President Trump dismissed criticism Friday that he had tried to intimidate a witness in the impeachment inquiry, saying a disparaging tweet about former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as she testified before a House panel was “free speech.”

“I have the right to speak,” Trump said at an afternoon event in the Oval Office.

Trump’s tweet — in which he said everything “turned bad” in various places Yovanovitch was posted as a diplomat — came as she testified that she was the target of a “campaign of disinformation” that involved Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Yovanovitch also told the House Intelligence Committee that she felt threatened when she read how Trump talked about her to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a July 25 call.

Later Friday, David Holmes, a career diplomat, told lawmakers that he overheard a phone call in Kyiv between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, during which Trump pressed for updates on Zelensky’s willingness to “do the investigation” — testimony that could significantly advance the House’s impeachment inquiry.

Democrats are seeking to build a case that Trump sought to withhold military assistance and an Oval Office meeting until Zelensky announced investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and his son, as well as an unfounded theory that Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 presidential election to hurt Trump.

●Pelosi calls Trump’s actions ‘bribery’ as Democrats sharpen case for impeachment.

●Trump attacks ambassador even as she describes feeling threatened by him.

●Rough transcript of call shows Ukraine leader wanted Trump to attend inauguration.

●Career White House budget official expected to break ranks, testify in impeachment inquiry.

November 15, 2019 at 10:00 PM EST
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Holmes completes closed-door testimony late Friday.

Ukraine embassy staffer David Holmes has completed his closed-door testimony. It had been scheduled to begin around 3 p.m. Friday but started late.

Michael Brice-Saddler

November 15, 2019 at 9:30 PM EST
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Yoho appears to question Yovanovitch’s loyalty; notes she was born in Canada to Ukrainian parents

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) raised doubts about Yovanovitch’s commitment to the United States during an appearance on CNN late Friday, stating “that’s a tough question” when asked if there’s any question about the former U.S. ambassador’s loyalty to the country.

The House Republican made the remark in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo after noting Yovanovitch was born in Canada and has Ukrainian parents.

Yovanovitch was born in Canada to parents who fled the Soviet Union and moved to Connecticut as a child. The 33-year career diplomat has served presidents of both parties.

Michael Brice-Saddler

November 15, 2019 at 7:30 PM EST
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Official White House readout of first Trump-Zelensky call was drafted before it occurred, according to a person familiar with the matter

A White House readout of an April call between Trump and Zelensky that does not match the rough transcript released Friday was drafted before the call occurred and was never updated, according to a person briefed on the call.

The official readout — which said Trump “expressed his commitment” to work with the newly elected president to “strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption” — was based on talking points that the president did not follow, the person said.

After the call, the White House staff did not update the readout to reflect what Trump actually said — and what he left out, the person said.

In response to questions about the discrepancy Friday, deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley blamed National Security Council Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who he said prepared the readout.

But Vindman was not responsible for making the final update to the readout, according to a person familiar with his account, who said he recalls that then-press secretary Sarah Sanders held onto the readout before turning it over for public release.

Carol D. Leonnig

November 15, 2019 at 7:15 PM EST
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Impeachment witness says he overheard Trump demand ‘investigation’ of Bidens by Ukraine

David Holmes, a career diplomat, told lawmakers Friday that he overheard a phone call in Kyiv between President Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, during which Trump pressed for updates on the Ukrainians’ willingness to conduct an “investigation,” a day after Trump had asked Ukraine’s president to launch probes into former vice president Joe Biden and his son as well a debunked theory about the 2016 election.

Details of the July 26 conversation were disclosed by Holmes in his opening statement to impeachment investigators, which was obtained by CNN.

Holmes said that at the conclusion of the call, Sondland told him and other aides present that Trump does not “give a shit” about Ukraine and was primarily interested in the “Biden investigation” that was being pushed by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Guiliani.

Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, was with Sondland at a restaurant in Kyiv on July 26 when the ambassador called Trump to update him on the status of his meetings with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv, including with Zelensky.

Sondland told Trump, according to Holmes, that Zelensky would do “anything you ask him to” and confirmed that this included “the investigation.”

“So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” asked Trump, according to Holmes. “He’s gonna do it,” Sondland replied.

