impeachment inquiry
November 17, 2019

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland kept several Trump administration officials in the loop regarding his attempts to get Ukraine to launch investigations that President Trump would later bring up with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, The Wall Street Journal reports.

During a July 25 call, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The Journal obtained emails Sondland sent to top officials, including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, before that phone call, discussing his push for those investigations.

In a July 19 email, Sondland told Mulvaney, Perry, and others that he spoke to Zelensky and he was "prepared" for Trump's call. Zelensky "will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will 'turn over every stone,'" Sondland wrote. Text messages from the same time show that Sondland was passing along instructions to Zelensky from Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Several officials have testified in the House impeachment inquiry about Giuliani pursuing a shadow Ukraine agenda, which they found disturbing. Others have said in sworn depositions that they overheard Sondland and Trump discussing investigations. Sondland will testify this week in an open hearing before lawmakers. Read more about Sondland's emails at The Wall Street Journal. Catherine Garcia

November 16, 2019

President Trump apparently does not follow former President Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy advice about speaking softly.

David Holmes, an official from the United States Embassy in Ukraine, testified before Congress in a closed-door impeachment inquiry hearing Friday that he overheard a phone call in July between Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland while he was having lunch with the latter in Kyiv. The call reportedly took place just one day after Trump's infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that sparked the impeachment inquiry.

During the call, Holmes reportedly heard Trump — who Holmes testified was speaking so loudly that Sondland had to hold the phone away from his ear — ask Sondland if Zelensky was "going to do the investigation." Sondland reportedly responded in the affirmative, saying that Zelensky would do "anything you ask him to."

After the call, Sondland reportedly told Holmes that Trump didn't care about Ukraine, except for "big stuff" like investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over the younger Biden's ties to a Ukrainian gas company.

Holmes' testimony confirmed an account from acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor's public impeachment inquiry testimony Wednesday. Going forward, The New York Times and The Washington Post note, Sondland will almost certainly be asked about the alleged conversation during his public testimony next week. The ambassador did not mention it during his previous private testimony. Read more at The New York Times and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

November 14, 2019

Mark Sandy, a career employee at the White House Office of Management and Budget, is expected to testify behind closed doors Saturday in the House impeachment inquiry, The Washington Post reports.

The White House has ordered administration officials not to participate in the inquiry, and other OMB employees have ignored congressional subpoenas to appear before lawmakers, including Russell T. Vought, the agency's acting director. Most inquiry witnesses have been served with subpoenas right before their depositions are slated to begin, and Sandy's attorney Barbara Van Gelder said on Thursday evening, "If he is subpoenaed, he will appear."

Sandy has worked in the OMB on and off for 10 years, during Democratic and Republican administrations, and could likely answer questions about the decision made this summer to hold up $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. Sandy was one of several OMB staffers who had questions about the hold up, people familiar with the situation told the Post, and part of his job was to sign documents related to the matter. He signed one piece of paper in July, they said, but after that, a political appointee in the OMB, Mike Duffey, took over the process of approving and denying funds. Duffey has ignored a subpoena to testify. Catherine Garcia

November 10, 2019

Request denied.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Saturday rejected House Republicans' request to bring Hunter Biden and the anonymous whistleblower, whose complaint about President Trump's phone call in July with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spurred the House impeachment inquiry, to the witness stand in the inquiry's upcoming public hearings. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, had included Biden and the whistleblower in a letter proposing the GOP's preferred witnesses sent Saturday to Schiff.

In bringing Biden and the whistleblower to Capitol Hill, Nunes was aiming, he said, to treat Trump with more "fairness" during the investigation. But Schiff said the committee will neither "facilitate efforts" to "threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower," nor serve as "a vehicle to undertake the sham investigations into the Bidens."

Schiff did say, however, that the committee is reviewing the other possible witnesses proposed by Nunes. Among those names are Kurt Volker, a former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale. Read more at Axios and Fox News. Tim O'Donnell

November 9, 2019

Two associates of President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani reached out to the previous Ukrainian government as early as February in the hopes of getting Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Ukrainian-American businessmen who were clients of Giuliani and allegedly aided him in his quest to investigate the Bidens, reportedly sat down with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the offices of then-Ukranian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko. This meeting came after Fruman, Parnas, Giuliani, and Lutsenko met in New York in January and Warsaw, Poland, in February.

