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Impeachment Hearings: Day 2 – Marie Yovanovitch [UPDATE-2]

I’m putting up this post and thread dedicated to today’s hearing which was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. ET. Updates to this post will appear at the bottom.

Former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is now appearing before the House and opening statements have just finished.

If you’re not within range of television or can’t stream the hearing, you can follow along with these live Twitter threads:

Marcy’s thread

Brandi Buchman for Courthouse News

Law prof and author Jennifer Taub

Some of these feeds also appear in my Trump-Russia Twitter list; open it and refresh periodically.

CNN has a live update page dedicated to today’s hearing.

Washington Post’s live update page here.

Here’s a copy of Yovanovitch’s testimony on October 11 in closed door session, released November 4.

Here’s a copy of Yovanovitch’s written statement submitted today.

If you have other resources you feel are helpful, please share them in comments. Thanks.

UPDATE-1 — 10:28 a.m. ET —

Zelensky was pretty shrewd or innately savvy about the breadcrumbs he left in his interactions with Team Trump.

Trump’s tweet which Daniel Dale embedded as a snapshot:

And of course Trump can’t shut the fuck up; he’s now implied he’s had opposition research done into Yovanovitch’s work history. Why would he need to do that if his actions with regard to Ukraine were totally above board?

Adam Schiff has interrupted questioning to offer Yovanovitch an opportunity to respond to Trump’s tweet denigrating her, amounting to witness intimidation.

UPDATE-2 — 12:35 p.m. ET —

Marcy started a fresh live tweet thread for this afternoon’s testimony by Yovanovitch before the GOP’s counsel and committee members.

Emma Loop with BuzzFeed is now in the hearing room and has also begun a live tweet thread.

Related: If you didn’t hear already, Roger Stone was found guilty on seven counts of obstruction of proceedings, false statements, and witness tampering. Politico’s Darren Samuelson covered the verdict in a thread.

How odd so many of the people close to Trump have been found guilty or pleaded guilty to crimes related to his campaign or work related to Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey.

BREAKING: The First Amendment Is Part of Something Called the Constitution

There’s been a weird phenomenon during the Trump presidency, where journalists and media organizations loudly defend one small part of the Constitution — the one that benefits them personally, the First Amendment — but seem to believe it would be partisan to defend the Constitution and rule of law more generally.

That’s been evident for some time, as news outlets treat the White House arbitrarily revoking credentials as a major news story but treat Trump’s flouting of other limits built into the Constitution as a big old partisan game.

That, to me, is the real problem with this widely panned Jonathan Allen piece deeming yesterday’s impeachment hearing boring. It wasn’t quite so bad as this Reuters piece in the same vein; unlike Reuters, NBC eventually did get around to telling readers about the most shocking news from the hearing, that Gordon Sondland got on an unsecure line to call the President the day after the July 25 call and learned that the only thing Trump cared about was the investigations into his political opponents.

NBC included that news, but placed it in paragraph 17, then dismissed it as a “footnote,” without explaining that this means Sondland got caught, for the second time, lying in his sworn statement to Congress.

Taylor did create a stir when he told the committee one of his aides overheard an ambassador at the center of the story, Gordon Sondland, talking to the president about Ukraine on the phone. Afterward, Sondland told the staffer that Trump cared more about getting Ukraine to open investigations into Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter than about any issues that mattered to the Ukrainians.

But that served as more of a footnote than a headline.

Thirteen paragraphs before he buried the lead, however, Allen pitched yesterday’s events this way, as a measure of whether Democrats had achieved their goal of ousting the president.

But at a time when Democrats are simultaneously eager to influence public opinion in favor of ousting the president and quietly apprehensive that their hearings could stall or backfire, the first round felt more like the dress rehearsal for a serious one-act play than opening night for a hit Broadway musical.

Allen did that in a piece where he emphasized that witnesses Bill Taylor and George Kent spoke from their “nonpartisan roles in government,” and judged that “Republicans poked no real holes in witness testimony.”

In other words, he did that in a piece where he conceded that nonpartisan experts had presented evidence that Trump had improperly tried to extort political benefits from Ukraine by withholding duly appropriated funds. Allen deemed this hearing to be a battle between Democrats and Republicans in a piece where he conceded that the evidence presented showed that President Trump committed a crime, bribery, that the Constitution explicitly says merits impeachment.

Yes, it is the case that not one Republican took a stand for the Constitution yesterday. Even more embarrassing, not a single Republican took a stand to defend their own Constitutional authority, the power of the purse, which Trump also violated when he withheld funding without explaining to Congress why he did so, a violation of the Impoundment Act that Mick Mulvaney has already confessed was a crime.

That seems newsworthy to me, for any journalist whose ability to be one relies on the limits on authority enshrined in the Constitution.

