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Wake Up To Politics - October 15, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, October 15, 2019. 21 days until Election Day 2019. 111 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 385 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Former Trump adviser testifies she was alarmed by Ukraine pressure campaign

Fiona Hill, who served as President Donald Trump's top Russia aide until August, testified for about 10 hours behind closed doors on Monday as the latest witness in the fast-moving Democratic-led impeachment inquiry into the president.

Hill reportedly testified at length about the allegations at the center of the inquiry: attempts by Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the president's political rivals, potentially using military aid and diplomatic support as leverage. Here's what she told lawmakers... (Note: phrases in quotes are from the cited news reports, not directly from Hill's testimony)

  • According to the Wall Street Journal, Hill said that she other White House officials (including former National Security Adviser John Bolton) "grew so alarmed about the administration's efforts" in Ukraine (coordinated by Giuliani, who held no government role) that Bolton instructed her to share her concerns with John Eisenberg, the top lawyer on the National Security Council.
  • According to the New York Times, Hill testified that Bolton repeatedly disparaged the "rogue effort" in Ukraine being led by Giuliani, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. "I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up," Bolton told Hill, according to her testimony. She also quoted Bolton as saying: "Giuliani's a hand grenade who's going to blow everybody up."
  • According to the Washington Post, the instruction from Bolton to speak to Eisenberg came after a meeting about Ukraine attended by Bolton, Hill, Sondland, then-special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Hill testified that Sondland "blurted out to the other officials present that there were 'investigations that were dropped that need to be started up again,'" which officials present understood to be a reference to a probe involving former Vice President Joe Biden and an energy company, Burisma, tied to his son Hunter.
  • Hill accused Giuliani of running "a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump," the Post also reported.
  • According to NBC News, "Hill told lawmakers she considered what was happening to be a clear counterintelligence risk to the United States."

Hill, the former National Security Council senior director for European and Russian affairs, was the first White House to testify in the House impeachment inquiry. The Times described her account as "a gripping in-the-room view of the shadow maneuvers that have jeopardized Mr. Trump’s presidency."

According to NBC News, the White House wrote a letter to Hill's lawyers trying to limit what she could say to Congress on the grounds of executive privilege, but they responded by citing a legal opinion that such privilege "disappears altogether when there is any reason to believe government misconduct occurred." The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry quickly authorized a subpoena to compel Fill's testimony on Monday morning, allowing her to further dismiss the White House's concerns.

A number of Republican lawmakers criticized the nature of the Hill deposition, questioning why the impeachment hearings have taken place behind closed doors and calling on Democrats to publicly release the full transcripts of the depositions. Although some Democrats have signaled that they will release the transcripts eventually, they have so far declined to do so.

--- What's next in the impeachment inquiry? Today: George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the European and Eurasian Bureau, is scheduled to be deposed. Giuliani, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought face deadlines to produce documents.

Wednesday: Michael McKinley, who resigned last week as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will be deposed. Thursday: Sondland will be deposed. According to the Washington Post, the ambassador "intends to tell Congress this week that the content of a text message he wrote denying a quid pro quo with Ukraine was relayed to him directly by President Trump in a phone call" and he will say that "he has no knowledge of whether the president was telling him the truth at that moment."

--- Two key names to watch: The most explosive pieces of Hill's testimony to leak so far centered around John Bolton, who stepped down as national security adviser last month under less-than-friendly terms (Trump announced on Twitter that he had fired Bolton, who insisted in a tweet of his own that he had already resigned). Per Axios, Bolton has already signed to write a book about his tenure, which was marked by a range of policy disagreements with the president.

Now, his testimony about Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine could be lethal to the Trump presidency. According to the Post, "investigators are discussing whether" to bring Bolton in for questioning.  

The reporting about Hill's testimony also repeatedly mentioned Mulvaney, seeming to point to a more expanded role for the acting White House chief of staff in the Ukraine imbroglio than was previously known. Mulvaney faces a Friday deadline to hand over related documents to the impeachment investigators.

Tonight: Democratic candidates face off in fourth debate

The top candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination will face off tonight in the fourth debate of the 2020 primary cycle. With twelve contenders participating, it will be the most crowded presidential debate stage in U.S. history.

Former Vice President Joe Biden will be closely watched to see how he responds to questions about his son Hunter's work in Ukraine and China. While there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, President Trump and his allies have suggested in recent weeks that the younger Biden's foreign business ventures raised possible conflict of interest during his father's vice presidency.

Hunter Biden broke his silence in an ABC News interview that aired this morning, acknowledging that he exercised "poor judgement" in some of his foreign business deals but flatly denying that his activities constituted an "ethical lapse."

"I gave a hook to some very unethical people to act in illegal ways to try to do some harm to my father. That's where I made the mistake," the younger Biden said. "So I take full responsibility for that. Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has eclipsed Biden in some polls of the national nomination fight, is also expected to be the target of attacks from her rivals and tough questions from the moderators as she takes the debate stage with her status as a frontrunner firmly-implanted for the first time. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will likely face increased scrutiny about his age and health, after experiencing a heart attack two weeks ago that has taken him off the campaign trail ever since.

