I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, November 13, 2019. 82 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 356 days until Election Day 2020. Have any comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Historic impeachment hearings set to begin
The House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump — only the fourth such probe in U.S. history — moves into its public phase today, as lawmakers hold the first televised hearing of the investigation.
The House Intelligence Committee hearing, set to convene at 10 a.m., will feature two witnesses: William B. Taylor, Jr., the acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Both are decades-long employees of the State Department whose diplomatic portfolios gave them close purview into the actions at the heart of the impeachment inquiry: President Trump's alleged efforts, guided by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals by dangling U.S. military assistance and an Oval Office meeting.
The hearing offers congressional Democrats their first opportunity to present their case for Trump's impeachment to the American people, while Republicans will have a chance to lay out their defense of the president's actions. House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and ranking member Devin Nunes (R-CA) will each have up to 45 minutes to question the witnesses, although they are expected to yield their time to the panel's staff attorneys. Rank-and-file members of the committee will then have five minutes each for questioning.
Taylor and Kent "will describe their own experiences and how American policy toward Ukraine was subverted to serve the president’s personal, political interests, not the national interest," Schiff said in a statement. This narrative will be rebutted by congressional Republicans, who are expected to launch their most substantive defense of President Trump yet.
An 18-page GOP memo obtained by the Washington Post in advance of the hearing argued that "the evidence gathered to date does not support the Democrat allegation that President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate the President’s political rivals for his benefit in the 2020 presidential campaign."
The ongoing impeachment investigation formally began on September 24, just after reports began to surface of a whistleblower complaint from inside the intelligence community that accused President Trump of attempting to "abuse his office for personal gain" during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But the inquiry so far has been conducted entirely in private, through 15 closed-door depositions with current and former State Department, Defense Department, and White House officials.
Taylor and Kent both participated in the private phase of the inquiry, describing to lawmakers their view that President Trump sought a "quid pro quo" with Ukraine, conditioning military aid on the public announcement of investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's son Hunter and the 2016 election.
"President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself," Taylor testified behind closed doors, according to a transcript of the deposition. He added that the presidential push for investigations "showed how official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani."
Or as Taylor said more bluntly in a text message also released by House Democrats: "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Kent, meanwhile, described the efforts by Trump and Giuliani to lawmakers as "injurious to the rule of law."
Today's hearing will be the first of several scheduled by the Democratic investigators. Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted by President Trump as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine earlier this year, will take to the witness stand on Friday. Then, Democrats have planned for next week to be packed with additional hearings, with witnesses including former National Security Council officials Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
The public hearings next week are slated to include three witnesses requested by Republican lawmakers, although some of their more controversial witness requests — such as Hunter Biden and the intelligence community whistleblower — were not fulfilled.
--- How to watch: The 10 a.m. hearing will be aired on all of the major cable and broadcast networks. Expect the big fireworks to come towards the beginning of the session: "The first hour of a hearing and the first hearing has got to be a blockbuster," a House aide told CNN.
--- White House counterprogramming: Not to be outdone, the Trump administration is holding an attention-grabbing event of its own today, as the president sits down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan amid bipartisan condemnation of the foreign leader's actions in Syria. Trump and Erdoğan will hold a joint press conference at 3:10 p.m.
--- The latest: "Trump Has Considered Firing Intelligence Community Inspector General" (New York Times)
"At donor dinner, Giuliani associate said he discussed Ukraine with Trump, according to people familiar with his account" (Washington Post)
"In private speech, Bolton suggests some of Trump's foreign policy decisions are guided by personal interest" (NBC News)
Buttigieg surges in new Iowa poll: "South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg joined the leaders of the Democratic race for president in Iowa, up 14 percentage points since August, according to a new Monmouth University poll of likely caucusgoers out Tuesday."
"Buttigieg garnered 22% support, in the top tier with former Vice President Joe Biden (19%) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (18%). Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also made gains from Monmouth's August poll, but with 13%, fell outside of the top three status in Iowa." (CNN)
Sanford ends GOP primary challenge: "Former Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina said on Tuesday that he was ending his long-shot primary challenge to President Trump just two months after announcing it, arguing that the impeachment inquiry had made it impossible for his message of fiscal conservatism to break through."