Don’t get me wrong, Allen is not alone in treating support for the Constitution — except, of course, the part journalists have a vested interest in, the First Amendment — as a partisan spat. It’s a general feature of reporting during the Trump Administration that the press picks and chooses which parts of rule of law they will both-sides, and which they will fiercely defend as an unquestioned value.

Just 15 minutes into this hearing, well before poor Jonathan Allen got bored and tuned out, Adam Schiff reminded of when,

Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of country America was to become. ‘A Republic,’ he answered, ‘if you can keep it.’ The fundamental issue raised by the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump is, can we keep it?

That’s what Adam Schiff said this hearing was about. Not ousting the President. But keeping our Constitutional government.

If the facts were in dispute, this might be fairly deemed by jaded journalists like Allen a partisan attack.

But the facts are not in dispute, as he himself agrees. Which means he utterly mistook the two sides in this matter, in pitching it as a fight between Democratic and Republican strategists. It’s not. It’s a fight between those defending the Constitution and the Republican party.

Why Won’t Sean Hannity Defend Trump against Impeachment Under Oath?

Yesterday, the Republicans released their list of requested witnesses for the public impeachment hearings this week. The list includes:

  • Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s business partner
  • Hunter Biden
  • Alexandrea Chalupa, the DNC consultant who conducted oppo research on Manafort [corrected] via non-official sources
  • Undersecretary of State David Hale, who gave a private deposition the details of which have not yet leaked
  • Tim Morrison, the NSC staffer who was on the Trump call but has said (in part because saying anything else would implicate him criminally) nothing he heard was a problem
  • Nellie Ohr, whom Nunes falsely accuses of assisting with the Steele dossier, but who collected oppo research on Trump based off leads which were in turn based off open source research
  • Kurt Volker
  • The whistleblower
  • The whistleblower’s sources

I’m amuses me they think Volker will help them, as it reflects their inability to process information as it has come in. In his testimony, Volker made a concerted effort to spin what happened in the least damaging way for Trump. He based much of that defense on the then-operative understanding that Trump had never mentioned Burisma in his conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky, thereby suggesting that that improper request never got beyond Rudy Giuliani to the President. But we now know that Trump did explicitly invoke Burisma in the call, but that it got redacted out by John Eisenberg and others. That is, precisely the detail that Volker used to exonerate the President has now been overtaken by events. Volker will likely spend part of his public testimony backtracking off the stances Republicans believe help the President.

While I assume Schiff will accept the request to call witnesses he himself has asked for depositions, Schiff has already ruled out calling Hunter Biden or the whistleblower.

Still, the most telling part of this list is that the most loyal defender of the President, Sean Hannity, is not on it.

It is now clear that Hannity is a key player in this information operation (unsurprisingly, given what we know about his efforts to coordinate Paul Manafort’s defense). Unlike John Solomon, Hannity’s personal implication in the slimy nest of legal conflicts that the President calls legal representation seem to have ended when Michael Cohen got busted. Unlike Rudy, Hannity’s status as a journalist should protect him from legal liability.

So there’s no reason — besides the fact he’d be under oath — why he shouldn’t be willing to testify about the several key events he played a part in.

For example, Marie Yovanovitch testified that she understands during a period when Hannity was attacking her personally, someone close to Mike Pompeo called Hannity and asked him to either substantiate the charges or stop.

THE CHAIRMAN: And did you ever find out when, you know, the allegations were being made or the attacks were being made by Donald Trump, )r., or Rudy Giuliani, did you ever find out what the Secretary of State’s position, whether the Secretary of State was going to defend you or not, apart from the refusal by the Secretary to issue a statement in your defense?

MS. YOVANOVITCH: What I was told by Phil Reeker was that the Secretary or perhaps somebody around hjm was going to place a call to Mr. Hannity on FOX News to say, you know, what is going on? I mean, do you have proof of these kinds of allegations or not? And if you have proof, you know, telI me, and if not, stop. And I understand that that call was made. I don’t know whether it was the Secretary or somebody else in his inner circle. And for a time, you know, things kind of simmered down.

THE CHAIRMAN: I mean, does that seem extraordinary to you that the Secretary of State or some other high-ranking official would call a talk show host to figure out whether you should be retained as ambassador?

MS . YOVANOVITCH: Wet 1 , I ‘m not sure that’ s exactly what was being asked.

THE CHAIRMAN: Well , they were aski ng i f what basi s they was Hannity one of the people criticizing you?

MS. Y0VANOVITCH: Yes. THE CHAIRMAN: 5o some top administration official was going to him to find out what the basis of this FOX host was attacking you tor?

YOVANOVITCH: Uh- huh.

THE CHAIRMAN: And did you ever get any readout on what the result of that conversation was?

MS. YOVANOVITCH: No, I didn’t, although I was told that it did take place.

Then later in the same deposition, Yovanovitch described how, in an appearance on Hannity’s show, the President pivoted from a question about Russia to focus on Ukraine, which the Ambassador thought might also be targeted at her.

