Taylor’s testimony based on careful notes: Impeachment update

Nick Wadhams

House committees investigating President Donald Trump will hear Wednesday from Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale. It’s not certain yet whether State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl will testify in response to a subpoena, said a person familiar with the matter.

There may not be any transcript releases Wednesday, the person said.

Here are the latest developments:

Giuliani Hires Legal Team as Probe Escalates (3:56 p.m.)

This Aug. 1, 2018, file photo shows Rudy Giuliani in Portsmouth, N.H.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday he hired three attorneys as his dealings in Ukraine have attracted the scrutiny of federal prosecutors and House impeachment investigators.

Giuliani said he hired Robert Costello of the firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, who specializes in criminal litigation and municipal investigations. He formerly worked as prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.

Eric Creizman and Melissa Madrigal, white collar and criminal defense attorneys at the firm Pierce Bainbridge, will also represent him.

Giuliani denied any wrongdoing, saying his work in Ukraine “was done solely as a defense attorney to defend my client against false charges.”

“The evidence, when revealed fully, will show that this present farce is as much a frame-up and hoax as Russian collusion, maybe worse, and will prove the President is innocent,” Giuliani said on Twitter.

House Withdraws Subpoena for Bolton Aide (3:48 p.m.)

House Democrats withdrew a subpoena for Charles Kupperman, former deputy to then-National Security Advisor John Bolton. Kupperman had asked a judge to determine whether he should comply with the demand for his testimony or a White House directive to not appear.

In a court filing Wednesday, House Democrats asked the judge to dismiss the case as moot.

The only explanation given in the filing was: “In light of the status of the House’s impeachment inquiry, House defendants have no current intention to reissue the subpoena to plaintiff.” They didn’t elaborate.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had no immediate comment.

Taylor’s Testimony Based on Careful Notes’ (3:05 p.m.)

Ambassador William Taylor is escorted by U.S. Capitol Police as he arrives to testify before House committees in this Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, file photo.

Former Ambassador William Taylor was asked during his testimony about his detailed opening statement, and he explained how he produced it.

First, he said he kept the texts of his WhatsApp messages with colleagues Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland, and turned those over to the House committees.

“Number two, I’ve always kept careful notes,” said Taylor in his testimony. “And I keep a little notebook where I take notes on conversations, in particular when I am out of the office. So, in meetings with Ukrainian officials or when I’m out and I get a phone call and I can keep notes.”

“The third documents are handwritten notes that I take on a small, little spiral notebook in my office of phone calls that take place in my office,” he testified.

Taylor said he turned over all of those documents to the committees.

PDF: Key excerpts from Ambassador Taylor’s testimony can be found here.

White House Adds Staff to Respond to Inquiry (2:48 p.m.)

The White House plans to bolster its communications team to respond to the expanding House impeachment inquiry.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh are expected to join the White House team to work on messaging on impeachment and other communications projects, according to a senior administration official.

Their roles at the White House will be temporary, the official said. – Jordan Fabian

Taylor Had No Direct Contacts With Trump (2:38 p.m.)

One aspect of Taylor’s testimony that Republicans will seize on is that he didn’t have any direct communications with Trump, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, or Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney during the time when aid to Ukraine was being withheld.

In an Aug. 29 cable to Pompeo, he expressed “my concern about the hold on security assistance,” Taylor said.

He said he did have contact with other officials including Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, National Security Advisor John Bolton, National Security Council aide Timothy Morrison, and others.

Taylor said Sondland told him that Trump wanted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “in a box” by making a public statement that his country would investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 election. He said he understood that Ukraine wouldn’t get U.S. aid unless Zelenskiy made the statement.

Taylor said he learned from Morrison that Trump told Sondland in a Sept. 7 phone call that while he wasn’t asking for a quid pro quo, Trump continued to insist “that President Zelenskiy go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.” – Billy House and Steven T. Dennis

Taylor Describes Doubts on Zelenskiy Meeting (2:17 p.m.)

Taylor told the impeachment panels he initially thought the idea of arranging a call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zeletskiy to help set up an in-person meeting “sounded like a good idea.”

But as the July 25 call neared, he said he became “less convinced that that meeting was worth what Giuliani was asking,” referring to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

“Yes, it would be fine to have the two presidents talk, but if President Zelenskiy, in order to get that meeting were going to have to intervene in U.5. domestic policy or politics by investigated – by announcing an investigation that would benefit someone in the United States, then it wasn’t clear to me that that would be worth it. That the meeting would be worth it,” he said. – Billy House

Bolton Advised Taylor to Document Concerns (2:08 p.m.)

In this Dec. 13, 2018 file photo, National Security Advisor John Bolton unveils the Trump Administration's Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Taylor told investigators that National Security Advisor John Bolton suggested he take the unusual step of sending a first-person cable to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo describing his concerns about the handling of U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

On Aug. 29, Taylor said he sent a cable “describing the folly I saw in withholding military aid to Ukraine at a time when hostilities were still active in the east and when Russia was watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian government.”

The cable, he said, had very limited distribution, and would have been sent through the State Department Operations Center. Taylor said he heard from George Kent, a State Department official, that Pompeo carried the cable with him to a White House meeting on security assistance for Ukraine.

During the late August conversation, Bolton “indicated that he was very sympathetic,” Taylor said. Taylor had heard “from earlier conversations” with Kent and others that Bolton was advocating reversal of the decision on aid. – Billy House

Taylor Transcript Released by House Panels (1:56 p.m.)

