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LIVE UPDATES: Day 3 - Trump Impeachment Hearings

Published: Tuesday, November 19, 2019 @ 8:00 AM

With nine witnesses scheduled in the next three days, the U.S. House Impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump will delve further into questions of how the President pressed the leader of Ukraine to start politically charged investigations, as lawmakers will hear Tuesday morning from two people who raised concerns about the May 25 call between the two leaders.

Tuesday's four witnesses - two in the morning - two more in the afternoon - will serve as the setup for what could be an explosive day on Wednesday morning, as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is set to testify, after days of reports brimming with new details about his conversations with President Trump regarding U.S. aid to Ukraine, and the President's desire for Ukraine to start investigations sought by Mr. Trump.

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Check back on this live blog through the day for the latest from the House Intelligence Committee.

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8:30 pm. And after over 11 hours, the hearings are adjourned. We will be back in the morning for Gordon Sondland. His name was mentioned so many times today.

7:30 pm.  Rep. Swalwell D-CA presses Morrison over the President asking for investigations of the Bidens.  Swalwell uses a line that Republicans have used on witnesses - that they don't make foreign policy, but President Trump does. Morrison says he heard the President ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; Morrison says he never asked Ukraine to do the same. Swalwell basically says you aren't supposed to be making foreign policy.

7:20 pm.  Volker has had to acknowledge several times that he just didn't understand exactly what Giuliani was getting at - which was investigating the Bidens and the debunked conspiracy theory of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 elections.

7:00 pm.  Volker says he tried to get Rudy Giuliani to tone down the demand for the Ukraine government to specifically promise certain investigations sought by President Trump, Giuliani did not embrace the idea, saying Ukraine had to mention Burisma/Hunter Biden and the 2016 election.  Volker said a written statement was dropped, and may have been replaced by the idea of an interview by the leader of Ukraine on CNN instead, though that never happened.  “The messages conveyed by Giuliani were a problem,” Volker said.

6:40 pm.  Rep. Devin Nunes R-CA has several times today called these proceedings a 'drug deal.'  The irony is that the phrase 'drug deal' in the Ukraine investigation came from former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton, who told subordinates to stay away from the actions of Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine, with regard to issues of investigations sought by President Trump.

6:30 pm. Schiff pressing Morrison over why he went to NSC lawyers after the July 25 call. Morrison said he was worried about the call leaking - but didn't think there was anything wrong with the call.  Democrats say that's hard to square.

6:15 pm. Morrison testifies that he kept a close eye on Gordon Sondland's work re: Ukraine, and did not embrace push on investigations requested by President Trump from Ukraine.  It's clear right now that Sondland's testimony on Wednesday morning could be very interesting.

5:55 pm.  During the break, Rep. Mark Meadows R-NC was talking with reporters, a normal kind of thing.  C-SPAN has lots of cameras here, so they popped into the scrum as well.   That was going out live - when Meadows says he wants to go off the record.  That doesn't work when there is a live broadcast.

5:45 pm.  The committee is taking one more break.  Next up are questions from lawmakers on the panel.  This isn't scientific, but most of the talk right now around the hearing room is about testimony tomorrow of Gordon Sondland.  Volker and Morrison have not been as interesting as Vindman and Williams this morning.

5:25 pm.  Volker was supposedly going to be a GOP witness.  But his testimony on the 'investigations' isn't exactly what the White House might want to hear.  Volker says he saw nothing credible about the various conspiracy theories (Crowdstrike, etc) that Ukraine interfered in the US elections in 2016 - those have been embraced by President Trump.

5:15 pm. The last half hour has reinforced what Democrats have often been arguing, that Rudy Giuliani's work in Ukraine to stir up various conspiracy theories, which resulted in President Trump asking for investigations by the Ukraine government, had stalled US-Ukraine relations.  “We had gotten nowhere,” Volker said.

4:45 pm.  Morrison continues to give the Democratic counsel answers which Democrats will be pleased to talk about. For example, Morrison says he went to NSC lawyers after phone calls with Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland in September, which made clear (to Morrison) that the aid to Ukraine was being held back while waiting on the investigations asked for by the President in July.

4:30 pm.  Morrison has been talked about a lot by GOP lawmakers today, especially as a way to push back against Vindman from this morning.  But watching and listening to Morrison here in the hearing room, he seems a bit uncomfortable in this setting.   Volker does not.

4:15 pm.  As he talks repeatedly about the issues surrounding Ukraine and President Trump, Volker keeps referring to 'conspiracy theories' pressed by Giuliani which filtered down to President Trump.  Volker quoted the President as saying he was hearing bad things about Ukraine's government from Giuliani.

