Chair Adam Schiff is laying out what we now so far as we get started on these hearings.
And it's, well, a lot. As Schiff put it: "The facts in the present inquiry are not seriously contested."
"A scheme to condition official acts or taxpayer funding to obtain a personal political benefit does not become less odious because it is discovered before it is fully consummated." - Rep. Schiff in his opening statement
Schiff, after laying out the case as it stands:" If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?"
Ranking Member Devin Nunes is now up, starts off talking about the Mueller hearing in July, frames today as the continuation of the "spectacular implosion of their Russian hoax"
Shorter Nunes: here's a greatest hits list of the last three years about the reasons why the Russia investigation was bad and ergo this new impeachment process is bad
He also calls the closed door deposition process an "audition process" and accuses the Democrats of blanking out Alexandra Chalupa's name.
She's the subject of a (very badly framed) Politico piece that the GOP has used as proof that Trump was correct about Ukraine for years now
Nunes already trying to drag the whistleblower into this and is basically trying to make these hearings — about what Trump did — into the very investigation that Trump wanted Ukraine to conduct
Nunes to Taylor and Kent: "I would like to congratulate you for passing the Democrats' star chamber auditions held for the last weeks in the basement of the capitol. It seems you agreed witting or unwittingly to participate in a drama."
Okay, time for open statements from Taylor and Kent, both have now been sworn in.
And.......we have a parliamentary inquiry from Rep. Elise Stefanik about when the GOP witnesses will be heard from.
Stefanik follows up a point of order: will witness be unable to answer members's questions???
Schiff answers that the only time the members' questions have been cut off were when it was clear they were angling to out the whistleblower's name
Rep. Mike Conaway uses a point of order to motion that the whistleblower come to a closed door deposition.
Schiff answers that the motion will be in order but after the witnesses testify
Rep. Jim Jordan says Schiff is the only person in Congress who the whistleblower is so WHEN will they get to vote on hearing from that person?
Schiff: That's a lie, I don't know who it is and we will vote after the testimony. The motion is suspended until then.
Okay, finally, opening statements! First up, DAS for Eastern Europe and the Caucuses George Kent with his bowtie
Kent: "It was unexpected and most unfortunate, however, to watch some Americans, including those who aligned themselves with corrupt Ukrainians, in pursuit of private agendas, launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. Interests in Ukraine."
Kent describes Ukraine is in terms of Trump's own national security strategy:
"Great power competition with rivals such as Russia and China, and the need to compete for positive influence, without taking countries for granted. In that sense, Ukraine has been on the front lines"
This opening from Kent may seem boring, but it's important as he's laying out a few things:
1) his own personal credibility
2) Ukraine's importance to US national interests
3) how actions to undermine the second point from CERTAIN PEOPLE hurt the United States
Omg. Kent moving forward: "Here are the main ten themes from my testimony."
THIS DUDE IS NOW A HERO TO JOURNALISTS ON DEADLINE EVERYWHERE.
Kent: "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 because such selective actions undermine the rule of law, regardless of the country."
Kent says that in 2015 he raised concerns about Hunter Biden being on the board of Burisma raising the appearance of impropriety
BUT he adds: "Let me be clear, I did not witness any effort by any U.S. Official to shield Burisma from scrutiny."
Re the claims that Biden intervened in Ukraine to shield Hunter:
"In fact, I and other U.S. Officials consistently advocated reinstituting an investigation of Burisma's founder, as well as holding the corrupt prosecutors who closed the case to account."
Kent turning his target on Giuliani:
"In mid August, it became clear to me that Giuliani's efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now affecting U.S. Engagement with Ukraine, leveraging President Zelensky's desire for a White House meeting."
Kent ends with a solid defense of his fellow witnesses and it's on to Taylor's smooth baritone.
