Democrats hope Hale can shed more light on the removal of Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after she became the target of false rumors questioning her loyalty to Trump.
Meanwhile, lawmakers continued to spar over the significance of revised testimony by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. He corroborated Taylor’s account that Ukraine was told U.S. military assistance would resume only if investigations that could be damaging to former vice president Joe Biden commenced.
7:45 p.m.: Pence aide’s lawyer confirms she’ll appear for deposition Thursday
Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams, is scheduled to give her testimony to House investigators Thursday.
Williams’s attorney confirmed Wednesday evening that his client intended to appear.
“Jennifer is a longtime dedicated State Department employee. If required to appear, she will answer the Committees’ questions. We expect her testimony will largely reflect what is already in the public record,” said her attorney, Justin Shur.
Williams, a career Foreign Service officer, will be the first person from Pence’s staff to give testimony in the impeachment probe and could offer important insights into the vice president’s interactions with Ukrainian leaders and any contact that he may have had with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
7 p.m.: Judge refuses to dismiss case over conflicting orders from Congress and the White House
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman to resolve conflicting orders from Congress and the White House over his participation in the investigation into Trump.
House lawyers earlier in the day asked that the case be dropped after they withdrew a subpoena for testimony from Kupperman in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Leon, in a late-day telephone conference with the parties, said the decision to drop the lawsuit is up to Kupperman. Leon directed the House and the Justice Department to continue to file their responses on the fast-tracked schedule he previously set, saying the House withdrawal of its subpoena “could be rolled in” to its motion to toss out the case, to be argued in a December hearing.
“The decision to voluntarily dismiss this lawsuit is solely up to Mr. Kupperman and his counsel,” Leon said, according to a transcript of the call, which the judge made outside of open court. “Until such time as this case is withdrawn by Mr. Kupperman, the expedited briefing schedule I have set will remain intact.”
“It is critical, in my judgment, that this matter stay on track. Considering that the House and the Department of Justice have already researched and briefed these issues, the Court sees no reason why we cannot continue on the course that’s been set,” Leon said.
5:15 p.m.: Last-minute subpoenas really are last-minute
Many of the 14 witnesses who have appeared so far in the House’s impeachment inquiry have done so under last-minute subpoenas, issued in many cases to facilitate testimony from officials who are willing to appear but have been blocked by their bosses.
Thanks to Taylor, we now know how much of a heads-up the witnesses get themselves.
“8:30,” he told investigators. He means in the morning – 90 minutes before his deposition was scheduled to start.
The question was put to Taylor by the Oversight Committee Republicans’ chief investigative counsel, Steve Castor, who apologized for asking Taylor the details of his subpoena time and other contact he had with State Department lawyers leading up to his testimony. Castor noted that the GOP was “in the dark about many of these blow-by-blow” things regarding subpoenas.
Taylor’s lawyer John Bellinger explained that while State Department lawyer had initially given Taylor a “directive that said that he should not appear,” he was also told that “if you get a subpoena, we’re not prohibiting you from appearing.” But if Taylor did elect to appear, Bellinger said, he would “have to protect classified information and other information.”
Pressed by Democrats, Taylor repeatedly sticks to ‘the facts’
In a signal of how Taylor might approach his public testimony scheduled for next week, he carefully answered a series of leading questions from Democrats during his closed-door deposition — suggesting he will be reluctant to participate in partisan theatrics.
Repeatedly, Taylor said he would stick to “facts” when he was pressed to agree or disagree with a particular characterization.
“Wouldn’t you say that trying to get a foreign country to intervene in a U.S. presidential election is not fighting corruption; it is in itself corruption?” asked Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).
“Mr. Chairman, you’re taking me beyond my area of expertise,” Taylor replied. “Just the facts are what I can attest to. . . . The way to fight corruption is to fix the courts and fix the judges.”
Schiff then pressed Taylor to confirm that he was concerned that Trump allies were trying to “get Ukraine to interfere in U.S. politics and the next election.”
Taylor spoke with precision: “The irregular channel seemed to focus on specific issues, specific cases, rather than the regular channel’s focus on institution-building.”
Later, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) asked Taylor to “assess the character” of Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U. who was at the center of the irregular channel.
“I can do facts, you know,” Taylor said, ultimately answering that he had “no reason to believe that [Sondland] was not acting with integrity.”
Swalwell later tried to get Taylor to agree that Ukrainian aid had been made subject to a quid pro quo: “You’re familiar with the phrase, ‘If it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, you can say it’s not a duck, but it’s a duck?’”
Said Taylor: “Congressman, I can just tell you the facts. You’ve stated them.”
4:40 p.m.: Lutsenko not only informed Giuliani about Ukraine, but also Ukrainians about Giuliani
Former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko has become part of the impeachment inquiry for his close association with President Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to whom he passed information critical of Yovanovitch, according to others’ testimony.
Turns out, according to Taylor, he was also feeding information to senior Ukrainian government officials as a sort of messenger from Giuliani.
Taylor testified that on July 10, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Bohdan, told him that he had heard from Giuliani that a phone call between the two presidents was unlikely to happen. They had heard that, Taylor said, “relayed through the then-prosecutor general . . . Lutsenko.”
Lutsenko had informed both Bohdan and Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko about the slim chances that Zelensky and Trump would speak, Taylor said.
