October 8, 2019

The White House's biggest liar is reportedly trying to tattle on everyone else.

It's no secret that President Trump doesn't love leakers, judging by how fiercely he's trying to figure out the identity of the Ukraine whistleblower (who didn't technically leak, by the way). That's why as his presidency continues, Trump has verged closer and closer to ordering staffers to take polygraph tests anytime a major scoop leaks, four former White House officials tell Politico.

Talk of polygraphs started just weeks into his presidency, when Trump's calls with leaders in Mexico and Australia leaked, a former National Security Council official tells Politico. Then-Deputy White House Counsel Stefan Passantino even says he looked into whether Trump could legally order polygraphs, but "quickly concluded it was not a thing to do," he said in a text. But that hasn't stopped Trump from "constantly" bringing up the polygraph possibilities whenever a major story leaks, especially when he knows the story is true, a second former official says.

Several studies and reports have indicated that polygraphs can be easily manipulated or "beaten," meaning they're not the most accurate way for Trump to hunt out the leakers. Still, some White House officials have "volunteered to take a polygraph to prove their innocence after they were suspected of leaking," a third former official tells Politico.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said she has "never heard suggesting polygraphs as a way to stop leaks." Read more at Politico. 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 networks' 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," suspiciously 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

8:22 a.m.

Republicans have trotted out 17 defenses of President Trump's conduct with Ukraine since a whistleblower accused Trump of extorting the country's president for partisan political gain, according to The Washington Post's count.

The whistleblower's complaint has been mostly corroborated by impeachment witnesses, many of whom will testify over the next 10 days. But in an 18-page memo passed around Monday, Republicans boiled down their defense of Trump to four main points you can expect to hear frequently during the public impeaching hearings. Generally, the memo states, the transcript of Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky doesn't show a culpable "state of mind" on Trump's part.

Specifically, the GOP memo argues that Trump's call "shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure," says Trump and Zelensky both denied that Trump pressured him during the call, claims the Ukrainian government didn't know Trump was withholding aid when Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, and point out that Trump released the aid on Sept. 11 without any public announcement of an investigation he was seeking.

"Whatever you may think of the president or the case that he tried to extort Ukraine's president for political gain, there's a lot in these talking points which are just not true," Anderson Cooper said on CNN Tuesday night. For example, many of the arguments are contradicted or undermined by witnesses involved in Ukraine policy, he said, and "as many legal minds have also pointed out, attempted bribery and attempted extortion are still considered crimes." You can watch his entire fact-check below. Peter Weber

8:08 a.m.

The historic first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is about to begin.

The House Intelligence Committee is set to hold this first hearing Wednesday nearly two months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry. The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. EST, with the witnesses being William Taylor, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.

The House is examining whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine into opening investigations that he thought might help him in the 2020 presidential election, including involving former Vice President Joe Biden. One of Wednesday's witnesses, Taylor, previously testified that it was his "clear understanding" that Trump was conditioning the release of aid to Ukraine on the country committing to the investigations Trump sought.

Witnesses have testified that Trump was specifically looking for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to make a public announcement that these investigations were being pursued, and Kent previously told Congress that Trump "wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton."

The impeachment hearing can be streamed at 10 a.m. on YouTube via CBS, with coverage beginning an hour earlier. Brendan Morrow

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