[Dan Goldman] Are you also aware that on the night of April 25th that President Trump went on Sean Hannity’s show and discussed Ukraine?

A Yes. He was asked a question about Russia and he answered by responding about Ukraine.

Q And what was your reaction to that?

A Well, you know, I mean, I was concerned about what this would all mean.

Q In what way?

A Well, obviously, for me personally, not to make it all about me, but for me personally. But also, what does this mean for our policy? Where are we going?

In response, Hannity issued two angry denials on Twitter, not under oath, then linked to a (!!!) now debunked John Solomon piece, as if that did anything but confirm he was part of an information operation.

If Hannity wants to clear his name, surely he’s willing to do so under oath? While there, he can also explain why he keeps bringing Solomon, Joe DiGenova, and Victoria Toensing on his show, and why he doesn’t disclose that the latter two are working for mobbed up Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.

Hannity has repeatedly hosted Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, lawyers for Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.

According to a Media Matters database, diGenova has appeared on Hannity’s show at least 37 times in 2018 and 2019. His partner Toensing has appeared on Hannity’s show at least 20 times during the same period.

Additionally, Hannity has hosted conservative writer John Solomon over 100 times in 2018 and 2019. Solomon, now a Fox News contributor, is also a client of Toensing and diGenova, and he coordinated with personal Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to inject his Ukraine disinformation into the media.

More importantly, when testifying under oath before the impeachment inquiry, Hannity can explain why Rudy’s Ukrainian grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were setting up an interview between him and Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in Vienna, where Firtash has been bankrolling this entire influence operation.

While questions in Washington swirl around Shokin’s role in this controversy, Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman had specific plans for the former Ukrainian official up until the day of their arrest. According to those four sources, they told others they were headed to Vienna to help with a planned interview the next day: Shokin, they said, was scheduled to do an interview from the Austrian capital with Sean Hannity.

Through a spokesperson, Hannity said that “we never reveal our sources, potential sources, or persons they may or may not request to interview. Sean Hannity takes the first amendment seriously.”

He might even be able to explain whether, in Attorney General Barr’s visit to Rupert Murdoch’s home the night the grifters got arrested trying to flee the country (and so the night before Hannity was supposed to interview Shokin), he tipped off Hannity not to get on any planes?

Sean Hannity is a far more central fact witness on events associated with the impeachment than Biden, Archer, Chalupa, or Ohr. He’s one of Trump’s most loyal fans, so if there’s a defense of the President to be made, surely he’s willing to make it … under oath.

And yet, either Republicans aren’t willing to risk Hannity’s reputation, or Hannity is unwilling to repeat his claims denying involvement under oath.

People Who Illegally Withheld Duly Appropriated Funding Refuse to Explain to Congress Why

CNN reported this morning that all four witnesses who were called to testify today blew off the request under both Executive Privilege claims (for John Eisenberg) and other complaints that the Administration won’t be able to have a lawyer present.

All four White House officials who are scheduled to give depositions on Monday during the House’s impeachment inquiry won’t show up, as a source with knowledge of the situation tells CNN that National Security Council lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis will not testify.

The two officials will join Robert Blair, assistant to the President and senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Brian McCormack, associate director for natural resources, energy & science at the Office of Management and Budget, in not testifying on Monday, CNN reported earlier. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was scheduled to appear Wednesday, will not participate in a closed door deposition, an Energy Department spokesperson said Friday.
An administration official says Eisenberg isn’t showing up due to executive privilege while Blair, Ellis and McCormack aren’t going to appear because they won’t be able to have an administration lawyer present.

This is being treated like other refusals to show up, but I think it’s not.

First, if Eisenberg is claiming only Executive Privilege, those claims will quickly expose the President to evidence of guilt that Senators are busy trying to explain away. That’s because he should only have Executive Privilege for stuff that actually involves the President. And given that he wasn’t on the call with Volodymyr Zelensky, he shouldn’t have it, at all, here, unless the President wants to claim that before Eisenberg engaged in a cover-up of Trump’s extortion, he asked the President for guidance first.

In fact, if Eisenberg showed up, he’d likely have to invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than Executive Privilege. And once someone does that, it’s usually child’s play to force that person to resign from government service.

As for the others, Robert Blair and Brian McCormack were being called to explain how the funds duly appropriated by Congress got withheld.  Withholding those funds is a crime, as Mick Mulvaney helpfully admitted (in public discussions that likely void any Executive Privilege claims over the decision to withhold the funds). But it’s also a crime not to explain to Congress why you withheld funds they told you to spend.

In other words, for at least three of these men, the excuses for not testifying probably amount to crimes in and of themselves, either for the President (if he really were to claim Executive Privilege over Eisenberg’s efforts to cover-up his crime) or for the men themselves.

So while this seems like the same old obstruction, I think it may be a new kind of criminally problematic obstruction.

Which may be why Adam Schiff says the first public witnesses are going to be those who illegally withheld this funding.