Taylor’s estimation of Lutsenko was that he was an “unusual choice” to serve as prosecutor general, but that he was also the kind of person “who listened carefully to what was going on in Washington, what was going in Kyiv, the politics” — and was “loyal” to former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.
Senior officials in Zelensky’s administration listened to Lutsenko, however, because they realized that he was a conduit to Giuliani, who was a link to Trump.
“They were sure, and I think Lutsenko had the same view, that in order to have this meeting, get this meeting between the two Presidents, that Mr. Giuliani was going to be an important player,” Taylor said.
4:35 p.m.: Hunter Biden could have posed ‘perceived’ conflicts of interest, Taylor says
Taylor agreed with Republican investigators that there could be “perceived conflicts of interest” by having Hunter Biden serve on the board of a Ukrainian energy company Burisma. But he stressed that he did not know Biden.
Taylor also told lawmakers that as a diplomat to Ukraine, “board membership has been an issue that we’ve paid some attention to” with different companies — particularly state-owned ones, pertaining to whether the selection process is “open, competitive, transparent.”
He noted that he himself had been on a board of a small Ukrainian firm called the East Europe Foundation. But when asked whether he earned $50,000 a month for his service, he said it paid him nothing.
4:30 p.m.: Taylor explains his frustration in explaining military aid holdup
Under questioning from Schiff, Taylor elaborated on a key passage in his prepared statement, where he described being “embarrassed” during an Aug. 29 call with Andrey Yermak, a top assistant to Zelensky, about the withheld military aid.
“I was embarrassed because the United States, as the principal ally, the principal supporter for Ukraine, in general, but in particular in its fight with the Russians . . . had put a hold on the assistance that would help them fight the Russians. And at that point, I had nothing to tell them,” Taylor said. “They thought that there must be some rational reason for this being held up. . . . They were just desperate. And I couldn’t tell them. I didn’t know and I didn’t tell them, because we hadn’t — we hadn’t — there’d been no guidance that I could give them.”
“You hadn’t been able to get an answer as to why the aid was withheld, and you felt it desperately ought to be provided,” Schiff said.
Said Taylor: “I’m a representative of the United States government out there, and he asked me a perfectly legitimate question: ‘Why are you holding up this assistance?’ And I couldn’t tell him.”
4:25 p.m.: Democrats’ deep frustration with Sondland’s memory gaps surfaces in impeachment inquiry
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) went searching for answers regarding Sondland’s faulty memory when he was questioning Taylor.
Lieu noted the big gaps in Sondland’s memory when he appeared before the impeachment inquiry, and in a series of questions to Taylor, the congressman tried to figure out what was behind it.
“There was no indication that he was under the influence of alcohol?” Lieu asked Taylor. “There was no indication that he was under any medications that caused short-term memory loss?”
Taylor responded dryly: “Not that I know of.”
4:20 p.m.: Lawmakers spar over what constitutes a ‘quid pro quo’
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), a former federal prosecutor, held forth in his questioning of Taylor on the nature of a “quid pro quo.”
“It’s a concept where there is a demand for action or an attempt to influence action in exchange for something eIse,” he said. “And in this case, when people are talking about a quid pro quo, that something else is military aid. So if nobody in the Ukrainian government is aware of a military hold at the time of the Trump-Zelensky call, then, as a matter of law and as a matter of fact, there can be no quid pro quo, based on military aid.”
He then asked Taylor to confirm that the Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold at the time of the July 25 phone call. “That is correct,” Taylor said.
Later, Schiff returned to the subject. “Are you a lawyer?” he asked Taylor, who replied that he was not.
“So you’re not in a position to talk about legal definitions?” Schiff asked.
“I am definitely not in the position,” Taylor said. “I don’t speak Latin.”
Under continued questioning, Taylor described how he believed that the Trump administration withheld a White House presidential meeting and, later, the military aid from Ukraine in return for the political favors in question — in other words, a quid pro quo.
4:18 p.m.: Questions for Taylor shed light on fears of Ukrainian political bias and plans to defend Trump
Rep. Kelly Armstrong’s questions of Taylor offer some insights into how Republicans may defend Trump.
By implying that the Ukrainians were out to get him.
The North Dakota Republican asked Taylor about statements about Trump made by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Valeriy Chaly. Both had said “some pretty derogatory things,” Armstrong said.
“I mean this is systemic, and it’s gone on for a long time,” he added.
Taylor downplayed Armstrong’s worries, saying that the team around Zelensky was working in the best interests of Ukraine and deserved U.S. support.
4:18 p.m.: Trump’s desire to purchase Greenland may have delayed lifting of hold, Taylor said
Schiff questioned Taylor about a claim in his opening statement that as many as four senior administration officials sought a meeting with Trump in late August to persuade him to lift a hold on military aid to Ukraine. The meeting never happened.
“What do you deduce from that, that our ally is fighting with the Russians, but all of these agencies that support this can’t get a meeting with the president to discuss it?” Schiff asked.
Taylor said the problem largely surrounded scheduling. Then, in a twist, he added: “I think this was also about the time of the Greenland question, about purchasing Greenland, which took up a lot of energy” in the National Security Council.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Aug. 15 that Trump was interested in purchasing Greenland from Denmark — a notion quickly dismissed by the Danish government.
