August 28, 2018

President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have become bonafide frenemies, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says there's no going back.

Last week, Graham revealed he no longer thinks Sessions should be leading the Justice Department, telling reporters it's time for a "fresh voice" that the president "has faith in." And in a Tuesday Today show appearance, the senator hinted at why he's changed his mind.

Host Savannah Guthrie began by asking why Graham would encourage Trump to fire Sessions, because it appears Trump's "only beef" is that the attorney general recused himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. "It's much deeper than that," Graham cryptically replied.

As for what caused the fracture, well, Graham said he "just won't say on this show, but it's a pretty deep breach." The senator isn't necessarily "asking for [Sessions] to be fired," he assured. But Trump has to "replace [Sessions] with somebody who is highly qualified" and, notably, will "allow Mueller to do his job," Graham said.

Graham's statement marks a big change from a year ago, when he said "there will be holy hell to pay" if Sessions was fired. The senator acknowledged his previous defense of Sessions on Tuesday, saying the attorney general "had to recuse himself ... because he was part of the campaign that's now being investigated." But recusal isn't what caused Sessions and Trump's relationship to fall "beyond repair," Graham said.

Watch all of Graham's mysterious statement on Today. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:46 p.m.

Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, has been hard for congressional investigators to pin down.

A close ally of President Trump, Sondland is deeply entangled in the scandal over the Trump administration's potential mishandling of Ukrainian aid; the ambassador notably updated his inital testimony to clarify there had been what resembled a quid pro quo arrangement. That new statement was also a possible effort to make his story match up with those given by other witnesses, including former Ukrainian Ambassador William Taylor, who publicly testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

There, Taylor continued to reiterate how closely Sondland was involved in the aid process, testifying that it was Sondland who told Ukraine that U.S. security assistance "pended" on the country opening a probe into the Bidens. In his opening statement, Taylor additionally claimed that one of his staff members overheard a conversation between Sondland and Trump in a restaurant, in which Trump asked the ambassador about "the investigations." The staff member, according to Taylor, then "asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine" and "Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden."

Importantly, that info links Sondland to taking orders directly from Trump, which is crucial because, as Vox notes, "the extent to which [Sondland] was simply interpreting his boss' desires versus personally consulting with Trump [hadn't] been clear." Sondland is now even more of an unreliable character, seeing as he'd previously testified that he "wasn't aware" of preconditions for the release of Ukraine's aid, that he'd "never heard the word 'Biden' mentioned with aid," and that he couldn't remember conversations with Trump about the topic. Thanks to Taylor, such claims now appear to be lies. Watch below. Jeva Lange

12:38 p.m.

There's no escaping the impeachment cycle.

Ambassador William Taylor and top State Department official George Kent appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday for a public hearing regarding President Trump's dealings with Ukraine. And as a counsel for the Democrats questioned both of those officials in the open, congressional leaders announced there would be two more closed-door hearings later this week.

On Friday, David Holmes, an aide to Taylor, will testify for three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry. The announcement came just after Taylor testified that a "member of my staff" had overheard a call between Trump and Sondland, and when the staffer asked Sondland about the call, told Taylor that Sondland said Trump "cares more about the investigations of Biden" than Ukraine. CBS News' Olivia Gazis later reported that, per two sources, that staffer was Holmes.

Scheduled for Saturday is Office of Management and Budget official Mark Sandy. Sandy was slated to appear last Friday but didn't show up for the closed-door testimony, and it's still unclear if he'll come this time. The OMB would've been the agency that withheld aid to Ukraine at Trump's request — a major subject of questioning in the impeachment inquiry. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:44 a.m.

President Trump was overheard discussing "the investigations" the day after his infamous Ukraine call, U.S. diplomat William Taylor said Wednesday.

Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, testified before the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday as part of the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into Trump, which is examining whether the president improperly pressured Ukraine to open investigations that might help him in the 2020 election. The inquiry was opened following a whistleblower complaint sparked by Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president, during which he pushed for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.

Taylor in his Wednesday testimony revealed that on July 26, the day after this call, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland called Trump over the phone at a restaurant in the presence of Taylor's staff, and Trump could be overheard asking about "the investigations." Sondland told the president Ukraine was ready to move forward with them and then told a Taylor staffer that Trump "cares more about the investigations of Biden," according to the testimony.

