Two key impeachment witnesses testify

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11:40 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Witnesses say it was obvious that talk of Burisma meant an investigation into Biden

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

Fiona Hill and David Holmes testified today that they very easily realized that Trump’s allies were talking about an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden when they mentioned “Burisma,” a Ukrainian energy company.

Some context: Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had a high-paid position on the board of Burisma. He took the job while his father was the point person for the Obama administration’s policy toward Ukraine, raising concerns about a conflict of interest.

Remember: Despite that potential ethical lapse by Hunter Biden, there’s no evidence of criminality or corruption by the Bidens in Ukraine. Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have been spreading conspiracies about the Bidens all year.

Today, Democratic staff lawyer Daniel Goldman asked Hill, “Was it apparent to you that when President Trump, Rudy Giuliani or anyone else was pushing for an investigation into Burisma, that the reason why they wanted that investigation related to what President Trump said here, the Bidens?”

“It was very apparent to me that that was what Rudy Giuliani intended, yes, intended to convey that Burisma was linked to the Bidens and he said this publicly repeatedly,” Hill said.

Holmes also said “yes,” he understood that Burisma was code for the Bidens. 

Other players in the scandal have testified that they didn’t make the connection until many months later. This includes former US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Both Volker and Sondland were handpicked by Trump to deal with Ukraine issues – not career foreign service officers.

Volker said that he if made the connection, he would have raised objections, but he thought the references to Burisma were part of a legitimate Ukrainian probe into the Ukrainian company. Sondland said he made the connection later in the summer, and didn’t see any of Giuliani’s many television interviews and social media posts about the Bidens. 

Volker and Sondland are essentially saying they took Trump and Giuliani at face value – that they were deeply concerned about a random Ukrainian company – and didn't take any steps to figure out what they were talking about.

Another key witness, former National Security Council aide Tim Morrison, testified this week that when Hill first told him about Giuliani’s interest in a "Burisma" probe, he googled the company and figured out the Biden connection.

Watch more:

11:40 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Hill says she was instructed to tell lawyers she wasn't part of the "drug deal"

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

The White House's former top Russia expert, Fiona Hill, said her boss, former national security adviser John Bolton, instructed her to tell lawyers that she was not part of the "drug deal" Gordon Sondland and Mick Mulvaney were "cooking up."

Here's how she put it:

"The specific instruction was that I had to go to the lawyers, to John Eisenberg, our senior counsel for the National Security Council to basically say — 'You tell Eisenberg, Ambassador Bolton told me that I am not part of this, whatever drug deal that Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.'"

"What did you take that to mean?" the Democrats' lawyer asked her.

"I took it to mean investigations for a meeting," she said.

Watch the moment:

11:09 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Pelosi: "An attack on the whistleblower is an attack on the integrity of our system"

From CNN's Haley Byrd and Clare Foran 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Schiff and the committee have dealt with the inquiry appropriately and seriously.

“The evidence is clear that the president has used his office for his own personal gain and in doing so undermined the national security of the United States,” Pelosi said.

She also slammed Trump for attacking the whistleblower, saying that whistleblower protections are “fundamental to people speaking truth to power in our country.”

“Wherever you may stand on what the President did, an attack on the whistleblower is an attack on the integrity of our system,” she said.

11:05 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

The hearing is on a short break

When they return, Republicans will get their 45-minute round to question the witnesses.

1:10 p.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Hill says Giuliani was pushing views that would "come back to haunt us"

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Fiona Hill explained what she believed former Trump National Security adviser John Bolton meant when he told her that the President's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was a "hand grenade that was going to blow everybody up."

Here's what she said:

"What Mr. Giuliani was saying was pretty explosive in any case. He was frequently on television, making quite incendiary remarks about everyone involved in this and he was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would probably come back to haunt us." 

She added: "In fact, I think that's where we are today. "

More on this: Multiple witnesses this week have brought up how Giuliani was pushing a conspiracy theory concerning former Vice President Joe Biden and how the President's personal attorney and his associates ran a "smear campaign" against former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.


10:54 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Holmes says Ambassador Sondland winced because Trump was talking so loud on their call

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

David Holmes — the US Diplomat who was at lunch with US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland when the ambassador called President Trump — said he was able to hear Trump because the President was talking so loud.

He said Sondland "sort of winced" because Trump's voice was so loud.

"When the President came on, he sort of winced and held the phone away from his ear like this," he said gesturing. 

Holmes added: "And he did that for the first couple of exchanges. I don't know if he then turned the volume down, if he got used to it, if the President moderated his volume, I don't know. But that's how I was able to hear."

Holmes also said he, Sondland and two other staffers they were dining with were seated on a terrance, and the doors to the inside the restaurant were "wide open."

"The restaurant has glass doors that open on to a terrace. We were at the first tables on the terrace, so immediately outside the interior of the restaurant. The doors were wide open," he said.


10:56 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Holmes explains why Ukraine feels pressure to pursue investigations Trump wants, despite lift on security aid hold


David Holmes, counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine, told lawmakers that although the US hold on security aid for Ukraine was lifted, they felt the pressure to comply with President Trump's demands for investigations.

"There were still things they wanted that they weren't getting, including a meeting with the President in the Oval Office. Whether the hold -- security assistance hold continued or not, Ukrainians understood that was something that the President wanted, and they still wanted important things from the President," he said.

Holmes said the Ukrainians probably still feel pressure.

"I think that continues to this day. I think they're being very careful. They still need us now, going forward," Holmes said.

The State Department aide went on to explain why US support for Ukraine is critical. He said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is trying to arrange a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to advance the peace process.

"He needs our support. He needs President Putin to understand that America supports Zelensky at the highest levels," Holmes said.

"This doesn't end with the lifting of the security assistance hold. Ukraine still needs us and, as I said, is still fighting this war to this very day," he added.

Watch more:

10:42 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

Holmes and Hill emphasize real-world stakes of Ukraine scandal

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

In their opening statements, both Fiona Hill and David Holmes sought to emphasize what is at stake with the Ukraine scandal and how much it could serve to embolden Russia.

Here's what Holmes said:

“As we sit here, Ukrainians are fighting a hot war on Ukrainian territory against Russian aggression. This week alone, since I have been here in Washington, two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two injured by Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine despite a declared ceasefire. I learned overnight that seven more were injured yesterday.”

Hill stated that “the unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016” – hitting back at false claims about Ukrainian interference -- and warned that Russia is preparing to again meddle in the 2020 election.

Here's what Hill said:

"We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests."
10:28 a.m. ET, November 21, 2019

These two House lawyers will be asking questions today

Goldman, left, and Castor, right.
Goldman, left, and Castor, right. Andrew Harnik/AP

House lawyers Daniel Goldman and Steve Castor will be asking the witnesses questions today on behalf of lawmakers.

Goldman is working on behalf of the Democrats while Castor will be leading the questions for Republicans lawmakers.

What we know about them: Goldman, the panel’s senior adviser for the Democrats, and Castor, the House Oversight committee’s general counsel for the Republicans, have been key figures in the inquiry, guiding witnesses through their timelines, urging them to describe in detail what they learned when and following up with short, pointed questions.