The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry

1:27 p.m. ET, October 8, 2019

A federal judge brought up Watergate in a hearing with DOJ lawyers today

A federal judge forced the Justice Department today to compare proceedings during Watergate to the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Judge Beryl Howell grilled House and Justice Department lawyers on the current inquiry for more than two hours. The hearing was set to focus on grand jury secrets in the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, but Howell has asked several pointed questions about the parameters of the current impeachment probe.

At one point, Howell cut off a Justice Department lawyer arguing the administration could withhold grand jury secrets from Congress.

She then brought up Judge John Sirica, who became one of President Richard Nixon’s greatest foils during Watergate. Sirica had ruled to give a secret grand jury report to Congress as it investigated Nixon. Its release bolstered impeachment so much it was called the “Watergate roadmap.”

Howell asked twice, “Was former Judge Sirica wrong?" 

Justice Department attorney Elizabeth Shapiro said the Nixon-era judge wasn’t wrong at the time, but the Watergate grand jury decision by the court may have resulted differently today.

Howell responded to Shapiro, saying, "Wow."

"The Department (of Justice) is taking an extraordinary position in this case," Howell said.

What this hearing is all about: This hearing has covered many of the legal questions that the House and White House are fighting over this week as the Ukraine impeachment inquiry moves forward.

1:04 p.m. ET, October 8, 2019

Nancy Pelosi: Protecting whistleblowers "is absolutely essential"

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stressed the importance of protecting whistleblowers as she spoke to reporters in Seattle.

“The intelligence community respects the role of whistleblowers," Pelosi said. "We all do, but in intelligence, protecting the whistleblower is absolutely essential so that there’s no retribution or anything for speaking truth."

"Whistleblowers must be protected," she added.

Some background: House Intelligence Committee and lawyers for the whistleblower who filed a complaint about President Trump's conduct are discussing extreme measures to protect the individual's identity amid growing concerns about his or her safety, according to several sources familiar with the process.

It is still unclear when the whistleblower might ultimately talk with the committee, but among the measures being discussed are the possibility of using an off-site location, limiting Hill staff and members who would be present and even disguising the individual's image and voice.

1:03 p.m. ET, October 8, 2019

Pelosi: Trump is "obstructing Congress from getting the facts that we need"

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking to reporters in Seattle, said President Trump is "obstructing Congress from getting the facts that we need" after his administration blocked a US diplomat's deposition this morning.

She went on to say Trump's behavior is "an abuse of power," adding "that is one of the reasons that we have an impeachment inquiry."

Earlier today, the Trump administration blocked US Ambassador to European Union Gordon Sondland's deposition before three House committees.

Pelosi said Sondland had said to his lawyers that he was prepared to testify.

"There will be a subpoena issued for him to come testify," she said.

12:39 p.m. ET, October 8, 2019

Nancy Pelosi is "totally on board" with the impeachment inquiry scope, lawyer says

House General Counsel Doug Letter said he spoke to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi last night and “she is totally on board with this.”

Letter told Judge Beryl Howell earlier in today’s hearing that the House of Representatives may be considering articles of impeachment against the President that go further than the Ukraine issue — and may include obstruction of justice and interference with federal elections accusations.

What this hearing is all about: This hearing has covered many of the legal questions that the House and White House are fighting over this week as the Ukraine impeachment inquiry moves forward.

The hearing was set to focus on grand jury secrets in the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, but Howell has asked several pointed questions about the parameters of the current impeachment probe.

1:06 p.m. ET, October 8, 2019

Feinstein says she welcomes the "opportunity to question Rudy Giuliani under oath"

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Diane Feinstein reacted to the invitation earlier today from Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham to have Rudy Giuliani testify about Ukraine, saying it would “give us an opportunity to help separate fact from fiction.”

“I welcome the opportunity to question Rudy Giuliani under oath about his role in seeking the Ukrainian government’s assistance to investigate one of the president’s political rivals," Feinstein said in a statement.

Her statement continued: “Democratic members have plenty of questions for Mr. Giuliani and this would give us an opportunity to help separate fact from fiction for the American people.”

Why we are talking about Rudy Giuliani today: Earlier today, Graham extended an invitation to Giuliani to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In a tweet, Graham said he has "heard on numerous occasions disturbing allegations by [Giuliani] about corruption in Ukraine."

In response to the invite, Giuliani told CNN: “Love Lindsey, but I am still a lawyer and I will have to deal with privilege.”

