The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry

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4:38 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

Pelosi argues Trump has admitted to "bribery" in Ukraine scandal

From CNN's Clare Foran

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued today that President Trump's actions in the Ukraine scandal constitute "bribery" and he has admitted to it himself, the latest and most high-profile Democrat to use that word when describing Trump's conduct.

"What the President has admitted to and says it's perfect, I've said it's perfectly wrong. It's bribery," the California Democrat said at her weekly news conference today.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that his now-famous July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "perfect."

Pelosi's comments come a day after the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry, which featured testimony from the top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.

Public hearings mark the start of the next phase in the inquiry, where House Democrats will be under increasing pressure to make a compelling case to the American public about the President's actions.

Here's what else we know about the call: During the conversation, which is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry, Trump asks the Ukrainian president for "a favor" and goes on to suggest that Ukraine look into the family of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a publicly released transcript, and foreign interference in the 2016 US election.

Asked to explain what she believes the bribe was in the case of the President's contacts with Ukraine, Pelosi said, "The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That's bribery."

4:27 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

Democrats privately concede major shift in public opinion on impeachment is unlikely

From CNN's Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Democrats are publicly holding out hope that historic impeachment hearings will persuade a vast majority of the American public that President Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors — but privately, many acknowledge that it’s unlikely to happen.

In a private meeting this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants were skeptical about the prospects of a dramatic shift in opinion even as public impeachment hearings began this week, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

The upshot, the sources said, is that Democrats need to move forward with impeachment proceedings, even if the politics are murky. The sources noted that even during Richard Nixon’s impeachment proceedings most of the public was divided until soon before he was forced to resign.

“Well I think there are hard views on both sides,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNN when asked if he thought the public’s views would shift dramatically. “And sadly, apparently, Trump was perhaps right when he said of his own supporters that he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and they would not require any accountability.”

Democrats have made a concerted effort to shift their rhetoric to clearly convey to the public a more concise message: That Trump engaged in “bribery, which is cited in the Constitution on impeachment, when he pushed Ukrainian officials to investigate his political rivals in exchange for $400 million in military aid the country desperately sought — a message Pelosi conveyed today, a day after the first public impeachment proceedings.

Yet Democrats say there’s still a challenge in convincing a large majority of the public that what Trump did amounts to an abuse of power.

“Abuse of power is not necessarily a concept that most Americans run around thinking about,” said Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “The point is we are all working to try to make a fairly unusual concept to most Americans — abuse of power — understandable.”

4:00 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

White House is sizing up the next round of impeachment witnesses

From CNN's Jim Acosta 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A White House official said aides to President Trump are already sizing up the next round of witnesses in the impeachment inquiry.

The official raised questions about the next witness scheduled to appear at a public hearing, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, noting the diplomat was not on Trump's July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian leader and arguing she could not lend any validity to allegations of a quid pro quo. 

Anticipating that Yovanovitch will tell lawmakers about an alleged smear campaign against her, the official asked how that could add weight to the impeachment inquiry.

"Is that an impeachable offense?" the official asked. "Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President."

As for the overheard phone call between Trump and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, the official threw cold water on the newsworthiness of that revelation, exclaiming "stop the presses."

The official said the transcript of the first phone call with Ukraine's president has cleared all of the necessary hurdles to be released to the public.

"The first transcript is ready to go and awaits the go ahead of the President," the official said. 

3:41 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

Democratic congressman says former Ukraine ambassador's testimony will show "corrupt shakedown scheme"

From CNN's Manu Raju 

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Pushing back on GOP plans to portray former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as out of the loop, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell said her testimony “represents a President abusing his office to remove an ambassador to clear the decks to run a corrupt shakedown scheme.”

Other Democrats have echoed this as well.

"Removing Ambassador Yovanovitch is bigger than just Ambassador Yovanovitch. It represents a President abusing his office to remove an ambassador to clear the decks to run a corrupt shakedown scheme and I think that's what you're going to hear is that yes, it's humiliating that he's smeared her [to] others," Swalwell said.

3:28 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

Trump showed GOP senators transcript of first call with Ukraine

 From CNN's Ted Barrett 

President Trump showed a group of GOP senators the transcript of his first call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer told CNN. 

Cramer said he along with GOP Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Enzi, Steve Daines, Deb Fisher and Ben Sasse were among those who attended the meeting with the President at the White House today. 