Mick Mulvaney Confesses OMB and DOD Are Withholding Evidence of a Crime from Congress

Amid the tsunami of alarming news Mick Mulvaney made at today’s press conference (Trump is holding the G-7 at Doral next year, he likely will invite Putin, Trump did engage in a quid pro quo with Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25 call), one of the more important admissions got missed.

Mick Mulvaney admitted that the White House would have been breaking the law by withholding Ukrainian security funds because it did not have a “really really good reason not to do it.”

By the way, there was a report that we were worried that the money, that if we didn’t pay out the money it would be illegal. It would be unlawful. That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it, that makes it look a lot worse than it really is. We were concerned about — over at OMB, about an impoundment. And I know I’ve just put half you folks to bed, but there’s a, the Budget Control Act, Impound — the Budget Control Impoundment Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money you have to spend it. At least, that’s how it’s interpreted by some folks. And we knew that that money either had to go out the door by the end of September, or we had to have a really really good reason not to do it. And that was the legality of the issue.

He’s referring, presumably, to a WSJ report that OMB — the agency Mulvaney is still officially in charge of — put a political appointee in charge of withholding duly appropriated security funds for Ukraine so that President Trump could extort concessions from Ukraine.

The White House gave a politically appointed official the authority to keep aid to Ukraine on hold after career budget staff members questioned the legality of delaying the funds, according to people familiar with the matter, a shift that House Democrats are probing in their impeachment inquiry.

President Trump’s order to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in mid-July is at the center of House Democratic efforts to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump used U.S. foreign policy powers to benefit himself politically.

[snip]

The president has the authority to delay the release of money in certain instances, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research agency, including if there has been an unexpected change in circumstances for the program. But without being provided explanation or justification about why the administration was delaying the aid, some career officials at the Office of Management and Budget became worried they didn’t have the legal authority to hold up the funds, according to the people familiar.

While career civil servants put an initial hold on the aid, Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs in OMB, was given the authority for continuing to keep the aid on hold after the career staff began raising their concerns to political officials at OMB, according to the people familiar with the matter. Mr. Duffey also began overseeing the process for approving and releasing funds, called apportionment, for other foreign aid and defense accounts, according to a public document indicating the change.

As noted by Mulvaney today, a law passed in the wake of Richard Nixon playing games with appropriations requires that if you withhold duly appropriated funds, you explain to Congress why you’re doing so, a decision that Congress then gets to veto simply by refusing to approve of the decision. The law makes it clear that the President can’t simply ignore the will of Congress on appropriations.

And yet, that’s what Trump did for the entirety of the summer.

Worse, in his press conference today, Mulvaney admitted that Trump didn’t have a “really really good reason not to” release the funds. Rather, he had a really bad reason: he was trying to extort a quid pro quo.

And that’s why the decision — reported in ho hum fashion on Tuesday as if it were just another case of the Administration refusing Congressional subpoenas — that OMB and DOD would not respond to subpoenas is actually really important.

The subpoena to those agencies lays out some of the evidence that Trump withheld the funds after DOD cleared them. Then it lays out the evidence that Trump was defying bipartisan Congressional will in doing so.

As you are aware, the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 authorizes the President to withhold the obligation of funds only “(1) to provide for contingencies; (2) to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations; or (3) as specifically provided by law.” The President is required to submit a special message to Congress with information about the proposed deferral of funds.

On August 30, 2019, Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry of the House Committee on Armed Services wrote a letter to Mr. Mulvaney requesting information why military assistance to Ukraine was being withheld and when it would be released. They wrote: “This funding is critical to the accomplishment of U.S. national security objectives in Europe.”

On September 3, 2019, a bipartisan group of Senators–including Rob Portman, Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, and Ron Johnson–wore a letter requesting that OMB release the military assistance to Ukraine that the Trump Administration was withholding:

The funds designated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative are vital to the viability of the Ukrainian military. It has helped Ukraine develop the independent military capabilities and skills necessary to fend off the Kremlin’s continued onslaughts within its territory. In fact, Ukraine continues to fight daily on its eastern border against Russia-backed separatists in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and over 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in this war. U.S.-funded security assistance has already helped turn the tide in this conflict, and it is necessary to ensure the protection of the sovereign territory of this young country, going forward.

On September 5, 2019, Chairman Eliot L. Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to OMB urging the Trump Administration to lift its hold on security funds to support Ukraine, writing: “These funds, which were appropriated by Congress as Foreign Military Financing and as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and signed into law by the President, are essential to advancing U.S. national security interests.”

On September 9, 2019, the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight wrote to the White House requesting documents related to “the actual or potential suspension of security assistance to Ukraine.” The White House never responded to this request. However, two days later, on September 11, 2019, the White House released its hold on the military assistance to Ukraine.

On September 24, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that, although he was “very actively involved in advocating the aid,” he “was not given an explanation” about why it was being withheld, even though he talked to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. He stated: “I have no idea what precipitated the delay.”

