not to provide that would be folly.”

Taylor turned to his fellow witness, Kent, to ask whether Pompeo received the message. Kent said he was on vacation at the time but had heard it went to Pompeo.

“I honestly can’t say for sure what happened with the cable once the message was brought in at the highest level,” Kent said.

Michael Kranish

November 13, 2019 at 3:40 PM EST
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Kent and Taylor say Trump-Zelensky call wasn’t ‘perfect’

Trump has repeatedly insisted that his July 25 phone call with Zelensky was “perfect.”

The two career State Department officials testifying Wednesday disagreed.

“You don’t believe that July 25 call was perfect, did you?” asked Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.).

After a long pause, Kent said, “I think some of the language in the call gave cause for concern.”

“I agree,” Taylor said. “Part of the discussion of the previous ambassador was a cause for concern.”

Mike DeBonis

November 13, 2019 at 3:30 PM EST
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Giuliani was not promoting U.S. interests in Ukraine, diplomats say

Kent and Taylor said that Trump’s personal lawyer was undermining the country’s interests in his interactions with officials in Kyiv.

Both officials testified that Giuliani was not promoting U.S. policy or its national security priorities through his attempts to pressure the Ukrainian government to pursue investigations that could be damaging to Biden.

“He was not” acting in U.S. interests, Kent said in response to questions from Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat and former police chief. “I believe [Giuliani] was looking to dig up political dirt on [Trump’s] potential rival in the next election cycle.”

Greg Miller

November 13, 2019 at 3:25 PM EST
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Democratic congressman quips that Trump is ‘welcome’ to testify

Responding to Republican complaints that the first witnesses in impeachment hearings had no firsthand knowledge of the president’s conduct, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) invited a new witness to testify: Trump.

“I would be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there,” Welch said, drawing laughter from the packed hearing room.

Welch went on to argue the president had crossed a clear line in his conduct regarding Ukraine, despite Republican protests that the conduct at issue was not that serious.

Devlin Barrett

November 13, 2019 at 3:20 PM EST
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Kent, Taylor say Trump’s ask makes it harder for U.S. diplomats to advance democracy abroad

The two State Department witnesses agreed with a Democrat’s contention that Trump’s desire for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens undermines U.S. foreign policy goals of spreading democratic ideals.

“When American leaders ask foreign governments to investigate their potential rivals, doesn’t that make it harder for us to advocate on behalf of those democratic values?” Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) asked.

“I believe it makes it more difficult for our diplomatic representatives overseas to carry out those policy goals, yes,” Kent affirmed. He added: “There’s an issue of credibility. They hear diplomats saying one thing and U.S. leaders saying something else.” Taylor also voiced agreement with Kent’s remarks.

Colby Itkowitz

November 13, 2019 at 3:15 PM EST
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GOP attempts to talk whistleblower, but Schiff shuts them down

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) attempted to grill House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) about the whistleblower as the GOP’s time for questions wound down.

“When are House Republicans going to find out what House Democrats already know?” Ratcliffe demanded, directing his question awkwardly toward the witnesses after Schiff denied his request for a “colloquy” — effectively an exchange between members.

Ratcliffe protested that he didn’t want to know the identity of the whistleblower, just the timing of when the individual made contact with Schiff’s office and what was discussed.

Karoun Demirjian

November 13, 2019 at 3:10 PM EST
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Taylor says tying aid to election investigation was ‘wrong’

Taylor said that it was “wrong” to tie American aid to a demand that Ukrainian officials investigate a matter related to the 2016 U.S. election.

Taylor’s statement came in response to questioning from Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who recited a comment from Mulvaney that tying foreign aid to an investigation in an American political matter is something done “all the time … get over it.”

“Is this something we would do all the time?” Swalwell asked. Taylor responded that holding up aid for such assistance “for no good policy reason, no good substantive reason, no good national security reason, is wrong.”

Swalwell also asked Taylor and Kent whether they were “NEVERTRUMPERS,” as Trump tweeted earlier Wednesday.

Taylor responded, “No, sir,” and Kent said that he has served presidents of both parties for the past 27 years.

Michael Kranish