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Impeachment news roundup: Nov. 13

Two career diplomats first to offer public testimony, Trump tweets counteroffensive

William Taylor, the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, are sworn in at the House Intelligence Committee hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
William Taylor, the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, are sworn in at the House Intelligence Committee hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Two career diplomats who told congressional investigators behind closed doors of their concerns over President Donald Trump’s withholding of military aid to Ukraine and the “irregular channel” in dealing with the country conducted by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani testified today in the first public hearings in the House’s impeachment investigation.

William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told investigators in a closed-door deposition in October that Trump used a stalled $400 million aid package to leverage Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and the involvement of his son Hunter Biden in a Ukrainian energy company. And George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, told the committees conducting the investigation in his closed-door deposition that it was his understanding that Trump wanted the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens and whether the country tried to influence the 2016 election.

[Who’s holding the impeachment hearings? Meet the House Intelligence Committee]

The House Intelligence Committee, which conducted the hearing Wednesday, issued subpoenas for Kent and Taylor ahead of their public testimony. The subpoenas are necessary for the State Department officials to testify after the White House ordered administration officials not to cooperate with the inquiry.

Republicans maintain the White House was pushing Ukraine to investigate corruption in its government before releasing the aid package.

Investigators will hear Friday from Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her position as ambassador to Ukraine in May amid allegations from Giuliani and others that she had spoken negatively of Trump.

[Intelligence Committee leaders set stage for contentious hearing on Trump impeachment]

Here is the latest on the impeachment inquiry:

More transcripts: Trump said a transcript of an earlier call he had with Ukraine’s president after his election — before the July 25 call that triggered the impeachment probe — could be released Thursday. But he was not definitive it will be made public that day.

Recess for motions: The impeachment hearing in the House Intelligence Committee t0ok a brief recess at about 3:45 p.m., before considering a motion from Mike Conaway to subpoena the whistleblower. 

Witnesses Taylor and Kent were dismissed. 

When the panel returned, the motion was tabled 13-9.

McConnell’s not watching: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had not been watching the House’s open hearing. The Kentucky Republican also declined to get into specifics of how long a trial might last.

“On the issue of how long it goes on, it’s really kind of up to the Senate. People will have to conclude are they learning something new? At some point, we’ll get to an end,” McConnell said.

He had been asked about the possibility of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., trying to offer a motion to dismiss.

Yielding time: Senior Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, who get to ask questions first during the hearings, yielded their time to the panel’s two most junior GOP members, newly appointed panel member Jim Jordan and Rep. John Ratcliffe. Jordan and Ratcliffe are considered some of the most effective GOP messengers on the committee.

Kent’s opening: Kent bolstered House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff‘s concerns about Giuliani in his opening statement. “Over the course of 2018-2019, I became increasingly aware of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and others, including his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to run a campaign to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch and other officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv.”

Kent added that in August “Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine, leveraging President Zelenskiy’s desire for a White House meeting.”

Taylor’s opening: Taylor said Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy interfered with official U.S. diplomats. “The odd push to make President Zelenskiy publicly commit to investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani,” Taylor said.

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Schiff’s opening: Schiff spent much of his opening statement focused on Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine.

Schiff said Giuliani promoted conspiracy theories that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election and that the former New York City mayor undertook a “smear campaign” against Yovanovitch in order to remove her from office to make way for unofficial diplomatic channels to better facilitate Ukrainian investigations into the Bidens.

Giuliani’s work, Schiff argued, paved the way for Trump’s July 25th call with Zelenskiy during which Trump asked Zelenskiy for “a favor.” That favor, Schiff explained, was Ukraine investigating the Bidens in exchange for a nearly $400 million military aid package.

Nunes’ opening:  The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes of California called for the committee to allow witnesses to come forward who could shed light on whether House Democrats’ had any prior involvement with the White House whistleblower. Nunes also wants to know how Hunter Biden’s seat on Burisma’s board affected U.S. government policy during the Obama administration and whether Ukraine was involved in the 2016 election. Nunes lamented the fact that those questions would go unanswered as Schiff blocked the witnesses Republicans have called who Nunes says could answer those questions.

Counteroffensive: Trump spent part of his morning on a counteroffensive against the investigation, quoting conservative media figures calling the process a “sham,” and suggesting without evidence that Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, who will conduct some of the questioning for Schiff, once worked for Trump, which would present a conflict of interest.

The White House did not respond to questions whether Goldman had ever worked for Trump.

Boring hearing:  White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham panned Wednesday’s hearing as “boring” and wasteful, saying lawmakers instead should be addressing Trump’s proposed trade pact with Mexico and Canada, striking a government shutdown-averting deal and working on legislation to pare drug prices. “@realDonaldTrump is working right now-the dems should follow his lead!” she tweeted minutes before Trump was slated to welcome Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the White House for meetings and a joint press conference.

Trump told reporters Wednesday he is “too busy to watch it.”

[White House says Trump ‘too busy’ to watch ‘boring’ impeachment hearing]

On the docket: House Democrats announced Tuesday night that they want to hear from eight witnesses over three days next week. All have given depositions to investigators in the closed portion of the investigation.

The schedule appears designed to be able to get in as much public testimony as possible before the Thanksgiving holiday. The House is scheduled to recess next Thursday through the holiday and will not return until December.

Two more closed-door depositions were added to the impeachment schedule for later this week. David Holmes, an official working at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is scheduled to testify Friday and Mark Sandy, an official working in the Office of Management and Budget, is scheduled to testify Saturday.

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