Trump referenced the call "a couple of times," Cramer said, and then asked the senators if they wanted to see it. 

Cramer described the transcript as “short” and consisting of about one page of “real text.” He characterized the content of the call this way:

 Trump: “Congratulations, you ran a great campaign,”
 Zelensky: “Oh, thank you, Mr. President, I look forward to working with you.”

He said there was no mention of aid to Ukraine or US support of Ukraine, although he scanned it quickly.  

Trump told reporters yesterday he would likely release the transcript of the call — which happened before the July call that launched the impeachment investigation — today. 

3:18 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

A diplomat testified an ambassador called Trump from a Kiev restaurant. It was likely intercepted by Russian spies.

From CNN's Zachary Cohen and Kevin Collier

US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland's cell phone call to President Trump from a restaurant in Ukraine this summer appears to be a shocking security breach that raises significant counterintelligence concerns, according to several former officials.

The officials told CNN there is a high probability that intelligence agencies from numerous foreign countries, including Russia, were listening in on the conversation. 

What we know about the call: Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed during the first public impeachment hearing yesterday that a member of his staff — who was accompanying Sondland to meetings in Kiev — saw the ambassador call Trump from his cell phone and overheard the President asking about "the investigations."

"If true, the cell phone call between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump is an egregious violation of traditional counterintelligence practices that all national security officials — to include political appointee ambassadors such as Sondland — are repeatedly made aware of," according to Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer who oversaw operations in Europe and Russia before retiring this summer. 

"I cannot remember in my career any time where an ambassador in a high counterintelligence environment like Kiev would have such an unsecure conversation with a sitting president. This just should not happen," he said.

3:09 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

8 more witnesses will testify publicly next week

Yesterday marked the first public impeachment inquiry hearing — and more are coming next week.

The House intelligence panel announced it would hold five impeachment hearings next week over three days.

Here's who is scheduled to testify:

  • Tuesday morning: Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide
  • Tuesday afternoon: Kurt Volker, the former US special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a National Security Council aide
  • Wednesday morning: US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland 
  • Wednesday afternoon: Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense and David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs
  • Thursday morning: Former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill

3:06 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

Here's how tomorrow's hearing with Marie Yovanovitch will work

From CNN's Devan Cole and Phil Mattingly

Former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is scheduled to testify in a public hearing tomorrow.

That hearing will work similarly to yesterday's hearing. Here's what you can expect, after the hearing gavels in and committee leadership and witnesses give their opening statements:

  • The first round of questions: Both the chairman of the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, and the top ranking Republican member, Rep. Devin Nunes, also of California, will evenly divide 90 minutes of questioning at the start of the hearing. They can take as much consecutive time as they want, so long as the other side is provided equal time out of that 90 minutes. So expect each to take 45 minutes.
  • The staff lawyers: While Schiff and Nunes will speak and may interject from time to time, the resolution makes clear that this will be a staff-led questioning, as each member can delegate his time to counsel on the committee.
  • For the Democrats: On the Democratic side, the opening lines of questioning will be spearheaded by Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor with the Southern District of New York who joined the committee in March and led the questioning in the closed-door depositions.
  • For the Republicans: On the GOP side, it will be Steve Castor, the chief investigative counsel for the House oversight panel who has been detailed over to the House Intelligence Committee, along with his boss, Rep. Jim Jordan.
  • Members' questions: At the conclusion of 90 minutes, the rest of the panel's members will each have five minutes to question the witnesses.
3:07 p.m. ET, November 14, 2019

If the House votes to impeach Trump, don't expect the Senate to quickly dismiss it

From CNN's Phil Mattingly and Lauren Fox

There has been some speculation that Senate Republicans would quickly dismiss a possible impeachment trial if the House votes to impeach President Trump.

Here's the reality: This will not happen.

Republicans don’t have the 51 votes necessary to do this even if they wanted to, and majority of GOP senators CNN has spoken to say there’s far more merit to holding a serious trial – which they all still believe will lead to acquittal – than short-circuiting thing at the start.

“I think it would be hard to find 51 votes to cut the case off before the evidence is presented,” Sen. John Cornyn, a senior GOP member, told reporters.

Here’s another rather important voice on the matter: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He told reporters yesterday, “My own view is that we should give people an opportunity to put the case on. The House will have presenters. The President will no doubt be represented by lawyers as well.”