Holmes told investigators he could hear the president’s voice through the earpiece of the phone. It wasn’t on speaker phone, but Sondland held it away from his head because it was so loud. The account of the new call has thrust a new fact witness with purportedly firsthand information into an impeachment inquiry that Republicans have attacked as lacking primary source evidence.

Read more here.

John Hudson, Rosalind S. Helderman and Rachael Bade

November 15, 2019 at 6:30 PM EST
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Pelosi says Trump’s tweet attacking Yovanovitch was ‘wrong,’ calls president ‘an impostor’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said President Trump’s tweet attacking Yovanovitch was the “wrong thing” to do, adding, “he knows her strength and he was trying to undermine it.”

“Of course presidents appoint ambassadors,” Pelosi said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But people don’t insult people, especially when they’re giving testimony before the Congress of the United States. I think even his most ardent supporters have to honestly admit this was the wrong thing for the president to do.”

Pelosi said Trump’s word’s carry a lot of weight and that he should avoid frivolously throwing out insults.

“I think part of it is his own insecurity as an impostor. I think he knows full well that he’s in that office way over his head,” Pelosi said. “And so he has to diminish everyone else.”

Michael Brice-Saddler

November 15, 2019 at 6:00 PM EST
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Holmes heard Trump clearly on the phone, Rep. Lieu says

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said David Holmes, a political counselor at the embassy in Kyiv, clearly overheard Trump talking to Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about investigations of the Bidens.

“He has some specific quotes that leave no doubt about what the president of the United States was thinking,” Lieu said, adding that he would like to see Holmes testify in public.

Acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. revealed at a public hearing Wednesday that one of his aides overheard a phone call between Sondland and Trump in which they discussed the political investigations at the heart of the inquiry.

The Washington Post later reported that aide was Holmes. Lieu said that two additional people also heard the call because Sondland was at a luncheon with several embassy aides.

Rachael Bade

November 15, 2019 at 5:45 PM EST
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Trump’s supporters flood social media with message dismissing Yovanovitch

As the hearing unfolded, some of the president’s supporters sought to present a united front online, flooding social media with precise and coordinated messaging.

One line in particular gained traction on Twitter: “I hired Donald Trump to fire people like Yovanovitch.”

The statement gained about 12,600 interactions — meaning tweets, retweets, mentions and replies — during a roughly 2½-hour period on Friday morning, according to analysis conducted by Marc Owen Jones, a disinformation researcher and assistant professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar. It continued to spread through much of the afternoon, appearing on other major social media platforms, such as Facebook, as well as on Trump-friendly message boards on 4chan.

The line echoed the defense mounted by the White House and congressional Republicans that it was the president’s prerogative to dismiss the career diplomat. And it picked up steam as Trump assailed Yovanovitch with a mid-hearing tweet of his own.

Dialing up the volume on the single line was evidence of the discipline that is a hallmark of Trump’s online followers.

While the online mantra appeared to originate with an authentic user, some of its amplification seemed to exhibit coordinated activity that alarmed researchers. Jones said it was unusual to see a tweet copied and pasted without attribution “on such a large scale from so many accounts.” Many of the accounts in question were created in January 2017, further pointing to the possibility of a centralized campaign.

Isaac Stanley-Becker

November 15, 2019 at 5:00 PM EST
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Stefanik said she disagrees with Trump’s tweet, but focus should remain on impeachment

Addressing reporters after Friday’s public hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said she disagreed with Trump’s disparaging tweet about Yovanovitch, but added it does not amount to witness intimidation.

The focus, Stefanik said, should remain on impeachment, which is a “constitutional matter.”

“You can disagree or dislike the tweet, but we are here to talk about impeachment, and nothing in that room today and nothing in that room earlier this week — nothing rises to the level of impeachable offenses,” she said. “This is wishful political thinking by Democrats, this is not the first or last tweet they’re going to complain about.”

Stefanik was the first GOP lawmaker to question Yovanovitch in the five-minute rounds, and her inquiries sought to get the witness to confirm statements helpful to Republicans’ defense of Trump.

Several Democrats on Friday accused Trump of trying to intimidate Yovanovitch during her testimony. Asked if she found the tweet to be intimidating, Stefanik emphasized that while she disagreed with the tone, Yovanovitch was “still able to answer questions.”

