November 7, 2019

Ukraine's president reportedly came quite close to making the announcement of investigations President Trump wanted.

As Trump was pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce the opening of investigations involving Burisma, the gas company where former Vice President Joe Biden's son served on the board, and supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, "high-level Ukrainian officials ultimately decided to acquiesce to President Trump's request," The New York Times reports. They were hoping to receive the U.S. aid that had been frozen; the House of Representatives is investigating whether Trump improperly withheld this aid in order to get Ukraine to open investigations that might help him in the 2020 election and damage Biden politically.

Plans were reportedly made for Zelensky to make an announcement during an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Sept. 13. United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland recently testified that he told Ukraine "resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks." According to the Times, an aide to Zelensky suggested "language that mentioned investigations but in general terms," and American diplomats "late in the negotiations" agreed to drop the 2016 mention.

A mere two days before the interview was scheduled to take place, though, the aid was released, with this coming after Congress learned about it being frozen. The Times describes this as "a stroke of luck" that prevented Ukraine from having to follow through, although Ukraine's foreign minister provided little clarity about what Zelensky was specifically planning to tell Zakaria. An analyst told the Times, though, "The Zelensky team was ready to make this quid quo pro." Brendan Morrow

1:15 p.m.

White House adviser Stephen Miller was in deep with Breitbart.

Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center published emails sent from Miller to the right-wing publication during the 2016 race showing how he directed white nationalist viewpoints on the site, and how those views "became policy" in the Trump White House. A second batch of emails now shows there's more to Miller's back-door Breitbart publication, including how he fed the site attacks on then-presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

The new round of emails obtained via former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh shows even more news stories, opinion pieces, and other comments Miller suggested the site could turn into new articles. For example, as a communications director for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, he sent over at least 10 attacks on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that fueled Breitbart's attempts to "harm his candidacy," McHugh said. And when Fox News and other conservative outlets said anything positive about Rubio, he suggested Brietbart take them down as well. In some cases, he explicitly said his suggested articles should be published under the nondescript byline "Breitbart News."

McHugh was sent many of these emails, but Breitbart editor turned White House adviser Stephen Bannon and other editors were copied on the emails too. McHugh was a young editor at the site at the time, and said "no one at Breitbart ever raised a question about whether this was ethical." The White House and Bannon did not respond to a request for comment, while Breitbart said Miller's "pitches" were "not exactly a newsflash." Kathryn Krawczyk

1:07 p.m.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) didn't have patience for any attacks on Tuesday's impeachment witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, a top foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence.

Himes asked both witnesses about President Trump describing them as "Never Trumpers." Williams, whom Trump called out over Twitter for trying to orchestrate a "presidential attack," said she would not describe herself as a "Never Trumper," while Vindman said he thinks of himself as "Never Partisan."

The congressman also offered a harsh rebuttal for Republicans throwing the Ukrainian-born Vindman's loyalty to the United States into question because he was — perhaps jokingly — offered the position of Ukraine's defense minister by a Ukrainian government official. "It's what you stoop to when the indefensibility of your case requires that you attack a man who is wearing a Springfield rifle on a field of blue above a Purple Heart," Himes said. Tim O'Donnell

12:05 p.m.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Republican lawmakers dismissed accusations that impeachment witness and decorated Army officer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was born in Ukraine but immigrated to the United States when he was a toddler, was harboring dual loyalties to his birth country. But that didn't stop GOP counsel Steve Castor from hinting at the notion while questioning Vindman during his public impeachment testimony Tuesday.

Castor spent a few minutes grilling Vindman about Ukraine's former National Security Secretary Oleksandr Danyliuk offering him the job of Ukraine's defense minister three times when Vindman traveled to Ukraine for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration this year. Vindman, who described the offers as "comical" since he doesn't hold a particularly high rank even in the U.S., calmly responded that he turned it down, reported it to his superiors in the U.S., and then never gave it a second thought.

Vindman may have kept his composure, but several observers were angered by the questioning, viewing it as a subtle — or maybe not-so-subtle — way for Castor to instill doubts about Vindman's loyalty, especially considering he asked Vindman if Danyliuk made the offer in English or Ukrainian. For the record, Vindman says it was the former. Tim O'Donnell

11:17 a.m.

Lt. Col Alexander Vindman and aide to Vice President Mike Pence Jennifer Williams testified for the impeachment inquiry Tuesday under a strict warning from House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to not reveal details about the Ukraine whistleblower. But Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) still pushed Vindman to do so — and didn't get anywhere with it.

The whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry wasn't actually on the call between President Trump and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, but both Vindman and Williams were. So it already seemed sketchy when Nunes asked if Vindman gave a briefing on this call to anyone. Vindman answered that he had, and said they were "outside the White House with an appropriate need to know." After further prodding, Vindman revealed one of those people was state official George Kent and that the other was "in the intelligence community."

That's when things got testy. After Nunes asked for that person's specific identity, Schiff interjected, saying "we need to protect the whistleblower" while Republicans clearly objected in the background. Yet Nunes continued, asking how Vindman could be outing the whistleblower if he didn't know who it was. Vindman then deferred to his counsel and refused to go further in describing the other individual.

Watch the whole moment below. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:55 a.m.

Former Obama administration officials assembled quickly Tuesday to debunk a statement from White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham accusing them of leaving behind not-so-friendly notes during the presidential transition in 2017.

Grisham said Obama aides left notes taunting their successor that read "you will fail" and "you aren't going to make it." But several Obama aides scoffed at the notion, pointing out that there's very little chance the Trump administration would have waited almost three years to complain about something like that.

ABC News' chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl even posted some pictures of offices on the day of transition, which don't appear to depict anything of the sort.

Some Obama officials, meanwhile, acknowledged that Grisham wasn't completely making things up — they did indeed leave some things behind, they said, but for a very different purpose.

After the Obama officials criticized Grisham's claim, she backtracked a little bit, admitting she wasn't "sure where their offices were, and certainly wasn't implying every office had that issue." Tim O'Donnell

10:24 a.m.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman just delivered the most personal statement these impeachment hearings have seen yet.

Vindman is the National Security Council's Europe director who was on President Trump's calls with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, and who immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union as a toddler. And after some strong words decrying what Trump said on one of those calls, he thanked his father for making the decision to come here in the first place.

"Next month will mark 40 years since my family arrived in the United States as refugees," Vindman said at the end of his opening statement during Tuesday's hearing. He and his brothers have all gone on to take on military service, and he reiterated how thankful he was that he could even testify that day, and that he could "live free of fear for mine and my family's safety," unlike what would've happened in Russia. Vindman then directed his message directly to his father, saying "Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision."

Vindman's statement is especially consequential given that the Army is reportedly considering moving him and his family to a military base after his testimony for his own safety. Earlier in his statement, Vindman declared it was "improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and a political opponent" like Trump did regarding the Bidens, and called the "character attacks" on his fellow "public servants" "reprehensible." Kathryn Krawczyk

10:04 a.m.

Impeachment witnesses Jennifer Williams, a top foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, made it clear in their opening statements before Tuesday's public hearing that their job is to serve the United States, above all else.

The fact that Williams works for the Republican vice president would seemingly be enough to get the point across, but Williams noted that she "swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, administered by a personal hero of mine, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice," who headed the State Department under former Republican President George W. Bush. She added that she's been a foreign service officer for 14 years and served under two Republicans and one Democratic administration.

Some observers viewed Williams' Rice reference as a way to prove her GOP background and establish credibility before Republican lawmakers during the hearing.

Vindman, an Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient, similarly touted his long and decorated career as a U.S. Army officer, dispelling notions of partisanship. Tim O'Donnell

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