The debate will also offer an additional opportunity for lower-tier candidates to attempt to break out, although prominent moments at previous debates have either backfired (such as former HUD Secretary Julián Castro's attacks on Biden over his memory last month) or failed to bring lasting gains (such as California Sen. Kamala Harris' exchange with Biden about school busing in July).

A Quinnipiac poll released on Monday found Warren leading Biden nationally, 30% to 27%, gains of one percentage point for each. Sanders, meanwhile, dipped five percentage points to 11% support, while South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg shot up four points to 8% and Harris increased her support by one point to 4%. No other candidate received more than 2% support.

Tonight's debate will take place at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and air on CNN at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. CNN anchors Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper and New York Times national editor Marc Lacey will moderate. The debate will also be streamed on CNN.com and NYTimes.com.

Trump imposes sanctions on Turkey over Syria invasion

From the Wall Street Journal:

"President Trump authorized sanctions and raised steel tariffs on Turkey, while threatening more-powerful financial penalties if Ankara continued a military offensive in northern Syria launched after Mr. Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops from the region."

"Mr. Trump also spoke separately with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Kurdish Commander Mazloum Abdi and urged them to negotiate an end to the violence, administration officials said. Mr. Trump, calling for an immediate cease-fire, tapped Vice President Mike Pence and White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien to lead a delegation to Turkey to seek a resolution to the conflict."

"The administration’s first punitive actions against Turkey and its effort to start talks came amid widespread criticism on Capitol Hill that Mr. Trump’s decision left Kurdish militias that had aided the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State open to attack. Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican lawmakers said they plan to speed through their own sanctions package starting on Tuesday."

..."The sanctions the U.S. Treasury imposed on Monday target Turkey’s Defense, Interior and Energy ministers and their departments. The U.S. warned that any person or business doing business with them risked also being blacklisted, including banks losing access to dollar markets. Mr. Trump also said that the U.S. would raise the tariff rate on steel imported from Turkey to 50%, after lowering the rate from that level back in May."

..."Mr. Trump has come under intense criticism from lawmakers, including from his own party, for rejecting warnings that Ankara would likely prosecute a war against the Kurdish population in northern Syria if Washington pulled U.S. troops from the region. Mr. Trump’s previous expressions of a degree of sympathy toward Mr. Erdogan’s decision to invade Syria have also fueled lawmakers’ concerns."

..."In tweets earlier Monday, Mr. Trump defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces, and that he didn’t object to geopolitical foes of the U.S. stepping in. 'Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!'"

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Today at the White House

--- At 11:45 a.m., President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 12:30 p.m., he has lunch with Vice President Pence. At 3:10 p.m., he welcomes the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions, the St. Louis Blues. (#LGB!)

--- At 11 a.m., Vice President Pence meets with Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly of Egypt. He will then join President Trump for lunch and for the St. Louis Blues event.

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. today. At 5:30 p.m., the chamber will hold a cloture vote advancing the nomination of Barbara Barrett to be Secretary of the Air Force. Barrett, an instrument-rated pilot, is a former chair of the Aerospace Corporation who served as U.S. Ambassador to Finland under George W. Bush and as deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and vice chair of the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board under Ronald Reagan.

--- The House convenes at 2 p.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to vote on eight pieces of legislation, focused on either Hong Kong or veterans affairs:

  1. H.R. 3289 – Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, as amended
  2. H.R. 4270 – PROTECT Hong Kong Act, as amended
  3. H.Res. 543 – Recognizing Hong Kong’s bilateral relationship with the United States, condemning the interference of the People’s Republic of China in Hong Kong’s affairs, and supporting the people of Hong Kong’s right to protest, as amended
  4. H.Res. 521 – Commending the Government of Canada for upholding the rule of law and expressing concern over actions by the Government of the People’s Republic of China in response to a request from the United States Government of Canada for the extradition of a Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., executive
  5. H.R. 95 – Homeless Veteran Families Act
  6. H.R. 2385 – To permit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a grant program to conduct cemetery research and produce educational materials for the Veterans Legacy Program
  7. H.R. 1199 – VA Website Accessibility Act of 2019
  8. H.R. 2334 – To designate the Department of Veterans Affairs community based outpatient clinic in Odessa, Texas, as the ‘‘Wilson and Young Medal of Honor VA Clinic"

Today at the Supreme Court

--- At 9:30 a.m., the Supreme Court justices are expected to release orders from their conference last Friday. At 10 a.m., the justices will hear oral arguments in Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico v. Aurelius Investment, LLC., a case involving the constitutionality of former President Barack Obama's appointment of members to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico.

Today on the trail

--- The top twelve candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang  —  will meet for the fourth 2020 primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

--- This morning, Castro will visit Columbus Mennonite Church in Columbus, Ohio, to meet with Edith Espinal, a Mexico native who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years but has been living at the church in sanctuary since 2017 after being threatened with deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) continues his walk across New Hampshire, holding an event on "America's youth" in Dublin, holding an event on "government's role in society" in Peterborough, attending local Democratic town meetings in Goffstown and Windham, and commenting on the Democratic debate via livestream.

*All times Eastern