Four key impeachment witnesses testify
Multiple GOP sources say they are most worried about what EU ambassador Gordon Sondland will do tomorrow — and whether he will turn on the President.
The fear, Republicans say, is that he could undercut the last GOP defense: That no one heard Trump directly tie military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an announcement of investigations.
Republicans plan to question his credibility if he goes that route.
But at the moment, lawmakers don’t know if he will further revise his testimony tomorrow.
Kurt Volker, former US special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council aide, were just sworn in at this afternoon's hearing before the House Intelligence Committee.
They'll now give their opening statements.
GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, blasted today's hearings in his opening remarks.
"Welcome back to Act II of today's circus, ladies and gentlemen. We are here to continue what the Democrats tell us is a serious, somber and even prayerful process of attempting to overthrow a duly elected president," Nunes said.
He went on to say that Democrats are looking to accuse the President of any crime.
"Who knows what ridiculous crime they'll be accusing him of next week?" Nunes said.
House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff is using his opening statement to read from Kurt Volker’s own text messages.
The texts were among the first documents produced to the committee as part of the impeachment investigation.
Why the texts matter: Some of the messages indicate that Volker made it clear to a Ukrainian official that they wouldn’t get a White House visit without launching Trump’s desired investigations.
You can read a full breakdown of the texts here.
The second hearing of the day has just started on Capitol Hill.
Former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council aide Tim Morrison will be testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.
Volker and Morrison have already testified behind closed doors as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Here's what they told lawmakers during their depositions:
- Volker: In his own testimony, Volker said that the Ukrainians had asked to be put in touch with Giuliani — whose efforts have been described by other witnesses as a shadow foreign policy outside of State Department channels — because they believed "that information flow would reach the President." He said he had been surprised and troubled by what was said on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.
- Morrison: He told lawmakers that Gordon Sondland, the American envoy to the European Union, was acting at Trump's instruction in his dealings with Ukraine, and Sondland said that the President told him Zelensky "must announce the opening of the investigations," according to a transcript of his deposition released Saturday.
The House Judiciary Committee is planning to hold hearings on impeaching the President that expand past the current Ukraine hearing soon after they conclude. The committee hopes that former White House counsel Don McGahn will be forced to testify at that time, according to a new court filing.
The House has asked a federal judge to make a ruling quickly on whether McGahn must testify in the House impeachment inquiry, citing a “finite window of time” when he’s needed.
“The Judiciary Committee anticipates holding hearings after HPSCI’s public hearings have concluded and would aim to obtain Mr. McGahn’s testimony at that time. Thus, there is an urgent need for final resolution of the matter now pending before this Court,” the House wrote to the judge in a new court filing.
The House’s letter to the court points out that it is considering impeaching the President for obstruction of justice, for which McGahn would be a key witness. This is because he spoke to special counsel Robert Mueller for that obstruction investigation, and for lying to Mueller, after testimony at Roger Stone’s criminal trial raised questions about Trump’s written answers to investigators about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Remember: Those investigations are separate from the current investigation regarding Ukraine, which has been the focus of the House over the past few weeks.
The House says it has an “urgent need for Defendant Donald McGahn’s testimony for use in the House’s impeachment inquiry and the mounting broader ramifications of a ruling in this case for that quickly progressing inquiry,” the House wrote to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Tuesday. Jackson already has heard arguments on whether she can intervene in the fight between the White House and the House, and is poised to rule.
The White House stopped McGahn from testifying last spring, citing “absolute immunity” over its high-level former officials.
The House of Representatives just passed a short-term funding bill in an effort to avert a government shutdown before funds expire later in the week.
The vote was 231-192.
The stop-gap legislation, known as a continuing resolution, will extend funding through December 20, setting up another spending deadline on the eve of the winter holidays. The current deadline for funding is Thursday.
This afternoon's impeachment inquiry hearing with Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison had been delayed while the House voted.
What happens next: It will next need to be taken up by the Senate and then signed by the President to prevent a shutdown. The expectation is that if the House and Senate both pass a funding bill, the President will sign it.
White House social media director Dan Scavino tweeted a clip from today's testimony, when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said he was offered a job with Ukraine's defense department.
But here's the thing: The clip is highly misleading. It omits the part where Vindman said he rejected the offer, reported it to his superiors and to counterintelligence, and found it comical.
Here's the tweet:
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin expressed deep frustration today about actions allegedly taken by President Trump as described by witnesses in the impeachment inquiry.
"There's nothing right about this. There's nothing right. I mean, you know, it's just dead wrong. The bottom line is people are going to have to make a decision (about impeachment)," he said. "But the bottom line is for anyone to condone this and say this is normal behavior and this is how we should act as a country, superpower of the world, is wrong.”
Manchin said he won't make a decision about whether he would vote to convict Trump in a Senate trial until the process possibly moves over from the House.
Trump is very popular in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, putting even more pressure on the senator who won re-election last year.
Asked if he was surprised almost none of his Republican colleagues had broken with Trump, Manchin, a conservative Democrat who often votes with Republicans, said no.
“Ain’t nothing surprises me anymore, nothing surprises me. This place has become so tribal It's unbelievable," he said.
Manchin was visibly angry at attacks on Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated warrior, who testified about Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
“All these attacks, everything going back and forth, and attacks I see in the committee attacking a witness that's a war hero basically. This is unacceptable," he said.
“But this is not how I was raised as a West Virginian. This is not how I was raised as a human being, the dignity and respect I have for other human beings. These are things you don't do. You don't treat people this way you don't act and talk about people in this way," Manchin added.