“Okay,” Schiff told Taylor upon the mention of Greenland. “That’s disturbing for a whole different reason.”
4:15 p.m.: Trump’s taxes: Judge inclined to allow House lawsuit seeking president’s returns to proceed
House Democrats have a “really strong argument” that the law requires the Trump administration to turn over the president’s tax returns, a federal judge said Wednesday even as he urged Congress and the executive to resolve the dispute outside court.
U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden, who was nominated by Trump, suggested that he was inclined to allow a House lawsuit — which invokes a 1924 law about the committee’s particular authority to seek tax returns — to move forward despite the Justice Department’s assertion that the court should stay out of a political fight.
The chairman of the House tax-writing committee sued the treasury secretary and the head of the Internal Revenue Service this summer after the agencies refused to comply with a congressional subpoena for the president’s returns.
4:05 p.m.: Giuliani announces his legal team
Giuliani announced his new legal team Wednesday afternoon.
“I am represented and assisted by Robert Costello and the Pierce Bainbridge firm in particular, Eric Creizman and Melissa Madrigal,” Giuliani said in a tweet.
Costello was at the center of a bizarre episode with Giuliani and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, during the special counsel investigation. Cohen alleged that Trump allies dangled the possibility of a pardon to him, and Costello reportedly sent emails to Cohen saying he could “sleep well tonight” because he had “friends in high places.” At that time, Costello was in touch with Giuliani.
Federal prosecutors in New York requested documents from Costello over the matter, though Costello denied that there was any “hidden message” in his communications to Cohen.
Giuliani also tweeted in defense of his actions in Ukraine.
“The investigation I conducted concerning 2016 Ukrainian collusion and corruption, was done solely as a defense attorney to defend my client against false charges, that kept changing as one after another were disproven,” he said.
“The evidence, when revealed fully, will show that this present farce is as much a frame-up and hoax as Russian collusion, maybe worse, and will prove the President is innocent.”
4 p.m.: Democrats withdraw Kupperman subpoena
House Democrats have withdrawn a subpoena for testimony from Kupperman, the former deputy national security adviser, in their ongoing impeachment inquiry, House lawyers told a federal judge Wednesday.
House lawyers asked Leon, the U.S. district judge, to dismiss a lawsuit Kupperman filed to try to resolve conflicting orders from Congress and the White House over his participation in the investigation into Trump.
“In light of the status of the House’s impeachment inquiry, House Defendants have no current intention to reissue the subpoena to Plaintiff,” House lawyers said in their filing.
Instead, House lawyers said they would seek to resolve the issue of whether high-ranking administration officials are immune from congressional subpoenas through a different case involving former White House counsel Donald McGahn. That case, being heard by a different judge at the same courthouse, is further along, and the judge has said she would issue an opinion soon.
Attorneys for Kupperman, a former deputy to national security adviser John Bolton, and for Trump did not immediately take a position on the House request, according to the filing.
At an initial hearing in Kupperman’s case last week, Leon set oral argument for Dec. 10.
At a hearing in McGahn’s case last week, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson seemed skeptical of the Trump administration’s claim that the former White House counsel and top presidential aides cannot be compelled to testify by Congress. She called it a “peculiar” argument that threatens to upset the Constitution’s system of checks and balances.
3:55 p.m.: Hale testimony concludes
Hale’s testimony finished shortly after 3 p.m., more than six hours after he arrived at the Capitol.
In a tweet, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) called Hale “a distinguished public servant” and claimed that he “made a compelling case that there was absolutely no linkage between suspension of military aid and political investigations.”
Earlier Wednesday, Schiff praised Hale and said he wished others “would show the same courage and dedication to the law that Ambassador Hale is demonstrating here today.”
3:30 p.m.: Quid pro quo or ‘check’?
According to Taylor’s testimony, Trump, Giuliani and Sondland were clearly pursuing what he considered a quid pro quo with Ukraine — but referring to it as a “check” instead.
Taylor recalls Sondland telling him that Trump said: “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the business asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” Trump had also insisted, Sondland said, that “it was not a quid pro quo.”
Former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Taylor said, would also use the “check” term.
The “check,” Taylor testified, was military assistance. And Sondland had also told Zelensky and Yermak that “although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not clear things up in public, we would be at a stalemate.”
Yet Taylor testified that days before that, his “clear understanding” was that the United States would not release promised military aid “until the president committed to pursue the investigation.” Taylor noted that amounted by definition to a quid pro quo — and testified that Sondland had explicitly told Zelensky’s top aide, Yermak, about those conditions in early September.
Taylor said he strongly disagreed with the idea that the military aid should be a check for a favor. The “radar and weapons and sniper rifles, communication, that saves lives,” Taylor testified, noting “it might even shorten the war” Ukraine is currently engaged in with Russian-backed separatists in the east.
If the security aid were not released, that would be “throwing Ukraine under the bus,” Taylor testified — and he said he wanted no part of it.
Taylor likens Giuliani’s shadow Ukraine policy to a ‘snake pit’
When Democratic impeachment investigators pressed Taylor on why he initially hesitated to take the job as acting ambassador to Ukraine, the longtime State employee likened the atmosphere surrounding U.S. policy toward that nation to a “snake pit.”
