House Democrats are encountering renewed stonewalling from the White House as they attempt to move deeper into the ranks of officials with knowledge of Trump’s efforts to press Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden at a time when U.S. military aid was being withheld from that country.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said that open hearings would begin “soon,” though he provided no timetable. He spoke to reporters shortly after the release of transcripts of Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, and P. Michael McKinley, a former adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
4:15 p.m.: Jordan defends no-show witnesses, downplays newly released transcripts
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) defended witnesses’ decision to defy congressional subpoenas Monday and said the newly-released transcripts “have not much to do with the underlying issue” of Trump’s alleged quid pro quo.
“If the process was fair — if they [Democrats] were doing the process right — I don’t think you’d see it happening,” Jordan said, referring to four witnesses’ decision not to testify.
“They understand what kind of rigged game this is,” he said of the witnesses.
With the House in recess this week, few Republicans except Jordan were on hand to defend Trump as Schiff released the deposition transcripts for Yovanovitch and McKinley around midday.
Jordan also called for Schiff to take several steps he has already pledged to take, such as releasing more deposition transcripts and holding open hearings in the inquiry.
“Democrats cherry-pick which transcripts they release and when,” Jordan tweeted Monday afternoon. “Why not release Ambassador Volker’s testimony? He was the very first witness to testify!”
Hours earlier, Schiff had announced that testimony from Kurt Volker, the former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, would be released on Tuesday, along with that of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Meadows questions Yovanovitch about the origin of her name
During her nearly 10 hours of testimony, Yovanovitch came under questioning about the origin of her name in an exchange with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
“Where did you get that name from?” asked Meadows, referring to Yovanovitch’s nickname, “Masha.”
“Well, despite my posting to Ukraine, I’m actually half-Russian, and it’s a Russian nickname,” Yovanovitch said.
Meadows then completed his round of questioning. “I yield back,” he said.
Yovanovitch’s Russian-speaking family came to the United States from the former Soviet Union by way of Canada. They nick-named her “Masha,” the Russian version of her name, “Marie.”
During an earlier exchange, Yovanovitch clarified that she was not Ukrainian after Meadows asked about the pronunciation of the name of a Ukrainian member of parliament, Mustafa Nayem.
“How about Nayem, N-a-y-e-m?” asked Meadows. “Does that ring a bell?”
“Mustafa Nayem?” responded Yovanovitch.
“I’m sorry. I’m not Ukrainian,” Meadows said.
“Neither am I,” Yovanovitch responded.
In another exchange, Meadows requested a spelling check on another prominent Ukrainian, Serhiy Leshchenko.
“I want the spelling of this. Is this L-e-s-h-c-h-e-n-k-o?” Meadows asked.
“There’s many different ways you can spell it, but that’s one,” Yovanovitch replied.
“Well, for this North Carolina guy, that’s as close as I’m going to get,” Meadows said.
Schiff challenges GOP talking points on impeachment inquiry
Schiff said Monday that Trump and his Republican allies have cycled through a “series of shifting, ever-changing rationales for this campaign of obstruction” of the impeachment probe, but suggested that the GOP is running out of options for its messaging.
“First, there was the argument, ‘We won’t comply, don’t have to comply until there’s a formal vote on the House floor.’ Well, we had a formal vote on the House floor,” Schiff said.
“Then it was, ‘We don’t have to make these witnesses available because they’re senior officials and they’re given absolute immunity,’” he said.
“But then, when people were subpoenaed who had little or no interaction with the president … the explanation shifted once again to, ‘Well, we’re not going to let them come forward because [agency lawyers can’t be] present.”
Schiff said that allowing agency lawyers into the depositions would violate long-standing, bipartisan rules that governed past investigations like the Republican-led Benghazi probe. He also said that investigators have concerns about the involvement of certain agency lawyers in pivotal episodes of the Ukraine saga.
“These are the same agency personnel that these witnesses want to bring in to sit in on these depositions,” he said.
1:55 p.m.: Trump says America only wanted to talk about the Nationals — and impeachment
At an event at the White House honoring the Washington Nationals for their World Series win, Trump joked that the country only wanted to focus on two things — the Nats and impeachment — in the weeks leading up to the team’s victory.
“Throughout this season, the Nationals captured the hearts of baseball fans across the region and across the country. America fell in love with the Nats baseball. They just fell in love with Nats baseball. That’s all they wanted to talk about — that and impeachment.”
“I like Nats baseball much more,” Trump said with a smile.