4:00 pm.  Volker is certainly not going to see his testimony tweeted out by the White House.

3:55 pm.  Kurt Volker testifies that he struggled to get President Trump to set a meeting with the leader of Ukraine, blaming it on a deeply negative view of Ukraine, which was fueled by information coming from the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

3:35 pm.  Tim Morrison testifies first.   He has a very short statement, and is testifying in a voice that is hard to hear.  He's going to get a lot of attention today from GOP lawmakers, who have used his deposition to try to undercut Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

3:25 pm.  The gavel has sounded, as the hearings are getting underway again.  The witnesses today are former National Security Council official Tim Morrison, and Kurt Volker, an ex-US special envoy to Ukraine.

2:30 pm.  The afternoon hearing was originally set to start by now, but because of the House floor schedule, the afternoon part of the impeachment hearings may not begin until around 3:15 pm.  And depending on what happens on the floor, it could slip further. 

In the meantime, many photographers have left their cameras by the witness table, staking out their spots.

2:00 pm.  Judging from the tweets by the White House, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman might need to find a new place of employment, rather than the National Security Council.  And that might go for his brother, too.

1:40 pm.  Part one of today's hearing is over.  The next two witnesses, Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison are scheduled to start testifying at 2:30 pm.

1:25 pm.  Vindman works at the White House.  The official White House Twitter account has already had one post about him today - and now another. 

1:22 pm.  Asked again about the July 25 Trump-Ukraine call, Vindman said, "Frankly, I couldn't believe what I was hearing." He said he immediately reported it to the NSC lawyer because it "was my duty."   Some applause after that line of questioning finished.

1:10 pm.  One interesting note about that line of questions from the GOP.  Vindman says the NSC lawyer told him not to talk to anyone about the call - not immediately - but later, after Vindman raised red flags.  That's why Vindman says he did not tell his direct boss, Morrison. 

1:05 pm.  Republicans at today's hearing have repeatedly criticized Vindman for going to the top lawyer for the National Security Council immediately after the July 25 call, instead of his direct boss, Tim Morrison - who will testify later today.  Here's how GOP lawmakers are making that case on Twitter today.

12:50 pm.  A needed light moment as Rep Joaquin Castro D-TX talks about being a fellow identical twin, like Vindman and his brother. Castro jokes about being asked to grow a beard - which he did so people wouldn't think he was his brother, the Presidential candidate, Julian Castro.

12:40 pm.  Here is some video from President Trump.

12:20 pm.  From earlier - when Rep. Jordan intimated that superiors thought Vindman was leaking information about Ukraine.

12:10 pm.  News is being made at the White House on several fronts by President Trump.

12:00 pm.  Rep. Jim Jordan R-OH all but accused Vindman of being a leaker, raising questions about what his superiors thought of his job performance.  Vindman denied he had ever leaked anything, and quickly read from his last performance review by former White House aide Fiona Hill, who testifies on Thursday.  Jordan moved on.

11:55 am.  Democrats ask Jennifer Williams about a tweet from President Trump on Sunday, in which he assailed Williams, and called her a “Never Trumper.”

"It certainly surprised me. I was not expecting to be called out by name,” Williams told lawmakers.

Here is the tweet.

11:50 am.  The White House quickly turns around that exchange, and posts it on the official White House Twitter account.

11:20 am.  Last questions for Vindman just before a short break in the hearing. Did you ever talk to Giuliani? No. Did you ever discuss Ukraine with President Trump? 

Vindman: "I have never had any contact with the President of the United States."

11:10 am.  Asked by the GOP counsel, Vindman says Ukraine officials actually offered him the job of Defense minister of Ukraine at one point. Vindman says he immediately reported it to his superiors and intelligence officials.

"The whole notion is rather comical."

11:05 am.  The GOP counsel walked Williams through a number of questions for why Vice President Pence scrapped a planned trip to Ukraine for the inauguration of the new leader, President Zelensky.  Instead, Pence went to Canada for an event on the US free trade deal with Mexico and Canada. 

10:50 am.  Rep. Nunes: "Mr. Vindman, you testified at your deposition that you did not know the whistleblower."

Vindman: "Ranking member, it's Lt. Col. Vindman, please."

10:45 am. We have just had our first real witness skirmish over the identify of the Ukraine whistleblower. Nunes asked Vindman who he told of the July 25 call. Vindman said there were two people outside the White House; he refused to ID the person in the intelligence community.

10:40 am. Nunes acknowledges that Williams and Vindman are the first 'firsthand' witnesses to testify about the Trump-Zelensky phone call. Nunes asking both witnesses if they spoke with any reporters or knew of leaks. Both answer in the negative.

