Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Who will testify about Trump's quid pro quo?

Dozens of witnesses have already testified in closed hearings. Official transcripts have been made of this testimony. As of Nov. 9, 2,677 pages of transcripts had been released. Public hearings begin Nov. 13.

As of Nov. 13, "Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Mike Pompeo and Rudy Giuliani all are missing in the evidence of the case against the President, by their choosing or that of the White House."But other people are testifying. (White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the president was "not watching" the first day of testimony on the television because he was busy "working," but the president was not so busy that he did not find time to retweet over 20 comments about the impeachment process on that same day.)

Who is providing, or might provide, damning testimony in the impeachment of President Trump?

Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor is the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. On Oct. 22, he said there was a quid pro quo. This is expected to accelerate the impeachment inquiry. On Oct. 24, CNN reported: "Republican sources claim diplomat Bill Taylor's testimony was a game changer and is 'reverberating' up on Capitol Hill. And according to one GOP source, Taylor's testimony 'points to quid pro quo.'"

He will testify publicly on Nov. 13.

Tim Morrison

Taylor identified Tim Morrison, a National Security Council official, is a witness to the quid pro quo. Taylor testified that Morrison had told him about two conversations he'd witnessed between Trump's E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland and a Ukrainian government official. It is also believed that Morrison was on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. Morrison testified Oct. 31. He "corroborated a key part of US diplomat Bill Taylor's testimony" but said nothing about the phone call seemed illegal to him.

Gordon Sondland

Gordon Sondland "is a Trump donor and a Trump loyalist," explained Ari Melber on MSNBC's "The Beat." "He was handpicked by Donald Trump to be the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. He is also not a longtime Washington insider, or someone who could be accused of having agency or State Department loyalty. Nothing like that. He is a basically successful businessman up to this point with a lucrative hotel chain in the Pacific Northwest, and he's also, as mentioned — and this is how he got the job, according to many — a major Republican donor."

Trump once called Sondland "a really good man and great American" who is "highly respected." In addition to giving Sondland the ambassadorship to the EU, he gave Sondland special assignments, including with Ukraine. On Nov. 8, Trump said, "I hardly know the gentleman."

After initially denying that there was a quid pro quo, Sondland backtracked and said that Trump had asked him to deny it.

Trump boasted of having instructed Sondland to defend him.

Sondland provided his testimony to Congress: yes, there was a quid pro quo, and Trump's pressure grew "more insidious."

On Nov. 5, the transcript of his testimony was released. The new story is that Sondland "told a top Ukrainian official that the country likely would not receive American military aid unless," as the New York Times reported, "it publicly committed to investigations President Trump wanted."

Sondland testified that he had a “brief pull-aside conversation” with President Zelensky’s aide Andriy Yermak in Warsaw on Sept. 1, 2019, following a meeting “in which President Zelensky had raised the issue of suspension of U.S. aid to Ukraine directly with Vice President Pence...I said [to Yermak] that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."

What was this "public anti-corruption statement" that Zelensky was asked to recite? It was related to the manufactured scandal regarding the Bidens. Yermak had drafted a statement on Aug. 12 and sent it to Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine. "Trump administration officials in the field, like Volker and Sondland, continued to understand that the Burisma and hacking mentions were essential to the president," David A. Graham wrote for The Atlantic. (Furthermore, according to Sondland's testimony, Sondland realized in September that Trump wanted the statement "to come directly from President Zelensky himself.") This statement would have been nonsense, Graham continued, because,

even in Trump’s conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden, there’s been no allegation that his role on the Burisma board was tied to Ukrainian interference in U.S. elections.

On Nov. 24, Chris Wallace, the host of "Fox News Sunday," asked Republican Sen. John Kennedy whether "Russia or Ukraine...was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers, their emails," in 2016. Sen. Kennedy said, "I don't know. Nor do you. Nor do any of us." The next day, he corrected himself to Chris Cuomo on "Cuomo Prime Time" on CNN. "I was wrong. It was Russia who tried to hack the (Democratic National Committee) computer. I've seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it."

