February 28, 2019

North Korean officials aren't pleased about President Trump's explanation for the bilateral summit's collapse.

After abruptly cutting short his summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un without an agreement, Trump said the talks fell apart because "basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety," but they would not agree to enough on denuclearization.

In a press conference, North Korea's foreign minister insisted that they had only demanded partial sanctions relief, reports The Associated Press. Trump said Kim was only willing to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for a full removal of sanctions, but Ri Yong Ho said negotiations collapsed when the U.S. demanded further steps toward denuclearization. As AP writes:

Ri says the North was also ready to offer in writing a permanent halt of the country's nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and that Washington wasted an opportunity that "may not come again."

He says the North's position wouldn't change even if the United States offers to resume another round of dialogue.

Warnings that North Korea "may not" be open to further talks contradict what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier, namely, that negotiations would resume quickly despite his leaving Hanoi on an unexpectedly negative note. Pompeo said that despite the sudden breakdown, Trump and Kim made progress. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

1:02 p.m.

President Trump's Twitter account sure is lit up with activity about the "boring" impeachment hearing that he's "not watching."

Trump, the White House says, has simply been too busy on Wednesday to watch the first official hearing in the impeachment inquiry, with White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham saying, "He's in the Oval in meetings. Not watching. He's working."

Still, Politico's Natasha Bertrand noted that there was "no marine standing guard outside West Wing, as is customary when POTUS is in the Oval." Besides, Trump's account has been firing off no fewer than 10 retweets about the hearing, The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey observes, sharing talking points from people like Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Whether the retweets were being made by Trump himself wasn't totally clear, but apparently, the hearing hasn't been so boring as not to be worth tons of Twitter activity.

Trump claimed to reporters while in the Oval Office with Turkey's president Wednesday that he's "too busy to watch" the hearing, even as he offered commentary on it at the very same time, saying, "I see they're using lawyers that are television lawyers." He also said he has "not been briefed" on the hearing, nor has he, he seems to be claiming, been briefed on his own Twitter account.

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 U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine 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

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