Taylor said he’d seen reports that Giuliani was traveling to Ukraine and pursuing investigations of Trump’s adversaries, and he knew the people Giuliani was working with were not credible. He had also seen Giuliani and his allies attacking Yovanovitch before she was recalled by Trump.
“I knew there were problems in Kyiv, and I knew there were problems in Washington,” he said, later adding: “All to say that I was concerned that there was, I think I put it, a snake pit in Kyiv and a snake pit here, and I was not sure that I could usefully serve in that context.”
Taylor unpacks reference to ‘nightmare’ scenario
In a text message to Sondland and another diplomat on Sept. 8, Taylor said his “nightmare” was that the Ukrainians “give the interview and don’t get the security assistance,” that “the Russians love it” and that he quits as acting ambassador to Ukraine.
Taylor described what he meant to impeachment investigators.
“The nightmare was [Zelensky] would mention” launching investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election, “take all the heat from that, get himself in big trouble in this country and probably in his country as well, and the security assistance would not be released,” Taylor said in the closed-door deposition.
“The Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelensky at the hand of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit,” he said.
‘We’re just trying to process what you said,’ Schiff tells Taylor
Taylor’s opening statement — in which the longtime Ukraine expert testified that military aid was being leveraged on a Ukraine investigation of Trump’s political adversaries — took House Intelligence Committee Democrats aback, according to a transcript of the testimony.
Democrats did not have an early copy of Taylor’s statement and were startled by the level of details and exact quotes in his more than 15-page opening statement. Immediately after Taylor finished his opening remarks, Schiff responded, “We’re just trying to process what you said. Thank you for your detailed opening statement.”
A Democratic lawyer doing the questioning for the majority followed with similar surprise, noting that “we obviously just received it, and we’ll do our best not to be too repetitive.”
“It is incredibly detailed,” the aide said, continuing to ask about how Taylor had such detail available.
Taylor revealed that not only did he keep copies of his text messages and WhatsApp messages with colleagues on Ukraine, he has “always kept careful notes, and I keep a little notebook where I take notes on conversations, in particular when I’m not in the office.”
He also said he regularly took “handwritten notes that I take on a small, little spiral notebook in my office of phone calls that take place in my office.”
Taylor says Sondland warned of ‘stalemate’ if Zelensky did not ‘clear things up in public’
Taylor testified that Sondland told Zelensky that “we would be at a stalemate” if Zelensky did not make a public statement announcing investigations.
Taylor recalled Sondland describing a conversation he had with Zelensky and Yermak.
“Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelensky and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not clear things up in public, we would be at a stalemate,” Taylor told impeachment investigators.
He said he understood a “stalemate” to mean that Ukraine would not receive its military aid.
3:05 p.m.: White House builds team to deal with impeachment messaging
The White House has hired former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and rehired former Treasury spokesman Tony Sayegh to work with its communications team on impeachment strategy.
“Pam Bondi and Tony Sayegh are expected to join the White House communications team to work on proactive impeachment messaging and other special projects as they arise,” a senior administration official said. “The roles within the White House will be temporary and they would be working as Special Government Employees.”
Bondi had been working for Ballard Partners, where she lobbied for Major League Baseball, General Motors, Carnival Corp. and other major companies, but has left the firm, said a person with knowledge of her work. Bondi regularly speaks to Trump and has brought clients to the Oval Office to meet with him, the person added.
A senior White House official said acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and press secretary Stephanie Grisham wanted Bondi on the team, while Sayegh was favored by Trump’s son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Taylor describes ‘the Giuliani factor’ undermining U.S. policy to Ukraine
Under questioning from Castor, Taylor testified he was not initially dismayed by the “irregular channel” set up by fellow diplomats Sondland and Volker, with the apparent participation of Giuliani.
“Irregular is not necessarily bad,” Taylor said, according to the transcript released Wednesday. “I didn’t think it was a problem in the beginning. And, actually, it could have been helpfuI, because Ambassador Sondland is able to call the President, and that’s a valuable thing if you want to try to move our U.S.-Ukraine relations along.”
But Taylor said that view changed as he learned more about the domestic political aims that Giuliani was seeking to accomplish. He suggested Volker, in particular, had been led down the garden path by Giuliani.
“When he got involved with Mr. Giuliani, I think that that pulled him away from, or it diverted him from, being focused on what I thought needed to be focused on,” Taylor said. “The Giuliani factor, I think, affected Ambassador Volker.”
Taylor said he never met with Giuliani during his current posting in Kyiv, though he did recall meeting him once during a visit Giuliani made to the embassy in Kyiv in 2007 or 2008 during his previous tour as ambassador. “I remember shaking his hand,” he said. “He was America’s mayor.”
Nunes asks for the preservation of all testimony tapes, suggesting he doesn’t trust Democrats to transcribe accurately
Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, used some of his time during Taylor’s deposition to request that Democrats preserve all the tapes of the impeachment testimony — highlighting the bad blood brewing between Republicans and Democrats on a panel once known for bipartisanship.
During his opening statement, Nunes complained about how Democrats had decided to lock down the transcripts of witness testimony, requiring a Democratic staffer to be present when a Republican observed them.
Democrats had accused Republicans of leaking information, an allegation the GOP denied.
