LIVEBLOG: Four Witnesses Testify In A Marathon Day Of Impeachment Hearings

National Security Council Director for European Affairs Alexander Vindman(R) arrives for a closed-door deposition at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on October 29, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL... National Security Council Director for European Affairs Alexander Vindman(R) arrives for a closed-door deposition at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on October 29, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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November 19, 2019 8:57 a.m.
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On Tuesday, a whopping four witnesses are due to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry.

They are Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council; Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence; Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine; and Tim Morrison, former National Security Council aide.

Democrats think that their morning witnesses, Vindman and Williams, are the strongest for their case against the President.

Vindman testified that Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland implicated acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and specifically mentioned the Bidens, when bringing up the investigations to Ukrainian officials in the July 10 meeting. He also said that the July 25 White House call memo excluded a comment President Donald Trump made about the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory, and an explicit Zelensky reference to Ukrainian company Burisma.

Williams, who listened in on the call, called it “inappropriate” and “unusual,” and also said that Zelensky mentioned Burisma.

Republicans have more confidence in the afternoon witnesses, Volker and Morrison.

Volker, who was one of the “three amigos” charged with running the backchannel U.S.-Ukraine policy, has claimed ignorance of both the tying of military aid to investigations, and that investigations into Burisma were shorthand for investigations into the Bidens.

Morrison listened in on the Zelensky-Trump call, but told lawmakers in his closed-door testimony that he didn’t think the conversation was illegal. However, he did tell lawmakers that there was a quid pro quo associated with the withholding of the military aid.

We’ll be liveblogging here:

8:30 p.m.: Schiff adjourned the hearing about 11 and a half hours after it began.

8:29 p.m.: Schiff got more animated than what we’ve typically seen in these hearings during his closing remarks. He ran Republicans over the coals for not seeming to care that Trump used congressionally approved aid as leverage for his personal interest. “Their objection is he got caught, That someone blew the whistle!”

8:17 p.m.: After Volker previously testified that he saw no evidence of linkage between the investigation requests and the military aid, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) got Volker to admit that he was not a party to the phone calls and conversations where the quid pro quo was allegedly expressed.

8:10 p.m.: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) grilled Volker on his testimony that he would have objected, if he had known that the Burisma probe demand was connected to Vice President Biden. After some pressing, Volker said that if he had known of that connection at the time he would have said the request was inappropriate.

7:54 p.m.: Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA), going through the strides Ukraine has taken in battling corruption, informed Volker that one of the first anti-corruption measures the new Ukrainian administration passed was a measure allowing for the impeachment of the president.

7:37 p.m.: Volker put some distance between what Giuliani was up to in Ukraine and Trump. First, he told Rep. Eric Sewell (D-CA) that Giuliani may have had other interest in addition to Trump’s that he was representing in Ukraine. Then, he was asked by Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) if Giuliani consulted with Trump about the draft statement that was discussed with Volker and the Ukrainians.

“I had no reason to think that he discussed it with the president,” Volker said.

7:22 p.m.: Schiff asked Volker about a meeting with Ukrainian officials in which the Ukrainians rejected Volker’s suggestion that they not investigate the former administration. The Ukrainians compared it mockingly to the demand to investigate the Bidens.
Schiff: Now that you have read the call record, that comment makes a little more sense?
Volker: Yes.

7:13 p.m.: Morrison won’t adjust his previous testimony about Vindman potentially being a leaker, after Vindman testified earlier Tuesday he never leaked.

7:01 p.m.: Volker testified about his discussions with Giuliani and a top Zelensky advisor about issuing a statement. Volker said he “wanted to make sure the statement would actually correct” the misperceptions Giuliani allegedly had about Ukraine. Asked about the push to add the references to the two specific investigations, Volker testified that Giuliani had said those references would be needed for the statement to be “convincing to him.”

6:52 p.m.: Volker confirmed he referenced “investigations” in an early July meeting with Ukrainians, but claimed he had in mind a Burisma investigation in a general sense, not an investigation into the Bidens specifically.

6:46 p.m.: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) used the final few minutes to complain about the lack of testimony from the whistleblower. “It’s simply leveling the playing field,” he claimed, while asking Schiff to put into the record his basis for asserting that the whistleblower has a right to anonymity. Schiff did so, by pointing to the federal whistleblower statute.

