The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry

By Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes, Zoe Sottile and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019
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3:01 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

Vindman testified there was no "malicious intent" to cover anything up in Trump's Ukraine call transcript

From CNN's Jeremy Herb and Zach Cohen

Lt. Col. Alexanader Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, downplayed the significance of his proposed edits that were not made to the rough transcript of the President’s July 25 call, which included adding a reference to Burisma and tapes of former Vice President Joe Biden that were not included in the transcript released by the White House. 

Asked if the transcript was complete and “very accurate,” Vindman said it was. Vindman described the edits he proposed as “substantive,” but said he did not think there was any “malicious intent” or cover-up behind his proposed edits not being incorporated.

“I do not think there was malicious intent on anything of that nature to cover anything up,” Vindman said. “I don't know definitively, but I don't think that's the case. And I think, in general, the people I work with try to do the right thing.” 

In addition to the two edits previously reported about Burisma and the Biden tapes, Vindman said that one of the ellipses in the transcript replaced President Trump saying of the Crowdstrike server: "They say you have it.” But Vindman he noted Trump also said in the next line: “They say Ukraine has it.” 

Vindman explained that the ellipses sometimes — but not always — replaced words. “Like I said, in my notes, if it was a Ukrainian word on something that required some content and it was not in there, I'd replace it, but not every ellipses has something else with it,” he said.

Vindman told lawmakers that he reviewed the transcript of Trump’s July 25 call produced by the White House Situation Room, as is protocol at the NSC, and made “a couple of edits and suggestions.”

But while Vindman would typically see the final transcript of such calls after the review process is complete, he said he did not in the case of the July 25 conversation with Ukraine's president.


2:55 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

Hill warned of "open season on our diplomats"

From CNN's Haley Byrd

Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia adviser, warned lawmakers that "we have permitted open season on our diplomats, and it could happen to anybody,” referring to the campaign against former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and conspiracy theories about herself. 

"It doesn't matter whether they're a noncareer official. It happened, rather disturbingly to me, to rather a lot of women, but it can happen to any political person as well. Any one of us here could be subject to this kind of claims and these kinds of attacks, any single person who gets crosswise with any of these individuals or any of these countries, if they think that any of us are in the way,” she said.

She later added, "If nothing else, we should all agree that what happened to Ambassador Yovanovitch is unacceptable, and we should not be letting this happen to our public servants across the board because it could happen to congressional staff. It could happen to absolutely everybody.”

2:41 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

John Bolton has "relevant" information on Ukraine probe not yet disclosed, lawyer says 

From CNN's Adam Levine, Ariane de Vogue and Kevin Bohn

Former national security adviser John Bolton has significant insights into matters being probed by the impeachment investigators, his lawyer said in a letter to congressional leaders today.

But Bolton’s attorney said his client will not testify until a court resolves whether a subpoena to him must be adhered to.

In a letter, lawyer Charles Cooper said, “Ambassador Bolton, who was the National Security Advisor to the President, and who was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far.”

2:44 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

Hill said Rick Perry laid out Ukraine talking points at a meeting

From CNN's Mike Warren

Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia adviser, testified that in the July 10 meeting with the Ukrainian delegation, Energy Secretary Rick Perry “laid out all of these talking points” about working with Ukraine to tackle corruption in the energy sector.

Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton said this was encouraging and suggested they could start thinking about a meeting between Trump and President Trump Volodymyr Zelensky.

Bolton, Hill said, urged the Ukrainians to deal with the State Department and with Perry on that.

This is when, Hill testified, Gordon Sondland “did a redirect” of the conversation.

“And this is when Sondland, who is, you know, a fairly big guy, kind of leaned over across Ambassador Bolton,” she testified. “I mean, he was basically…countermanding what Ambassador Bolton had just said. In other words saying, I actually have, you know, some completely separate agreement about a meeting, you know, kind of you’re stonewalling kind of thing.”

Hill continued by saying Sondland looked irritated and told the Ukrainian delegation to go back to the Ward Room and talk about the next steps for the presidential meeting. She said Bolton was “pretty furious” about this, and that it was her impression that Sondland had previously talked to the Ukrainians about planning the presidential meeting — even though Bolton and others had been “recommending against having a meeting at this juncture.”


