I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, November 18, 2019. 77 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 351 days until Election Day 2020. Have any comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com!
Analysis: Bruising patch for Trump foreshadows pivotal week
It began on Friday, when former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch took to the witness stand in the second public hearing of the ongoing House impeachment inquiry. Between a criminal conviction of a longtime associate and an electoral blow in Louisiana, the bad news did not stop coming for President Donald Trump all weekend.
In her testimony, Yovanovitch described the "smear campaign" waged against her by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, and his allies, which eventually led to her ouster from Kyiv in May. "I mean, after 33 years of service to our country, it was terrible," the longtime career foreign service offer testified. "It's not the way I wanted my career to end."
Yovanovitch also told lawmakers what it felt like to later discover that she was mentioned by President Trump in his July phone call with Ukrainian President Voldoymr Zelensky, the conversation that sparked the impeachment probe. During the call, Trump characterized Yovanovitch as "bad news," ominously adding: "She's going to go through some things."
The veteran diplomat said that she was "shocked, appalled, [and] devastated that the president of the United States would talk about any ambassador like that to a foreign head of state — and it was me."
"I mean, I couldn’t believe it." Yovanovitch later added that she regarded Trump's comments about her as a threat.
The president then handed Democrats fresh evidence in real-time, attacking Yovanovitch in a series of tweets that lawmakers then read to the diplomat during the hearing. "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," he tweeted as she testified. "She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him."
In a dramatic, made-for-TV moment, Yovanovitch responded: "I actually think that where I've served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I've served in." When asked about the effect of Trump's continued attacks, she replied: "It's very intimidating."
The tweets opened the president to new Democratic accusations of witness intimidation and obstruction of justice, which could be a separate article of impeachment against him. Trump's attacks on Yovanovitch also represented a break with Republican lawmakers, who declined to follow Trump's lead and mostly praised the diplomat throughout the hearing — even as they discounted the potency of her testimony to further the Democrats' impeachment push.
Yovonvaitch's public testimony was compounded by reports of a private deposition with State Department official David Holmes, who told lawmakers how he overheard a phone conversation between President Trump and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, in which Trump asked Sondland about "the investigations."
Holmes testified that after the call ended, Sondland told him that Trump did not "give a s—t about Ukraine," saying that the president only cares about "big stuff."
"I noted that there was 'big stuff' going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant 'big stuff' that benefits the President, like the 'Biden investigation' that Mr. Giuliani was pushing," Holmes said in his opening statement.
The day would continue to worsen for President Trump: later Friday, his longest-tenured political adviser, Roger Stone, was convicted in federal court of seven felony counts of obstructing a congressional investigation. Stone's criminal charges were a result of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, bringing back to the headlines the original investigation that threatened the Trump presidency. Stone was only the latest Trump associate to be convicted as part of the Mueller investigation, joining the president's 2016 campaign chairman and former personal attorney, among others.
The impeachment probe continued on Saturday with the deposition of Mark Sandy, an Office of Management and Budget official, and the release of two transcripts of previous closed-door sessions.
Sandy, a career official, testified about the White House decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine, which Democrats have attempted to paint as a ploy to persuade the former Soviet republic to pursue investigations into Trump's political rivals. According to the Washington Post, Sandy suggested that the decision was "highly irregular" and added that political appointees at OMB "were unable to provide an explanation for the delay."
The transcripts released on Saturday were from depositions with Timothy Morrison, a former National Security Council aide who testified about his interactions with Ambassador Sondland, and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence who listened in on the Trump-Zelensky call and described it as "unusual and inappropriate."
President Trump was quick to respond to the Williams transcript, labeling the Pence aide as a "Never Trumper," without citing any evidence of her political leanings.
Finally, Saturday also brought a ballot-box setback for the president, as Louisiana voters narrowly re-elected Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, despite Trump venturing to the state three times in recent weeks to campaign for the governor's Republican opponent. "You got to give me a big win, please," Trump pleaded with Louisianans at a rally last week; instead, the state handed the GOP a second consecutive electoral loss in as many weeks, following the defeat of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in Kentucky. Trump also campaigned heavily for Bevin, creating new questions about the heft of his political capital heading into the 2020 elections.