The crowd on the South Lawn of the White House reacted with laughter and applause.
1:50 p.m.: Yovanovitch felt ‘threatened’ by Trump after reading an account of his call with Zelensky
Yovanovitch, who was recalled in May as ambassador to Ukraine, said she was shocked by Trump’s statement to the Ukrainian president that she was “going to go through some things.”
Trump made the statement in a July 25 call with Zelensky in which both leaders complained about her work on behalf of the United States. Yovanovitch, whose superiors at the State Department have defended her tenure, said she felt threatened by the president’s remarks even though she wasn’t entirely sure what Trump meant.
She said she wondered whether the FBI had opened an investigation into her conduct or whether she might be fired. Her friends worried about her personal safety, she said.
“You know, there’s a universe of what it could mean,” she said, of the president’s veiled threat.
Yovanovitch didn’t learn of the specifics of Trump’s call with Zelensky until the White House released a detailed account of it in late September. She said she was “surprised and dismayed” by Trump’s efforts to pressure Zelensky to deliver dirt on Biden. She also was taken aback by the prominent role she played in the call.
“I was very surprised that … I would feature repeatedly in a presidential phone call, but secondly that the president would speak about me or any ambassador in that way to a foreign counterpart.”
1:45 p.m.: Yovanovitch felt undermined by Trump’s son
Yovanovitch spoke of how the “avalanche of attacks” on her in the spring greatly concerned her, according to the transcript of her testimony. They included a March tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that obliquely took aim at her, saying “we need … less of these jokers as ambassadors.”
Yovanovitch sent a classified email to Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale, documenting her concerns. She said she told Hale “the State Department needed to come out and come out strong” in her support “because otherwise it just wasn’t a sustainable position.”
Asked how not, Yovanovitch said: “If you have the president’s son saying, you know, ‘We need to pull these clowns,’ or however he referred to me, it makes it hard to be a credible ambassador in a country.”
Hale promised he would speak to Pompeo, but she never heard back, she said. No statement was ever issued. When she asked acting Assistant Secretary Phil Reeker about it, she said, “I was told that there was caution about any kind of a statement because it could be undermined.”
Asked by whom, she said: “The president.”
1:35 p.m.: McKinley defends Yovanovitch, calls her ‘excellent’
In his session with impeachment investigators, McKinley defended the work of Yovanovitch, the target of a smear campaign led by Trump personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and his associates.
Yovanovitch testified that Giuliani’s Ukrainian contacts sought to ruin her career because she was battling corruption in Ukraine, which undercut them financially.
McKinley described Yovanovitch as “excellent, serious, committed” and “one of those people who seemed to be destined for greater things” — even though Trump called her “bad news” during the July 25 call with Zelensky.
“She’s going to go through some things,” Trump told Zelensky, according to a readout of the call released by the White House.
McKinley testified that he was disturbed when he read those words from Trump and said it was clear that Yovanovitch had been “caught up in something that had nothing to do with the way that she performed her duties in Kyiv.”
He also said such comments — in which a president disparaged an ambassador to the leader of the nation where she is serving — “creates difficulties for the Ambassador on the ground.”
“As a Foreign Service Officer, to see the impugning of somebody I know to be a serious, committed colleague in that manner that it was done raised alarm bells for me,” he told investigators.
1:30 p.m.: Yovanovitch says she was told to tweet support for Trump
Yovanovitch testified that she feared her job was in jeopardy because of criticism from conservatives, according to the transcript released Monday, and reached out to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
“You know, you need to go big or go home,” she said Sondland told her. “You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the president and that all these are lies and everything else.”
Yovanovitch said she thought that was beneath the job of someone in a diplomatic position but suggested that Pompeo make a statement in her defense. It never came, she testified, because “there was concern that the rug would be pulled out from underneath the State Department if they put out something publicly.”
1:15 p.m.: GOP lawmakers claim transcripts being released selectively
As the first transcripts from were made public on Monday, Republicans claimed that they were being released selectively to buoy the Democrats’ case against the president.
Jordan said on Twitter that Democrats “cherry pick which transcripts they release and when” and questioned why the transcript of Kurt Volker, the former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, was not released. He noted that Volker was the first witness called in the impeachment inquiry.
Schiff said during a Monday news conference that the depositions of Volker and Sondland will be released Tuesday.
“We will continue to release the transcripts in an orderly way,” he said.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) charged that Schiff was being “highly selective” in choosing what to release in the impeachment “hoax,” while Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said Democrats were publishing only the records that “benefit their narrative.”