“[T]ranscripts are now being put under lock so that no one has access to the transcripts. And I want to make a request to the court reporters to ensure that no tapes disappear being that we have no access to these transcripts,” Nunes said.
The level of distrust between Intelligence Committee members has risen sharply since Trump took office. When Nunes was chairman, he investigated the FBI for opening a probe of Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election. More recently, Democrats have accused Nunes’s staff of trying to publicly identify the whistleblower who unearthed the entire Ukraine controversy and spreading false information about one of their own staffers — concerns they took to GOP leaders.
‘The direction was coming from Giuliani,’ Taylor asserts
At the end of his testimony, Taylor was able to connect the request for a Biden investigation to Giuliani — but not to the president directly.
Under questioning from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Taylor conceded he didn’t “know what was in the president’s mind.”
“What I know,” he said, “is that the direction was coming from Giuliani.”
Giuliani, of course, is the president’s personal lawyer, and a request from him would surely be seen as having the blessing, at least, of the president.
Taylor also conceded he had not spoken directly with Trump or Giuliani about the matter, only two other diplomats, Volker and Sondland.
2:40 p.m.: Taylor says July 25 call did not follow normal procedures
Taylor told impeachment investigators that Sondland did not want the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky transcribed, a request that broke State Department protocol.
“The State Department operations center agreed,” Taylor said in closed-door testimony. “In response to his request, they said, we won’t monitor and will not — and we certainly won’t transcribe because we’re going to sign off.”
Under normal circumstances, those staff members would have stayed on the line during a phone call with a head of state to transcribe and take notes for the official record, Taylor said.
The ambassador testified that Sondland also told him about a change in the time of the call and said he believed Sondland’s staff was not aware of it.
“I asked him something like, ‘Shouldn’t we let everybody else know who’s supposed to be on this call?’ And the answer was, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ” Taylor said.
“This suggested to me that the normal channel, where you would have staff on the phone call, was being cut out.”
2:25 p.m.: Acting ambassador to Ukraine says it was his ‘clear understanding’ aid would not be sent until the country pursued investigations
According to the transcript of Taylor’s deposition, Taylor testified about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to benefit him politically.
In one exchange, Taylor was asked whether U.S. military aid being withheld from Ukraine was conditioned on investigations.
“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the President [of Ukraine] committed to pursue the investigation,” Taylor testified.
2 p.m.: Three House Democrats leading inquiry issue statement on Taylor testimony
“The testimony of Ambassador Taylor — a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, and nonpartisan diplomat — shows how President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and conditioned its release, as well as a vital White House meeting, on the President of Ukraine publicly announcing investigations into debunked conspiracy theories involving the Bidens and the 2016 election,” the three House Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry said in a joint statement.
They argued that Taylor’s testimony shows how a “shadow foreign policy channel” pursued by Giuliani, along with Sondland and Volker, “placed immense pressure on the Ukrainian government to accomplish the President’s goal.”
“Ambassador Taylor makes clear why this military aid and continued bipartisan support for Ukraine are so critically important — and why these efforts to undermine U.S. foreign policy for domestic political reasons were so damaging,” the statement said.
It was issued by Schiff, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) and acting Oversight and Reform chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.).
1:50 p.m.: House investigators release transcript of testimony by top diplomat to Ukraine
House investigators on Wednesday released a transcript of the testimony of Taylor, the United States’ top diplomat to Ukraine.
Taylor is scheduled to testify in a public hearing next week. Ahead of his appearance, the committees leading the investigation of Trump made public Taylor’s October deposition, in which he told lawmakers that the White House had threatened to withdraw much-needed military aid unless Kyiv announced investigations for Trump’s political benefit.
The explosive testimony undermined Trump’s repeated denials of “quid pro quo.”
1 p.m.: Blackburn says Schiff should be first witness to testify in public
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) responded to the announcement of public hearings starting next week before the House Intelligence Committee by tweeting that the panel’s chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), should be the first to testify.
“Next week, proven liar Adam Schiff should be the first witness to testify in public,” Blackburn wrote. “He must answer if his committee improperly coordinated with the ‘whistleblower’ to take down @realDonaldTrump. Schiff’s basement hasn’t been transparent.”
Blackburn was referring to the secure room in the Capitol where closed-door depositions have been taking place.
12:15 p.m.: Meadows seeks to put distance between Trump and Giuliani
Meadows, a key Trump ally, sought to put distance Wednesday between the president and Giuliani. Meadows’s comments suggest that some Republicans may be preparing to blame Giuliani for any quid pro quo with Ukraine.
“I have not talked to Mr. Giuliani,” Meadows said when asked whether he believes Giuliani was keeping Trump informed of his activities in Ukraine. “There are a whole lot of things that he does that he doesn’t apprise anybody of.”
Meadows argued that “there is no direct linkage to the president of the United States” regarding efforts to pressure Ukraine. “You only want to report what you believe — an Adam Schiff conspiracy theory.”
— Elise Viebeck and Karoun Demirjian
11:50 a.m.: Taylor testimony will be released today, Schiff says
A transcript of the testimony of Taylor will be released Wednesday, Schiff announced.
“I think you will see in the transcript what a dedicated public servant Ambassador Taylor is,” Schiff told reporters in a brief appearance to make a statement. He took no questions.
