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What does the inquiry into the impeachment of President Donald Trump possibly have in common with your dating life? Ghosting and checking receipts, apparently.
Let’s explain: This was the first week that Democrats released transcripts of the closed-door hearings involved in the inquiry to the public. Until now, we didn’t know a ton about what happened in the basement of the capital, inside a room called the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) — other than the short statements witnesses like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a staffer and top Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, released and whatever some of the people in the room told reporters following the testimonies. These newly-released transcripts provide the entire dialogue of what went down in these interviews.
But for as many transcripts as we now have, there are plenty of other, newer holes in the patchwork: To continue with the trend of Trump administration witnesses refusing to sit for interviews, many more ghosted their testimonies this week, including former national security adviser John Bolton, national security council legal advisor and deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs John Eisenberg, and White House aide Robert Blair.
All along, Republicans have complained about the perceived lack of transparency surrounding the impeachment process thus far — they wanted the transcripts at the very least. But when they got what they wanted, the receipts weren’t what they expected. We’ll get into that down below.
To catch you up:
On August 12, a whistleblower sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and California Representative Adam Schiff detailing a July 25 phone call in which President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on his potential political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and also to investigate a company involved in the FBI inquiry of Russia’s 2016 election interference. Trump allegedly dangled $400 million in aid to the country and a personal meeting between the two leaders as leverage. The White House released a memorandum (read: not an exact transcript) of the call that confirmed this.
On September 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would file a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. Last week (November 31), The House of Representatives voted to “affirm” the impeachment investigation after receiving heavy blowback from Republicans for not officially authorizing the proceedings.
Between that time, a bipartisan committee has been busy investigating, which involves calling plenty of people in for questioning. Over the past few weeks, they’ve heard from plenty of witnesses, including Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine; Fiona Hill, Trump’s top Russia advisor; and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a staffer and top Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, testified on Tuesday (October 29), and on Wednesday (October 30) House investigators talked to Catherine Croft, who served as a director for the National Security Council covering Ukraine from July 2017 to July 2018. Christopher Anderson, a foreign service officer in the State Department, also testified, and Tim Morrison, the top Russia expert on the National Security Council, resigned on Wednesday (October 30) and then testified on Thursday (October 31). Messy!
So what happened this week?
Monday, November 4
Congress released a transcript of its October 11 interview with Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was allegedly ousted amidst pressure from Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. Yovanovitch had testified that Giuliani and former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko tried to have her removed because she was working to get rid of corruption in the country. Congress also released a transcript its October 16 interview with Michael McKinley, a former top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that he resigned after a “puzzling and baffling” lack of support for Yovanovitch from the U.S. government. His testimony served largely to bolster Yovanovitch’s claims. Also on Monday, Lev Pernas, one of Giuliani’s associates who allegedly played a key role in the Ukraine scandal, agreed to cooperate with impeachment investigators.
Tuesday, November 5
Before we get into what is likely the most interesting thing that happened in impeachment news this week, I want to take a moment to celebrate this dog that showed up on Capitol Hill carrying their own leash. May we remember them in the annals of history for their steadfast commitment to independence.
Remember how Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the E.U. and Trump donor, gave his testimony to investigators on October 17? This testimony caused a lot of drama inside the beltway because not only was it the most favorable testimony to the President, but it directly contradicted accounts by some of the other witnesses. While Republicans wanted all of the transcripts of the conversations between witnesses and investigators to be released, they were intimately excited for this specific transcript. So, it was a bit of a shock that, when the transcript of that October testimony was released on November 5, it came with a letter and a three-page addendum by Sondland that revised what he had said in his interview, and offered new evidence about how the Trump administration was directly pressuring the Ukrainians. Sonland originally told investigators that he didn’t know anything about whether the U.S. withheld military aid to Ukraine to coerce an investigation, and said there was absolutely no quid pro quo that he knew of. But, in these new pages, he said that not only did he know about the quid pro quo, but that he was the person who communicated the quid pro quo from the U.S. to the Ukrainian government.
Wednesday, November 6
Impeachment investigators dropped the deposition transcript of Bill Taylor, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, in which Taylor said Trump directed officials to hold foreign aid to Ukraine until the country investigates the Bidens. House Democrats also announced they will hold public impeachment hearings next week, so we’ve got that to look forward to.
Right-wing news site Breitbart tried to out someone they believe to be the whistleblower, and Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out the story. Absurdity ensued on The View. If you’re not sure if you should also start naming whistleblowers, here’s a good rule to follow: don’t.
Thursday, November 7
The House released the testimony of George Kent, a State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy, who told investigators that he was cut out of foreign policy decisions along with other experienced diplomats in order to make room for Giuliani’s decision-making. He said that Trump’s demand for investigations was intimately political and that Trump wanted Zelensky to name “Clinton” in connection with potential wrongdoing. No other witnesses have mentioned the Clintons in relation to the Ukraine call that we know of.
Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence who listened to the now-infamous Trump-Zelensky call, appeared on Capitol Hill to answer questions about Pence’s involvement in the scandal. Her testimony was perhaps the last one to be held behind closed doors, so we won’t know all the details until the transcript is released.
Friday, November 8
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was called to testify on Friday, but he dipped before the hearing was set to begin. “This morning, one minute before his scheduled deposition was to start, Mr. Mulvaney’s outside counsel informed us that his client had been directed by the White House not to comply with the duly authorized subpoena and asserted ‘absolute immunity,’” an official told The Hill.
This isn’t the first time the White House has attempted to leverage the President’s executive privilege as an umbrella for his aides, whom Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Burnham has previously called the “alter ego of the President.” Judges are set to rule on whether that holds, following two concurrent hearings that were held on October 31.