“The fact that Dems are only releasing transcripts that benefit their narrative shows this process is a sham,” Lamborn tweeted. “Schiff’s soviet-style secret ‘investigation’ cannot continue; the people deserve access to all of the docs. This is a total partisan hit-job to get @realDonaldTrump.”
12:40 p.m.: Kupperman lawsuit will not delay work, Schiff says
Schiff said the work of House investigators will not be delayed by a lawsuit filed by deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman.
Kupperman, who served as deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton, filed a lawsuit last month to try to resolve conflicting orders from Congress and the White House over his participation in the investigation into Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president’s political rivals.
A hearing in the case has been set for Dec. 10.
“We’re not going to delay our work,” Schiff said.
He said his committee will begin public hearings “soon” but did not provide a timetable.
12:35 p.m.: Schiff says others may have been involved in moving call transcript to classified server
Schiff said that depositions have revealed that there “may have been others” involved in discussions about moving the transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky to a highly classified server, but he did not say who those people might be.
Eisenberg proposed moving the transcript of the call and restricting access to it, according to two people familiar with recent testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.
Schiff described Eisenberg’s decision to defy a subpoena as a “lawless act” that raised concerns given Eisenberg’s status as a “top lawyer in the [Trump] administration.”
“One of the reasons we wanted Mr. Eisenberg to come in [was] to find out what his role was, what the role of others was,” Schiff said at his midday news conference.
“Clearly, the White House does not want him to testify,” Schiff said. “… And I think we can infer that the reason they don’t want the public to hear from Mr. Eisenberg is that it would tend to corroborate allegations against the president.”
12:30 p.m.: Transcripts of Volker, Sondland testimony to be released Tuesday
Schiff relayed that Tuesday will feature the release of two more transcripts of depositions: those of Volker and Sondland.
They were among the officials who worked to reorient the U.S. relationship with Ukraine around Trump’s political interests.
12:25 p.m.: Schiff says no-shows are further evidence of obstruction of Congress
Schiff called the four officials who declined to appear on Monday “firsthand witnesses to serious misconduct” and said that their absence was further evidence of Trump trying to obstruct Congress.
“These witnesses are significant, and the White House understands they are significant,” Schiff told reporters. “We may infer by the White House obstruction here that their testimony would be further incriminating to the president.”
He noted that obstruction of Congress was one of the articles of impeachment that President Richard Nixon faced.
Schiff implored other witnesses to follow the example of those who have participated.
“People who have in their careers much more at risk have shown the courage to come forward,” he said. “They have not hidden behind lawsuits. They have not hidden behind the White House.”
He accused the White House of setting a “corrupt example.”
11:50 a.m.: House investigators release 2 transcripts of closed-door depositions
House investigators on Monday released two transcripts of closed-door depositions taken as part of the impeachment inquiry.
The two transcripts are the first in a series that Democrats say will be released as the inquiry becomes more public.
A divided House last week voted to approved guidelines for the public phase of the probe, clearing the way for nationally televised hearings in mid-November and ensuring Trump’s right to participate in the latter stage of the proceedings unless he tries to block witnesses from testifying.
“As we move towards this new public phase of the impeachment inquiry, the American public will begin to see for themselves the evidence that the committees have collected,” the three Democrats chairing committees involved in the inquiry said in a joint statement. “With each new interview, we learn more about the President’s attempt to manipulate the levers of power to his personal political benefit.”
Schiff, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.) and acting Oversight and Reform Committee chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.) said in the statement that the Yovanovitch and McKinley transcripts “demonstrate clearly how President Trump approved the removal of a highly respected and effective diplomat based on public falsehoods and smears against Ambassador Yovanovitch’s character and her work in support of long-held U.S. foreign policy anticorruption goals.”
“Ambassadors Yovanovitch and McKinley’s testimony also demonstrates the contamination of U.S. foreign policy by an irregular back channel that sought to advance the President’s personal and political interests, and the serious concerns that this activity elicited across our government,” the statement said.
11:45 a.m.: Democrats accuse Trump of hypocrisy
Democrats on Monday pounced on Trump’s contention that the whistleblower must testify publicly rather than answer questions in writing, accusing him of hypocrisy.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy for the president to be asking the whistleblower to testify and then not allowing his own administration officials, who were actually involved in the illegal conduct, to testify,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson.
On Twitter, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) pointed out that Trump himself had refused to testify in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian election interference, instead submitting written answers.