6:32 p.m.: Schiff pushed Morrison on his claim that he only reported the call to the lawyers because he was worried it would leak: If it was a perfect call would you have a concern about it leaking?

“No,” Morrison said, before walking that back.

6:24 p.m.: Schiff asked Volker to explain why he didn’t mention Sondland’s reference to investigations at his deposition last month and why he thought it was inappropriate, if it was only a generic reference.
“It was not the place and the time to bring up that,” Volker said Tuesday.

6:19 p.m.: Nunes did some complaining about the extra round given to staff lawyers — a move, Schiff then pointed out, that was proscribed in the impeachment rules that the House had passed. Nunes also suggested that the two witnesses before them were Democratic witnesses, though they had actually been called by Republicans.

“These are two witnesses that were your witnesses that you called in to depose. We still ask for witnesses that you did not depose, including the whistleblower, who you and others claim not to know,” he said.

6:13 p.m.: Goldman had several questions for Volker and Morrison about references to “investigations” in Ukraine-related communications from early and mid-July.
Morrison was asked about an email, obtained by the Wall Street Journal, where Sondland suggested a Zelensky call with Trump so that Zelensky could give assurances for “unhampered investigations.” Morrison had responded in the email “tracking,” but testified that he wasn’t endorsing a push for investigations.

“I was tracking that we needed to schedule a meeting,” Morrison said.

6:05 p.m.: The recess ended and Schiff announced another round of questioning by each staff counsel. Each side will get 15 minutes in this round.

5:41 p.m.: After the 45-minute round of GOP questioning finished, Schiff called a five or 10 minute break.

5:40 p.m.: Volker testified that he was surprised to find out that Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in the Kyiv embassy, had described Volker as being part of an irregular channel of U.S. foreign policy.

5:37 p.m: Morrison’s lawyer at first tried to stop Morrison from answering questions about his criticism of Vindman — the lawyer noted those questions are outside the scope of the subpoena — but after Castor reframes the questions, Morrison reiterates the comments he made in his deposition about Vindman’s judgement and about the belief that Vindman was leaking to the media.

5:24 p.m.: Volker testified about his meeting with Zelensky after the Trump phone call. “He was very positive about the phone call,” Volker recalled.

5:14 p.m: Under questioning from Castor, both Morrison and Volker testify that, as far as they knew, the Ukrainians did not know about the aid freeze until Politico published an article about it in late August.

5:06 p.m.: Volker recounted Trump’s comments in a May 23 Oval Office meeting, where he said things like, “Ukraine is terrible place,” “They’re all corrupt,” “They tried to me take me down.” In previous hearings, Republicans have tried to tout Trump’s support of Ukraine as a defense in the proceedings.

5:00 p.m.: Castor, leading the 45 minute question period for the Republicans, asked both witnesses if they knew why Pence did not end up leading the U.S. delegation to Zelensky’s inauguration. Williams previously testified that she heard that the direction that Pence not go came from the President.

4:52 p.m.: Morrison recounted another conversation with Sondland, in which Sondland reiterated the need for investigations for the aid to be released. After each conversation, Morrison was told by then National Security Advisor John Bolton to tell the lawyers about those conversations. Morrison said Tuesday that he didn’t know why Bolton directed him to tell the lawyers.

4:48 p.m.: Morrison recounted hearing from Sondland what Sondland told an advisor to Zelensky what he would have to do to get the aid unfrozen. Sondland told the Zelensky advisor that “the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted,” according to Morrison’s account of what Sondland told him.

Morrison testified Tuesday that Sondland’s account caused him concern because he saw it as a “hurdle” as he tried to give Trump the information he needed to release the aid.

4:32 p.m.: Asked about the May Oval Office meeting with Trump, Volker said that he did not take Trump’s comment “talk to Giuliani” as an instruction.
“I took it as just part of the dialogue,” Volker said, recalling it as a comment Trump made to back his negative view of Ukraine.

4:28 p.m.: Volker called the probes Trump requested into the 2016 election and Biden “conspiracy theories.” “They’re not things that we should be pursuing as part of our national security strategy with Ukraine,” he said.