“I happen to disagree with the tweet — but again, as we know, Democrats want to continue making this a political food fight,” she said.

Michael Brice-Saddler

November 15, 2019 at 4:15 PM EST
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White House blames Vindman for discrepancies between official readouts of Trump-Zelensky April call

The White House displaced blame for the discrepancy in the official readout offered in April of Trump’s first conversation with Zelensky and the memorandum of the phone call released earlier Friday, saying it was the fault of National Security Council Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

“It is standard operating procedure for the National Security Council to provide readouts of the president’s phone calls with foreign leaders. This one was prepared by the NSC’s Ukraine expert,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.

Vindman, who was on both calls Trump had with Zelensky and provided damaging testimony against the president in his closed deposition, will testify publicly Tuesday and will certainly be asked about this.

The official readout after the initial call said Trump discussed rooting out corruption in Ukraine, but in the rough transcript Trump does not mention corruption at all.

Colby Itkowitz

November 15, 2019 at 3:35 PM EST
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House investigators prepare for closed-door deposition

With the public hearing over, House investigators are preparing to hear from another witness in a closed-door session, Ukraine embassy staffer David Holmes.

Holmes is one of two people believed to have overheard a July phone call in which Trump was said to have asked U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “the investigations” sought from Ukraine into Trump’s political rivals.

Trump has told reporters that he has no recollection of the call.

John Wagner

November 15, 2019 at 3:30 PM EST
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Schiff says Trump’s tweet ‘part of a broader and incriminating pattern of conduct’

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters after the hearing that Trump’s disparaging tweet directed at Yovanovitch was “part of a broader and incriminating pattern of conduct.”

“The president’s attack on a witness today is not something we view in isolation,” Schiff said. “This is part of a pattern to intimidate witnesses.”

Other Democrats suggested earlier Friday that Trump’s tweet could form the basis for a separate article of impeachment.

John Wagner

November 15, 2019 at 3:20 PM EST
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Schiff gavels public hearing to a close, applause breaks out for Yovanovitch

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) gaveled the open hearing to a close after praising Yovanovitch’s service and courage.

In closing remarks, Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif), the top Republican on the panel, disparaged the proceedings as a “show trial.”

Applause and cheers rang out as Yovanovitch got up to leave the hearing room.

John Wagner

November 15, 2019 at 3:00 PM EST
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Yovanovitch shoots down Trump ally’s 2016 election conspiracy theory

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pressed Yovanovitch about criticism in 2016 from several Ukrainian officials of then-candidate Donald Trump — but Yovanovitch said the comments didn’t, in her view, constitute election interference.

Jordan, a staunch Trump ally, listed a number of negative comments several Ukrainian officials made about Trump and asked Yovanovitch whether she could see why Trump was frustrated and therefore justified in being skeptical of Ukraine.

“No one did anything,” Jordan said, asking if “you see why maybe, maybe the president was a little concerned about what went on in Ukraine.”

Yovanovitch responded: “I can’t speak for the president on this. … From my point of view, that doesn’t create a Ukrainian government strategy to interfere in our election. ... “It doesn’t necessarily constitute interference.”

Rachael Bade

November 15, 2019 at 2:50 PM EST
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Trump says he’s allowed to defend himself, doesn’t think his words are intimidating

Asked to respond to allegations that he committed witness tampering by tweeting disparagingly about Yovanovitch during her testimony, Trump pivoted and said the real tampering was done by the Democrats for not allowing the White House lawyers to ask questions or the Republicans to call their own witnesses.

“I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech, just as other people do,” Trump said, when pressed by reporters at the end of a White House event on lowering prescription drug prices.

A reporter asked Trump if he was trying to intimidate Yovanovitch with his tweets, but Trump ignored the question, repeating, “I just want to have a total — I want freedom of speech.”

A reporter asked the question again several times, then asked whether he believed his words could be intimidating.

“I don’t think so at all,” he said.

Trump also criticized the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry more broadly, saying it was getting in the way of getting other things done.

“I think it’s considered a joke all over Washington and all over the world,” he said.

Colby Itkowitz and John Wagner