Though Taylor had already testified before Congress privately, this episode had not been previously revealed, and he said Wednesday he only found out about it last week. "It is my understanding that the committee is following up on this matter," Taylor said. Brendan Morrow

11:40 a.m.

It's a nerve-wracking day for allies of President Trump, as the House Intelligence Committee launches into the first public hearing in its ongoing impeachment inquiry, looking specifically at the White House's potential mishandling of Ukrainian military aid. All of the major American news networks carried the testimony by William Taylor, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent — but not everyone carried it the same.

Take a look at how the testimony was handled at Fox News. The Trump-friendly network's graphics team deployed several sidebars intended to give viewers "context" about the speakers on screen, although critics immediately noticed what seemed to be a glaring bias:

Taylor was also undermined by Fox's sidebar. "President Trump dismissed Taylor as a 'never Trumper,'" read one of the network's "facts." "GOP says Taylor had no first-hand knowledge about Ukraine aid," read another.

Not everyone on the committee faced such harsh treatment by Fox. Ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) was described by the sidebar as having been "first elected to the House of Representatives in 2002," and noted that he "chaired House Intel Committee under House GOP majority."

If you'd, understandably, rather watch the hearing with no potential outside influence at all, there's always CSPAN. Jeva Lange

11:29 a.m.

It didn't take long for Rudy Giuliani to come up in the first impeachment hearing.

After Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Davin Nunes (R-Calif.) gave their opening statements Tuesday, top State Department official George Kent took the floor. He promptly gave a history lesson of America's involvement with Ukraine and, at least three times, condemned attempts by Giuliani and his associates to "smear" his State Department colleagues.

Early in his testimony, Kent described how it was "unexpected, and most unfortunate, to watch some Americans ... launch attacks on dedicated public servants." The fact that Kent mentioned those Americans as being "allied" with "corrupt Ukrainians" made it clear he was talking about Giuliani, who worked with recently arrested Ukrainians Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was allegedly the driving force behind Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's ouster by President Trump. Later, Kent called out Giuliani by name.

Kent also noted that while he'd raised concerns regarding Hunter Biden's spot on the board of Ukrainian company Burisma, he "did not witness any effort by any U.S. Official to shield Burisma from scrutiny." "I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power," Kent continued. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:15 a.m.

MSNBC is getting ready for the historic first impeachment hearing of President Trump with a very special guest making a rare appearance on cable news.

George Conway, who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, appeared on MSNBC Wednesday morning in the lead-up to the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry. Though Conway has been a vocal critic of Trump, CNN's Brian Stelter notes he has declined all TV interview requests until now.

Ahead of the testimony of William Taylor, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, Conway told MSNBC that Trump "always sees himself first" and that this scandal is all about Trump having used "the power of the presidency in its most unchecked area, foreign affairs, to advance his own personal interests as opposed to the country."

Conway also said Congress needs to "do its duty" for the country and that he's "horrified" at how Republicans have come to the president's defense.

"Take that Republican hat off and look at it neutrally," he said. "Or look at what you would have done if Donald Trump was a Democrat. Would you be making these ridiculous arguments about process ... or 'it wasn't corrupt, he was really talking about corruption.' All these things that they don't really believe or couldn't possibly believe."

Conway was, evidently, a reluctant guest, telling MSNBC, "I don't frankly want to be on television." Brendan Morrow

10:11 a.m.

Get your posterboards ready.

It's impeachment hearing time, and while House Republicans didn't enter the floor until 10 a.m., their defense of President Trump sure arrived earlier. Lined up behind the bench Wednesday morning where congressmembers would soon take their seats were a series of posters essentially outlining Republicans' strategy for the day.

On the farthest left of the three posters, Republicans printed a quote from Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). He was the first congressmember to call for impeaching Trump more than two years ago, and at one point said "I'm concerned if we don't impeach the president, he will get re-elected." That's indicative of how Republicans will likely claim Democrats are conducting an impeachment inquiry as a last resort for beating Trump.

That same message is reflected in a blow-up of a a tweet from Mark Zaid, the lawyer for the whistleblower who first raised concerns about Trump's Ukraine dealings. In it, Zaid says a "coup has started" against Trump and that "impeachment will follow," apparently indicating his bias in the matter. And the middle board says it's been 93 days since House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) "learned the identity of the whistleblower," suggesting he's holding back information from the rest of Congress. Kathryn Krawczyk

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