4:16 p.m.: Now into questioning, Volker continued to explain how he compartmentalized an investigation into Burisma versus an investigation into Biden in his mind. He said the allegations against the former vice president are “self serving” and “not credible.” Volker admitted that he now understood that “most other people” didn’t see the distinction he saw. After being pressed by Goldman, Volker acknowledged knowing that Hunter Biden formerly sat on Burisma’s board.

4:09 p.m.: Volker acknowleded that in “hindsight” he should have made the connection between the requests for a Burisma investigation and an interest in probing the Bidens. During testimony Tuesday he still maintained that at the time he did not make the connection.

4:05 p.m.: Volker’s statement backed the testimony of other witnesses in recounting that Sondland brought up investigations at a July 10 White House meeting with Ukrainian officials. Volker said Tuesday that, “I think all of us thought it was inappropriate.” This was something of a shift from his earlier, closed-door testimony.

4:00 p.m.: Volker — who is a witness Republicans requested — expressed extreme skepticism towards the theories that an investigation is needed into Biden. He recalled a conversation with Giuliani in which Volker said that it was “not credible” that the former vice president was influenced by personal or financial motives while carrying out his official acts.

3:49 p.m.: Volker’s opening statement appears to include some pusback towards what previous witnesses have testified about the role his was playing in Ukraine: “My role was not some irregular channel, but the official channel.”

3:45 p.m.: Morrison’s brief opening statement also brought up the various challenges facing Ukraine today. “Every day that the focus of discussion involving Ukraine is centered on these proceedings instead of those matters is a day when we are not focused on the interests Ukraine, the United States, and Western-style Liberalism share,” he said.

3:43 p.m.: Morrison in his opening statement says he is “not here today to question” the “character or integrity” of his former NSC colleagues. This comment comes after Republicans questioned Vindman extensively about remarks made by Morrison in Morrison’s deposition questioning Vindman’s judgement.

3:34 p.m.: This time around, Nunes is using his opening remarks to mock the decision to put the initial impeachment proceedings in front of the House Intelligence Committee, while also bashing the committee Democrats themselves. “Isn’t it strange how we morphed into the impeachment committee, presiding over a matter that has no intelligence component whatsoever?” Nunes asked.

3:24 p.m.: The second set of witnesses, former U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker and former NSC aide Tim Morrison, have entered the hearing room, after a nearly two-hour break.

1:21 p.m. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) had Vindman re-read the portion of his opening statement that was addressed towards Vindman’s father and Maloney asked Vindman a few questions about it.

“I knew I was assuming a lot of risk,” Vindman said, when Maloney asked about Vindman putting himself against the most powerful man in the world.
Vindman said his dad was “deeply worried about it.”

But, Vindman, added, “This is America. This is the country I’ve served and defended, that all my brothers have served, and here, right matters.”

12:59 p.m.: Jordan returned to the chain of command issue. Vindman said that after he raised his concerns to Eisenberg about the July 25 call, it was a very busy week and he was unable to speak to Morrison about it. He was able to speak to Kent and the intelligence community member about, as part of his coordination obligations. After those conversations, a general counsel from one of those intelligence community agencies reached out to Eisenberg about the call. After that, Eisenberg followed up with Vindman and told him not to discuss the call with others, Vindman testified during a set of follow up questions from Democrats.

12:55 p.m.: While being questioned by Castro, Vindman said that the Ukrainian justice system remains flawed. He said that, if under pressure from the U.S., Ukraine may “tip the scales of justice” when undertaking the investigation that the U.S. is requesting.

12:50 p.m.: Rep. Joaquin Casto (D-TX) noted that he, liked Vindman, is a twin. Castro told Vindman that he hoped his brother was nicer to him than Castro’s is and that he didn’t “make you grow a beard.” (Over the summer, Rep. Castro told the press that he hoped his new beard would help distinguish him from his brother, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who is running for President.)

12:49 p.m.: Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) asked Vindman a series of questions about anti-corruption moves Ukraine made after the aid was frozen, including changes to its constitution. The implication was those moves could explain why the hold was put on the aid and then lifted.

12:26 p.m.: Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) revisited with Vindman how Vindman told Nunes to address him as “Lt. Col. Vindman,” not “Mr. Vindman.”
“The ranking member meant no disrespect,” Stewart said.

