Two key impeachment witnesses testify
An attorney for acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Fiona Hill's testimony was "riddled with speculation and guesses" about any role that he played with Ukraine.
Mulvaney's lawyer Robert Driscoll said Hill "bases much of her testimony about him on things allegedly heard from unnamed staffers, guards in the West Wing, and 'many people.'”
Driscoll said that Mulvaney never met Hill and called the impeachment inquiry a "sham."
Why this matters: Hill first testified behind closed doors that it became clear during a July 10 meeting at the White House that an Oval Office visit for Ukraine’s president was contingent on him opening an investigation into President Trump’s political rivals.
Hill told lawmakers that Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, said there was an agreement with Mulvaney that “they would have a White House meeting or, you know, a Presidential meeting, if the Ukrainians started up these investigations again.”
In her public testimony today, Hill said "it struck me...when you put up on the screen Ambassador Sondland's emails, and who was on these emails, and he said these are the people who need to know, that he was absolutely right," Hill said, referencing emails Sondland had sent to officials that included Mulvaney. "Because he was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged."
The House Intelligence Committee's last public impeachment inquiry — or at least the last one that has been scheduled — just wrapped. House Democrats are now actively preparing for the next steps.
- Now: The House Intelligence Committee, along with two other panels, are writing a report detailing their findings, which is expected to serve as the basis for articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee will consider. Democrats say they are still debating the size and scope of the articles, which are likely to focus on abuse of power, obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress and bribery.
- December: Privately, Democrats are anticipating a busy December that will be filled with proceedings before the House Judiciary Committee.
- By Christmas: A likely vote to impeach Trump on the House floor could come by Christmas Day, which would make him just the third President in history to be impeached, according to multiple Democratic sources.
Remember: Despite speaking with 17 witnesses behind closed doors, including 12 witnesses in just a week of public testimony, Democrats have not obtained crucial documents or spoken with several key officials because the White House and State Department have refused to comply with subpoenas.
That has left top Democrats with a choice: They could fight in court to obtain potential smoking-gun documents and testimony from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton. Or they could move forward with the evidence they have.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has chosen the latter.
In some of her most direct comments to date, Pelosi said today they wouldn’t delay their impeachment push to fight for those witnesses through court battles.
“They keep taking it to court and no, we’re not going to wait until the courts decide,” she said. “That might be information that’s available to the Senate in terms of how far we go and when we go, but we can’t wait for that because again it’s a technique. It’s obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress, so we cannot let their further obstruction of Congress be an impediment to our honoring our oath of office.”
Pelosi added: “We cannot be at the mercy of the courts.”
Additional reporting by CNN's Lauren Fox, Ali Zaslav, Haley Byrd and Jeremy Herb
The House Intelligence Committee just wrapped its fifth day of testimonies in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Committee members heard testimony from Fiona Hill, the former White House Russia expert, and David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine.
Here are some of the key takeaways from today's hearing:
- Pressure on Ukraine: Holmes undercut the GOP's defense that there was no pressure on Ukraine. He testified that the Ukrainians felt pressure to move ahead with probes. He said the Ukrainians want to keep White House happy because “they still need us now.”
- "Not credible": Hill said she found Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony “not credible” when he claimed that it took him many months to connect the Ukrainian energy company Burisma to former Vice President Joe Biden. Both Holmes and Hill make clear it was obvious Burisma was about the Bidens. Sondland and Kurt Volker, the former US special envoy to Ukraine, claimed to be clueless and uncurious about why this was the one company the President wanted investigated.
- Ukraine meddling is a "fictional narrative": Hill delivered a full-throated rebuttal to the "fictional narrative" pushed by Trump and his GOP allies, including during the impeachment inquiry hearings, that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. And she warned the committee the Kremlin is prepared to strike again in 2020 and remains a serious threat to American democracy that the United States must seek to combat.