The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the Committees to examine the sequences of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression.

That’s the subpoena that Mulvaney’s agency and DOD (the latter, after initially saying it would cooperate) are defying. It’s a subpoena that goes to the zenith of Congress’ authority, whether it is issued within or outside of an impeachment inquiry. But within an impeachment inquiry, it illustrates that on one issue of fact at the core of the investigation, there is bipartisan agreement that the White House was in the wrong.

And today, Mulvaney admitted that the White House did not have a very very good reason to withhold those funds, even while confirming that Trump was withholding the funds, in part, to extort a quid pro quo.

Even if the White House had a very very good reason, the law obliges the White House to explain to Congress why it blew off Congress’ power of the purse. The White House didn’t do it in real time — not even to Mitch McConnell. And the White House is refusing to do it now.

Update: Jack Goldsmith did a review of this issue in Lawfare today, but before the Mulvaney comments.

Update: Lisa Murkowski complained about this issue to Tim Mak today.

The Significance of Fiona Hill’s Testimony: “Whatever Drug Deal Sondland and Mulvaney Are Cooking Up”

A number of people on Twitter have asked me to elaborate on some comments I’ve made about the significance of Fiona Hill’s testimony before the Ukraine impeachment team yesterday.

It’s unclear whether she shared details of her testimony or whether most of the reporting comes from Jamie Raskin (who notably got the import of the State IG’s urgent briefing utterly wrong). But NYT has thus far offered the key description (citing at least two other people beyond Raskin).

Force Bolton to shit or get off the pot

First, the NYT describes Hill citing the abrasive John Bolton saying two fairly stunning things which were bound to make headlines. First, she described Bolton saying Rudy was a “hand grenade” who would blow everyone up (a quote Rudy has already responded to).

Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.

Then, after a July 10 meeting where it became clear Trump was withholding security assistance for campaign propaganda, according to reports of Hill’s testimony, Bolton asked her to tell Deputy White House Counsel John Eisenberg that he was not part of “whatever drug deal” Trump’s flunkies were pursuing.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition.

It was clear even before the July 25 call that kicked off this whole scandal that Bolton was on the outs. Tellingly, Bolton was specifically excluded from the call.

But since then, Bolton has (like James Mattis) been talking about writing a book, telling his story for history, rather than for the present and the sake of the Constitution.

By including these two quotes in her testimony, Hill not only ensured that Bolton will be the target of Trump’s ire (after all, Hill didn’t say these things, Bolton reportedly did). But it will force Bolton to either deny them (if he’s certain Hill didn’t take contemporaneous notes), or take a stand against activities he clearly recognized were wrong.

And if Bolton testifies in the impeachment inquiry about his concerns, it will represent someone about whom there can be no doubts as to Republican partisan loyalty. If Hill’s inclusion of Bolton’s comments leads Trump’s former National Security Advisor to provide damning testimony to the impeachment inquiry, it will change both the profile of the inquiry and the possible response attacks.

Force Sondland to rewrite his ever-evolving testimony

Hill’s testimony about that July 10 meeting also provided damning testimony about Gordon Sondland, who is scheduled to testify on Thursday.

One of the most dramatic moments she described came in the July 10 meeting in Mr. Bolton’s office that included Mr. Sondland; Kurt D. Volker, then the special envoy for Ukraine; Rick Perry, the energy secretary; and two Ukrainian officials.

The purpose of the meeting was to talk about technical assistance to Ukraine’s national security council. The Ukrainians were eager to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, who was elected on a promise to clean up corruption and resolve the country’s five-year war with Russian-armed separatists.

Mr. Bolton was trying to not commit to a meeting, according to Ms. Hill’s testimony. Mr. Sondland got agitated, Ms. Hill testified, and let out that there was an agreement with Mr. Mulvaney that there would be a meeting if Ukraine opened up the investigations the White House was seeking.

Mr. Bolton immediately ended the meeting abruptly. As the group moved toward the door, Mr. Sondland said he wanted them to come down to the ward room next to the White House mess to discuss next steps. Mr. Bolton pulled Ms. Hill aside to instruct her to go to the ward room and report to him what they talked about.

When she got downstairs, Mr. Sondland was talking with the Ukrainians and specifically mentioned Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm that had Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, on its board.

Sondland has already test driven two drafts of his intended testimony, much as Michael Cohen did two years ago before he gave false testimony to Congress. Even the most recent of those drafts appears to be rendered inoperative by Hill’s testimony.

I’m sure Adam Schiff would have preferred that Sondland not get another chance to craft his testimony (and I suspect Sondland’s lawyer is trying to convince him that the possibility of being named Secretary of State is not worth perjuring himself for, which is why he’s probably not yet planning on invoking the Fifth).

But thus far, Sondland doesn’t seem to have discovered a story that he can tell that coheres with the other known testimony.