12:22 p.m.: Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) had several questions for Vindman suggesting that he went out of the chain of command by going to a White House lawyer, John Eisenberg, rather than his direct boss, Tim Morrison, to raise his concerns about the July 25 call. In the next round, as he was being questioned Rep. Jackie Spier (D-CA), Vindman clarified that Eisenberg had told Vindman, after Vindman raised concerns about the July 10 episode, to bring his future concerns to the lawyer.

12:05 p.m.: Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) asked Vindman if it was normal for a private citizen, non-governmental official to get involved in foreign policy and foreign affairs like Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who is sitting in the audience, muttered “yes” under his breath. Vindman, meanwhile said he didn’t have the experience to answer the question, but that it wasn’t helpful and didn’t advance U.S. national security interests.

11:56 a.m.: Himes went after Republicans for their questioning about the Ukraine Minister Defense offer, and connected it to the claims some far-right pundits made of Vindman having dual loyalty because he is an immigrant. The Republican questions on Tuesday were “designed exclusively to give the right wing media an opening to question your loyalties,” Himes said.

11:51 a.m.: Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) asked Williams about the Trump tweet attacking her from Sunday. “It certainly surprised me,” Williams said, adding that she was not expecting to be called out by name.

11:47 a.m.: Another attempt to get Vindman to say who outside of the White House he spoke to about the call erupts into another committee squabble about whether Republicans were trying to out the whistleblower.

11:44 a.m.: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) asked Vindman about comments Tim Morrison — an NSC official — made in his deposition about Morrison. Morrison raised concerns about Vindman and so did his predecessor Fiona Hill, according to Jordan’s description of the deposition, and Morrison also said he been approached by others claiming Vindman may have leaked information to the media. Vindman replied by reading Hill’s own laudatory review of him.

11:38 a.m.: Schiff, apparently targeting the GOP theory that Giuliani had gone rogue in Ukraine, got Vindman to confirm that the two investigations Trump brought up on the call were the same probes that Giuliani was pushing in Ukraine.

11:35 a.m.: After a 15-minute break, the hearing is now moving into its 5-minute rounds of questioning from committee members.

11:14 a.m.: Castor suggested the offers may have created a perception of a conflict of interest for Vindman in his White House role, because the Ukrainians thought so highly of him. Vindman pushed back by telling Castor it was much more important what his American leadership thought of the job he was doing.

11:11 a.m.: Castor asked Vindman about an offer that a Ukrainian official made several times that Vindman serve as Ukraine’s Minister of Defense. Vindman said he immediately turned down the offer and never left a door open to it. He said he thought the whole notion was “somewhat” comical, but that he was an American and he never entertained it.

11:00 a.m.: Castor had several questions for Williams about the process of planning a trip for Pence to go to the Zelensky inaugural, and why Pence ultimately didn’t go. Castor’s approach seemed aimed at implying that Pence did not end up attending because of a scheduling/logistical issue. But Williams confirmed that she was told Trump had decided not to have Pence attend days before the inauguration date itself was set.

10:50 a.m.: Steve Castor, GOP counsel for the committee, has started his questioning and asked the witnesses about how the call record was handled. Both witnesses say that the record was substantively accurate and that there were no particular concerns with how the call was handled.

10:45 a.m.: Vindman told Nunes that his counsel has advised him against answering the kinds of questions Nunes was asking, prompting another back and forth with Schiff. Amid the tense exchanges, Vindman corrected Nunes when Nunes referred to him as “Mr.” Vindman. It’s “Lt. Col.” Vindman, Vindman said.

10:43 a.m.: The next set of Nunes questions were aimed at who else in the administration the witnesses may have told about the call. Vindman said he spoke about it with George Kent, a top State Department official, as well as a member of the intelligence community. As Nunes tried to get the specifics of which IC agency that unnamed person belonged to, Schiff interjected to warn against outing the whistleblower. The move prompted cat calls and groans from the GOP members watching in the audience.

10:34 a.m.: In his inaugural round of questions Tuesday, Nunes goes all in on all the theories surrounding the Biden investigation demands.

10:30 a.m.: Neither Vindman nor Williams were aware of the reason the hold on aid was lifted, they testified.

10:29 a.m.: Williams testified on Zelensky’s Sept. 1 meeting with Pence, during which Zelensky described the symbolic importance for Ukraine of the military assistance that at the time was on hold.

