A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Impeachment Watch newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
A day after his turn voluntarily sitting before the impeachment inquiry, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was back at work in the National Security Council at the White House complex.
His fellow officials are wondering whether their efforts are being undermined and worry the President could sour on the entire body, ignoring its expert advice as he fumes about its role in the current crisis. That’s all in this must-read look at what is happening inside the NSC.
Morrison to testify – and step down
Vindman’s boss, Tim Morrison, will testify Thursday before the impeachment inquiry. He’s also leaving his post soon, according to a source familiar with his decision.
House investigators are inviting the recently ousted national security adviser to testify next week. Bolton used the term “drug deal” to describe the shadow foreign policy operation. Investigators also invited testimony from John Eisenberg, the NSC lawyer who Vindman and others notified of their concerns. Read the full story on that here.
Big day ahead
Key vote – Thursday will see the first official House vote on impeachment when Congressmen vote on a slate of procedures for the inquiry pushed by Democrats.
Testimony – Morrison testifies Thursday and he will be a key witness.
Vindman believes Trump was personally holding aid for investigation – Jake Tapper reports tonight that Vindman told congressional investigators in his deposition Tuesday that he became convinced that President Donald Trump personally was ordering the withholding of $400 million in aid for Ukraine as a way of forcing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into the Bidens, sources told CNN.
Omissions from July 25 transcript – Shortly after we sent this newsletter last night, it was reported that Vindman testified that key words and crucial context were dropped, omitted, and hidden by ellipses in the White House transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian President.
White House denial – “The media is reporting that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman claims he proposed filling in words that were missing in areas where ellipses were shown in the transcript – this is false,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement.
Taylor will “fulfill his duty” if asked to testify – The US diplomat who confirmed the pressure campaign by Trump on Ukraine to investigate Burisma and who also perceived it as a quid pro quo will “fulfill his duty” and return to Capitol Hill to testify publicly if asked, according to a source familiar with his thinking. He’d be a logical choice as one of the first witnesses when the impeachment probe begins to hold public hearings likely in a few weeks.
Jared Kushner met Zelensky in June – Both attended a June 4 dinner hosted by US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland in Brussels. The meeting was reported at the time, before the Ukraine scandal. But a photo of the two of them has resurfaced. Kushner told Israel’s Channel 13 this week the impeachment inquiry is “silly games.”
Protection for Vindman
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has asked the Secretary of the Army what he’s doing to protect Vindman. Schumer referred to the “vitriol” pointed toward Vindman by Trump and others and raised concern it “may result in professional reprisals and threats to his personal safety and that of his family.” CNN’s Barbara Starr reports Vindman is protected under whistleblower laws.
Bob Livingston is back; hypocritical lawmaker from Clinton impeachment makes cameo
Students of relatively recent impeachment history will recall that a main backer of impeaching Bill Clinton for his adulterous affair was Bob Livingston, heir apparent to Newt Gingrich, who was leaving his role as House Speaker in 1998.
That is, until Livingston’s shock resignation and admission that he had engaged in his own adulterous affairs. It wasn’t a crisis of conscience that led Livingston to resign, but rather the fact that Hustler Magazine’s Larry Flynt offered $1 million to anyone who could prove an affair with a high government official. He apparently got multiple takers who pointed to Livingston. Read a CNN report from 1998 about Livingston’s fall. Seriously, this was stunning at the time. He apologized to his wife and family on the House floor and had anger in his voice when he said, “So I will set the example that I hope President Clinton will follow.”
He stopped pursuing the Speakership and didn’t run for reelection.
Why on earth are we talking about this right now?
It turns out that Livingston, who played such a big role in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, has a bit of a part in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump.
Now a swamp creature for hire, Livingston repeatedly called Catherine Croft, a State Department official who testified in closed doors today about pressure she felt to oust Marie Yovanovitch, now the former US ambassador to Ukraine.
