Congressional Impeachment Hearings, November 19, 2019

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council director for European Affairs, and Jennifer Williams, adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for European and Russian Affairs, are sworn-in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, November 2019.

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee continued its public impeachment hearings on November 19. In the morning, Alex Vindman, National Security Council (NSC) director for European Affairs, and Jennifer Williams, Vice President Mike Pence’s special adviser for European and Russian affairs, testified, followed by former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former NSC official Tim Morrison in the afternoon. Experts from the Center for American Progress followed along here to share context and other useful information throughout the proceedings. Find more on the hearings and other impeachment-related resources on our page dedicated to Trump’s Constitutional Crisis.

7:52 p.m. House Republicans: How dare Democrats bring witnesses forward to express their opinions about whether Trump’s actions were or weren’t illegal!

Also House Republicans: Witnesses’ unwillingness to express their opinions about whether Trump’s actions were or weren’t illegal is proof that they were legal!

Also also House Republicans: Mr. Morrison, will you please express your opinion about whether Trump’s actions were or weren’t illegal?

7:10 p.m. Jim Jordan appears to have invented out of whole cloth a timeline for Trump’s decision to withhold and ultimately release aid to Ukraine. In his telling, Trump wanted proof that Zelensky was fighting corruption and released the aid when advisers convinced him that Zelensky had passed key anti-corruption reforms.

If that’s true, why have none of the witnesses—including this afternoon’s, who appeared at the request of the committee’s Republicans—said so? Why has nobody come forward with the story of how they showed Trump the progress Zelensky was making and convinced him to release the aid? Why is the only conversation we’ve heard about from the days before the aid was released the one where Bill Taylor outlined the aid-for-investigations quid pro quo and Sondland frantically denied it? And why did Trump continue to publicly call for investigations of his political opponents even after aid was released?

Simple: Because Jordan’s version didn’t happen. Trump didn’t release the aid because he thought Zelensky had conquered corruption. He released it because of the whistleblower complaint and public pressure from Congress.

6:39 p.m. House Republicans are apparently going all-in on the defense that, as long as the people involved a) didn’t explicitly call it extortion and b) said there was no quid pro quo, nobody did anything wrong.

6:31 p.m. So Volker is arguing he thought Trump didn’t sign off on aid to Ukraine because Trump didn’t like Ukraine, so when a check came across his desk going to Ukrainians, he didn’t want to send it.

And that’s supposed to be be OK? That U.S. foreign policy is subject to POTUS’ personal whims?

6:25 p.m. The state of the testimony so far:
– Four witnesses have confirmed that there was a corrupt extortion scheme.
– Three witnesses have confirmed key elements of the corrupt extortion scheme but won’t personally go so far as to say it was a corrupt extortion scheme because they’re not privy to the whole thing.
– Zero witnesses have publicly disputed any key facts of the corrupt extortion scheme.

5:36 p.m. Another midhearing development: As Trump’s defenders pretend he cares deeply about corruption at Ukrainian energy companies, an executive at a Ukrainian energy company just started cooperating with the corruption investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

5:28 p.m. GOP House attorney: Were you engaged in crimes?

Witnesses: No.

GOP House attorney: I rest my case.

5:09 p.m. Castor saying that funds are held up all the time. Problem is in this case: 1) They subverted the regular process to cut out career officials; 2) The hold was illegal, and they knew it; and 3) It was part of a broader extortion scheme.

4:59 p.m. Nunes is going back to the well of “nobody involved in the bribery/extortion scheme explicitly described it as bribery/extortion, therefore it wasn’t bribery/extortion.” (By the way, that’s not true—Taylor explicitly decried the quid pro quo in real time.) If that was the bar for criminality, nobody would ever get caught!

4:49 p.m. House GOP witness Tim Morrison acknowledged that Pence delivered the extortion message in Warsaw on September 1. According to Morrison, Pence responded to questions from Zelensky about the held up military aid by noting Trump’s concern with “corruption,” which was code for investigating Biden. Morrison said Sondland followed up right after to make the message clear: Aid would be released in exchange for the investigations.

4:21 p.m. Volker is one of the witnesses Trump’s defenders actively wanted to call.

He just testified that Trump’s allegations against Biden were false and his demands for an investigation into the Bidens were “unacceptable”—and that he only didn’t stop it at the time because he didn’t realize that’s what Trump was demanding.

4:09 p.m. Volker claims he never saw Giuliani as working on Trump’s behalf. Then why did Volker seek Giuliani’s input and edits on a statement he and Sondland drafted for Zelensky? And why did Volker help set up meetings between Giuliani and his contacts in Ukraine?

3:54 p.m. Volker is trying to thread a delicate needle, claiming he didn’t know that the repeated references to Burisma in his conversations with Sondland, Giuliani, and others had anything to do with the Bidens. That’s a tough claim to buy, given that Giuliani repeatedly drew the connection in The New York Times.

3:40 p.m. Nunes implicitly decries the U.S. Constitution for including an impeachment provision. But not only is that provision important, the Founders also included it to deal with exactly this sort of conduct: a president inviting and encouraging foreign interference in U.S. affairs.

3:36 p.m. It’s especially rich for Nunes to say there’s “no intelligence component” to these hearings after Schiff just outlined that one of this afternoon’s witnesses was concerned that Trump’s conversation with Zelensky might damage our national security if it leaked.

1:30 p.m. It’s wild to hear applause for reaffirmations of basic American values. And yet, after having his loyalty questioned by sitting members of Congress, Lt. Col. Vindman’s testament to doing his duty and continuing his family’s tradition of service certainly feels worthy of an ovation.

