First public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry
In his opening statement, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes said that Democrats had tried “to obtain nude pictures of Trump from Russian pranksters who pretended to be Ukrainian officials.”
Facts First: This is misleading. While committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff did take a 2017 call from Russian pranksters who posed as a Ukrainian government official and purported to know of “compromising” nude photos taken of Trump during a visit to Moscow in 2013, Schiff emphasized to the pranksters that he would work with the FBI, not on his own, to receive any related evidence the pranksters could provide.
The pranksters claimed to have recordings of Russians discussing the supposed compromising material. Schiff said he would welcome an opportunity to obtain copies of the recordings (not the photos themselves) -- and emphasized that he would work with law enforcement to do so.“We will try to work with the FBI to figure out, along with your staff, how we can obtain copies,” Schiff said of the recordings, as The Atlantic reported.
Schiff continued moments later: “I'll be in touch with the FBI about this.”A Schiff spokesman told The Atlantic: “Before agreeing to take the call, and immediately following it, the committee informed appropriate law-enforcement and security personnel of the conversation, and of our belief that it was probably bogus.”
A source close to the Trump campaign says the campaign is "locked and loaded."
They are clipping videos, pushing out research, comparing today’s testimonies with previous statements, and serving as the clearing house for content.
The source, along with White House officials, says look for Republicans to hit diplomat Bill Taylor on his previous testimony, stating he’d quit over withholding aid to Ukraine. This raises the question: If he believed there was quid pro quo, why didn’t he quit?
White House officials say they believe they’re playing offense and claim they are calm, confident and ready for what’s to come during the hearing.
One source says while the White House expects the testimony to "not be great" for President Trump, it won’t be a "clean shot" for the Democrats because the witnesses can’t directly tie their claims to the President based on their previous testimony. The White House is also quick to point out the witnesses weren’t on the July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky and didn’t ever talk directly to Trump about Ukraine.
Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, used his opening statement to accuse Democrats of “violating their own guidelines” by redacting the name of Alexandra Chalupa from the transcripts released by the Intelligence committee over the last two weeks.
Nunes said Chalupa was “a contractor for the Democratic National Committee who worked with Ukrainian officials to provide dump on the campaign which he provided to the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign.”
While Chalupa denied the allegations in a statement to CNN in 2017, they have been used for years by White House and other pro-Trump Republicans to deflect from allegations against the President.
"During the 2016 US election, I was a part time consultant for the DNC running an ethnic engagement program," Chalupa said in a lengthy statement to CNN. "I was not an opposition researcher for the DNC, and the DNC never asked me to go to the Ukrainian Embassy to collect information."
Chalupa, who is Ukrainian American, went on to say that she was concerned when the Trump campaign named Paul Manafort the campaign chairman in 2016, given Manafort’s political consulting work for Victor Yanukovych, a former Ukrainian President with close ties to Moscow. Manafort, a longtime Republican operative, was hired by Trump in March 2016.
Chalupa said, at the time, she “flagged for the DNC the significance of his hire based on information in the public domain."
Republicans, though, have seized on the fact that she did meet with representatives from the Ukrainian Embassy during the election, meetings that Chalupa says were about an "Immigrant Heritage Month women's networking event" she helped organize in June with Melanne Verveer, a Ukrainian-American and former US Ambassador for Global Women's Issues at the State Department under Hillary Clinton.
In his opening statement, diplomat Bill Taylor said that during a July 18 conference call, a staff person from the Office of Management and Budget said there was a hold on aid for Ukraine but "could not say why."
He added: "Towards the end of an otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call — the person was off screen — said that she was from OMB and her boss instructed her not to approve any additional spending on security systems for Ukraine until further notice."
Taylor said he and others "sat in astonishment" after hearing this directive.
"Ukrainians were fighting Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons but also the assurance of U.S. Support. All that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to OMB," Taylor said.
"In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened," he said.
In their opening statements, both of the career diplomats testifying today explained the importance of Ukraine to American foreign policy, characterizing the country as a bulwark against Russia.
Here's how they put it:
- “The United States has clear national interests at stake in Ukraine. Ukraine’s success is very much in our national interest,” said George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
- “Ukraine is a strategic partner of the United States, important for the security of our country as well as Europe. Ukraine is on the front line in the conflict with a newly aggressive Russia,” said Bill Taylor, the current top diplomat in Ukraine.
Why this matters: The point appeared to underscore the diplomats’ concern at President Trump’s approach to the country. They describe worry when US military aid was delayed, since that aid helped combat Russian aggression in the region.
And they expressed concern at the informal diplomatic channel spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani, which they feared could undermine US support for Ukraine.
The Washington faultline that defines the Trump era was on show in the early moments of the hearing.
The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, painted career diplomats George Kent and Bill Taylor of being part of a “politicized bureaucracy” that had caused immense damage to Americans’ faith in government – echoing the Trump narrative that is so attractive to the President’s base.
“Elements of the civil service have decided that they, not the President, are really in charge,” Nunes said.
Here's what this means: Nunes is effectively arguing that a diplomat must do whatever Trump says – that there is no difference between a President’s interests and the national interest. This is the fundamental question at the core of an impeachment charge that Trump abused his power in Ukraine for political gain.
Kent laid out a vision of US interests that contradicts Trump’s “America First” approach that sees allies as freeloaders and economic foes.
“Europe’s security and prosperity contributed to our security and prosperity,” the bowtied Kent said.
This war between Trump and the "elite" establishment is the underlying political theme of his presidency. And it will rage throughout these impeachment hearings.
In his opening statement, diplomat Bill Taylor said, "I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of Rudy Guiliani, who had made several controversial statements about Ukraine and US Policy towards the country."
Moments earlier, diplomat Georg Kent said in his opening statement that starting in 2018 he became "increasingly aware" of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to "smear" Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
There are two important things to know about what diplomat George Kent said regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and his work on the board for a Ukrainian energy company named Burisma.
First: He said that when he learned in 2015 about Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board, he raised concerns with other State Department officials.
“I raised my concern that Hunter Biden’s status as board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest,” Kent said.
In a press interview, Hunter Biden acknowledged that it showed “poor judgement” to join the board while his father was involved in US policy toward Ukraine, but he said it was not an “ethical lapse” because he never mixed personal business with government policy.
Second: Kent refuted a key conspiracy theory peddled by Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani, and many Republican lawmakers who are participating in the questioning.
“Let me be clear; however, I did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny,” Kent said.
Trump and his GOP allies have accused Joe Biden of pressuring the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor because he was investigating Burisma. Most of these allegations have been discredited and there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
In his opening statement, Rep. Devin Nunes suggested that officials who were alarmed by President Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine were typically basing their concerns off “second-hand, third-hand, and even fourth-hand rumors and innuendo.”
Facts First: Various witnesses who have testified in the impeachment inquiry have had firsthand knowledge of various components of the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine.
For example, witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Tim Morrison of the White House's National Security Council both listened to Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; so did witness Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence.
The former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified about what she had been directly told about why Trump was abruptly removing her from her post.
Trump's ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified about his own comments to Ukrainian officials about how US military aid would not "likely" be issued until Ukraine declared that it was conducting an investigation related to Joe Biden. (Sondland described this proposed declaration as an "anti-corruption statement.")
Among other firsthand testimony, Trump's current top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testified about his own concerns about the role Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was playing in relations with Ukraine.