I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, October 23, 2019. 13 days until Election Day 2019. 103 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 377 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bombshell testimony: Ukraine envoy alleges Trump tied military aid to investigations
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators in bombshell testimony on Tuesday that President Donald Trump and his administration insisted that the Ukrainian government publicly announce investigations of Trump's political rivals in exchange for an Oval Office meeting and receipt of congressionally-authorized military aid.
Taylor's closed-door testimony, which was delivered in defiance of the State Department's orders, was the most serious blow yet to President Trump's claims that he did not engage in a "quid pro quo" with Ukraine.
In his 15-page opening statement — which elicited "sighs and gasps inside the secure hearing room," according to Politico — Taylor vividly described the "weird combination of encouraging, confusing, and ultimately alarming circumstances" that he encountered upon agreeing to return to Kyiv as America's top diplomat in Ukraine, a role he previously held from 2006 to 2009.
The career diplomat described the "two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation" that the Trump administration had activated towards Ukraine: a "regular" channel that he led as Chief of Mission in the country, and a "highly irregular" one that was directed by then-Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
According to Taylor, the latter channel — which "operated mostly outside of official State Department channels" and ran "contrary to the goals of longstanding U.S. policy" — worked over the summer, at Trump's direction, to condition a meeting between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on an assurance from Zelensky that his government would investigate unproven claims about Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections and about Burisma Holdings, a company with ties to former Vice President Joe Biden's son.
"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 recounted being told by White House aide Tim Morrison.
By September, Taylor continued, he learned from Morrison that $391 million in congressionally-sanctioned "security assistance [to Ukraine] — not just the White House meeting — was conditioned on the investigations."
When he pressed Sondland for details about the suspended aid package, the ambassador said "that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election," Taylor testified.
Sondland also allegedly told Taylor that "everything" was dependent "on a public announcement of investigations," including both the White House meeting and military aid. "Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman," Taylor said. "When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check."
Taylor's allegations are likely to raise new questions for Sondland, who testified last week that he did not recall "taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens" or "any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign."
In a statement on Tuesday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham dismissed Taylor's testimony. "President Trump has done nothing wrong — this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution," she said. "There was no quid pro quo. Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically-motivated, closed door, secretive hearings."
However, many Democrats who heard the testimony emphasized how credible they found Taylor, a three-decade veteran of the State Department who has served under administrations of both parties. "What he said was incredibly damning to the president of the United States," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said as he exited the hearing.
"This is my most disturbing day in Congress so far," freshman Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) told reporters.
On deck: Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, is expected to testify before the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry today.
Anonymous Trump official pens book: "The author of an anonymous column in the New York Times in 2018, who was identified as a senior Trump administration official acting as part of the 'resistance' inside the government, has written a tell-all book to be published next month."
"The book, titled 'A Warning,' is being promoted as “an unprecedented behind-the-scenes portrait of the Trump presidency” that expands upon the Times column, which ricocheted around the world and stoked the president’s rage because of its devastating portrayal of Trump in office." (Washington Post)
Inside the White House: "The White House is strongly considering Chad Wolf, the acting undersecretary for strategy at the Department of Homeland Security and former chief of staff to then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, to head DHS, according to four current and former department officials familiar with deliberations on the matter."
"Wolf is not considered as hard-line on immigration as two other names floated for the job — acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli and acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan — but internal emails obtained by NBC News show Wolf was an early architect of the migrant family separation policy at the southwest border." (NBC News)
--- "Trump Floats Mulvaney Replacements Including Mnuchin and Conway" (Bloomberg)
Two new polls out this morning: "Former Vice President Joe Biden's lead in the race for the Democratic nomination for president has rebounded, and now stands at its widest margin since April, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS." (CNN)
Topline Democratic primary numbers: Biden 34% (+10 since September), Warren 19% (+1), Sanders 16% (-1), Buttigieg 6% (no change), Harris 6% (-2)
General election matchups: Biden 53%, Trump 43% (Biden +10); Sanders 52%, Trump 43% (Sanders +9); Warren 52%, Trump 44% (Warren +8); Buttigieg 50%, Trump 44% (Buttigieg +6)
--- "Approval among American voters of the U.S. House impeachment inquiry. . . has reached its highest level, as 55 percent approve of the inquiry, while 43 percent disapprove, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Last week, 51 percent of voters approved of the inquiry, while 45 percent disapproved."
. . ."Nearly half of registered voters, 48 percent, say President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46 percent say he should not. Last week, 46 percent supported impeachment while 48 percent were opposed." (Quinnipiac)
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Today at the White House
--- At 3:40 p.m., President Trump delivers remarks at the 9th Annual Shale Insight Conference, which organizers describe as "the leading conference on American shale energy, industries and jobs, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
--- Vice President Mike Pence travels to Marinette and Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin today. In Marinette, he will visit the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipbuilding firm, touring the USS St. Louis at 11:40 a.m. and delivering remarks on workforce development at 12:20 p.m. In Pleasant Prairie, he delivers remarks on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) at the headquarters of Uline, a distributor of shipping, industrial and packaging materials, as part of an event hosted by America First Policies.
Today in Congress
--- The Senate convenes at 9:30 a.m. today. At 2:45 p.m., the chamber will vote on S.J.Res.50, a Democratic resolution overturning an IRS regulation that prohibits states from creating maneuvers to get around the 2017 GOP tax bill's $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions.
--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to consider two pieces of legislation: H.R. 4617, the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act, and H.R. 777, the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act.
Today at the Supreme Court
--- The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled today.
Today on the trail
--- Former Vice President Joe Biden delivers an economic policy address in Scranton, Pennsylvania, before traveling to Iowa to attend a community event in Lee County and a town hall in Muscatine.
--- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) visits Washington, D.C., speaking at the National Press Club and attending a "grassroots happy hour fundraiser."
--- Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) delivers remarks at the National Congress of American Indians in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
--- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg visits Nevada, touring a medical cannabis cultivation facility and a cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas and participating in a Nevada Alliance of Retired Americans roundtable in Henderson.
--- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro participates in a town hall on criminal justice in Waterloo, Iowa, hosted by the local NAACP.
--- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) participates in an event in Iowa hosted by Every Child Matters.
--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) holds a town hall at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
--- Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) continues his cross-country "Kids, We’re Bankrupt and We Didn’t Even Know It" road trip, making stops in Los Angeles and Simi Valley, California.
--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) campaigns in New Hampshire, speaking at a high school in Manchester and attending town meetings organized by local Democrats in Plymouth and Sanbornville.
--- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang swings through New Hampshire, participating in a "Politics & Eggs" event at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, attending a meet and greet in Concord, and hosting town halls in Plymouth and Conway.
*All times Eastern