10:35 am. Republicans are now starting their 45 minutes of questioning. Rep. Nunes immediately goes into questions surrounding Burisma and Hunter Biden.

10:20 am. The Democratic counsel is walking both witnesses through the July 25 call in detail, getting them to repeat their concerns about the call.  These are the first witnesses to testify who heard the actual phone call.  GOP lawmakers outside the hearing room are not impressed.

9:55 am.  We have had our first witness refuse to answer a question in these hearings.  The lawyer for Williams won't let her answer a question about a phone call between Vice President Pence and the leader of Ukraine.

9:45 am. Vindman on the May 25 Trump-Zelensky call: "It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and a political opponent."

9:40 am. Williams repeats her deposition testimony that she found the May 25 Trump-Zelensky call unusual, "because in contrast to other Presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter."

9:35 am. Both witnesses have been sworn in. Williams starts first. Schiff pointedly noted she worked for the 2004 Bush campaign.

9:30 am.  Nunes wraps up his opening statement.  He did not mention either of the two witnesses sitting before the panel.

9:20 am.  Rep. Devin Nunes R-CA begins his statement by criticizing the press for impeachment coverage. "This is the same preposterous reporting the media offered for three years on the Russia hoax."  Nunes says the news media is nothing but “puppets of the Democratic Party.”

9:17 am.  Vindman spoke about his family during his opening statement.

9:15 am.  Sitting behind the witness table is Vindman's brother.  Ironically, film maker Ken Burns interviewed them as young boys about how their family made it to the United States.

9:10 am.  Schiff starts by warning the audience against audible outbursts.  It's probably a reaction to the cheers at the end of Friday's hearing with former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. 

9:05 am. It is very quiet in the hearing room as Vindman and Williams sit down at the witness table. No one talking.  And I mean, no one is talking. All you here is the clicking of shutters from the still photographers.  It's an odd feel.

9:00 am.  The public is filing in.  The press section is filled.  We are waiting for the witnesses to arrive.  Here is a shot of the news media tables.  Standing up on the far side in the middle is veteran AP reporter Al Fram, who like me, has seen a lot on Capitol Hill.

8:55 am.  If you want to read through the past testimony of today's witnesses, the deposition of Jennifer Williams is here - she is a State Department employee detailed to the staff of Vice President Pence. 

The deposition link of Alexander Vindman is here.

8:45 am.  One of the witnesses today is National Security Council staffer, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who raised concerns up his chain of command about the President's July 25 phone call with the leader of Ukraine.  It has resulted in questions about Vindman's personal security, as well as that of his family.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Vindman may be moved to a military facility, just in case.

8:30 am.  I'm seated over in my same spot, alongside the technical people for the C-SPAN TV coverage, and the still photographers from a variety of news organizations, who run a unique cooperative effort to take and distribute photos quickly from the hearing.  Every person in this business is different in how they prepare for their job.  Washington Post staff photographer Melina Mara was working just in front of me for a few minutes - and I snapped a picture of her laptop, which has a series of items attached with Velcro to the computer to help do her job.

8:20 am. The angling for position is underway around the witness table, as still photographers and videographers stake out their positions to get the initial shot of the witnesses arriving at the table for this hearing.  If you are watching as the hearing begins, you will see a big mass of people all around the table, and then the gavel will fall, and photographers will be shooed away.  It will be much more crowded by 9 am ET.

8:05 am. One thing to watch for today is whether President Trump decides to make an 'appearance' in this hearing via Twitter. On Friday, his tweets about former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch totally changed the hearing - and frankly, it also undermined whatever media strategy Republicans had developed for that hearing. One of the witnesses today, Jennifer Williams, who is a State Department employee detailed as a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, has already been targeted by the President on Twitter. Will he repeat it as she is testifying?

8:00 am. There are four witnesses today. Three are scheduled for Wednesday. Two more witnesses on Thursday. Tuesday and Wednesday feature separate morning and afternoon sessions. Frankly, I don't know how today (Tuesday's) two hearings can finish before around 8 pm, even if the proceedings begin at 9 am. There will be breaks for votes on the floor of the House at least two different times today, as lawmakers vote on a stop gap funding plan to keep the government from running out of money, extending that spending until December 20 - to avoid a government shutdown at the end of this week.

7:45 am. Once again, I will have a seat in the historic Ways and Means Committee hearing room, where the impeachment hearings are being held - but like my youth spent at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, I will have an obstructed view of the proceedings. I have a great view of the witness table from the side of the room - but unfortunately, the lawyer for one of the witnesses usually blocks my view. And then, there is a giant television screen which has been brought in for visuals - that sits right between me and the dais. Since I'm in radio, I am used to looking down and listening, and that's what I will get to do again today.

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