Taylor is also scheduled to appear in open testimony on Nov. 13. Schiff said that the open hearings will make clear that “the most important facts are largely not contested” and give the public the opportunity “to learn firsthand about the facts of the president’s misconduct.”
“We are getting an increasing appreciation for just what took place in the course of the last year” regarding the president’s effort to enlist government departments in aiding his reelection, he added.
11:40 a.m.: Lawyers push back against efforts by Trump allies to out whistleblower
The anonymous whistleblower’s legal team pushed back Wednesday against a stepped-up campaign by allies of the president to out the whistleblower, warning that such efforts “will place that individual and their family at risk of serious harm.”
In a statement, lawyers Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid also said they will neither confirm nor deny any name that is circulated by Trump’s supporters. “Disclosure of any name undermines the integrity of the whistleblower system and will deter any future whistleblowers,” they said.
The lawyers added that the campaign by Trump’s allies “shows the desperation to deflect from the substance of the whistleblower complaint.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) also denounced the efforts to out the whistleblower, calling them “a blatant attempt at witness intimidation.”
“Our laws do not permit retaliation against witnesses and anonymous tipsters in criminal cases, and we should not tolerate it in this case either,” Hoyer said in a statement. “I call on federal law enforcement to look closely at the concerning statements made recently by some Republican Members of Congress and for our intelligence agencies to take all necessary steps to protect the whistleblower’s anonymity.”
11:25 a.m.: Open hearings to begin next week, Schiff says
The House will hold its first open hearings in the impeachment inquiry, Schiff announced Wednesday.
On Nov. 13, Taylor and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, will testify, Schiff announced in a tweet.
On Nov. 15, Yovanovitch will testify, he added.
The House Democrats’ decision to put forward Yovanovitch, Taylor and Kent as their first public witnesses demonstrates a preference for career Foreign Service officers with deep subject matter expertise in Ukraine and experience working under both Republicans and Democratic presidents.
In each of their testimony, the three diplomats displayed a mastery of Ukrainian politics and a warning about the untrustworthiness of the ex-Ukrainian officials Giuliani relied on to peddle conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election and the actions of Biden.
Taylor, in particular, testified that Sondland said U.S. security assistance to Ukraine was dependent on Ukraine announcing investigations that Trump desired. That claim of a quid pro quo initially contradicted Sondland’s testimony, but this week, Sondland said he misremembered events and confirmed the accuracy of Taylor’s account.
While the three diplomats boast years of service under the leadership of both parties, they did not have as close of a view of senior-level decision-making as other officials, such as Bolton, a fact Republicans are likely to bring up.
The White House has already objected to the testimony provided by the three diplomats, calling them “radical unelected bureaucrats.”
10:45 a.m. Schumer chides McConnell, Graham for comments about impeachment
Senator Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) chided Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday for “jumping to conclusions” about the severity of Trump’s conduct.
Schumer’s comments, delivered on the Senate floor, came a day after McConnell said he was “pretty sure” a Senate trial would end with an acquittal and Graham said he was not reading newly released depositions because he considered the process a “bunch of BS.”
“A few of my colleagues seem to be jumping to conclusions,” Schumer said, suggesting that Senate Republicans were starting to act like Trump’s GOP defenders in the House. “In the Senate, we’re beginning to get that germ, that germ of coming to conclusions before we hear all the facts, before the trial occurs.”
Referring to Graham’s comments, Schumer said, “Our Senate Judiciary chairman knows better, but his blind loyalty, his abject following of whatever Trump wants, it seems to make him say things like that.”
Schumer also accused McConnell of having “stepped over the line, in my judgment, when he said that if an impeachment vote were held today, the president would be acquitted.”
“Instead of speculating about the hypothetical trial, writing off the entire process before it is even concluded, how about we all wait for the facts to come out?” Schumer said.
10:35 a.m.: Trump defenders shift focus from Sondland to Volker
For weeks, congressional Republicans have pointed to a text by Sondland to argue that military aid was not leveraged on a probe of the Bidens.
“There is no quid pro quo,” Sondland wrote to a fellow State Department official, relaying a message Trump gave him minutes before.
But now that Sondland has amended his testimony to impeachment investigators — not only acknowledging a quid pro quo, but saying he was the person who delivered Trump’s demands to Ukrainian authorities — the GOP has cast him aside, holding up another witness to make the case.
Trump allies Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.) argued Wednesday morning that Volker’s account is what matters. Volker told investigators that he was not aware of a quid pro quo.
“You all want to make a big deal out of Mr. Sondland’s presumption that he added yesterday, but Mr. Volker, in my mind, has the definitive account,” Jordan said.
Asked whether it was possible that Volker was just out of the loop, Perry tried to say no: “Sondland is not even sure why he has the opinion he has [about a quid pro quo happening], and Volker was completely read-in on everything that everybody was doing, particularly Sondland.”
Republicans appear to be narrowing in on a missing link in Sondland’s testimony: Sondland told lawmakers that he merely assumed that military aid to Ukraine hinged on the president’s demand for an investigation, something he conveyed to Ukrainian authorities. Republicans are arguing that his assumption was incorrect and that he was confused since he cannot pinpoint where he learned that information.
“It’s not surprising that most of his direct information from President Trump would suggest no connection” to the military aid, Meadows, another Trump ally, said Wednesday morning. “In fact, all of his conversations with the president direct offered no connection.”
