The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled its first impeachment hearing for Dec. 4, as Democrats released transcripts Tuesday of the depositions of two more Trump administration officials.

The depositions of Mark Sandy, an Office of Management and Budget official, and Philip Reeker, the diplomat in charge of U.S. policy for Europe, were released hours after Trump said he would “love” for several senior administration officials to testify in the impeachment inquiry. He then argued that the White House was preventing them from doing so to protect the institution of the presidency.

Later Tuesday, Trump headlined a campaign rally in Florida, where he renewed his attacks against Democrats and what he described as their “impeachment witch hunt.”

Democrats are seeking to build a case that Trump leveraged military assistance and an Oval Office meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for investigations of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, and a debunked theory alleging Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

●Investigators release transcripts of Sandy, Reeker depositions.

●Former White House counsel Donald McGahn must comply with House subpoena, judge rules.

●Investigators scrutinize firm of Rudolph W. Giuliani and donations to Trump super PAC as part of broad probe.

●Supreme Court blocks House committee from immediately reviewing Trump’s financial records.

November 26, 2019 at 9:30 PM EST
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U.S. prosecutors, Flynn ask to suspend sentencing pending Justice Dept. watchdog report on origins of Russia probe

By Spencer S. Hsu

U.S. prosecutors and defense attorneys for Michael T. Flynn asked a federal judge Tuesday to postpone Flynn’s long-delayed sentencing until after the Justice Department’s internal watchdog issues a report in coming weeks on the handling of the FBI’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016.

Sentencing for Trump’s former national security adviser is set for Dec. 18, and federal prosecutors were scheduled to notify the court Monday whether they would reverse their recommendation of probation and instead ask for prison time for the retired three-star Army general.

However, in a terse, two-page filing, both sides said Tuesday evening that they expect the forthcoming report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, due Dec. 9, “will examine several topics related” to a Flynn defense’s request to find prosecutors in contempt for alleged misconduct.

Read more here.

November 26, 2019 at 9:00 PM EST
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Trump rally concludes

By Felicia Sonmez

Trump ended his rally around 9 p.m., roughly an hour and a half after he took the stage.

The president was not the only one to speak about impeachment during the rally. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) also brought up the topic in her warm-up remarks to the crowd.

Moody said she wanted to give Trump a turkey for Thanksgiving. But then, she said, her staff reminded her that “all the turkeys are still in Washington trying to impeach the president.”

November 26, 2019 at 8:00 PM EST
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At Florida rally, Trump rails against ‘impeachment witch hunt,’ recites Sondland testimony

By Felicia Sonmez

Trump criticized the impeachment inquiry at length during his campaign rally in Sunrise, Fla., telling supporters that Democrats are trying to remove him from office because they are afraid they can’t win at the ballot box in 2020.

“The radical Democrats are trying to overturn the last election because they know that they cannot win the next election,” Trump said, prompting chants of, “Four more years!”

Democrats are “pushing that impeachment witch hunt and a lot of bad things are happening to them,” Trump said, contending that recent polls have brought bad news for Democrats on impeachment. “Everybody said, ‘That’s really bullshit!’” he said, characterizing public reaction to the impeachment hearings.

Trump went into the specifics of the allegations against him, arguing that he never sought a quid pro quo with Ukraine involving military aid or a White House visit.

“I have never had a direct link between investigations and security assistance. ... It means we did zero,” Trump said. “We did nothing wrong.”

And he quoted from last week’s testimony by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who told lawmakers that Trump had said in a phone call that he wanted “nothing” from Zelensky and that there was “no quid pro quo.”

November 26, 2019 at 7:15 PM EST
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Reeker presents himself as out of the loop on Ukraine policy

By Paul Sonne

During the deposition, Reeker — whose position during the Obama administration was occupied by Victoria Nuland, a key shaper of U.S. policy toward Ukraine — presented himself as more or less out of the loop on Ukraine policy, leaving the matter to three Trump administration officials — Sondland, special envoy Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — who dubbed themselves the “three amigos.”

