Three key witnesses testify in impeachment inquiry

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3:16 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Mick Mulvaney is still at the center of the impeachment probe — much to Trump’s ire

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democrats’ repeated references to acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney highlight his continued centrality to the impeachment probe — a spotlight that’s shaken his position with President Trump.

Ever since Mulvaney took to the White House briefing room to acknowledge a quid pro quo and told reporters to “get over it,” his words have proven consistently problematic for Republicans who argue exactly the opposite. 

Mulvaney attempted to walk the statement back, but his on-camera words have persisted.

That was clear today when Rep. Joaquin Castro played two clips of Mulvaney’s press briefing (or attempted to — there were some technical issues).

Sondland also placed Mulvaney closer to the center of the alleged scheme, saying he was “in the loop” along with other top officials, though acknowledged he’d only held a single formal meeting with the chief of staff and it wasn’t about Ukraine.

Remember: Mulvaney has refused to cooperate with congressional investigators, who want to know more about his role. He’s defied a subpoena and executed some complicated legal wrangling, much to the chagrin of the White House counsel’s office, with whom Mulvaney is feuding.

The attention on Mulvaney has not helped his standing with Trump, who views it as another negative headline amid many.

People familiar with the situation have said over the past weeks that it’s unlikely Trump would dismiss Mulvaney amid the current crisis in the hopes of preventing further chaos.

But Mulvaney will have been in his job for year in January — and there’s little indication Trump is prepared to drop “acting” from his title.

3:06 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Meanwhile, here's what Trump is doing now

From CNN's Matthew Hoye

As the impeachment inquiry continues, President Trump just landed in Austin, Texas, where he's expected to tour an Apple plant and meet with CEO Tim Cook.

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham retweeted a comment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in which he said, "Democrats claim impeachment won’t keep them from legislating. But Speaker Pelosi has refused to allow a vote on USMCA for months. It appears there's no governing priority – no matter how bipartisan, no matter how beneficial to Americans – that won't take a backseat to impeachment."

"So true. As a true President should," Grisham added.

Read the tweets below:

2:55 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

The US still hasn't provided Ukraine with entirety of military aid package

From CNN's Ryan Browne

The US government has still not provided Ukraine with the entirety of the $250 million in military aid, the White House's freezing of which helped launch the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

Some $35.2 million was not obligated by the end of the 2019 fiscal year, according to a Pentagon spokesperson.

CNN had previously reported that due to the Trump administration's hold on the aid — a hold that was not lifted until Sept. 11 — the Pentagon did not believe it could obligate the entirety of the $250 million aid package before the end of the fiscal year, risking the money being returned to the Treasury.

However, Congress passed a continuing resolution that provided the Defense Department the authority to keep spending the money until September 30, 2020. 

"Congress did not direct accelerated obligation of the funds. The Department is nonetheless expediting the process of implementing the authorized assistance to Ukraine and is committed to obligating these funds as quickly as possible in accordance with contracting procedures as required by law," Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a defense department spokesperson, told CNN.

The exact amount of unobligated funds was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

2:53 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Today's second hearing was supposed to begin 15 minutes ago, but we're not through the first yet

Alex Brandon/Pool
Alex Brandon/Pool

The House Intelligence Committee's second hearing of the day was scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET.

But the first — which has featured dramatic testimony from US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland — is still going.

The hearing with Sondland started just after 9 a.m. ET. Committee Chair Adam Schiff ordered an additional round of questioning — 30 minutes for the Democrats, and 30 minutes for the Republicans — and the committee has taken several breaks, leading to the delay.

The afternoon hearing will feature testimony from Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs. It's not clear when it could start.

2:49 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Fact check: Rep. Mike Conway tried to undercut Schiff's claims that the whistleblower's anonymity was protected by statute

From CNN's Tara Subramaniam

During the hearing today, Rep. Mike Coway tried to undercut Rep. Adam Schiff‘s claims that the whistleblowers anonymity was protected by statute.

Under 2012 guidelines issued by President Obama, whistleblowers are protected from work-related retaliation, including "an appointment, promotion, or performance evaluation, or any other significant change in duties, responsibilities or working conditions."

Facts First: It is true that no law explicitly prevents anyone, other than the Inspector General and their staff, from revealing the name of a whistleblower. But that doesn't mean it's legal to identify them, or that they are wholly unprotected.In 1998, Congress passed the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, which formalized the process under which whistleblowers from the intelligence community could report complaints to Congress.

Revealing the whistleblower's name does not clearly fall under one of these categories.

Robert Litt, former general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence under Obama, argues it could be considered retaliatory if the individual disclosing the name is also a member of the intelligence community.

But Litt notes that if members of Congress identified the whistleblower on the floor of Congress, they would be protected from criminal prosecution under the Speech or Debate Clause. Experts note that this situation is largely unprecedented, therefore the answer is not so cut and dried.

You can read more about the protections regarding anonymity that whistleblowers have here.

2:47 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Here's how Sondland describes his relationship with Trump

Ambassador Gordon Sondland said he and President Trump are "not close friends" and have a "professional, cordial working relationship."

Earlier today, Trump said he doesn't know Sondland well and hasn't spoken to him much.

On the question of how often they spoke, Sondland said around 20 times.

"If that's often then it's often," he said.

2:38 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

This line got a Democratic congresswoman a round of applause from the room

Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, just brought up a Washington Post article that GOP Rep. Mike Conway entered into the record.

The article, according to Conway, said House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff's "claim the whistleblower has a statutory right to anonymity received three Pinocchios."

While Speier discussed the article and the whistleblower, Conway interrupted her to say: "The article goes through that and three Pinocchios in spite of that conversation," 

"Well, the President of the United States has five Pinocchios on a daily basis. So let's not go there," she said.

Some in the room laughed and applauded.

See the moment:

2:38 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland says Trump's actions helped Russia

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

Susan Walsh/AP
Susan Walsh/AP

Ambassador Gordon Sondland agreed that the withholding of aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting likely helped Russia.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, asked Sondland if Russia benefitted from the temporary freeze of US military aid for Ukraine, and the withholding of a White House invitation from the new Ukrainian president, who took office this year.

“I think it could be looked at that way, yes,” Sondland said. 

Other witnesses in the inquiry, including national security officials who worked in the White House, testified that President Trump’s actions gave Russia a boost, because his actions undermined the new Ukrainian leader. Ukraine has been at war with Russia its aligned militias since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine.

Trump’s decision to freeze military aid for Ukraine is one of many things he’s done to help Russia over the years. 

2:27 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland says he has received many threats

Ambassador Gordon Sondland told lawmakers he has received many threats as a result of the inquiry.

"We have countless emails apparently to my wife. Our properties are being picketed and boycotted," he explained to the House Intelligence Committee.

Sondland said there are demonstrations "going on as we speak" in front of his hotels.