At the meeting, Parnas and Fruman allegedly offered a White House visit in exchange for Poroshenko launching the investigation into the Bidens and alleged 2016 election meddling. Poroshenko, who eventually lost his re-election bid to President Volodymyr Zelensky, could have used the White House visit to boost his candidacy, the Journal notes. "[Poroshenko] wanted to come to Washington and meet with Trump and then after the state dinner he would have an interview," one of the sources told the Journal. "Then he would say he would investigate meddling in 2016 and the Bidens."

None of that came to fruition, however, and it turned out to be Zelensky's government that got caught up in the Trump impeachment saga. But the Journal points out that the reports of the Poroshenko meeting, if true, show that Giuliani's associates were in contact with Ukraine's president earlier than previously thought. Giuliani's lawyer said Giuliani was not aware of the meeting, and none of the other parties involved responded to requests for comment. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

November 9, 2019

House Republicans have their impeachment inquiry wishlist.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the GOP's top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, named multiple witnesses his colleagues would like to appear during the inquiry's upcoming public hearings in a letter sent to Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Saturday. Among the names are former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, who used to sit on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani wanted Kyiv to investigate, and his business partner Devon Archer. Nunes also listed the unnamed whistleblower whose complaint about Trump's phone call in July with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky originally spurred the inquiry, among others.

Democrats will have final say over which witnesses will appear, however.

Nunes wrote that the names were essential for providing "transparency" to the Democrats' "otherwise opaque and unfair process," especially concerning the whistleblower. "It is imperative that the American people hear definitively how the whistleblower developed his or her information, and who else the whistleblower may have fed the information he or she gathered and how that treatment of classified information may have led to the false narrative being perpetrated by the Democrats during this process," he wrote.

The letter follows another one Nunes sent Friday evening, in which he requested that none other than Schiff himself testify behind closed doors about any conversations he had with the whistleblower in August. Schiff has maintained those conversations did not take place, although it was revealed that the whistleblower did have contact with the congressman's office before the complaint was issued. Tim O'Donnell

November 9, 2019

If the House is willing to hold out just a little bit longer, John Bolton might have something to say. But no one's got much of a grasp on what that might be.

President Trump's former national security adviser apparently knows about "many relevant meetings and conversations" connected to the House impeachment inquiry that have not yet been discussed in previous testimonies, his lawyer Charles Cooper wrote in a letter to the House general counsel.

House investigators want to interview Bolton about Trump's interactions with Ukraine, but they have so far refrained from issuing a subpoena to avoid getting drawn into lengthy court proceedings. In the letter, Cooper said Bolton would be willing to talk to cooperate, but only if a court rules he can ignore the White House's objections to his doing so. Bolton's former deputy Charles Kupperman filed a lawsuit asking for a judiciary ruling on whether potential witnesses are obligated to ignore the White House's directions and comply with the investigation, but the House doesn't seem willing to let that play out right now.

Nobody is really sure what Bolton would say in a potential hearing, so it remains to be seen if the possibility of his testimony is tantalizing enough for the House to reconsider its options. CNN reports, though, that Bolton — who historically has supported executive power — might not think Trump "acted inappropriately" toward Kyiv "even if he's willing to help take down others in the administration." The New York Times, on the other hand, notes that Bolton would at least be able to bring direct knowledge of what Trump has said about the matter, rather than just describing what people around the president have said. Read more at The New York Times and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

November 7, 2019

George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, revealed during his closed-door testimony before House impeachment investigators last month that there was a lot of lying going when it came to Ukraine.

The House released a transcript of Kent's deposition on Thursday. He testified that President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was behind a smear campaign against Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Giuliani wanted Yovanovitch out, and his "assertions and allegations" against her "were without basis, untrue, period." Giuliani went on to attack Kent by name, and Kent said he was told to "keep my head down."

Kent also said that Fiona Hill, Trump's former top adviser on Russia, revealed she was concerned about U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland's ability to tell the truth about what he talked about with the president. "I think she may have been as direct as saying that Gordon Sondland lies about conversations that occur in the Oval Office," he said.

After the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, Kent received a brief readout of the call from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's expert on Ukraine. "It was different than any readout call that I had received," Kent testified. Vindman "felt — I could hear it in his voice and his hesitancy that he felt uncomfortable. He actually said that he could not share the majority of what was discussed because of the very sensitive nature of what was discussed." Catherine Garcia

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