“These were the guys that were tasked with this work. This is what I inherited,” Reeker said. “This is what we had, the structure moving forward, with the support of the secretary and the president, to work on this stuff. It was irregular. We’ve already established that.”

“Gordon was very clear in that, that ‘the president had asked me to do this; we will lead this up here,’” Reeker added. “That was very clear in the readout I got after the May 23rd meeting” with Trump in the Oval Office. Reeker said Pompeo had affirmed that arrangement.

Reeker also recalled how Sondland had devised what he called a “script” for Zelensky to help him prepare for phone calls and engagement with Trump.

Reeker said he never received an explanation for the hold on Ukraine aid emplaced on July 18 but he said he was “told through my people that we think it’s a Mulvaney — that this has come from Mulvaney.”

He said there were questions about whether it was tied to something. “That was a question. Was this tied to something to do with investigations? Was this tied to Rudy? But nobody knew for sure, and then, of course, by September 11, the hold was … lifted.”

November 26, 2019 at 7:00 PM EST
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Reeker says Taylor expressed reservations about ambassadorship because of ‘Giuliani Biden issue’

By Elise Viebeck

Reeker described for impeachment investigators a WhatsApp exchange with William B. Taylor Jr. from May in which Taylor described his reservations about becoming acting ambassador to Ukraine.

For one thing, Reeker said Taylor wrote, “the Giuliani Biden issue will likely persist for the next year” and it was unclear whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “can give me reassurance on this issue.”

The messages underscore the complicated political dynamics surrounding Ukraine around the time of former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s removal and before Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky.

“I’m still struggling with the decision whether to go,” Reeker said Taylor messaged him on May 26. “Basically, whether the political back here will let me or anyone succeed.”

Taylor has said he spoke with Pompeo and told him that if U.S. policy toward Ukraine shifted, he would quit. He became acting ambassador in June, arriving in Kyiv on June 17.

November 26, 2019 at 6:50 PM EST
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Sandy complicates GOP officials’ attempts to buttress innocent explanation for Ukraine hold

By Mike DeBonis

Republicans used their questioning of Sandy to further an innocent narrative of the Ukraine holds — that Trump had legitimate reasons to be concerns about the scope of America’s commitment to Ukraine versus other countries’. But, they found, the facts did not all neatly fit.

“We had the short-term holds. And, all of a sudden, we get some additional information that’s provided in terms of what other countries contribute to Ukraine aid, and then the aid was released,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) asked Sandy. “Is that a fair characterization?”

“In terms of the sequencing,” Sandy said, “yes.”

But under Democratic questioning later, Sandy made clear the questions from the White House about other countries’ support for Ukraine came about six weeks after the first hold was imposed. And as far back as June, Sandy said, he had heard via Michael Duffey, his boss at OMB, that Trump had concerns about Ukraine based on a “media report” — not specifically mentioning any imbalance in the source of Ukraine’s aid.

Separately, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) tried to make the point that holds were more or less routine in OMB, asking Sandy what other countries or programs have been subject to freezes.

“None that I’m aware of within my purview,” said Sandy, who oversees Pentagon, not State Department programs — making the point that while other countries may have had nondefense aid withheld for a time, a hold on military aid was highly unusual.

Under Democratic questioning, Sandy made the point explicitly, citing 12 years of OMB experience: “I do not recall another event like it.”

November 26, 2019 at 6:45 PM EST
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Reeker declines to say that alleged quid pro quo would be ‘wrong’

By Elise Viebeck

At one point during his deposition, Reeker declined to say that the alleged quid pro quo involving military aid and a White House meeting would be “wrong,” despite repeated questions from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).

The exchange between Reeker and Schiff went on for several minutes and accounts for more than five pages of written transcript.