10:30 a.m.: Top Russia adviser Tim Morrison appears at the Capitol
Tim Morrison, the top Russia and Europe adviser on Trump’s National Security Council, has appeared at the Capitol.
Morrison testified in the impeachment inquiry late last month. It is common for witnesses to review a transcript of their depositions.
In his testimony, Morrison corroborated key impeachment testimony from a senior U.S. diplomat who said he was alarmed by efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rivals in exchange for nearly $400 million in military aid.
9 a.m.: Conway says Mulvaney will not appear for deposition Friday
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday that Mulvaney will not appear before House investigators Friday for a requested deposition.
“I’m told no,” Conway told reporters at the White House when asked if Mulvaney plans to appear.
“Why would we try to be complicit in an impeachment inquiry that we’re not even sure what it’s about?” Conway said. “What is it about? If I gave you a blank piece of paper, literally, what would you write on it? What are we telling the American people, right here right now, as to why we’re impeaching the president?”
In a letter Tuesday, House investigators said they are interested in Mulvaney’s involvement in an effort by Trump, Giuliani and others to withhold a White House meeting from the Ukrainian president and nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid at a time when Trump was pressing investigations that could benefit him politically.
Conway also told reporters Wednesday that Sondland’s testimony did not change the White House position that no “quid pro quo” took place.
“That is the White House’s position, and I don’t think that his latest revisions change that,” Conway said. “As far as I can see, Ambassador Sondland said that he ‘presumed’ — and last week we had a witness who said ‘my interpretation was.’ Ladies and gentleman, be careful, because you cannot impeach a president and remove him from office in a constitutional democracy . . . based on somebody saying they presumed and someone else saying they interpreted.”
8:45 a.m.: Lawyer for Hill accuses Sondland of misrepresenting a conversation
Lee Wolosky, a lawyer for Fiona Hill, a key former National Security Council staffer, took issue with testimony released Tuesday from Sondland in which he described a meeting with Hill over coffee in which she was upset about “everything having to do with the Trump administration.”
“Sondland has fabricated communications with Dr. Hill, none of which were over coffee,” Wolosky said in a tweet. “Dr. Hill told Sondland what she told lawmakers — the lack of coordination on Ukraine was distastorous [sic], and the circumstances of the dismissal of Amb Yovanovitch shameful.”
Yovanovitch had been dismissed as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after she became the target of false rumors questioning her loyalty to Trump.
In Sondland’s testimony, he said Hill was “sort of shaking” and was “upset at the President, she was upset with Bolton, she was upset at a lot of things.”
In a subsequent tweet, Wolosky elaborated on his concerns.
“When Sondland and others falsely describe Dr. Hill as ‘emotional’ or say she was ‘shaking’ or ‘upset,’ let’s recognize that they’re trying to undermine the credibility of a respected, nonpartisan national security professional by deploying tired and offensive gender stereotypes,” he said.
8:35 a.m. Hale has arrived on Capitol Hill
Hale has arrived on Capitol Hill for his scheduled closed-door deposition with House investigators.
8:20 a.m.: Trump calls the inquiry a ‘Witch Hunt!’
Trump weighed in on the impeachment inquiry in a series of tweets Wednesday, calling it a “Witch Hunt!” and “a phony scam by the Do Nothing Dems!”
In one tweet, Trump quoted a Fox News guest, Robert Wray, whom Trump identified as a “respected former prosecutor,” saying that “Democrats have no case, or a weak case, at best.”
In another tweet, Trump pointed to testimony that was included in the transcript released Tuesday of the deposition of Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine.
At one point in the deposition, Volker was asked what conversations he had with other officials about a “quid pro quo” in which Trump had advised Zelensky that foreign aid and a White House visit would be dependent on Zelensky making a commitment to investigate the Bidens.
“You asked what conversations did I have about that quid pro quo, et cetera,” Volker replied. “None, because I didn’t know that there was a quid pro quo.”
In a tweet, Trump highlighted Volker’s answer and wrote: “Thank you to Kurt Volker.”
8:15 a.m.: Conway calls inquiry a ‘sham,’ criticizes media
Conway called the impeachment inquiry “a sham” and emphasized during a television interview Wednesday that Ukraine had ultimately received the nearly $400 million in military aid that had been withheld during the period when Trump was pushing for investigations that would benefit him politically.
“Ukraine got its aid. It’s using its aid as we speak,” she said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”
She also criticized the media for not emphasizing that Zelensky has said he did not feel pressure from Trump and complained about the way deposition transcripts are being released by House investigators.
“You don’t impeach presidents based on cherry-picked sound bites that come out 10 minutes at a time from 10 hours’ worth of testimony,” Conway said.
8 a.m.: Testimony from diplomats highlights Giuliani’s central role in driving Ukraine policy
Three ominous words uttered in the Oval Office led two American diplomats on a journey that ended in a Capitol basement room as key witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry: “Talk to Rudy.”
Trump’s instruction in May to a U.S. delegation that had just returned from Ukraine made clear that Giuliani was playing the driving role in shaping the president’s view of that country — and that top officials needed to cater to him, according to transcripts of testimony released this week.
