First public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry
After not having a war room for weeks, apparently the White House Office of Legislative Affairs sent Capitol Hill Republicans so many emails today.
The legislative affair's office sent sometimes six to seven emails an hour, according to a Republican source with knowledge of the emails.
GOP members were not happy and pushed back, the source said.
The first public impeachment hearing today lived up to the hype, and the daylong affair gave both parties plenty to chew on as the inquiry moves forward.
Here's what we learned today and what it means for the next steps, as additional witnesses are slated for private interviews and public hearings in the coming days:
- New evidence against President Trump: US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor told lawmakers about another conversation when Trump again voiced his desire to push the Ukrainians to publicly announce investigations — which would give his 2020 campaign a boost. This conversation gets at a key question of the inquiry: What was Trump telling top US diplomats working on Ukraine policy?
- Trump's talking points are being contradicted: Trump's favorite talking points on Ukraine are being disputed. This was clear from earlier deposition transcripts, it happened today and will likely continue in future hearings. The senior State Department official overseeing Ukraine policy, George Kent, testified that Trump was "trying to dig up dirt" on a political rival, rebutting Trump's claim that he was fighting corruption in Ukraine. Taylor said there was "no good policy reason" and "no good national security reason" for Trump to withhold US military assistance from Ukraine, even though the White House argued there were legitimate reasons to do so over the summer.
- The GOP is leaning into conspiracy theories: California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, did what he has done for years and leaned heavily into debunked conspiracy theories during his opening statement. He repeatedly stated that Democratic operatives had colluded with Ukraine to meddle in the 2016 election and defeat Trump, though several key witnesses have already testified that this is not true.
- Split verdict on staff lawyers' questioning: Democratic and Republican staff lawyers led the questioning, which tamped down the circus-like atmosphere. Daniel Goldman, the Democratic attorney, sought to build out a narrative from the witnesses about the delay in aid to Ukraine. Republican Steve Castor's questioning was bumpier, drawing sometimes bewildered looks from the witnesses.
- Mulvaney still at the center of the storm: Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's name arose at several points in the hearing. He was identified by the witnesses as a central player in the decision to withhold US assistance to Ukraine. And the October news conference in which he acknowledged a quid pro quo was mentioned as well. Mulvaney later denied he had said that. It's an indication Democrats are intent on further probing Mulvaney's role in the alleged scheme to pressure Ukraine into investigating Trump's political rivals. Mulvaney has defied a subpoena to appear before the committees, and created internal White House angst at his legal maneuverings to avoid testifying.
- The stakes are rising for Gordon Sondland: Sondland's direct conversations with Trump will face new scrutiny after today's testimony. Taylor said that his aide had overheard that direct conversation between the ambassador to the European Union and Trump in which the President asked for an update on the Ukrainians announcing investigations. GOP lawmakers repeatedly described Taylor's testimony as a secondhand retelling of things that he had heard from others — some suggested it wouldn't be admissible evidence at a criminal trial.
- The Democrats' case is still complicated: After the Russia investigation wrapped up in March, key Democrats observed that special counsel Robert Mueller's findings and 448-page report were probably too complicated to sell to the American people. There was no groundswell for impeachment among public opinion or in the Democratic ranks. But the case has become complicated, with thousands of pages of depositions piling up, and public hearings dragging on for hours. Most Americans don't know the Ukrainians involved. Nothing is simple, and Democrats might struggle to make this digestible again.
The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General has declined to open an investigation into the delay of Ukraine military assistance, according to a letter sent to senators.
“We seek not to duplicate or interfere with the efforts of other oversight entities, even if there is not a criminal proceeding, before initiating our own investigation," the inspector general's office wrote.
Sen. Dick Durbin, along with six other Democratic senators, issued a statement, saying they are disappointed with the decision. The senators said they met with the inspector general's office in October to discuss the issue.
“We are disappointed that the Defense Department Office of the Inspector General has declined to investigate the Defense Department’s delay of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funding appropriated by Congress," the senators said in their statement.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, one of two Democrats who voted against the House impeachment inquiry resolution, called diplomat Bill Taylor's testimony today on Capitol Hill "hearsay."
At the crux of Taylor's testimony is a July 26 call in which President Trump spoke by phone with Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, about "the investigations" into the Bidens.
The call came one day after Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a whistleblower complaint that alleged Trump solicited "interference" from a foreign country to help his 2020 presidential campaign.
This information on the July 26 call came from one of Taylor's staffers who overheard Trump’s phone call with Sondland.
“It’s hearsay,” Van Drew said this afternoon after Taylor's testimony. “It���s really difficult dealing with this because it’s he said-she said.”
Van Drew suggested he would need to see evidence such as verifiable documents or an incriminating audio recording of the President to prove the allegations before getting on board with impeachment.
“Frankly the aid did flow, so that really isn’t an issue at the end of the day,” he added. “The aid flowed, and everything resolved."
What is this aid exactly?: The aid Van Drew is referring to is nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine that was reportedly held back as leverage as Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate domestic political rivals like former Vice President Joe Biden.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed today's first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
"What has come forth has further, of course, given us the truth of what happened at the time," she said.
Pelosi went on to say she was consumed with other legislative matters — prescription drugs, Dreamers, appropriations and the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement today — and caught a "few minutes" of the beginning of the hearing.
Rep. Francis Rooney, a Republican from Florida who has not ruled out supporting impeachment, said the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry would be stronger if they had someone who had direct communication with President Trump alleging wrongdoing.
Asked if Rooney thinks acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney should testify, Rooney said he should.
“I think everyone should come to testify," he said.
Where Mulvaney fits in with the impeachment inquiry: Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone have engaged in a long-simmering feud over impeachment strategy, each blaming the other as ineffective in preventing Trump's current predicament.
Last week, Mulvaney defied a congressional subpoena to appear in closed testimony. Investigators want to hear from him after multiple witnesses named him as a key orchestrator of the alleged Ukraine quid pro quo.
Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of the House Intelligence Committee member, told reporters after today’s hearing that he was “pleasantly surprised how civil it ended up being.”
“I've been to other hearings where my colleagues on the other side kind of jump up and down and they make a circus out of some of these proceedings. So I was a little concerned, but I was pleasantly surprised with the tone and the tenor and dignity of the hearing," the Illinois lawmaker said.
Earlier today: Diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent testified before the committee at the first public hearing in the impeachment probe. One of the biggest bombshells came from Taylor who discussed a July 26 phone call that happened one day after Trump's phone call with Ukraine's leader. Taylor testified that his staff was told of the call, in which President Trump said he cared more about the "investigations of Biden" than Ukraine.
In today's episode of "The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch" podcast, CNN Political Director David Chalian gives:
- Real-time analysis of today’s highly-anticipated day on Capitol Hill, where diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent testified
- Context following a historic day
Chalian is joined today by CNN political analyst Molly Ball and Carrie Cordero, CNN's legal and national security analyst.
At a news conference with the Turkish president, President Trump was asked about new information revealed in today's public testimony from diplomat Bill Taylor.
Taylor said that on July 26 — one day after Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a whistleblower complaint that alleged Trump solicited "interference" from a foreign country to help his 2020 presidential campaign — Trump spoke by phone with Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, about "the investigations."
Trump today denied any knowledge of this call.
"I know nothing about that. The first time I've heard it," Trump said.
Trump called it "more secondhand information."
He added: "I don't recall. Not at all. Not even a little bit."