“Did Bob Mueller accept your ‘written answers?’” Swalwell asked, linking to an early morning tweet in which Trump insisted that written answers were “not acceptable!”
11:05 a.m.: Appeals court rejects Trump’s attempt to withhold tax returns from local prosecutors, setting stage for Supreme Court fight
A federal appeals court on Monday rejected Trump’s effort to block New York prosecutors from accessing his tax records and Trump’s sweeping claims of presidential immunity.
The decision is the second time in recent weeks that a federal appeals court has ruled against the president in his bid to stop investigators from scrutinizing his private financial records. The case is one of several legal clashes testing the limits of presidential power that is expected to reach the Supreme Court as soon as this term.
The Manhattan district attorney is investigating hush-money payments made in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. The ruling does not mean that Trump’s tax records will be turned over immediately. Local prosecutors agreed to delay enforcement of the subpoena to Trump’s longtime accounting firm if the president’s lawyers move quickly to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.
— Ann E. Marimow and Deanna Paul
11 a.m.: Schiff makes brief appearance, says he’ll comment later
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) appeared briefly outside the secure area where depositions are being taken and declined to take questions from the media, saying he would have a comment later Monday morning.
With the House in recess and witnesses not showing up, the usual flurry of activity in that part of the Capitol was largely halted. Schiff was the only lawmaker to enter or exit the secure area in view of the dozens of journalists and photographers on the scene over the past hour.
10:10 a.m.: Trump points to soaring stock market, knocks media
“All-Time High for Stock Market and all the Fake News wants to talk about is the Impeachment Hoax!” he tweeted.
10:05 a.m.: Fiona Hill returns to the Capitol
Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, has arrived at the secure area of the Capitol where witnesses are being deposed.
It is common for witnesses who have previously testified to return to review a transcript of their testimony.
Hill told impeachment investigators last month that Giuliani ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats to personally benefit Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.
10 a.m.: No witnesses have appeared to testify
Two White House officials who were scheduled to testify Monday morning — Eisenberg and Robert Blair, a senior adviser to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — have not appeared.
Two other officials scheduled to appear Monday afternoon — Brian McCormack, an Office of Management and Budget official, and Michael Ellis, another White House lawyer — are not expected to appear either, according to people involved in the congressional inquiry who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door proceedings.
9:50 a.m.: ‘Read the Transcript!’ Trump tweets
Trump returned to Twitter to send a three-word tweet: “Read the Transcript!”
He has previously argued that the rough transcript of his July call with Zelensky clears him of any wrongdoing because he does not explicitly condition the resumption of U.S. military aid on Ukraine conducting investigations that could benefit him politically.
Democrats consider the transcript highly damaging to Trump but have been gathering supporting evidence through depositions.
9:30 a.m.: Eisenberg attorney cites timing, Trump directive as reasons for not testifying
An attorney for Eisenberg said in a letter to House committee chairmen that Eisenberg is not appearing Monday because he was not given reasonable time to prepare and because Trump instructed him not to cooperate.
The attorney, William A. Burck, said a subpoena was emailed to Eisenberg on Friday night.
“This is insufficient and unreasonable notice and imposes an undue burden on Mr. Eisenberg, especially in light of his legal and national security responsibilities in the White House,” Burck wrote. “Even if Mr. Eisenberg had been afforded a reasonable amount of time to prepare, the President has instructed Mr. Eisenberg not to appear at the deposition.”
Burck also referenced a pending court case regarding testimony from another witness who declined to appear, citing conflicting guidance from Congress and the White House.
“Mr. Eisenberg, as a lawyer and officer of the court, will abide by whatever final decision the federal judiciary reaches on the dispute between the Executive and Congress,” Burck wrote.
9:15 a.m.: White House lawyer to defy House impeachment investigators
A White House lawyer central to the Ukraine controversy plans to defy a subpoena from House investigators at Trump’s direction, according to people familiar with his plans.
House Democrats wanted to question Eisenberg, the deputy counsel on the National Security Council, about what transpired after Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky, which set off internal debate over Trump’s actions.
The people familiar with Eisenberg’s plans spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
Eisenberg proposed moving a transcript of the call to a highly classified server and restricting access to it, according to two people familiar with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.
Three other witnesses summoned for scheduled depositions Monday are also unlikely to appear.
8:55 a.m.: McCarthy complains of scheduled closed-door depositions
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) went on Twitter on Monday morning to complain that Democrats continue to schedule closed-door depositions following the passage last week of a resolution setting the parameters for public hearings.
