Two key impeachment witnesses testify

By Veronica Rocha and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 7:58 p.m. ET, November 21, 2019
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9:46 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Holmes says Sondland told him Trump only cares about "big stuff" like the Biden investigation

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

David Holmes, the diplomat who overheard the US ambassador to Ukraine's July phone call with President Trump, said he once asked Ambassador Gordon Sondland if Trump cared about Ukraine.

Sondland responded that Trump only cares about "'big stuff' that benefits the President, like the 'Biden investigation.'"

Here's what Holmes will say according to his opening statement:

"In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not “give a s--t about Ukraine.”
Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not “give a s--t about Ukraine.” I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the President only cares about “big stuff.”
I noted that there was “big stuff” going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant “big stuff” that benefits the President, like the “Biden investigation” that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. The conversation then moved on to other topics."

9:42 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Holmes' opening statement is 12 pages

Pool
Pool

David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine, is reading his opening statement to lawmakers right now.

His statement is 12 pages long. It details a July 26 cellphone conversation in which he heard President Trump ask Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, about the status of "investigations."

You can read his entire opening remarks here.

9:36 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Trump attempts to dispute David Holmes' testimony

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

President Trump seemingly tweeted about David Holmes' testimony.

Without naming Holmes, Trump claimed that though his hearing is "great," "Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!"

Some context: Holmes previously testified, behind closed doors, that while at a restaurant with US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, he overheard a phone call between Sondland and the President.

9:36 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Hill and Holmes have been sworn in

Pool
Pool

Former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill and David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine, were just sworn in.

They are now giving their opening statements.

Watch the moment:

9:29 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Today's hearing could be final public word for a while

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

Today’s public hearing — the fifth — is likely to be the last for a while.

Americans will begin their Thanksgiving holidays and lawmakers aren’t expected to convene these type of public sessions until at least December.

For that reason, the Democrats and Republicans appear intent on using their opening statements to sustain whatever momentum they think they have heading into the quieter period.

Chairman Adam Schiff used his to recap essentially the entire impeachment saga, from the ouster of the US ambassador to the irregular diplomatic channel to President Trump’s phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, similarly ticked through all his grievances with the proceedings and every area that could possible exonerate the President.

The question is whether the attention paid to the hearings this week — fueled by rare broadcast television coverage and daily headlines — can last.

9:33 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Nunes claims Democrats' impeachment argument is that Trump almost committed a crime

Pool
Pool

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes claimed Democrats' impeachment argument centers on the idea that Trump "almost" committed a crime — but he stopped because he got caught.

"As numerous witnesses have testified, temporary holds on foreign aid occur fairly frequently for many different reasons. So how do we have an impeachable offense here when there's no actual misdeed and no one even claiming to be a victim?" he asked.

Nunes continued:

"The Democrats have tried to solve this dilemma with a simple slogan: 'He got caught.' President Trump, we are to believe, was just about to do something wrong and getting caught was the only reason he backed down from whatever nefarious thought crime the Democrats are accusing him of almost committing."

Nunes said he urges Americans "to continue to consider the credibility of the Democrats on this committee."

Watch more:

9:31 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

"It will be up to us to decide": Schiff previews Congress' next steps

Pool
Pool

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gave a preview of what lawmakers will be looking at in the coming days following this week's hearings.

They will be examining whether President Trump abused his power or if he sought to bribe "a vulnerable ally," he said.

"In the coming days, Congress will determine what response is appropriate. If the President abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe a vulnerable ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts — a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid — it will be up to us to decide, whether those acts are compatible with the office of the Presidency," Schiff said in the conclusion of his opening remarks.

Watch:

9:11 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Hill suggests her former boss — John Bolton — should appear

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Fiona Hill’s opening statement is a fiery brush-back against some Republican talking points about the 2016 election.

But another line is a more subtle jab at some of Hill’s former colleagues who have refused to do what she is doing: appearing before the impeachment committees and detailing her experience. 

“I believe that those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it,” she will say, according to her opening statement.

This could apply to many people — but the most notable is John Bolton, the onetime national security adviser and Hill’s former boss.

Remember: Bolton has not cooperated with Congressional requests to appear, and has gone to court in the hopes a judge will decide whether he can cooperate or must comply with the White House edict he not comply.

9:21 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Fiona Hill rejects Trump-backed conspiracy on Ukraine meddling

From CNN's Marshall Cohen and Olanma Mang

Pool
Pool

Former White House adviser Fiona Hill will forcefully reject Trump-backed conspiracies that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, throwing cold water on a theory promoted by President Trump and Republicans in Congress.

Hill joins a growing list of at least eight witnesses in the impeachment inquiry who testified that Ukraine did not interfere in the 2016 election, or said that they aren’t aware of any evidence to prove that conspiracy theory.

“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” she will say, according to her opening statement. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.” 

She will continue: “I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016.”

More on this: Many Republicans on the committee, led by GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, have embraced the debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in 2016 and colluded with the Democrats to defeat Trump. Nunes has mentioned some version of this theory at every hearing — in his opening statements, while questioning witnesses, and in his closing remarks.

The director Director of National Intelligence, FBI, Department of Justice, CIA, and National Security Agency concluded that it was Russia who interfered in the 2016 election. That was confirmed again by inquiries from two Congressional committees, including the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee in 2018. 

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation also confirmed these conclusions. His 448-page report pinned the blame on the Russian government and never accused Ukraine of any interference. Many of Trump’s handpicked appointees to lead US intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI, also say it was Russia who meddled in 2016.