“You would agree, would you not, [that] to withhold that [White House] meeting for the help of the presidential campaign would be wrong,” Schiff said.

“If that was the case,” Reeker said. “I don’t know that that was the case.”

“Yeah, but if that was the case, you would agree that would be wrong,” Schiff said.

“It is the prerogative of the president to coerce an ally to help with a presidential campaign,” Reeker said.

After a prolonged back-and-forth, Reeker said he was “not familiar with, specifically, what the details or circumstances of any particular situation might be.”

“I hate to cut you off, but you’re a long distance from my question,” Schiff said. “I can tell you are very reluctant to express an opinion on this subject.”

“Because my opinions are not what I understood this to be for,” Reeker said.

Later, Reeker said he was “dismayed, frustrated” that a White House meeting had not taken place and that “there was definitely concern” about the hold on military aid.

November 26, 2019 at 6:30 PM EST
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Trump says he didn’t direct Giuliani to go to Ukraine

By Felicia Sonmez

In an interview with former Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly, Trump said he didn’t direct Giuliani to go to Ukraine to pressure the country’s leaders to investigate Biden.

The statement marks Trump’s strongest effort yet to distance himself from the actions of his personal lawyer. It also contrasts with the testimony of multiple witnesses who have said during the impeachment hearings that Trump told them to “go talk to Rudy.”

In the interview, which was posted online Tuesday night, O’Reilly asked Trump what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine on his behalf.

“Well, you have to ask that to Rudy, but Rudy — I don’t, I don’t even know,” Trump replied. “I know he was going to go to Ukraine and I think he canceled a trip. But, you know, Rudy has other clients other than me. I’m one person.”

Later in the interview, O’Reilly again asked Trump whether he had asked Giuliani to go to Ukraine.

“Rudy Giuliani, he’s your personal lawyer,” O’Reilly said. “Giuliani’s your personal lawyer. So you didn’t direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on them?”

“No, I didn’t direct him,” Trump replied. “But he’s a warrior. Rudy’s a warrior. Rudy went. He possibly saw something.”

He added that Giuliani has “done work in Ukraine for years.”

“I mean, that’s what I heard,” Trump said. “I might have even read that someplace. But he’s a good man and he’s an honorable guy and he’s a great crime fighter, corruption fighter.”

Giuliani’s name came up several times in Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, according to a rough transcript released by the White House.

Zelensky told Trump that his assistants had spoken with Giuliani and “we are hoping very much” that he would be able to travel to Ukraine.

And Trump repeatedly told Zelensky to work with Giuliani and Attorney General William P. Barr.

“Rudy very much knows what’s happening, and he is a very capable guy,” Trump said.

November 26, 2019 at 6:05 PM EST
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Reeker says he pressed for statement in support of Yovanovitch

By Carol D. Leonnig

Reeker recalled that in September, after the impeachment inquiry was announced and news reports mentioned the removal of Yovanovitch, he and others supported issuing a public statement praising Yovanovitch’s work and professionalism.

But senior State Department official David Hale warned him that other State Department leaders had pushed for the same kind of statements when Yovanovitch was under attack, starting in April and May of 2019, and nothing happened, Reeker said.

“It was essentially, ‘I don’t think this is going to go anywhere,’ ” Reeker recalled Hale telling him. “I said, ‘Well, I think we should issue a statement.’ ”

Reeker also said he found Giuliani’s attacks on Yovanovitch and the entire U.S. Embassy in Ukraine “personally insulting and outrageous.”

November 26, 2019 at 6:00 PM EST
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Two OMB officials resigned voicing concerns over Ukraine aid hold, official testifies

By Erica Werner

Two OMB officials recently resigned while voicing concerns over the holdup on Ukraine aid, a career employee of the agency told impeachment investigators, according to a transcript of his testimony released Tuesday.