Hill ties Sondland’s actions to Trump

Hill also provided testimony — testimony we know that is backed by other witnesses — that Sondland was playing the role he was playing because the President wanted him to be.

At one point, she confronted Mr. Sondland, who had inserted himself into dealings with Ukraine even though it was not part of his official portfolio, according to the people informed about Ms. Hill’s testimony.

He told her that he was in charge of Ukraine, a moment she compared to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.’s declaration that he was in charge after the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt, according to those who heard the testimony.

According to whom, she asked.

The president, he answered.

This will tie Trump directly to this scheme and make Sondland’s later denials about whether he knew Trump to be lying about a quid pro quo even more obviously false than they already are. This is not Rudy freelancing, or State ordering him to, but Trump ordering everyone to.

Hill implicates John Eisenberg

I noted the central role of John Eisenberg in attempts to cover this quid pro quo up weeks ago (and noted that he succeeded in preventing any record of an early quid pro quo from being being made).

Eisenberg is the guy who decided to put the transcript of the July 25 call on the Top Secret server. Eisenberg had a role in framing the crimes, as described to DOJ, such that they could shunt them to Public Integrity and dismiss them, rather than open up another Special Counsel investigation into the President’s extortion.

But Hill’s testimony makes it clear Eisenberg was told of what Bolton analogized to crimes well before the call.

Ms. Hill went back upstairs and reported the encounter to Mr. Bolton, who promptly instructed her to report the issue to John A. Eisenberg, a deputy White House counsel and the chief legal adviser for the National Security Council, along with his line about the drug deal, which he meant metaphorically.

Mr. Eisenberg told Ms. Hill he would report it up his chain of command, which would typically mean Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.

Eisenberg (whose FBI 302 from the last Trump criminal investigation DOJ is trying to withhold) would have been on the hook anyway for a clear attempt to cover up Trump’s crime. But the revelation that he had advance warning that a crime was in process — and apparently did nothing to prevent it — changes his exposure significantly.

It was the OMB Director, misappropriating funds, in the National Security Advisor’s office

Finally, Hill puts Mick Mulvaney at the scene of the crime.

As I’ve said before, one part of this scandal that has gotten far too little attention is that, to extort Ukraine, Trump withheld funds appropriated by Congress, funds about which there was bipartisan agreement.

Last week, CNN and WSJ reported that to do this, OMB changed the way the funds were distributed, putting a political flunkie in charge, also a detail that has gotten far too little attention.

Not only does that raise the Constitutional stakes of the Executive’s refusal to spend the funds Congress had duly appropriated, but it shows consciousness of guilt.

And per Hill’s testimony Mick Mulvaney, serving in the dual role of OMB chief and Chief of Staff, knew that those funds were being withheld for a quid pro quo or (as John Bolton described it) a drug deal.

Senate Republicans might not ever convict Trump for demanding foreign countries invent propaganda on his political allies. They might feel differently once it becomes clear that the crime involves refusing to do what Congress, with its power of the purse, told him to, without even telling Congress he was doing so (or why). They may not care about Trump pressing for any political advantage for their party, but they may care about Trump neutering their most important authority.

The Press Gets Utterly Snookered on the White House Rebranding of the Same Old Unrelenting Obstruction of Congressional Prerogatives

Yesterday, the White House sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi and just some of the Committee Chairs conducting parts of an impeachment inquiry into the President, purporting to refuse to participate in that impeachment inquiry. Since then, there has been a lot of shocked coverage about how intemperate the letter is, with particular focus on the fact that White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, used to be considered a serious lawyer. There has been some attempt to analyze the letter as if it is a legal document and not instead the President’s rants packaged up in Times Roman and signed by one of his employees. A number of outlets have thrown entire reporting teams to do insipid horse race coverage of the letter, as if this is one giant game, maybe with nifty commercials on during halftime.

None I’ve seen have described the letter as what it is: an attempt to rebrand the same old outright obstruction that the White House has pursued since January.

The tell — for those teams of well-compensated journalists treating this as a factual document — might have been the addressees. While the letter got sent to Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel, and Elijah Cummings, it did not get sent to Jerry Nadler, who has been pursuing an impeachment inquiry of sorts since the Mueller Report came out. The White House knows Nadler is also part of the impeachment inquiry, because even as the White House was finalizing the letter, Trump’s DOJ was in DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s courtroom fighting a House Judiciary request for materials for the impeachment inquiry. In the hearing, DOJ literally argued that the Supreme Court’s 8-0 US v. Nixon was wrongly decided.

Howell picked up on that point by pressing DOJ to say whether then-U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Sirica was wrong in 1974 to let Congress access a detailed “road map” of the Watergate grand jury materials as it considered President Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

Shapiro argued that if the same Watergate road map arose today, there’d be a “different result” because the law has changed since 1974. She said the judge wouldn’t be able to do the same thing absent changes to the grand jury rules and statutes.

Howell sounded skeptical. “Wow. OK,” she replied.