Will Trump be able to rebound from the series of weekend blows he received? This will be a pivotal week in the impeachment inquiry, as public hearings kick into full gear.
National Security Council official Alexander Vindman, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Jennifer Williams, and Timothy Morrison will all testify on Tuesday. Then, Sondland, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, and Under Secretary of State David Hale are set to follow on Wednesday. And finally, former National Security Council aide Fiona Hill on Thursday.
While Republicans are hoping some of those witnesses will provide testimony favorable to their impeachment narrative, Democrats expect many to provide damaging accounts for President Trump. One thing is clear: If Trump's political fortunes don't turn in the coming days, this could be remembered as the week that cements his fate as just one of three presidents to be impeached in U.S. history.
Buttigieg surges ahead in Iowa, major new poll finds
"Pete Buttigieg has soared to the top of the Democratic field in Iowa, according to the state’s latest flagship poll released Saturday."
"Buttigieg easily outpaced the field with 25 percent support, a 16-point gain from September, according to the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom survey. Three candidates were statistically tied for second: Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent, and Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders at 15 percent."
"The results, coming three months before the Iowa caucuses, showed Warren slipping 6 points from September, when she placed first in the Register poll. Biden's support also continued to soften in the state: He dropped 5 points since September. But Sanders rebounded, gaining 4 points."
. . . "The numbers reflect the improbable rise of Buttigieg, a small city mayor from Indiana performing beyond expectations in Iowa, a state with a long history of making or breaking presidential candidates. Buttigieg had lagged in polling even as he built national star power with standout fundraising that’s rivaled Warren and Sanders. The new poll firmly establishes him as a top-tier contender."
--- A series of CBS News polls released on Sunday also found Buttigieg rising in the first two primary contests. In Iowa, the mayor was in a virtual four-way tie, notching 21% while Sanders and Biden both received 22% and Warren received 18%. In New Hampshire, he rocketed to 16%, but still fell in fourth place, behind Warren at 31%, Biden at 22%, and Sanders at 22%. Meanwhile, the polls found Biden with sizable leads in the other early states, Nevada and South Carolina.
--- Mark your calendars: It will also be a significant week in the Democratic presidential contest, as the top 10 candidates in the field face off in a debate in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday.
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Today at the White House
--- At 2 p.m., President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 4:15 p.m., he meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
--- Vice President Pence has no public events scheduled.
Today in Congress
--- At 3:30 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 12 p.m., the House convenes. The chamber is scheduled to vote on six pieces of legislation:
- H.R. 3702 – Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2019, as amended
- H.R. 4300 – Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act of 2019, as amended
- H.R. 4029 – Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act, as amended
- H.R. 5084 – Improving Corporate Governance through Diversity Act of 2019
- H.R. 4344 – Investor Protection and Capital Markets Fairness Act, as amended
- H.R. 4634 – Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019, as amended
Today at the Supreme Court
--- At 9:30 a.m., the Supreme Court justices are expected to release orders from their Friday conference.
Today on the trail
--- Three presidential candidates participate in a "Black Community Summit" hosted by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) in North Las Vegas, Nevada: former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (D) and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
--- Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) continues his "State House to the White House" tour through counties in Iowa that flipped from Obama to Trump, hosting meet and greets in Fairfield and Fort Madison and touring a mental health clinic in Mount Pleasant.
--- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) holds an event at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
--- While in Nevada, Castro also participates in a roundtable with tribal leaders on the environmental effects of the Anaconda Copper Mine in Yerington and holds a town hall in Minden.
--- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) holds a roundtable on democracy and voting rights in Atlanta, Georgia.
--- Former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) travels to Iowa, participating in a Climate and Flood Resistance Tour in Cedar Rapids and speaking at a meeting of local Democrats in Des Moines.
--- Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer (D) appears on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah."
--- Spiritual author Marianne Williamson (D) holds events in Pacific Junction and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska.
*All times Eastern