2:31 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

Biden: "This is about Donald Trump, not about me"

From CNN's Deanna Hackney

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena on November 01, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena on November 01, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden was asked if he would agree to appear if there was a Senate impeachment trial for President Donald Trump, as he spoke to reporters after filing for the New Hampshire Democratic primary.

"Number one, this is about Donald Trump, not about me. There's not a single solitary thing that anybody has demonstrated that I didn't do my job as the representative of the United States of America, representing America's position," he said.

"So, what Trump is doing and what he always do try to take the focus off of what the problem is. The problem is Donald Trump invited, at least on three occasions three different countries for different reasons to intervene in American elections. And this is a look, it's a constitutional issue. The House has no choice. The President stood there and basically indicted himself in 30 meetings, saying there's enough evidence to move forward with a trial in the United States Senate."

Biden, who was a Senator during President Bill Clinton's impeachment, added that impeachment proceedings are "not fun", but "there's a constitutional responsibility."

Remember: The whistleblower complaint that triggered the ongoing impeachment investigation centers around a claim that the President used military aid as a leverage to convince Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either of the Bidens.

2:06 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

Hill said two diplomats pushed for investigations in exchange for White House meeting 

From CNN's Alex Rogers 

Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia adviser, reviewed the text messages between Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and then-special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker made public by the impeachment inquiry. 

When asked if that was normal diplomacy, Hill testified, “No.”

“Because of the content and the nature of, you know, setting up a meeting in relation to this, to something that is not a national security deliverable,” she said. “It was obvious from those text messages that they were referring to the investigations, and that was not something that we were pushing from the national security perspective, certainly not the National Security Council and certainly not the State Department.”

Hill said that they were pushing for investigations “in exchange for a White House meeting.”

More context: "I think potus really wants the deliverable," Sondland texted Volker on Aug. 9, as the two were talking about possible dates for a meeting between President Trump and Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky.

2:04 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

Hill: Advisers tried to convince Trump that Ukraine 2016 interference theory was false

From CNN's Alex Rogers 

Fiona Hill, Trump's former top Russia adviser, testified that President Trump’s advisers tried to convince him that the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election is false.

Hill said “we spent a lot of time” with Tom Bossert, Trump’s former Homeland Security advisor, former National Security Council advisor H.R. McMaster and others “trying to refute this one in the first year of the administration.” 

“Tom and others who were working on cybersecurity laid out to the President the facts about the interference,” she said. “I can’t say any more than that.”

2:03 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

Ukraine was interested in a meeting, not aid, in exchange for investigation, Vindman testified

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on October 29, 2019.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on October 29, 2019. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the White House's top Ukraine expert, spelled out to members of Congress that he believed the Ukrainians understood President Trump’s demand for investigations to be in exchange for a bilateral meeting — not aid to Ukraine. 

Asked when the Ukrainians were made aware of the hold on US foreign aid, Vindman said:

“It was no secret, at least within government and official channels, that security assistance was on hold. And to the best of my recollection, I believe there was some of these light inquiries in the mid-August timeframe…about security assistance.” 

“And just to be clear, is it fair then that when you related that opinion that the withholding of military aid was clearly not part of the demand during that July 25th phone call?” a member of Congress asked. 

He responded: “I don’t think the Ukrainians were aware of it. So, my understanding is this was all about getting the bilateral meeting."

1:57 p.m. ET, November 8, 2019

White House officials are not backing down from court battle over impeachment testimony

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

A lawyer for two top White House officials suggested a federal judge still has to decide whether his clients must testify to impeachment investigators. 

Charles Cooper, who represents former National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Acting National Security Advisor Dr. Charles Kupperman, told the House today that even if a court rules that Don McGahn can testify, such a holding would not automatically clear the way for his clients to do so.

Remember: McGahn, former White House counsel, is at the center of a court case over his refusal to comply with a subpoena last spring.

Cooper penned the letter in response to a suggestion by House lawyers earlier in the week that a ruling in the McGahn case would apply to Kupperman and Bolton.

The letter suggested a more prolonged legal fight over the testimony of some top aides, and it could conceivably apply to others such as National Security Council legal advisor John Eisenberg and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Cooper’s reiterated his position: the only way his clients can appear is if a Court says the White House’s immunity claim is invalid. Cooper says that because the House isn’t interested in McGahn’s views on sensitive national security issues in the case at hand, he is not in the same position as aides such as Kupperman and Bolton.