“Rudy had some bad issues with Ukraine, and until Rudy was satisfied, the president wasn’t going to change his mind,” Sondland said in his testimony to House investigators.
After the May 23 Oval Office meeting, Volker, then the special envoy to Ukraine, reached out to Giuliani, attempting to court his support for U.S. foreign policy goals, and also put him in touch with a top Ukrainian official. At one point, he and Sondland even conferred with Giuliani on the language of a public statement that the new Ukrainian president was considering making, text messages show.
In a sign of his disproportionate influence, Giuliani was cited by name more than 200 times during Sondland’s and Volker’s depositions — more than any Trump White House or Cabinet official — and described as inexplicably powerful and difficult to control.
7:30 a.m.: Trump heading to Louisiana for campaign rally
As House investigators continue their work in Washington, Trump is heading to another “Keep America Great” campaign rally on Wednesday, this one in Louisiana.
Trump’s rallies have served as a venue for him to air grievances about the impeachment inquiry.
He is traveling to Monroe, La., in an attempt to boost the state’s Republican candidate for governor, Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. He is seeking to unseat Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards in a runoff election on Nov. 16.
During the past week, Trump also traveled to Kentucky and Mississippi ahead of gubernatorial elections in those two states.
On Tuesday night, Democrat Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s attorney general, claimed victory over incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R), a Trump ally who said he was not ready to concede the election.
Voters in Mississippi elected Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves as the state’s next governor, defeating Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
Before heading to Louisiana on Wednesday, Trump is scheduled to hold an event related to his judicial appointments.
7 a.m.: Senate Republicans consider including Bidens in Trump impeachment trial
Senate Republicans are privately debating whether they should use an impeachment trial of Trump to scrutinize Biden and his son Hunter as some Trump allies push to call them as witnesses, while others dismiss the suggestion as a risky political ploy.
The ongoing discussions are a revealing glimpse into the fault lines in the GOP ahead of a possible trial of Trump in the upper chamber, where there are varying appetites among Senate Republicans for the type of political combat relished by the president and his most hardcore defenders.
Among a group of Trump’s allies inside and outside Congress, there is intense and growing interest in countering the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry with their own scrutiny of Hunter Biden’s overseas business dealings in Ukraine and China. Because his father was vice president at the time, these allies believe it could be a way of explaining why Trump pressed Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to “look into” the Bidens, who have denied any wrongdoing.
— Rachael Bade and Robert Costa
6:45 a.m.: Third-ranking State Department official expected to testify
Hale, one of the State Department’s most senior diplomats who was alerted of attempts to denigrate the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is expected to testify Wednesday before House impeachment investigators, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
Hale is the third-highest-ranking official diplomat, just below Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the deputy secretary, John Sullivan.
Hale may be able to shed more light on Pompeo’s involvement with the decision not to issue a strong statement of support for Yovanovitch, as many diplomats had been urging.
The ambassador to Ukraine until earlier this year, Yovanovitch was the target of false rumors questioning her loyalty to Trump. According to testimony by previous witnesses, Yovanovitch had been outspoken against corruption in Ukraine, and allies of Trump wanted her out of the way amid a campaign to get Ukrainian officials to investigate the activities of Joe and Hunter Biden.
Philip Reeker, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told investigators he had learned of the smear campaign against Yovanovitch as soon as he took over the job in March. According to a person familiar with his testimony, Reeker spoke directly with Hale, imploring the State Department to issue a strong statement of support for Yovanovitch. He later heard from staff members working for Hale that no statement would be issued.
Hale is a career ambassador, the highest honorific granted to only a handful of the highest-performing diplomats. He has been an ambassador to Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan, and he has served in numerous U.S. missions around the Middle East and at the United Nations.
— Carol Morello and Karoun Demirjian
6:30 a.m.: Republicans resume attacks on Schiff
Republicans resumed their attacks Wednesday on Schiff, who is leading the impeachment inquiry.
The Republican National Committee shared a clip on Twitter from a Fox News interview Tuesday night in which Graham accused Schiff of being unfair to Trump.
“I don’t believe that Adam B. Schiff is going to be fair to the president,” Graham said. “I don’t believe that Adam B. Schiff is looking for the truth. This is the first time in the history of the country that impeachment is being led by a partisan politician, not some outside entity like a special counsel. The process stinks, and the substance — the president did nothing wrong. And when it comes to Adam B. Schiff, it’s never enough regarding Trump.”
6 a.m.: Trump makes falsehoods central to impeachment defense as incriminating evidence mounts
Standing before a crowd of supporters this week in Lexington, Ky., Trump repeated a false claim he has made more than 100 times in the past six weeks: that a whistleblower from the intelligence community misrepresented a presidential phone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry that threatens his presidency.
“The whistleblower said lots of things that weren’t so good, folks. You’re going to find out,” Trump said Monday at a campaign rally. “These are very dishonest people.”
Behind him were men and women in “Read the Transcript” T-shirts — echoing through their apparel Trump’s attempt to recast an incriminating summary of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president as a piece of exonerating evidence.
It’s a form of gaslighting that has become the central defense strategy for the president as he faces his greatest political threat yet. But the approach is coming under increasing strain as congressional Democrats release transcripts and prepare to hold public hearings presenting evidence that directly undercuts Trump’s claims.
— Toluse Olorunnipa and Philip Rucker