Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Oct. 22

Trump suggests impeachment effort will hurt Democrats, diplomat who questioned holding up Ukraine deal testifies

Bill Taylor, center, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, arrives at the Capitol on Tuesday for a deposition in the House's impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor told House impeachment investigators on Tuesday about President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to coerce the new Ukrainian president to investigate Trump's political rivals in exchange for a meeting at the White House and a U.S. military aid package.

Taylor’s testimony put him at odds with Gordon Sondland, the Trump-appointed ambassador to the European Union who largely defended the president at his deposition last week.

The State Department had ordered Taylor not to comply with the impeachment probe, but he defied that directive after House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff subpoenaed his testimony on Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, Trump has touched off a firestorm with his latest choice of words to characterize the impeachment process, likening his treatment by House Democrats to a “lynching.” The president’s remark drew sharp rebukes from Democrats and many Republicans.

Here is the latest on the impeachment investigation:

Show me the transcripts: House Foreign Affairs ranking member Michael McCaul sent a letter Tuesday to Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff demanding he provide Foreign Affairs members access to transcripts of the depositions from the impeachment inquiry being jointly conducted by their panels and the Oversight Committee. The letter, signed by all 21 Republicans on Foreign Affairs, responds to a communication from Schiff's staff that said committee members would only have access to the transcripts during designated hours under supervision of a Democratic Intelligence Committee staffer.

“Foreign Affairs is an intelligence-receiving committee with a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), a classified computer system, and a full-time non-partisan Security Officer.  There is no legitimate reason to deny us the transcripts,” McCaul wrote. “I urge you to remedy this procedural injustice immediately, so that I am not forced to pursue public efforts to correct it, including by seeking a privileged vote on the House floor.”

Taylor vs. Sondland?: Members of the panels leading the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday adhered to their directive not to talk about the substance of the interviews they are conducting, but Democrats and at least one Republican indicated that Taylor’s testimony conflicted with Sondland’s.

Sondland reportedly largely defended Trump against allegations of wrongdoing during his testimony last Thursday, saying that he recalled “no discussions” mentioning potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

That is false, Taylor told lawmakers Tuesday, The Washington Post reported.

During one phone conversation, “Amb. Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election,” Taylor said in his statement to House investigators on Tuesday, the Post reported.

“He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations,” Taylor told the lawmakers.

Hunter Biden sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, when his father was vice president.

Sondland has “some explaining to do,” said Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat on both the Intelligence and Oversight Committee, and Gerald E. Connolly, a Virginia Democrat on the oversight panel.

Republicans split: Rep. Francis Rooney, who’s gone farther than most Republicans toward supporting impeachment, agreed that Tuesday’s testimony threw into question some of what lawmakers had heard previously.

“There’s some asymmetries between what we heard today and what Sondland tried to say,” said the Florida Republican, who announced over the weekend that he will not seek a third term in 2020.

Oversight ranking member Jim Jordan said that the Republican counsel for his panel “did a good job of getting certain information and certain statements from Ambassador Taylor.”

The Ohio Republican went on to say there was information that came out in the hearing underscoring “concerns that the president had about Ukraine in general.”

Trump and the White House have clung to a widely discredited conspiracy theory that it was elements in Ukraine, and not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Giuliani concerns: Taylor testified Tuesday he saw concerning things about U.S. diplomatic operations in Ukraine as soon as he arrived in June, including secondary diplomatic channels he called “highly irregular.”

He told lawmakers he was wary of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in the country from the very start.

“Once I arrived in Kiev, I discovered a weird combination of encouraging, confusing and ultimately alarming circumstances,” Taylor said, referring to the president’s outsourcing of foreign policy in the region to Giuliani, Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — often to the exclusion of typical State Department channels.

Taylor testimony subpoenaed: The State Department directed Taylor not to appear for his scheduled deposition Tuesday, so the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to compel his testimony.

Taylor has complied with the subpoena and answered questions from both Democratic and Republican members and staff, an official working on the impeachment inquiry said.

Crazy talk: Few Americans had heard of Taylor before the release of text messages between him and Trump appointee Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, in which Taylor questions holding up the $400 million military aid package to Ukraine for political reasons.

“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor texted Sondland before Sondland suggested taking the conversation offline.

Taylor is the latest State Department and administration official who was involved in Ukraine policy to testify as Democrats try to build their case that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo to dig up dirt on the Bidens.

FEC didn’t get DOJ referral: Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Tuesday that the Federal Election Commission never received a Justice Department referral for whether Trump was soliciting a “thing of value” from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in his efforts to get Kyiv to investigate Biden.

Klobuchar, a 2020 presidential candidate, is also the ranking member on the Rules and Administration Committee. She said in a statement that she received confirmation from the FEC.

“As noted in the Commission’s October 8 response, the FEC does not generally confirm or deny the agency’s receipt of notice or a referral from DOJ. However, you have asked me an important question in the exercise of your oversight authority, and commissioners should be responsive if it is legal for us to do so. It is,” wrote Chairwoman Ellen L. Weintraub. “For these reasons, I am answering your question: No. The FEC has not received a notification or referral from DOJ regarding the complaint you reference.”

Deposition delayed: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff postponed Wednesday’s scheduled testimony from Philip Reeker, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, until Saturday, an official working on the impeachment inquiry said.

Democrats are hoping Reeker can provide details on Trump’s decision to remove Marie Yovanovitch from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and have his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, take command of Ukraine policy instead of State Department officials.