Moreover, the statement that Trump was trying to extract from Ukraine is steeped in Orwellian irony. Trump wanted Ukraine to pursue these investigation in order to further his chances at reelection in 2020. The Ukrainian government was having its arm twisted into giving a statement swearing to stop interference in U.S. elections — even as the statement was itself coerced interference in U.S. elections. (Sondland testified that a demand to investigate Hunter Biden would be improper.)

Sondland testified publicly, as scheduled, on Nov. 20. And here it is:

Boarding a flight back to Brussels later that day, Sondland said he had no intention of resigning his ambassadorship.

While Sondland had also testified that he spoke to Trump by telephone on Sept. 9 and that Trump had told him that he wanted nothing from Ukraine and simply wanted Ukraine to do the right thing. While this testimony "has emerged as a centerpiece of Trump's defense," no one can corroborate what Sondland heard, and the White House doesn't even have a switchboard record that the call took place.

David Hale

Ambassador Hale is the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. He is the most senior career official at the Department of State. He is a Trump appointee. He testified on Nov. 6. The transcript was released on Nov. 18.

David Holmes

He testified on Nov. 15. The transcript was released on Nov. 18.

Kurt Volker

Volker is the former special envoy for Ukraine. His testimony, released Nov. 5, says, in CNN's words, that "the Ukrainians didn’t know about the holdup of military assistance until after the Trump administration stopped pressing them to announce an investigation into the Bidens." This "bolsters a key tenet of Trump’s defense – that there was no 'quid pro quo' with Ukraine because the new government in Kiev was not aware that military aid was being withheld."

Mick Mulvaney

On Oct. 17, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged that, as CNN put it, "President Donald Trump froze nearly $400 million in US security aid to Ukraine in part to pressure that country into investigating Democrats." Indeed: "After weeks during which Trump denied the existence of any political quid pro quo in his withholding of security aid to Ukraine, Mulvaney confirmed the existence of a quid pro quo and offered this retort: 'Get over it...We do that all the time with foreign policy.'"

Later in the day, Mulvaney tried to backpedal. He essentially "attempted," as Michelangelo Signorile wrote, "to walk back something that can’t be walked back. He now appears to have been sidelined completely [from the Trump administration]...there’s talk that Mulvaney may soon be booted."

Mulvaney was subpoenaed to compel his testimony. He was scheduled to testify on Nov. 8, but was expected to defy the subpoena, following instructions from the White House. Indeed, moments before he was supposed to begin his testimony, his lawyer appeared and said that he would not testify because the President has "absolute immunity" from being investigated, let alone prosecuted. (This is false. No one except the Trump administration has ever argued that a president cannot be investigated.) That day, Trump said he'd asked Mulvaney not to testify because "I don't want to give credibility to a corrupt witch hunt," even though "I think he'd do great" on the witness stand. "What I don't like," Trump complained, "is when they put all these people [on the witness stand] that I never met before."

Mulvaney had intended to seek a judge's ruling on whether he needed to comply with the subpoena. On Nov. 12, his lawyer made a court filing to say he was no longer seeking the judge's ruling, as he had decided to simply obey Trump's order and defy the subpoena. This saga bewildered everyone.

Alexander Vindman

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the White House's top Ukraine expert, a man who serves on the National Security Council, was scheduled to testify and did so on Oct. 29. He was on the call and had concerns about it. He also testified that the transcript of the call is incomplete; he said Trump had mentioned the existence of audiorecording of Joe Biden and that he named Burisma (Hunter Biden's employer), neither of which appear in the transcript.

According to a Huffington Post story, Vindman testified that "Ambassador Gordon Sondland made it clear in a July 10 meeting at the White House that the investigations of the Bidens and Ukrainian gas company Burisma would have to be opened for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to get an Oval Office meeting with Trump." In his testimony, Vindman said he felt at the time that the quid pro quo "was explicit. There was no ambiguity."