“Democrats voted for an impeachment inquiry that they claimed would provide transparency and due process,” McCarthy tweeted. “They are right back at it — behind closed doors in the basement of the Capitol — with four more scheduled depositions hidden from the public.”
Democratic leaders have signaled that open hearings could begin as early as next week.
8 a.m.: Trump claims higher GOP job approval than public polling shows
Amid a flurry of tweets about the impeachment inquiry, Trump asserted that his job approval among Republicans stands at 95 percent — a figure significantly higher than in recent public polling.
Neither the White House nor the Trump campaign immediately responded to questions about what poll he was citing.
In a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Friday, 74 percent of Republicans voiced approval of Trump’s job performance, a record low in Post-ABC polls. His previous low was in April, when 78 percent voiced approval.
In another of his Monday morning tweets, Trump quoted Fox News commentator Dan Bongino calling the impeachment inquiry a “farce” and adding that “no Republican should forget that.”
7:50 a.m.: Trump says written answers from whistleblower ‘not acceptable’
Trump renewed his call Monday for the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry to testify publicly and brushed aside an offer by his attorneys to answer written questions under oath directly from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.
“He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!” Trump tweeted regarding the anonymous U.S. intelligence official.
During the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian election interference, Trump declined to be interviewed and submitted answers to questions in writing.
The whistleblower’s attorneys previously notified both the House and Senate intelligence committees that their client was willing to respond to questions in writing and under oath “in a bipartisan manner.”
By offering a direct channel to Republicans, the whistleblower’s team had sought to quell grumbling by GOP leadership — and Trump — that the impeachment process has been secretive and unfair.
In his Monday tweets, Trump also took renewed aim at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), calling him a “corrupt politician.”
7:15 a.m.: Trump says there is ‘no reason’ to summon witnesses regarding his call
Trump said Monday that there is “no reason” for House investigators to summon witnesses to testify about his July 25 call with Zelensky.
“What I said on the phone call with the Ukrainian President is ‘perfectly’ stated,” Trump said in a morning tweet. “There is no reason to call witnesses to analyze my words and meaning. This is just another Democrat Hoax that I have had to live with from the day I got elected (and before!). Disgraceful!”
Earlier, he referred to Sunday night’s airing of “The Mark Levin Show” on Fox News.
“Mark Levin, a great lawyer and scholar, said last night on his @marklevinshow, that all you have to do is read the transcript of the call, you do not need Never Trumpers or other witnesses to say what it means or says,” Trump tweeted. “It is plainly and very well stated for all to see. Witch Hunt”
Trump, without evidence, has branded several of the witnesses who have testified as “Never Trumpers,” a term used to describe Republicans who were opposed to his presidency from the start. In a tweet last month, he described them as “human scum.”
7 a.m.: Four White House witnesses unlikely to appear for depositions
It appears unlikely that any of the four White House officials summoned by House investigators will show up Monday for planned closed-door depositions on Capitol Hill.
Democrats are seeking testimony from:
●Robert Blair, assistant to the president and senior adviser to acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. He listened in on the call between Trump and Zelensky.
●Brian McCormack, associate director for natural resources at the Office of Management and Budget. Until recently, McCormack served as chief of staff to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who has said he had urged Trump to talk to Zelensky about energy issues.
●Michael Ellis, another White House lawyer who advises the NSC.
6:30 a.m.: Trump heading to Kentucky for campaign rally
As House investigators resume their work on Monday, Trump is scheduled to welcome the Washington Nationals to the White House to honor them for their World Series win before heading out of town to stage another “Keep America Great Rally,” this one in Lexington, Ky.
Trump campaign rallies have become a venue for the president to air grievances about the impeachment inquiry.
He is traveling to Kentucky in the hope of giving that state’s Republican governor Matt Bevin a boost hours before the polls open for the gubernatorial election. Bevin is in a tight race with Democrat Andy Beshear, the state’s attorney general and son of a former governor. Trump carried the state by 30 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The Nationals won the World Series last week.
6 a.m.: Trump highlights assessments of conservative pundits
In late-night tweets and retweets that extended into early Monday morning, Trump shared assessments of the impeachment inquiry by several conservative pundits, including Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro.
“The Democrats are tearing this country apart,” Pirro, the host of “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” said in a tweet retweeted by Trump. “They are wusses, wimps and weasels. They don’t have the chutzpah to face Donald Trump in November, I don’t blame them. Because he’ll blow those wusses, wimps and weasels right out of the swampy water they call home.”