"'You’ve got to be a realist and what I did not anticipate is an impeachment,' Mr. Sanford said at a news conference in Concord, N.H., where he announced the end of his campaign." (New York Times)
Tim Ryan endorses Biden: "Weeks after abandoning his own presidential bid, Niles Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan on Wednesday endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden’s White House candidacy in an interview on MSNBC." (Cleveland Plain Dealer) Ryan is the first failed 2020 presidential candidate to endorse another contender.
Testimony: Gates claims Stone discussed WikiLeaks with Trump, contradicting presdient
"Roger Stone first told one of Donald Trump’s top aides in April 2016 that WikiLeaks had plans to dump information in the heat of the presidential race, kickstarting a scramble inside the campaign to take advantage of the expected releases."
"And that plotting included at least one summertime call involving Trump himself, according to Rick Gates, the former Trump deputy campaign chairman, who was testifying Tuesday morning at Stone’s trial over lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks.
"The revelation means the Trump campaign was aware of WikiLeaks' election-year plans much earlier than previously understood. And it also shows that the president was involved in conversations about the issue, something he has previously denied."
"Gates said he first heard from Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, about two months before Trump secured the GOP presidential nomination in mid-July. That's when Stone passed along initial, bare bones details about the potential Julian Assange-orchestrated releases that would benefit Trump's White House bid."
"'Mr. Stone indicated that WikiLeaks would be submitting or dropping information, but no information on dates or anything of that nature,' Gates said in federal district court, where the trial against Stone entered its second week. Stone is also facing charges that he tampered with a witness as Congress investigated Russia’s 2016 election interference." (Politico)
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Today at the White House
--- At 12 p.m., President and First Lady Trump participate in the arrival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife Emine. At 12:10 p.m., the Trumps participate in a meeting with the Erdoğans. A bipartisan group of lawmakers urged President Trump earlier this week to cancel his meeting with the Turkish leader, pointing to Erdoğan's military incursion into Syria targeting the U.S.-allied Kurds.
At 12:30 p.m., Presidents Trump and Erdoğan participate in a restricted bilateral meeting. At 1 p.m., the two presidents participate in an expanded working luncheon. At 2 p.m., the two presidents meet with a group of senators. At 3:10 p.m., Trump and Erdoğan participate in a joint press conference. At 3:45 p.m., the Trumps participate in a departure ceremony for the Erdoğans.
--- Vice President Mike Pence travels to California today. At 4:30 p.m., he delivers remarks at a Trump Victory luncheon in Huntington Beach. At 8:30 p.m., he delivers remarks at a Trump Victory dinner in Carmel Valley.
Today in Congress
--- At 10 a.m., the Senate convenes. At 11 a.m., the chamber votes on confirmation of Chad Wolf to be Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Strategy, Policy, and Plans, followed by a procedural vote advancing the nomination of Steven J. Menashi to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit. The Senate will recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings.
--- At 10 a.m., the House convenes. The chamber is scheduled to consider nine pieces of legislation:
- H.R. 1663 – Foundation of the Federal Bar Association Charter Amendments Act of 2019
- H.R. 4803 – Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act
- H.R. 4258 – Reauthorizing Security for Supreme Court Justices Act of 2019
- H.R. 3537 – Veteran Entrepreneur Training Act of 2019
- H.R. 3661 – Patriotic Employer Protection Act of 2019, as amended
- H.R. 499 – Service-Disabled Veterans Small Business Continuation Act
- H.R. 3734 – SERV Act, as amended
- H.R. 1615 – VA-SBA Act, as amended
- H.R. 1773 – Rosie the Riveter Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019, as amended
Today at the Supreme Court
--- At 10 a.m., the justices will hear oral argument in Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media. (The question in the case: "Whether a claim of race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 fails in the absence of but-for causation.")
At 11 a.m., the justices will hear oral argument in Ritzen Group Inc. v. Jackson Masonry, LLC. (The question in the case: "Whether an order denying a motion for relief from the automatic stay is a final order under 28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1).")
Today on the trail
--- Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) attends the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) conference in Washington, D.C., and holds a fundraiser in Alexandria, Virginia.
--- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) holds a grassroots happy hour fundraiser in New York, New York.
--- Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) travels to Atlanta, Georgia, and Miami, Florida, for fundraising events.
--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) visits Concord, New Hampshire, formally filing for the first-in-the-nation presidential primary at the State House, visiting a childcare center, and participating in a town hall hosted by the local State Employees Association (SEA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
--- Spiritual author Marianne Willaimson (D) holds a meet and greet in Las Vegas, Nevada.
*All times Eastern