1:14 p.m. Some context on the whistleblower’s lawyer’s “coup” tweet: The tweet was the lawyer expressing concerns over Trump’s decision to fire Sally Yates for refusing to defend the Muslim travel ban—not calling for a coup against Trump. He was, in effect, describing what we’re seeing now: Trump abusing his power to advance his personal interests over those of the American public.

1:09 p.m. Vindman just said that a White House lawyer told him to stop talking about the call after concerns were raised within the intelligence community about Trump’s behavior. Vindman had told the White House lawyer about the call previously, but he wasn’t instructed to stop talking about it until people started raising concerns about Trump’s actions.

12:48 p.m. Despite repeated questions, and despite nearly unanimous interagency consensus that aid should be released, nobody in the administration tried to offer any (noncorrupt) explanation for why they were withholding it. If there was such a good reason for the decision, why did they wait to answer questions until now—and why have they given so many different, often contradictory, answers?

12:37 pm. The withholding of the aid was illegal. The White House knew this—they were told by the Department of Defense. The White House admitted this—they changed a sentence in the legal document holding the aid to reflect that it would prevent the money from being spent as required. But they only released the hold when Congress caught wind of the extortion scheme.

12:04 p.m. Rep. Ratcliffe (R-TX) appears to be arguing that it’s unclear whether what Trump did was extortion or bribery. He appears to believe this is a defense of Trump.

12:01 p.m. House Republicans: Hearsay has no place in these hearings!

Also House Republicans: Lt. Col. Vindman, would you care to respond to these second- and thirdhand rumors we heard impugning your integrity?

11:18 a.m. They’ve been pushing it for weeks now, but it’s still absolutely shocking to me to hear House Republicans employing “dual loyalty” smears against a sitting officer in the U.S. armed forces in televised, public hearings, solely because he had the temerity to question the president.

11:04 a.m. I’ve been told good lawyers only ask questions to which they already know the answer.

Castor seems to not know the answers to his questions—even though those answers were provided in this very hearing. Case in point: He just spent what felt like an eternity trying to pin down when the White House decided that Pence wouldn’t attend Zelensky’s inauguration. Williams testified less than two hours ago that the White House made that decision on May 13, before the inauguration was even scheduled.

10:49 a.m. Nunes’ obvious effort to out the whistleblower is absurd in its own right—but even more so considering that just about everything the whistleblower reported, including the substance of the July 25 call and the efforts to conceal the records, has been confirmed by the White House itself (and by today’s witnesses).

10:42 a.m. Nunes, who is currently railing against supposed leaks of classified information from the Intel committee, had to temporarily recuse himself from the Russia investigation because he was under investigation for mishandling classified information while he was the chairman of the committee.

10:37 a.m. Nunes doesn’t miss a beat going back to the well on conspiracy theories about the Bidens and supposed Ukrainian collusion in 2016, which both witnesses today—and all three witnesses last week—debunked as having no factual basis.

10:30 a.m. Two members of Trump’s White House just confirmed: There is no credible evidence behind the conspiracy theories Trump pushed Zelensky to pursue. This wasn’t about policy or corruption—this was about Trump’s efforts to interfere in our elections for his own benefit.

10:25 a.m. Mr. Goldman and Lt. Col. Vindman just had an important exchange about the conspiracy theory that the real interference operation in the 2016 came from Ukraine—not Russia. This has been advanced by both Trump and Republicans in Congress, especially Devin Nunes. We’ve learned from recently released documents from the Mueller probe that this theory first emerged as far back as 2016. But the real kicker is that it came from Konstatin Kilimnik, who has been described by the FBI as having “ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”

Russia has a certain playbook for how they handle the information space following a covert intelligence attack. We’ve seen this in the wake of the Skripal poisoning; in the aftermath of the downing of MH17; and in response to the “little green men” emerging in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014. The goal is to confuse, distract, and obfuscate—but also to exonerate Russia for its wrongdoing. This is what is significant behind the Ukraine interfered in 2016 conspiracy theory—it exonerates Russia, who everyone knows was behind the attack. And now Republicans are actively advancing a theory that came from Russian intelligence exonerating Russia for its attack on our democracy

10:05 a.m. Vindman makes an important point—it was Zelensky who mentioned Burisma. Knowing the name of the company suggests he was prepped for the call. And, in fact, we know he was: Trump’s point person, Gordon Sondland, had been talking with Zelensky and reported back to the White House that he was ready to agree to the investigations. Specifically, he texted White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and others: “I talked to Zelensky just now. He is prepared to receive Potus’ call. Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone.’”

10:02 a.m. For a uniformed military officer to say that the commander-in-chief’s actions are inappropriate and that they undermine U.S. national security is pretty profound. That moment will be one to remember.

9:55 a.m. Vindman just testified to an important point. Trump’s defenders say he was sincerely concerned about corruption in Ukraine. But Trump chose not to discuss corruption in his April 21 call with Zelensky—despite his briefers’ suggestion that he do so. (And it wasn’t a question of time or anything—after all, Trump did see fit to discuss the Miss Universe Competition.)

9:34 a.m.The conspiracy theories Rep. Nunes just recited were all debunked in last week’s hearings. It’s also worth noting that, according to notes from the Mueller investigation, the Trump team learned at least one of them—the debunked notion that Ukraine meddled in 2016—from suspected Russian intel operative Konstantin Kilimnik, who was indicted for his work with Paul Manafort.

9:28 a.m. Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) opening argument is that, last week, the impeachment hearings heard from diplomats that simply didn’t like the Trump administration’s policy toward Ukraine. The thing is, the actual U.S. government policy was to provide the military aid to Ukraine—not to extort its leader. And as far as I can tell, all witnesses so far supported the actual Trump administration policy.

9:11 a.m. One important note as the hearing begins: Both witnesses this morning were actually listening in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky in real time. Both have also claimed that the call summary the White House released elides key details, including references to Burisma and the Bidens.