I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, November 15, 2019. 80 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 354 days until Election Day 2020. Have any comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com!
Ousted ambassador to testify in public impeachment hearing
The second public hearing of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump will convene at 9 a.m. today. Marie Yovanovitch, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine until being ousted by Trump in May, will be the sole witness.
Yovanovitch, a 33-year State Department veteran who has served in senior diplomatic postings under Democratic and Republican presidents, alleges that she was removed from her position in Kyiv because she stood in the way of Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani's efforts to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The longtime foreign service officer is also expected to detail her claim that she was the victim of a "smear campaign" led by Giuliani and his allies. "Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the president, I was nevertheless incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives," Yovanovitch testified at her closed-door deposition last month.
That "smear campaign" culminated not only in her firing but in President Trump mentioning her in his now-infamous July phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky. According to the White House record of the call, Trump referred to her as "bad news," adding: "She's going to go through some things." Yovanovitch told lawmakers in the deposition that she was "very concerned" and felt threatened by the president's remarks.
Republicans are likely to point out, however, that her time in Ukraine had ended before the central allegations in the impeachment inquiry, concerning President Trump's involvement in conditioning military aid on a public announcement of political investigations from Ukraine, took place, making her a faulty witness.
More impeachment news...
--- Also today: David Holmes, the State Department official who overheard the phone conversation between President Trump and Ambassador Gordon Sondland that was revealed at Wednesday's hearing, will testify in a closed-door deposition. Bill Taylor testified on Wednesday that President Trump was heard asking Sondland about "the investigations" during the phone call, tying him even closer to the pressure campaign his allies were undertaking in Ukraine. According to the Associated Press, another U.S. official overheard the Trump-Sondland call as well.
--- Coming this weekend: Mark Sandy, a career employee at the White House Office of Management and Budget, will testify in a closed-door deposition on Saturday. He will be the first OMB official to cooperate with the inquiry, defying the orders of his bosses.
--- Democratic strategy: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Thursday accused President Trump of committing "bribery," escalating the language used by Democrats to describe his efforts in Ukraine. According to the Washington Post, the rhetorical shift was a concerted move away from the Latin phrase "quid pro quo" to a term that could be more easily understood by the American people.
--- Giuliani probe: "Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, is being investigated by federal prosecutors for possible campaign finance violations and a failure to register as a foreign agent as part of an active investigation into his financial dealings, according to three U.S. officials." (Bloomberg)
--- Wednesday's ratings: "Some 13.1 million people tuned in to watch the first day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry across the major cable and broadcast networks, as two senior U.S. officials testified in front of lawmakers and a daytime television audience." (Wall Street Journal)
Louisiana gubernatorial election happening this weekend: "The last Democratic governor in a Deep South state is battling for his political life against a well-financed Republican challenger in the final major election contest of 2019 taking place Saturday in Louisiana."
"Public polls show Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) running narrowly ahead of businessman Eddie Rispone (R), a first-time candidate who has sunk more than $12 million into his own race. Two polls out this week show Edwards leading Rispone by just 2 percentage points, well within the margin of error."
. . . "Outside groups have poured millions into the state. Republican groups have cast Edwards as a liberal in the mold of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while Democratic groups have targeted Rispone’s business practices." (The Hill)
Bevin concedes Kentucky governor's race: "Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin conceded defeat on Thursday, ceding to Democrat Andy Beshear after a recanvass of last week's election showed Bevin trailing Beshear by 5,136 votes."
"Bevin, a Republican, told reporters inside the state capitol in Frankfort that the recanvass did not 'significantly' change the outcome of the race, and he wouldn’t contest the results with the state legislature." (Politico)
Ethics panel probes quartet of lawmakers: "The House Ethics Committee on Thursday disclosed a federal investigation into a Florida Republican accused of accepting an illegal campaign loan and also announced it was scrutinizing a veteran Florida Democrat for a long-standing personal relationship with a highly paid aide."
"Rep. Ross Spano (R-Fla.) acknowledged the Justice Department probe in a statement issued after the ethics panel’s announcement Thursday. The freshman has faced questions about $180,000 in loans he accepted from friends last year during the closing months of his campaign. He later appeared to funnel the money into his campaign account, reporting it as a personal loan to the campaign."
. . . "Another matter concerned 14-term Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) and his longtime companion, Patricia Williams, who has worked as an aide to Hastings since he first took office in 1993. She earns $168,411 a year as deputy district director, according to House employment records collected by LegiStorm — the highest salary in Hastings’s office."
. . . "The committee also moved to extend its review of a matter involving Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), one of the highest-profile members of the freshman class. According to an Office of Congressional Ethics report released Thursday, Tlaib came under scrutiny for her decision to pay herself a salary totaling $45,500 through her congressional campaign. Candidate salaries are permissible under federal election law under certain circumstances, but investigators found that Tlaib may have been paid for work performed after the Nov. 6, 2018, general election, in violation of federal guidelines."
. . . "Another matter extended by the Ethics Committee dealt with Rep. Bill Huizenga’s alleged improper handling of staff travel expenses and improper use of campaign funds for personal purposes. OCE investigators found more than $33,000 worth of improperly documented expenses paid through Huizenga’s campaign account to his chief of staff." (Washington Post)
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Today at the White House
--- At 12 p.m., President Donald Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 2 p.m., he delivers remarks on "honesty and transparency in health care prices."
--- Vice President Mike Pence has no public events scheduled.
Today in Congress
--- At 3 p.m., the Senate convenes. At 5:30 p.m., the chamber holds a procedural vote advancing the nomination of Robert J. Luck to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit.
--- At 9 a.m., the House convenes. The chamber is scheduled to consider H.R. 4863, the United States Export Finance Agency Act of 2019.
Today at the Supreme Court
--- The Supreme Court justices meet for their weekly conference.
Today on the trail
--- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) visits New Hampshire, participating in a meeting with student ambassadors at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester and attending a house party in Nashua.
--- Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) attends fundraisers in Seattle, Washington.
--- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) visits New Hampshire, filing for the state's presidential primary in Concord and holding a met and greet in Derry.
--- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) attends events in Long Beach, California, including an LGBTQ reception hosted by Equality CA.
--- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) campaigns in California, participating in an event in Oakland where he will receive the endorsement of National Nurses United and holding a Green New Deal rally in Fresno.
*All times Eastern