Yovanovitch, who served under multiple Republican and Democratic presidents since entering the foreign service in 1986, told lawmakers earlier this month that she was removed from her position “based, as far as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

On or off the table?: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer disputed the idea that Democrats have clear picture of what articles of impeachment they would bring against the president when asked whether Trump’s alleged violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution are off the table.

“The focus is on Ukraine, which we think is a very clear, demonstrable quid pro quo ... but that decision has not been made and will be made the committee when they come to that determination,” the Maryland Democrat said. “But I wouldn’t adopt the premise that other things are off the table, including Emoluments.”

Poor choice of words: Trump got an immediate backlash from a wide swath of public officials and commentators on Tuesday after describing House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as a “lynching.”

“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!” the president tweeted.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois tweeted.

Some Republicans took issue with Trump’s use of the word. GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said “‘Lynching’ brings back images of a terrible time in our nation’s history, and the President never should have made that comparison.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a rare rebuke to the president for his use of the phrase.

“Given the history in our country I would not compare this to a lynching," the Kentucky Republican told reporters Tuesday.

“Unprecedented”: Republican Intelligence Committee member Elise Stefanik called limitations on access to impeachment inquiry transcripts for committee members “unprecedented.”

She said that Intel members were notified this week that the panels would print only one copy of a transcript for every member of Congress to view.

“And you would have to read it with a member of Democratic staff that is unprecedented and unfair,” she said. “Americans should know that their member of Congress has had no access to any of the transcripts.”

Stefanik said the only two transcripts that have been made available to Intel members are testimony from Kurt Volker, the former U.S. representative to Ukraine who resigned last month, and Yovanovitch.

Partisan divide: Half of Americans support impeaching President Donald Trump and removing him from office, a new CNN/SSRS poll found this week, indicating that a growing portion of people who have been on the fence on the issue may be turning against the president.

The divide on impeachment is fiercely partisan. Eight-seven percent of Democrats in the survey, released Tuesday, supported the move, while just 6 percent of Republicans backed it. Fifty percent of independents favored impeaching Trump.

Trump’s favorability numbers hovered roughly where they have been previously. Forty-two percent of those surveyed view him favorably, while 56 percent view him unfavorably, but those numbers, too, break along partisan lines.

Live interviewers from CNN/SSRS spoke with 1,003 U.S. adults for the poll via landlines and cell phones between Oct. 17 through Oct. 20. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/- 3.7 percentage points.

No censure for Schiff: The House rejected Republicans' move on Monday to censure Schiff for how he has conducted the impeachment inquiry, with Democrats blocking the privileged resolution before it could receive a vote.

The censure resolution, introduced by House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs with the backing of House GOP leadership, accused Schiff of purposely misleading the public in his comments on the Intelligence Committee’s interactions with a whistleblower whose complaint sparked the formal impeachment inquiry.

The resolution also claimed Schiff “manufactured a false retelling” during a recent Intelligence Committee hearing of a phone call between President Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president regarding U.S. military aid and an investigation into Trump's political rivals.

"It will be said of House Republicans, when they found they lacked the courage to confront the most dangerous and unethical president in American history, they consoled themselves by attacking those who did," Schiff tweeted after the 218-185 vote to table the GOP resolution.

Oversight of Oversight: Democrats have 30 days to name a permanent chairman of the Oversight Committee, per rules within the caucus, but mourning over the death of Chairman Cummings has so far subdued the tone of the search for a successor.

Oversight is one of the three committees conducting the impeachment investigation.

“Right now I’m focused and doing my job and getting ready for Elijah’s lying in state and the funeral,” Virginia Rep. Gerald E. Connolly told reporters Monday.

New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney was appointed the acting chairwoman after Cummings died last Thursday, but she is not a shoo-in to hold the post permanently.

Connolly and Reps. William Lacy Clay of Missouri, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts and Jim Cooper of Tennessee are expected to make strong pitches to party leaders for why they should succeed Cummings.

“Obviously I'd be interested,” Connolly said, when asked whether he is interested in running for the chairmanship. “But that’s a different question than, you know, what are you going to do.”

Democratic Steering and Policy Committee co-chairs Rosa DeLauro and Eric Swalwell separately told CQ Roll Call Monday evening that their panel, which is in charge of hearing candidates' pitches and making a recommendation to the caucus, has not yet decided timing for considering Cummings' replacement.

Hammered: In a primetime interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Monday, Trump urged Republican lawmakers to “get tougher” as they try to shield him from Democratic investigators.

The president used part of his Hannity interview, taped on the colonnade outside the Oval Office, to essentially warn Democrats that finishing the impeachment probe would hurt them next November.

“So everybody tells me it’s going to be great for us as a Republican Party if they actually impeach me because the 40 seats … it’s 40, 45 seats where I won or did really well or very close, that those people are going to get hammered — meaning running in Congress,” Trump said.

He appeared to be suggesting he has seen evidence that voters in 40-45 House competitive districts would punish Democratic incumbents if they voted to impeach him. As he often does, he opted against disclosing any polling data or other evidence, however.

“So, I don't know if that's true or not,” the always-quick-to-qualify-then-double-down-again Trump said. “I do say this … look at our fundraising. The money’s never come in like this. Look at my poll numbers, have been, like, the highest.” On the latter, Trump uttered another false statement. More Americans now support his impeachment than did a few months ago, and his approval rating remains around 40 percents as it has his entire term.

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