“During my time at the NSC, I received multiple calls from lobbyist Robert Livingston, who told me that Ambassador Yovanovitch should be fired,” Croft said in prepared testimony. “He characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros. It was not clear to me at the time—or now—at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch.”
Who was Livingston working for?
As CNN reported Wednesday: Livingston’s lobbying firm has worked for Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, a top but unsuccessful candidate in the country’s most recent election, according to its federal foreign lobbying disclosure. In December 2018, the Livingston Group disclosed she was introduced to Rudy Giuliani. It’s unknown if Livingston’s calls to the NSC were connected in any way to his work for the Ukrainian official or his firm’s contact with Giuliani.
The mood in Foggy Bottom
Croft’s testimony is a good example of how diplomats are feeling a new kind of pressure during the Trump administration. While she was fielding calls from a former lawmaker now working for a Ukrainian politician, there’s also the accusation from the Trump administration felt by diplomats that they’re part of the so-called “deep state.”
What it feels like
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette writes: The State Department has been catapulted into a “strange parallel universe,” a Washington-based official said, groping for a way to describe the way staff feel about the situation: The administration they serve is attacking them, career diplomats are having to hire lawyers simply for having done their jobs and anger is growing about the silence on the seventh floor, where the Secretary’s offices are housed.
Many diplomats invoked Pompeo’s history as a House lawmaker who drove the Benghazi hearings that looked into – and, they said, politicized – the death of the widely respected and admired US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stephens.
Pompeo did push back for Yovanovitch
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who is facing confirmation to be US Ambassador to Russia, testified Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he was aware Giuliani had lobbied for the the removal of Yovanovitch from Ukraine. He also said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back on the efforts to have Yovanovitch recalled from her post.
Another history lesson
Today I wrote that Trump wants a Lt. Col. Oliver North. What he’s got is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
North was a Marine officer detailed to the National Security Council under President Ronald Reagan who was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry into the Iran-Contra scandal.
Vindman is an Army officer detailed to the National Security Council who just testified about his efforts to document Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian President to investigate Joe Biden.
It goes on from there to look at how Trump has purged the military men from his Cabinet and inner circle and suggests his idea of loyalty might be at the bottom of it. Read the whole thing.
For more on the military aspect
Today on the Impeachment Watch podcast, host CNN reporter and producer Marshall Cohen talks through the latest impeachment inquiry developments with CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood and Rear Admiral John Kirby, USN (ret), a CNN military and diplomatic analyst. Listen here.
Gaetz wants ethics probe of Schiff
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led the band of Republican congressman who barged into the secure deposition of Pentagon official Laura Cooper last week, is now calling on the Ethics Committee to investigate House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff for his behavior from the Russia probe and now during the impeachment probe.
Finally: Mitch McConnell’s super power
The Senate Majority Leader does not say things he doesn’t want to say. And Ted Barrett, CNN’s Senate producer, sees that every day and translates it in this excellent description of how McConnell avoided answering questions about Vindman on Tuesday.
Your questions about impeachment
One question we’ve been asked several times at email@example.com is this:
If, somehow, Trump were removed from office, could he then try to run again?
We reached out to the nation’s top impeachment historian, Professor Frank Bowman at the University of Missouri Law School (read his history of impeachment, people), and he gave us an extremely detailed answer, which boils down to: “No.”
Bowman: If the Senate were to vote to convict Mr. Trump, it could then (in modern practice) take a second vote to disqualify him, pursuant to Art I, Sec 3: “Judgment of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, Trust, or Profit under the United States.” If the Senate votes to disqualify him, the presidency is an office of honor or profit. So he’d be disqualified from ever holding the presidency again. That said, could he “run”? Well, sure, if by that you mean announce a campaign, etc. But the constitution is clear that he couldn’t hold the office again.
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election.
Democrats want to impeach him for it.
It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.
Keep track of documents and hearings with CNN’s Impeachment Tracker.
See a timeline of events here.
And get your full refresher on who’s who in this drama here.