I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, November 19, 2019. 76 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 350 days until Election Day 2020. Have any comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com!
Trump impeachment hearings: Day 3
The House Intelligence Committee will convene for the third day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump today. The panel will hold two separate hearings today, one with Jennifer Williams and Alexander Vindman at 9 a.m. and another with Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison at 2:30 p.m.
Following complaints from Republicans last week that the Democratic side's opening witnesses lacked "firsthand knowledge" of President Trump's dealings with Ukraine, three of today's four witnesses (Williams, Vindman, and Morrison) personally listened in on the president's July phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, which sparked the impeachment probe.
Williams is a State Department detailee to Vice President Mike Pence's office, where she serves as a Special Advisor for Europe and Russia. Lt. Col. Vindman is a decorated 20-year Army officer who is currently assigned to the White House National Security Council (NSC), where he serves as Director for European Affairs.
Their testimonies are expected to focus on the July phone call. "I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications to the U.S. Government's support of Ukraine," Vindman said in his deposition of Trump's requests on the call that Zelensky initiate investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election.
Likewise, Williams called Trump's references to Biden and 2016 "unusual and appropriate" and "more specific to the president in nature, to his personal political agenda . . . as opposed to a broader foreign policy objective of the United States."
According to the Washington Post, Vindman (a Purple Heart recipient who arrived for his closed-door deposition in his full military uniform) will today describe the "alarm" he felt after listening to the July phone call, which led him to twice raise concerns with White House lawyers.
Both Vindman and Williams have been attacked by the president as "Never Trumpers" since their private depositions, although he has yet to offer any evidence of their political leanings. In light of the attacks, the Wall Street Journal has reported that the Army has been monitoring Vindman and his family "around the clock" and are "prepared to move" them "onto a military base in the area to ensure their security if it is determined that they are in physical danger."
The Post reported that Vindman will emphasize his decades of service to the United States during his public testimony. "I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country, irrespective of party or politics,” he told lawmakers late last month. “I have dedicated my entire professional life to the United States of America.”
Volker served as the U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine until his resignation in September. Morrison served as the NSC's Senior Director for Europe and Russia until stepping down last month.
They are the first Republican witnesses to be called since the public impeachment hearings began. GOP lawmakers hope that the two former officials will offer a milder view of Trump's actions and efforts in Ukraine.
Morrison, for example, testified in his private deposition that he felt nothing improper occurred in the July phone call. However, like Vindman, he also lodged concerns about the conversation with White House lawyers; Morrison told lawmakers that he encouraged the attorneys to restrict access to the rough transcript of the call, fearing that a leak of the conversation would be politically damaging for President Trump.
The anonymous intelligence officer who sparked the impeachment inquiry with a whistleblower complaint in August alleged that the White House attempted to "lock down" access to the Trump-Zelenky transcript, a claim that Morrison's testimony is likely to support.
According to the New York Times, Volker plans to tell lawmakers that "he was out of the loop at key moments during President Trump's pressure campaign on Ukraine to turn up damaging information about Democrats." Specifically, he will say "that he did not realize that others working for Mr. Trump were tying American security aid to a commitment to investigate Democrats." The withholding of military aid until Ukraine launched investigations into Trump's rivals has emerged as a key part of the "bribery" narrative Democrats have sought to cultivate.
More impeachment news...
--- "A counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine told lawmakers last week that he was shocked to overhear a phone call in which a top diplomat assured President Trump that Ukrainian officials would pursue an investigation of interest to the U.S. commander in chief — a probe that the diplomat later suggested was of former vice president Joe Biden, Trump’s political rival."
"The counselor, David Holmes, also testified that the Ukrainians 'gradually came to understand that they were being asked to do something in exchange' for a White House meeting or military aid, which was held back as the president and his allies pressed for the Biden investigation, according to a transcript of his testimony released Monday." (Washington Post) Holmes was also just added to the impeachment hearing lineup: he'll now be testfying on Thursday.
--- "Trump's impeachment ire turns on Pompeo amid diplomats' starring roles" (NBC News)
--- "70% of Americans say Trump’s actions tied to Ukraine were wrong: POLL" (ABC News)
--- How many people will be watching today's hearing? Around 13.8 million Americans tuned in on cable and broadcast television on Day 1 last week and about 12.7 million on Day 2, per Deadline.
The Investigations: "The House of Representatives’ top lawyer told a federal appeals court Monday that the House is investigating whether President Donald Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller, and the attorney urged the judges to order the release of still-secret material from Mueller’s investigation." (Associated Press)
--- "Two senators are looking into a whistleblower’s allegations that at least one political appointee at the Treasury Department may have tried to interfere with an audit of President Trump or Vice President Pence, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, a sign that lawmakers are moving to investigate the complaint lodged by a senior staffer at the Internal Revenue Service." (Washington Post)
--- "The Supreme Court on Monday issued an administrative stay blocking House Democrats' subpoena for President Trump's tax returns until both sides can file the necessary legal papers." (Axios)
Trump Administration: "The U.S. no longer will consider Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law, officials said Monday, in a move that formalizes the Trump administration’s treatment of the West Bank and shifts decades of U.S. policy."
--- "Trump Retreats From Flavor Ban for E-Cigarettes" (New York Times)
--- "Senior Trump admin official Mina Chang resigns after embellishing resumé" (NBC News)
Book club: "A Warning," the highly-anticipated book by an anonymous senior White House official, will be published today. Here is a review from the Washington Post and a roundup of highlights from CBS News.
Recommended read: "Congratulations, You're a Congresswoman. Now What?" (New York Times Magazine) A deeply reported piece on Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Abigail Spanberger's first year in office.
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Today at the White House
--- At 11:30 a.m., President Trump participates in a Cabinet meeting. At 12:45 p.m., he has lunch with Vice President Pence.
Today in Congress
--- After convening at 10 a.m., the House is expected to vote on H.R. 3055, a continuing resolution extending government funding through December 20. The measure must be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by President Trump by midnight on Thursday in order to avert a government shutdown. The CR extends the current funding levels for most federal agencies, while also authorizing a 3.1% pay raise for military personnel and adding funding to support the 2020 census.
The chamber is also scheduled to vote on H.R. 5084, the Improving Corporate Governance through Diversity Act of 2019.
--- At 10 a.m., the Senate convenes. From 12:30 p.m. until 2:15 p.m., the chamber will recess for weekly caucus meetings. At 2:15 p.m., the chamber will vote on confirmation of Robert J. Luck to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit.
--- Also today: The top congressional leaders from both parties and both chambers are slated to attend a 4 p.m. portrait unveiling ceremony for former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
Today at the Supreme Court
--- The Supreme Court has no conferences or oral arguments scheduled.
Today on the trail
--- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (D) participates in a live discussion with political commentator Angela Rye in Atlanta, Georgia.
--- Former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) campaigns in Columbia, South Carolina, visiting a local business and participating in a "community conversation" with the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina.
--- Spiritual author Marianne Williamson visits Omaha, Nebraska, speaking at the University of Nebraska Omaha and other venues.
*All times Eastern