House impeachment investigators released the transcript of testimony by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

PDF: The full testimony of Ambassador Taylor can be found here.

Text messages provided earlier to the House committees show that Taylor expressed concern that Trump was demanding that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 campaign in exchange for U.S. security aid and a White House meeting.

“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor asked in a Sept. 1 text message to two top U.S. officials. About a week later he wrote, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” – Billy House

Trump Getting Easier’ to Defend, Ally Says (12:27 p.m.)

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., heads into the restricted area on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, where the interviews for the impeachment inquiry are being held.

A top House Republican ally of Trump emerged from closed-door questioning of a top State Department official on Wednesday saying, “It’s actually getting easier to defend the president.”

Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, took issue with a reporter’s suggestion that Republicans are struggling to defend Trump as more details of closed-door testimony become public.

“The Republicans are not struggling on anything,” Meadows said. He said “no linkage” has ever been spelled out between U.S. aid for Ukraine and Trump’s effort to get that country to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 election.

Meadows said Wednesday’s private deposition by David Hale, the undersecretary of State for political affairs, shows that “this was part of a broader analysis. It wasn’t just Ukraine aid,” that was involved.

Taylor Transcript to Be Released Wednesday (11:46 a.m.)

Former Ambassador William Taylor leaves a closed door meeting after testifying as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.

House Democrats will release the transcript of testimony by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, later Wednesday, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said.

The transcript will show that Republicans’ claims of being shut out of the hearings “are simply false” and that they had an equal chance to ask questions, Schiff said.

He said next week’s public hearings with Taylor and others will show that “the most important facts are largely uncontested” regarding Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to “dig up dirt” on his political opponent and to investigate the 2016 election, Schiff said.

“It will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves” and also to “learn first-hand about the facts of the president’s misconduct,” Schiff said. – Billy House

Schiff Says Public Hearings Open Next Week (11:23 a.m.)

The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first open hearings next week in the impeachment inquiry, chairman Adam Schiff said.

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state in the European and Eurasian bureau, will appear on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is scheduled for Nov. 15.

Taylor gave an account to House impeachment panels of efforts directed by Trump to tie U.S. military aid for Ukraine to his effort to get that country to promise an investigation into the Biden family and the 2016 election.

Taylor’s first-hand testimony has already been described as a smoking gun by Democrats on the House committees as they piece together a potential impeachment case against Trump. – Billy House

Fiona Hill’s Lawyer Says Sondland Lied (10:16 a.m.)

Former top Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, was one of the first White House officials to cooperate in Democrats' investigation of the Ukraine scandal.

The lawyer for Fiona Hill, a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry, accused Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, of lying in his testimony about interactions with her.

“Sondland has fabricated communications with Dr. Hill, none of which were over coffee,” Lee Wolosky said in a tweet Wednesday. Sondland had testified that he and Hill had a coffee at the time she left her job as a senior aide on the White House’s National Security Council. Sondland said she had never expressed “critical comments” to him about President Donald Trump’s policy toward Ukraine.

“Dr. Hill told Sondland what she told lawmakers the lack of coordination on Ukraine was disastrous,” Wolosky tweeted, and said the forcing out of Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine, was “shameful.”

State Department’s Hale Arrives to Testify (9:32 a.m.)

David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, to be interview for the impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Hale, the No. 3 official at the State Department, arrived at the Capitol to testify Wednesday before three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Hale is the first witness this week to buck the official White House policy to not cooperate with the probe and comply with the congressional request. Witnesses on Monday and Tuesday who were subpoenaed did not appear for questioning.

It’s uncertain yet whether State Department counselor Brechbuhl will testify in response to a subpoena, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named.

Not expected, though they had been invited, are Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Russell Vought, acting director of the White House budget office. Vought tweeted previously that he won’t testify, and a Perry aide said he also wouldn’t appear.

Mulvaney Will Skip House Testimony This Week (8:54 a.m.)

White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney speaks to the press in this Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, file photo.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney won’t testify this week before House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday.

“I’m told no,” Conway told reporters when asked whether Mulvaney would appear for questioning this Friday as requested by leaders of three House panels overseeing the probe.

“Why would we try to be complicit in an impeachment inquiry that we’re not even sure what it’s about?” Conway said. “What is it about? If I gave you a blank piece of paper, literally, what would you write on it? What are we telling the American people, right here right now, as to why we’re impeaching the president?”

House leaders said in asking Mulvaney to testify that he may have been “directly involved” in an effort led by Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others to “withhold a coveted White House meeting and nearly $400 million in security assistance in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to pursue investigations that would benefit President Trump’s personal political interests, and jeopardized our national security in attempting to do so.” – Josh Wingrove

Key Events

Not expected to testify Wednesday, though they had been invited, are Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Russell Vought, acting director of the White House budget office. Vought tweeted previously that he won’t testify, and a Perry aide said he also wouldn’t appear.

Senior U.S. diplomat Gordon Sondland contradicted Trump’s claim there was no quid pro quo in U.S. dealings with Ukraine, according to a transcript of his testimony. Sondland said the demands made on Ukraine were pushed by Giuliani and “kept getting more insidious” as time went on.

The Sondland transcript is here, and key excerpts from former special envoy Kurt Volker’s transcript is here.

With assistance from Josh Wingrove.