DOJ also argued that Congress would have to pass a law to enshrine the principle that this binding Supreme Court precedent already made the law of the land.

In the HJC branch of the impeachment inquiry, the few credible claims made in yesterday’s letter — such as that Congress is conducting the inquiry in secret without the ability to cross-examine witnesses or have Executive Branch lawyers present — are proven utterly false. And with the claims made in yesterday’s hearing, the Executive demonstrated that they will obstruct even measured requests and negotiations for testimony.

The Trump White House obstructed normal Congressional oversight by absolutely refusing to cooperate.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry focused on requests and voluntary participation.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry where subpoenas were filed.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry relying on whistleblowers who aren’t parties to the White House omertà.

The Trump White House obstructed what numerous judges have made clear are reasonable requests from a co-equal branch of government.

Nothing in the White House’s conduct changed yesterday. Not a single thing. And any journalist who treats this as a new development should trade in her notebooks or maybe move to covering football where such reporting is appropriate.

It is, however, a rebranding of the same old unrelenting obstruction, an effort to relaunch the same policy of unremitting obstruction under an even more intransigent and extreme marketing pitch.

And that — the need to rebrand the same old obstruction — might be worthy topic of news coverage. Why the White House feels the need to scream louder and pound the table more aggressively is a subject for reporting. But to cover it, you’d go to people like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, who already seem to be preparing to explain votes against the President. You even go to people like Lindsey Graham, who is doing ridiculous things to sustain Rudy Giuliani’s hoaxes in the Senate Judiciary Committee — but who has condemned the principle of making the country dramatically less safe for whimsical personal benefit in Syria. Or you go to Richard Burr, who quietly released a report making it clear Russia took affirmative efforts to elect Trump in 2016.

This week, Trump looked at the first few Republicans getting weak in the knees and his response was to double down on the same old policies, while rolling out a campaign trying to persuade those weak-kneed members of Congress who are contemplating the import of our Constitution not to do so.

The President’s former lawyer testified earlier this year, under oath, that this has always been a branding opportunity to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation – only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the “greatest infomercial in political history.”

His latest attempt to cajole Republican loyalty is no different. It’s just a rebranding of the same intransigence. Treating it as anything but a rebranding is organized forgetting of what has taken place for the last nine months, and journalists should know better.

House Committees’ Deposition: U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker

[NB: Check the byline, thanks!]

If yesterday’s blizzard of disinformation tweets is any kind of measure, the GOP is worried about today’s interview of the former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Oversight and Reform. You may recall he resigned from his role as a diplomat last Friday.

In a letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on September 27, it looked as if the biggest questions for State personnel would arise from what it was Giuliani was doing in and about Ukraine.

… The Department has also acknowledged that Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker played a direct role in arranging meetings between Rudy Giuliani, wo has no official role in the U.S. government, and representatives of President Zelensky.5 In addition, the whistleblower complaint indicate that “multiple U.S. Officials” were “deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President”6 These officials reported that “State Department officials” had spoken with Mr. Giuliani “in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security,” as well as to the new Ukrainian administration to help it “understand and respond to “Mr. Giuliani’s backchanneling.7

Whew. When you put it that way one can well understand the frustration of former member of parliament and presidential adviser Serhiy Leschenko when he wrote in a recent op-ed,

… Giuliani and his associates are trying to drag our newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, into a conflict between two foreign political parties, drastically limiting Ukraine’s room for maneuver in respect to the United States, perhaps its most important international partner. …

Today’s deposition is part of what the letter from the committees to Pompeo called “part of the impeachment inquiry.” It’ll be valuable as part of the investigative process determining culpability and to what degree on the part of participants who may have been manipulating U.S. foreign policy for the benefit of Trump’s re-election campaign.

But it will also be valuable for our relationship with Ukraine. They need to see the U.S. living up to its promise as a democracy while identifying where our relationship with Ukraine was hijacked.

The questions may be fairly simple:

— what was the understanding of Volker or other State Department personnel about the nature of Rudy Giuliani’s relationship to the U.S. government?
— did Volker every hear of Giuliani having meetings with Ukrainians prior to the July 25 call? What did the meetings entail and was each meeting debriefed with State?
— did Rudy Giuliani ask Volker or other State Department personnel for assistance in contacting Zelensky or other Ukraine officials?
— did Volker or the State Department ever ask Giuliani to contact Zelensky or other Ukraine officials?
— if anyone from State Department did ask, who was it and under what context did they make this request?
— were Volker and/org other State Department personnel asked by Giuliani or others to disparage former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch or in any way hamper her diplomatic work?
— did Volker and/or other State Department personnel ever see or hear Ukraine officials encouraged to disparage former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch or in any way hamper her diplomatic work?
— what did Volker know about the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, ex. attendees at the White House, or participating remotely like from Ukraine?
— did subsequent meetings between Volker and Ukraine officials imply a quid pro quo agreement, aid for a deliverable?
— did the diplomatic office in Ukraine have its own transcript, complete or partial, or a memorandum of telephone conversation for the July 25 call?