Vindman was born in Ukraine and speaks Ukrainian and Russian. His family immigrated to the United States when he was three years old. He received a Purple Heart after being wounded in the Iraq War.

On Oct. 28, the evening before Vindman's testimony, former Justice Department official John Yoo appeared on the Fox News show "The Ingraham Angle" and said that if Ukrainian officials had asked Vindman for advice on how to handle Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, "some people might call that espionage." Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said that Yoo's remark would be considered libelous in other countries. Two days later, in a CNN interview, Yoo backtracked on the "espionage" comment and said "I really regret the choice of words," and he also admitted that the transcript of Trump's phone call shows a quid pro quo.

The next morning, as Vindman began his testimony, the idea that he sympathized with Ukraine over the United States was aired on Fox & Friends (by co-host Brian Kilmeade) and on CNN (by former U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, a Republican who had been hired as a pro-Trump political commentator by CNN just a week earlier).

Duffy said on the air about Vindman: "It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don't know if he is concerned about American policy, but his main mission was to make sure that the Ukraine got those weapons. I understand it. We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from. Like me, I'm sure that Vindman has the same affinity."

The CNN host, John Berman, challenged Rep. Duffy: "Are you suggesting that you would put Irish defense over U.S. defense?"

Duffy changed the topic slightly, responding to the question with another question: "Are we saying that by giving this money to the Ukraine, that absolutely is the money that's going to secure American national defense against Russia? I mean, I don't believe that." With this comment, Duffy was suggesting that the hundreds of millions of dollars that Congress had allocated for arms to Ukraine was not actually necessary to support U.S. security needs, and was, perhaps, rather some kind of favor to Ukraine, which Vindman was championing simply because he had a personal "affinity" for Ukraine (and not because he was a U.S. government official who was supporting American foreign policy with a specific budget already approved by Congress).

Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat, was quoted that morning as saying: "If that’s all they’ve got, is to question the patriotism of a lieutenant colonel who took a bullet for us and has a Purple Heart on the battlefield, well, good look to them. My goodness."

On Nov. 19, Rep. Devin Nunes referred to him as "Mr. Vindman," and Vindman corrected him: "It's Lt. Col. Vindman, please." Rep. Chris Stewart objected to Vindman making this correction.

Donald J. Trump Jr. elevated a crude objection.

Consequences of this kind of harassment:

Mitch McConnell

On Oct. 22, Mitch McConnell said he did not recall having spoken with Trump about his phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. (Trump had claimed three weeks previously not only that he had spoken with McConnell about the phone call but that McConnell had characterized Trump's words as unproblematic.)

John Bolton

Former national security advisor John Bolton may be asked to testify — update, will be asked to testify — update, is supposed to testify on Nov. 7 but may not — update, did not show up. Like Mulvaney's lawyer, Bolton's lawyer cites the Trump administration's claim that the president has "absolute immunity" from being investigated, and therefore, Bolton's lawyer maintains, he does not have to comply with a subpoena to compel his testimony.

In the middle of this, Bolton landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster.

Christopher Anderson

Christopher Anderson was a top aide to Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. A transcript of his testimony was released. According to Politico:

...he described an early-2019 conversation in which then-national security adviser John Bolton revealed Trump had called him at his home to complain about a CNN story that made it appear the Navy was pushing back against Russian aggression in the Black Sea.

“Ambassador Bolton relayed that he was called at home by the president, who complained about this news report,” Anderson told lawmakers.

Anderson described a sense of “Ukraine fatigue” emerging inside the administration that was evident when the Navy launched a routine “freedom-of-navigation” operation in the Black Sea. Anderson said officials notified the Turkish government, and when CNN reported on the move — portraying it as a response to Russia — the White House asked the Navy to cancel the maneuver.

Rick Perry

Energy secretary Rick Perry has been subpoenaed for documents. A week later, he announced that he would resign his position by the end of the year, and the Energy Department said it would not comply with the subpoena. Perry was asked to testify on Nov. 6 but has said he will not do so in a closed hearing; he may do so if the hearing is public and if Energy Department legal counsel is allowed.

