President Donald Trump’s defenders have argued that nothing wrong happened since the aid to Ukraine was ultimately released.
But a New York Times report Tuesday night suggests Trump was briefed on the existence of the whistleblower in late August.
That makes it all the more important to take his actions in early September in context. For instance, when all these things happened, Trump already knew about the whistleblower:
- The inspector general for the intelligence community informed Congress that the whistleblower existed.
- Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, raised concerns about the appearance of trading investigations for aid.
- Trump pushed US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland to claim there was no quid pro quo.
- Separately, John Bolton offered his resignation.
- The aid is released.
Newly released testimony raises more questions about freeze on Ukraine aid
Mark Sandy, a career official at the federal Office of Management and Budget, told impeachment investigators in closed-door testimony this month that he worried Trump’s order to freeze aid for Ukraine violated federal law since Congress had expressly appropriated the funds.
Sandy, who signed off on the initial hold, testified that he had first heard about the freeze in July, when he got back from a vacation. Later that month, his boss — a political appointee — took over the task of signing documents relating to the aid.
Aid fight may have sparked departure
Interestingly, Sandy testified that he believed two officials left OMB in part because of concerns over the Ukraine security assistance.
A senior administration official disputed the notion that OMB officials resigned over the hold on Ukraine assistance, insisting that none of the officials who left OMB during that time frame did so because of the security assistance hold. According to a Government Accountability Office spokesperson, one of the officials cited by Sandy departed OMB for a job with the GAO.
The transcript from Sandy’s closed deposition was released alongside a transcript of testimony given by Philip Reeker, a State Department official who said it was his impression the aid was held up by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. It does not appear the House Intelligence Committee will hold additional public hearings.
CNN is going line by line through the newly released testimony. Read along here.
Other document news: Separately, it became clear Tuesday in documents released to another congressional committee that the official order to freeze the aid came on July 25, the same day as Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It’s not clear if that is a coincidence or significant.
250 years of arguments between presidents and Congress and the courts come to a head
Trump really wants his aides to testify. He does, he says. Seriously. But he can’t allow it. For the future presidents. He’s doing it for them, he tweeted.
So that’s why he’ll continue to stonewall the impeachment inquiry. It’s why his Justice Department will continue to fight in the courts to keep his former White House counsel quiet and, by proxy, his former national security adviser. It’s a convenient argument for him since, despite what he says, he really doesn’t want anyone to testify for the impeachment inquiry or anything else.
Who has talked and who has not
The career officials, mostly, honored subpoenas. Diplomats and foreign policy professionals — the Bill Taylors, Marie Yovanovitches, Alexander Vindmans and Fiona Hills of the world — all showed up to testify and honor the House’s oversight role. The political appointees — from John Bolton and Don McGahn to Mick Mulvaney and beyond — have not.
The political appointees are teasing cooperation, as Bolton has done and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did Tuesday. Maybe they’ll testify. When the time is right. Which is part of the reason Democrats are moving toward impeachment without waiting for the courts to work in their slow way to compel testimony. Read House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff’s letter on that.
A moment in history
But we’re at this really interesting place in history where 250 years of arguing about how accountable the president should be to Congress is coming to a head — not just over impeachment testimony but also over Trump’s tax records and with grand jury testimony in the Mueller investigation. The underlying issues for all of these cases are similar.
On Tuesday’s Impeachment Watch podcast,Katelyn Polantz, Marshall Cohen and I went deep into this idea on Trump’s “absolute immunity” argument vs. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Monday ruling, in which she wrote, “Presidents are not kings.”
House Judiciary sets a date for hearing
The House Intelligence Committee has wrapped the fact-finding hearings, but the House Judiciary Committee will now undertake its own set of hearings.
The first, scheduled for December 4, will look at the issue of impeachment in the Constitution. That committee, led by Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, has invited the White House to participate. That, based on the above, does not seem likely.