Sandy did not name the employees in question. He said one worked in the OMB legal division, and described that person as having a “dissenting opinion” about how the security assistance to Ukraine could be held up in light of the Impoundment Control Act, which limits the ability of the executive branch to change spending decisions made by Congress.

The other person, who resigned in September, “expressed some frustrations about not understanding the reason for the hold,” Sandy said.

Read more here.

November 26, 2019 at 5:50 PM EST
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Reeker acknowledges putting Sondland in charge of Ukraine issues was unusual

By Carol D. Leonnig

Reeker acknowledged that the process of putting Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, in charge of Ukraine issues was highly unusual.

“No, this was clearly, as I’ve now said numerous times in this deposition, this was irregular; that was the word that was used,” Reeker said, according to the transcript. “It struck me as irregular long before I got here that the Ambassador to the EU was involved in this. If that was the choice of President and the Secretary, then obviously, that was their choice.”

Reeker emphasized that Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent had far more expertise in the region, spoke the language and had been a deputy chief of mission in the country.

November 26, 2019 at 5:45 PM EST
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Mulvaney deputy communicated hold to budget office

By Mike DeBonis

Sandy said the Office of Management and Budget learned of Trump’s desire to freeze aid to Ukraine in a July 12 email sent by Robert Blair, a senior aide to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to Duffey.

Sandy said he learned of the email — and Trump’s desire to place a hold on Ukraine aid — shortly after returning from vacation on July 18. That decision prompted an internal legal review and an effort to find out more about why Trump wanted the hold.

The July 12 email, Sandy testified, offered no rationale — communicating only “that the president is directing a hold on military support funding for Ukraine.”

“Was any other country mentioned?” Democratic lawyer Nicholas Mitchell asked him.

“No,” Sandy said.

“Any other security assistance package?” Mitchell asked.

“No,” Sandy said.

“Any other aid of any sort?” Mitchell asked.

Said Sandy, “Not to my recollection.”

Only later, in early September, did Sandy field White House requests for information on the aid Ukraine was receiving from other countries. He could not recall if those requests came before or after Sept. 9 — when House committees launched an investigation into the whistleblower complaint that ultimately prompted the impeachment proceedings.

Blair and Mulvaney have both been subpoenaed by the House; they have refused to appear, citing advice from the White House counsel.

November 26, 2019 at 5:30 PM EST
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Career OMB official says political appointee had voiced no interest in approving funds before assuming role

By Erica Werner

Sandy, a longtime career official at OMB, testified that the political appointee who took over a technical job of approving funds in the midst of the Ukraine dispute had voiced no previous interest in doing so.

Sandy, the only OMB official to testify in the impeachment inquiry, signed an “apportionment” notice July 25 that temporarily held up some money for Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress.

Sandy told congressional investigators that he raised concerns about implementing the hold in light of the Impoundment Control Act, which limits the ability of the executive branch to change funding decisions already made by Congress.

Shortly thereafter, Sandy was notified that a political appointee who was his superior, Mike Duffey, would be taking over signing apportionment letters.

Sandy testified that Duffey had never expressed any interest to him in being the approver of apportionments.

Sandy said his own staff was “surprised and they were concerned” about the apportionment authority being removed from him, and that he was not aware of such a step happening before.

He testified that Duffey’s stated explanation was he wanted to learn more about the “accounts and the programs” at OMB, but that Sandy thought there were better ways to go about doing this. But, “I took him at his word,” Sandy said.

Duffey defied a congressional subpoena to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

November 26, 2019 at 5:10 PM EST
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Sandy offers two-sentence opening statement

By Mike DeBonis

Most of the other witnesses called during the two-month impeachment probe launched their testimony with lengthy recitations of facts. But Sandy declined to offer a detailed opening statement to the House committees conducting the investigation.

Instead, he offered two sentences: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today as a fact witness and as a nonpartisan civil servant and military veteran who proudly serves the Executive Office of the President across administrations. I am not here to advocate for any outcome but simply to honor the oath we all share. Thank you.”