10:24 a.m.: Vindman was asked about the mention of rooting out “corruption” in the official White House readout of Trump’s Zelensky calls, given that Trump didn’t actually mention corruption on the call. Vindman said that such a mention, while not entirely accurate to what happened on the call, is consistent with U.S. policy. Vindman said that these readouts are also used as messaging to signal U.S. priorities.

10:17 a.m.: Vindman said he didn’t see anything “nefarious” in the omissions, including the omission of “Burisma,” in the White House rough transcript of the call. He said these “administrative errors” happened and he saw it has no “big deal.”

10:09 a.m.: Vindman said that within the “August timeframe,” the Ukrainian embassy in the U.S. had become aware of the hold on military assistance and was asking him about it. This was before news of the freeze became public, Vindman said.

10:05 a.m.: Both Vindman and Williams say they’re not familiar with any credible reason to investigate the Bidens as Trump requested on the call.

10:03 a.m: Daniel Goldman, the staff counsel for House Intel Dems, questioned Vindman about Trump’s remark on the call referencing the “Crowdstrike” server. Vindman said it was not among the talking points that Trump was prepped on for the call, and that Vindman was not aware of any factual basis to the theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

10:00 a.m.: Both Vindman and Williams confirmed that Zelensky explicitly referenced “Burisma” — the company at the heart of the demanded investigation into the Bidens — in the July 25 call even though the word was not in the White House record of call. Vindman said Zelensky’s invocation of that specific company suggested to him that Zelensky was either tracking the issue in the press or had been prepped to bring it up.

9:56 a.m.: Vindman on his realtime reaction on the July 25 call: “Without hesitation, I knew I had to report this to the White House counsel. I had concerns and it was my duty to report” to the proper people, he said. He called Trump’s investigation demands “improper” and “inappropriate.”

9:52 a.m.: Vindman recounted the advice he gave President Zelensky to avoid U.S. domestic politics. Vindman told Congress that there were “non-governmental actors that were promoting the idea of investigations and 2016 Ukrainian interference.” He said it was “consistent” with U.S. policy towards all the countries in his portfolio that he advise those countries not to participate in domestic politics.

9:46 a.m.: Vindman ended his prepared remarks with a message for his dad, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union. Vindman said that his sitting here “in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision” to come to the United States. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

9:45 a.m.: Vindman gave a full throated defense of the administration officials who have testified in the impeachment inquiry. He called the attacks on them “vile,” “reprehensible,” “callow” and “cowardly.”

9:41 a.m.: Vindman recounted a July 10 visit to the White House by Ukrainian officials during which Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, twice brought up the request that Ukraine launch the investigations. Vindman said he told Sondland that these comments were “inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security.”

9:39 a.m.: Vindman’s opening statement described Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Ukraine prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko as “disruptive actors” who spread “false information that undermined the United States’ Ukraine policy.”

9:35 a.m.: Williams discussed the July 25 Trump call with Zelensky. She called it “unusual” because it involved a discussion about what “appeared to be a domestic political matter.”

9:29 a.m.: Before swearing in the witnesses, Schiff warns that Congress will not tolerate any reprisals against the witnesses. This warning comes after reports that the White House is looking at cutting short the stints of NSC officials who testified in the probe.

9:24 a.m.: Nunes claims that John Solomon, the reporter who helped breathe life into the Biden conspiracy theory, has been “libeled” by the media after The Hill decided to review his old columns. “Since the Democrats switched from Russia to Ukraine for their impeachment crusade, Solomon’s reporting on Burisma, Hunter Biden and Ukraine election meddling has become inconvenient for the Democratic narrative and so the media is furiously smearing and libeling Solomon,” he said.

9:19 a.m.: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)’s opening statement goes after the witnesses and the media. “You saw three diplomats who disliked President Trump’s Ukraine policy,” he said of last week’s hearing, while griping about the “mainstream media’s” coverage.

9:15 a.m.: Schiff’s opening statement wraps up with a line that seemed geared towards the Republican strategy so far of asking witnesses whether they’ve witnessed crimes or impeachable offenses. “Today’s witnesses, like those who testified last week, are here because they were subpoenaed to appear, not because they are for or against impeachment. That question is for Congress, not the fact witnesses.”

9:07 a.m.: Williams has entered the room.

9:05 a.m.: Vindman has entered the hearing room.

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