Poll: Hearings didn’t move the needle
CNN polling director Jennifer Agiesta reports on a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. I’ve cherry-picked the parts I found most interesting in her report:
A majority of those polled (still) want impeachment — Half of Americans say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, and 43% say he should not. Neither figure has changed since October, with support for impeachment remaining at its highest level thus far in CNN polling.
Minds may be made up — Opinions on both sides are deeply held, with about 9 in 10 on either side saying they feel strongly in favor or against it.
No change in partisan divide — The partisan divide over the President persists as well, with roughly 80 points between Democratic support for Trump’s removal and Republican support for it.
Independents split — Independents are closely divided on the question, 47% in favor, 45% opposed.
Majority says Trump acted improperly — 53% say Trump improperly used his office to gain political advantage, up from 49% who said the same in October. More, 56% say the President’s efforts to get Ukraine to launch investigations into the Biden family, a Ukrainian energy company and the 2016 election were more to benefit himself politically than to fight Ukrainian corruption.
Majority says Democrats are acting properly — A narrow majority (52%) say the Democrats have exercised their constitutional powers properly during the impeachment inquiry, while 40% say they have abused their constitutional powers.
Who’s paying attention? — About 4 in 10 say they are following the proceedings “very closely,” and among that group, support for impeachment and removal (53% say yes, 46% say no) is a bit higher than it is overall. This more-attentive group is also more likely to say that there is enough evidence now for the House to vote to send the case to trial before the Senate (52% say yes, 48% no). But they are no more likely than the overall public to believe that Trump improperly used his office (52%) or pushed Ukraine to launch investigations in order to benefit himself politically (54%).
Gender gap — There is now a 20-point difference between men and women on Trump’s overall approval rating (52% of men approve vs. 32% of women), the fifth time the divide has been that large in CNN’s polling during Trump’s presidency.
And the poll marks the first time that more than 60% of women have said they backed impeaching Trump and removing him from office (61% say so now, compared with 56% in October and 51% in May), even as a majority of men remain opposed to impeachment (53% oppose it).
For comparison, CNN’s Ryan Struyk points out:
Clinton, 1998: 29% impeach, 67% don’t impeach
Bush, 2006: 30% impeach, 69% don’t impeach
Obama, 2014: 29% impeach, 70% don’t impeach
Trump, 2019: 50% impeach, 43% don’t impeach
Clinton, of course, was impeached by the House but not removed by the Senate.
Pompeo is not backing off conspiracy theory
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who as CIA director presumably had access to the intelligence community assessment that it was Russia that interfered in the 2016 US election, again cast doubt on that idea Tuesday, following an emerging pattern among Trump’s defenders.
During a news conference Tuesday, he was asked: “Do you believe that the US and Ukraine should investigate the theory that it was Ukraine, and not Russia, that hacked the DNC e-mails in 2016?”
POMPEO: Anytime there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right, but a duty to make sure we chase that down.
And I served as the CIA director for the first year and a half of this administration. I can assure you there were many countries that were actively engaged in trying to undermine American democracy, our rule of law, the fundamental understandings we have here in the United States. And you should know we were diligently, diligently working to make sure that we addressed each of them and with every tool of American power that we had.
That’s not exactly a yes, he believes Trump’s conspiracy theory. But it’s definitely not a no.
Sen. Kennedy backs off conspiracy theory
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana flatly said late Monday that he believes that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 election.
The about-face came a day after he boldly told host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that he wasn’t sure who participated in the hacking of the DNC’s server in 2016, despite the fact that the intelligence community has unanimously said Russia was behind the election meddling.
“Who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers, their emails. Was it Russia or Ukraine?” Wallace asked.
“I don’t know. Nor do you. Nor do any of us,” Kennedy replied on Sunday.
“I was wrong,” Kennedy told Chris Cuomo on Monday.
“It was Russia who tried to hack the (Democratic National Committee) computer. I’ve seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it.”
Refresher: Impeachment witnesses thoroughly debunked the Ukraine meddling theory.
At the annual turkey pardon, Trump brought some jokes about Adam Schiff and subpoenas.
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats want to impeach him for it. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.