I’m sure there’s more to be asked but these are pretty important questions. What about you? What would ask and how if you were in charge of this interview?

There’s a strong chance Pompeo, the Department of Justice, or the White House may interfere and prevent Volker’s deposition. We’ll see.

Timing of the deposition isn’t clear; I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. The deposition doesn’t appear to be open, either, as I see nothing on the calendars I’ve checked. If you find information please share it in comments.

At Time of Trump-Zelensky Call, Mulvaney Was Already Under Notice From Cummings, Engel and Schiff Not to Hide Records

Note the byline.

In perusing the House Oversight Committee website while looking for something else, I ran across this remarkable letter dated February 21, 2019. It is addressed to Mick Mulvaney as Acting White House Chief of Staff and is from Elijah Cummings, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Eliot Engel, Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The letter is part of an ongoing effort by Congress to obtain records from meetings between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that occurred in Hamburg on July 7, 2017 and in Helsinki on July 16, 2018.

The letter reprises press reports of Trump confiscating notes from interpreters and having a general reputation for tearing up documents. Although prompted by their frustration in getting records from these two meetings, the three committee chairmen expand the scope of their direction to Mulvaney to preserve records:

Recall that the Trump-Zelensky phone call took place on July 25, 2019, just over five months after the letter was sent. It seems particularly on point that the letter warned Mulvaney against “relocation” as well as “intentional handling which would foreseeably make such records incomplete or inaccessable”. Certainly, by relocating the Situation Room’s transcript to the code-word level computer system, Mulvaney (or other actor(s) in the White House) did indeed make the record incomplete and essentially inaccessible until the whistleblower complaint forced the publication of a partial transcript.

And how did the White House respond to the letter? The return letter came from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone exactly one month later, blowing off the request for records from the two Trump-Putin meetings in its entirety, citing a claim that the President alone conducts foreign policy. And yet, the letter claimed that the White House fully complies with the Presidential Records Act, under which the three committee chairmen had submitted their request.

I’m wondering if this letter, with its highly specific warning, will increase the legal difficulties for Mulvaney once the impeachment investigation spotlight begins to point his direction.

The Intelligence Issues the House Intelligence Committee Largely Ignored

I watched or listened to most of the House Intelligence Committee hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire this morning. And because both sides (with the very limited exception of Will Hurd) failed to raise the issues regarding the whistleblower complaint that go to the core of Maguire’s own equities, he was largely able to dodge the difficult issues.

Maguire’s own actions implicate whether IC whistleblowers will believe credible complaints will be treated appropriately. As Democrats noted, his first actions when he received a complaint implicating the President and the Attorney General were to refer to lawyers reporting directly to the President and the Attorney General. Maguire even pretended that Bill Barr’s role in this was not a significant part of the complaint to dismiss the worthlessness of referring this complaint to Bill Barr to investigate.

But there were three other key issues Maguire should not have been able to dodge.

First is the allegation that Trump moved the summary of this call to the covert communications system to hide the improper nature of the call. The whistleblower complaint said that this is not the first time the White House has done so. This is a clear abuse of the legal status of covert operations dictated by the National Security Act, something for which Maguire has direct responsibility. Covert operations must be communicated, by law, to at least the Gang of Eight in Congress. That Trump has politicized and misused this system discredits a core means of accountability for the White House, on Maguire’s job directly oversees. And yet he wasn’t asked how Trump’s actions undermine the legally mandated system of covert communications.

Then there’s the fact that Trump is premising policy decisions not on the best intelligence, but instead on how he can derive personal benefit from them. His doing so is a core abuse of presidential power. But — as I noted this morning — it also robs American citizens of the benefits the entire intelligence system is supposed to ensure. Maguire admittedly cannot force the President to make the right decisions. But the repercussions of premising policy decisions on personal gain for the national security of the US should be a concern of Maguire’s. That wasn’t mentioned either.

Finally, there’s the allegation that someone without clearance and entirely outside of the intelligence community was being asked to share and act on classified information derived from the intelligence community. Maguire at one point claimed that Trump can do whatever he wants with his personal lawyer and that such discussions would be privileged (after, at another point, dodging a question because he’s not a lawyer). That’s the height of absurdity. Rudy’s pursuit of policy actions has nothing to do with his role as Trump’s personal lawyer. And as the DOJ IG complaint against Jim Comey makes clear, sharing even retroactively confidential information with your personal lawyers — as Comey was scolded for doing — is not permissible. Yes, it’s true that as President Trump can declassify anything he wants (though Comey was original classification authority for the information he shared with his own lawyers), but others in the IC cannot share information with an uncleared person without formal declassification, or they risk their own legal troubles.

None of this came up in substantive fashion in today’s hearing by the people who are supposed to oversee the intelligence community.