Lev Parnas

On Nov. 4, Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas said he would testify and comply with requests for records related to the impeachment inquiry.

In October, Parnas pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court to issues unrelated to the impeachment inquiry. The charges include illegally funneling money to a Trump election committee and to a former congressman. In these cases, the ultimate political aim (allegedly) was for Trump to remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Parnas has ties to Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Michael McKinley

The former State Department adviser testified on Oct. 16.

Jennifer Williams

Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, was on the Trump/Zelensky phone call. The White House told her not to testify in the impeachment inquiry, so the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed her. She showed up as scheduled on Nov. 7 and testified for about five hours. She said that she thought the Trump/Zelensky phone call was unusually political in its tone; that it was possible (but she did not know for certain) that the withholding of military aid to Ukraine was tied to the request for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; and that she never heard Pence mention anything related to the matter. In a transcript released on Nov. 16, she said the call "struck me as unusual and inappropriate.”

George Kent

He will testify publicly on Nov. 13.

Marie Yovanovitch

She will testify publicly on Nov. 15.

Fiona Hill

She is a former National Security Council staffer, the author of a book on Putin, and was responsible for Russia and Ukraine. She testified that Trump wanted Zelensky to investigate Trump's political rivals in exchange for Zelensky being invited to Washington, and that this was clear as early as July 10. She said that this agreement was made with Mulvaney, and that she heard about it from Sondland.

Hill said that, in the administration's first year, people including former Homeland Security advisor Tom Bossert and former National Security Council advisor H.R. McMaster tried unsuccessfully to convince Trump that Ukraine did not interfere with the 2016 election. She also said she was "shocked" by Trump's comments about Yovanovitch and by the "pretty blatant" quid pro quo in the rough transcript of the July 25 call.

She gave a deposition on Nov. 14 and testified publicly on Nov. 21. Stephen Collinson wrote for CNN that Hill

effectively warned that the Republican defense of the President — by peddling Ukraine conspiracy theories — was in danger, in itself, of becoming an extension of the 2016 Russian election scheme that is tearing American politics apart and draining public confidence in its democracy.

* * *

...Hill said she only really began to understand the scandal herself while watching testimony from Trump's ad hoc messenger to the new government in Kiev Gordon Sondland.

"He was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged."

To hear her "domestic political errand" comment, skip to about 2 minutes into this video clip.

Hearings are closed

Republicans have been demanding transcripts. The committee released the first two transcripts on Nov. 4: the interviews with former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (transcript) and Michael McKinley, a former State Department adviser (transcript). It turns out that Yovanovitch had told the investigators that Sondland had advised her to praise Trump in tweets to save her own job.

On Nov. 5, it released transcripts of interviews with former special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker (transcript) and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland (transcript).

Bill Taylor's transcript was released on Nov. 6.

On Nov. 8, they released Fiona Hill (transcript) and Alexander Vindman (transcript).

...they are closed, or are they?

On Nov. 8, Rep. Matt Gaetz tried to enter the hearing room. He is on the Judiciary Committee, but not on any of the three committees conducting the hearing (Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight). He was asked to leave. (Rep. Jim Jordan, who is on the Oversight Committee, tried to intercede for Gaetz by saying, "Really?")

Don McGahn*

On Nov. 25, federal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ordered Don McGahn to testify regarding Mueller's findings in the Russia investigation. The judge also rebuked the White House: "Presidents are not kings." *McGahn was requested to testify in April, so this is not directly related to the Ukraine "quid pro quo" scandal that began over the summer, but some of Mueller's findings may eventually be included in the articles of impeachment.

Hearings will be public

Public hearings will begin in the second week of November. Unlike the closed hearings which were conducted by three committees (Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight), the public hearings will be conducted only by the Intelligence Committee.

On Nov. 8, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy temporarily changed who is serving on the House Intelligence Committee. He replaced Rep. Rick Crawford with Rep. Jim Jordan.

On Nov. 8, Trump said the hearings in the impeachment inquiry should not be public.

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