- John Bolton came up: Hill mentioned her former boss few times during her testimony. She recalled how he stiffened in his chair during a meeting where Sondland mentioned the investigations. Bolton later instructed her to tell lawyers that she was not part of the "drug deal" Sondland and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were "cooking up." Bolton is among those who've refused to cooperate with impeachment investigators' request to testify.
- "I think this is all going to blow up": Hill told lawmakers she and Sondland had several "testy" exchanges, and she described being angry with him because he "wasn't coordinating with us." She said that after she read his deposition, she realized "he wasn't coordinating with us because we weren't doing the same thing that he was doing." Hill added: "And I did say to him, 'Ambassador Sondland, Gordon, I think this is all going to blow up.' And here we are."
The last scheduled public hearing has just ended. We are now working through analysis on what just happened.
The House Intelligence Committee just wrapped up its round of members' questions. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, is now giving his closing statement.
Chairman Adam Schiff will then give his.
Today's hearing, with testimony from former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill and US diplomat David Holmes, is the last scheduled public hearing in the impeachment inquiry.
Former White House adviser Fiona Hill said she found Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony “not credible” when he claimed that it took him many months to connect the Ukrainian energy company Burisma to former Vice President Joe Biden.
“It is not credible to me at all that he was oblivious to this,” Hill said.
The comment came during a discussion of President Trump’s requests for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Trump mentioned Biden in his call with the Ukrainian president, but Sondland was not on that call. He claimed he only heard about a desire for investigations into Burisma, which had its own corruption issues. Biden’s son was on the board of Burisma.
Why this matters: Hill’s reaction to Sondland’s testimony is significant. She’s saying his testimony is not credible, and could help Democrats make the case that Sondland was less than truthful, and that the saga was all political – about Biden.
Rep. Mike Conaway pressed US diplomat David Holmes on who he told about the July 26 call he overheard between President Trump and US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.
In the call, Sondland said Ukraine's president “loves your ass” to Trump and was ready to cave to demands for an investigation of the Bidens, he testified.
This built on testimony from Holmes’ private deposition, where he said he told some friends about the call. But he insisted that he never told them any of the details of what was discussed.
About that previous testimony: According to his closed-door deposition, Holmes went on a vacation shortly after the July 26 call between Trump and Sondland at the restaurant. He was with six friends during the trip, he testified, and he mentioned the “extraordinary” call to some of them, but did not go into detail.
"I met with up with a number of friends of mine for a trip, and I do recall telling them that I was just part of this lunch where someone called the President, and it was, like, a really extraordinary thing, it doesn't happen very often,” Holmes said in the closed-door session. "I didn't go into any level of detail because they don't know this stuff."
Rep. Jim Jordan seized on that, and pressed Holmes with a follow-up question during the closed session: "You told friends you were sitting by an ambassador who was talking on his cell phone with the President of the United States, you told your buddies about that?"
“Yeah,” Holmes replied.
Fiona Hill and David Holmes both said that a US president asking a foreign government to investigate a political rival would set a "very bad precedent."
Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, asked them "if the Congress allows a President of the United States now or later to ask a foreign government, head of state, to investigate a political rival, what precedent does the that set for American diplomacy, for the safety of Americans overseas, and for the future of our country?"
Hill responded, "It's a very bad precedent."
Holmes followed Hill, saying it's a "very bad precedent, and going forward, if that were ever the case, I would raise objections."
GOP Rep. Will Hurd entered the impeachment proceedings viewed as a potential defector. He is relatively moderate, comes from a national security background and is retiring at the end of his term.
But during his time to question witnesses today, the former CIA officer made clear he wasn’t voting for impeachment — at least based on the current evidence.
“I have not heard evidence proving the President committed bribery or extortion,” Hurd said.
It perhaps wasn’t surprising: Hurd has held the Republican line during his questioning over the course of the hearings.
Today, he indicated the evidence presented so far isn’t a clear enough presentation of wrongdoing. And he said the matter of Hunter Biden and Burisma is worthy of exploration.