Giuliani has been vocal since the Ukraine scandal broke, claiming that he has dirt on Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Earlier this month, Giuliani first denied then admitted in an interview on CNN that he asked Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden. Important to note, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe Biden or his son.

Giuliani has also been among the people pushing a theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election through “collusion” with Democrats.

11:58 a.m. ET, October 8, 2019

House Democrats will subpoena Sondland

John Rudoff/Sipa USA/Newscom
John Rudoff/Sipa USA/Newscom

Three Democratic House committees chairs put out a joint statement today saying they will issue a subpoena to the US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland to testify and turn over documents as part of their impeachment inquiry.

Chairmen Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel and Eljiah Cummings said in a statement: "Ambassador Sondland's testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the Administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents."

They added:

“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry." 

More context: Sondland was scheduled to testify before three House committees in a closed-door meeting today — but earlier this morning, the State Department ordered him not to appear.

Here's the full statement from the Chairmen:

“The House of Representatives is engaged in an impeachment inquiry to determine whether the President violated his oath of office and endangered our national security by pressing Ukraine to launch sham investigations to assist his personal and political interests rather than the interests of the American people. Today, the White House has once again attempted to impede and obstruct the impeachment inquiry.
“This morning, we learned from Ambassador Sondland’s personal attorneys that the State Department left a voicemail last night at 12:30 a.m. informing them that the Trump Administration would not allow the Ambassador to appear today as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry. 
“In addition, Ambassador Sondland’s attorneys have informed us that the Ambassador has recovered communications from his personal devices that the Committees requested prior to his interview today. He has turned them over to the State Department, however, and the State Department is withholding them from the Committees, in defiance of our subpoena to Secretary Pompeo.
“These actions appear to be part of the White House’s effort to obstruct the impeachment inquiry and to cover up President Trump’s misconduct from Congress and the American people. Ambassador Sondland’s testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the Administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents.  
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry. 
“We will be issuing subpoena to Ambassador Sondland for both his testimony and documents.”

11:57 a.m. ET, October 8, 2019

Sondland called Trump after top US diplomat raised concerns over withholding Ukraine aid 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland called President Trump to find out what was going on after the top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, raised concerns in a text to Sondland about withholding assistance, according to a source with knowledge. 

Trump emphatically told him no quid pro quo, the source said.

Here are the September 2019 texts we are talking about:

Bill Taylor: As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
Gordon Sondland: Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign��I suggest we stop the back and forth by text If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.

11:21 a.m. ET, October 8, 2019

Justice Department will give redacted FBI memos from Mueller probe to House for the impeachment inquiry

The Justice Department said it has agreed to give the House 33 FBI memos from the Robert Mueller investigation for use in the impeachment inquiry.

Here's the thing: The documents have redactions “to protect confidential communications between senior White House advisers,” DOJ attorney Elizabeth Shapiro said. 

Judge Howell responded with incredulity, pointing out that the White House appeared to be keeping confidential from the House information that was widely available within the FBI. Shapiro responded that it was not widely shared within the FBI.

11:19 a.m. ET, October 8, 2019

House lawyer: "We're getting almost nothing" from Justice in the impeachment inquiry

Former White House counsel Don McGahn attends the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 4, 2018.
Former White House counsel Don McGahn attends the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 4, 2018. Ting Shen/Xinhua/Getty Images

A lawyer for the House of Representatives told a federal judge that “we’re getting almost nothing” from the Justice Department for the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

House General Counsel Doug Letter told a federal judge this morning that the Justice Department has refused to share FBI memos on what former White House Counsel Don McGahn and other White House employees told Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the President’s attempts to obstruct justice.

The memos go to “the very heart of what we need to look into” in the current impeachment inquiry, Letter told Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court Tuesday.

The House has seen no FBI interview notes (so-called 302s) from McGahn or his deputy Annie Donaldson or of “others in the White House, despite saying they need them and the Justice Department agreeing to share some of the memos with the House.

The House has seen “nowhere near” what it thought it would see after the Mueller investigation.

“We’re getting almost nothing" Letter said.

Meanwhile, the House is arguing in court that it’s “fully engaged” in the impeachment inquiry and it didn’t need a formal vote to start that proceeding.

Federal Judge Beryl Howell is pressing the House over what protected information the House may gain access to at this time through the court.

The hearing comes the same morning the Trump administration has begun to stonewall the House’s impeachment inquiry because it hasn’t passed a resolution to formalize it — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had only announced the inquiry.

The Justice Department has not yet told the judge its arguments in the ongoing court hearing.