He starts by saying he's not taking sides, he's just here to present the facts of what happened
Taylor: "I am not here to take one side or the other or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings. My sole purpose is to provide facts as I know them ability the incidents in question as well as my views about the strategic importance of Ukraine" to the US
Taylor lays out his main points:
1) Ukraine is a strategic partner to the US
2) even as we sit here, Russians are attacking Ukraine
3) the security assistance that the US provides to Ukraine is vital to their survival
Taylor priming the committee for some major moments: "I wrote that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the united States would be crazy. I believe that then and I believe it now."
Taylor reminds the members present in the hearing that "since 2014, you in Congress have provided over $1.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine."
Taylor tells the committee that when he was waffling on whether to accept Pompeo's plea that he return to Ukraine he consulted with his wife and mentor
His wife was basically like "uh, pass. No."
Taylor says when telling Pompeo he'd take the gig "I made clear to him and the others present that, if U.S. Policy toward Ukraine changed, he would not want me posted there and I could not stay."
Taylor says that when he got to Kyiv, he gave Zelensky a letter from Trump offering his support and inviting him to the WH.
The Daily Beast got ahold of that letter a few weeks ago https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-letter-promised-zelensky-unwavering-support-invited-him-to-white-house
Taylor describes the irregular channel of Ukraine policy as "unaccountable to Congress"
"I was clearly in the regular channel, but I was also in the irregular one to the extent that ambassadors Volker and Sondland included me in certain conversations."
At first, Taylor says, the regular and irregular policy tracks in Ukraine were working towards the same goals
But "by August that the channels had diverged in their objectives. As this occurred, I became increasingly concerned."
Taylor reallllly laying out the timeline here for when things got really fucking weird in Ukraine
Taylor: "By mid-July it was becoming clear to me the meeting president Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections."
Taylor says, publicly and under oath, the hold on Ukraine military aid that Congress approved was relayed by an "OMB staff person, [who] said was that the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to OMB."
You can read all of the conversations that Taylor is talking about having over WhatsApp here: https://docs.house.gov/meetings/IG/IG00/CPRT-116-IG00-D005.pdf
Taylor on Ukraine wanting a formal request before opening the investigations Trump wanted:
"A formal U.S. request to the Ukrainians to conduct an investigation based on violations of their own law struck me as improper and I recommended to Ambassador Volker that we stay clear."
Taylor says Tim Morrison told him: "Ambassador Sondland told [an aide to President Zelensky] that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation."
Taylor WITH HIS OWN EARS heard this from Sondland on a phone call:
"Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election."
More about the Sept. 1 call with Sondland, per Taylor:
"In fact, Ambassador Sondland said, everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance."
Taylor in a call following this: "Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check." https://twitter.com/HayesBrown/status/1179964109900701697
OKAY THIS TESTIMONY FROM BILL TAYLOR IS NEW AND A HUGE DEAL.
He recently learned that a member of his staff overheard Sondland on a call with Trump himself, where Trump asked for an update on the Biden investigation request
Whew. Taylor wraps. And now ON TO THE GOOD STUFF!
Schiff immediately brings up the new stuff from Taylor, asks for clarification about it
Taylor confirms that yes, Trump could be heard clearly per his staffer, Sondland said Ukrainians ready to move forward w/ "investigations"
SCHIFF: [Per your staffer, Sondland said] that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden. Is that right?
TAYLOR: And Burisma, yes, sir.
SCHIFF: And I take it the import of that is he cares more about that than he does about Ukraine.
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
Schiff using a good chunk of time at the start of the majority's 45 minutes asking Taylor questions directly. When he's done, it'll be turned over to the HSPCI staff lawyer, Daniel Goldman
GOLDMAN: when you texted that holding aid would be crazy, what did you mean?
TAYLOR: "To withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with a political campaign made no sense.
[...] It was illogical. Could not be explained. It was crazy."
GOLDMAN: What else was contingent on Ukraine initiating these investigations?
KENT: Well, as we've talked about earlier today, the possibility of a White House meeting was being held contingent to an announcement.
GOLDMAN: What you've called political investigations, is that a part of U.S. foreign policy to promote the rule of law in Ukraine and around the law?
KENT: It is not.
GOLDMAN: Is it in the national interest of the United States?
KENT: In my opinion it is not.
Goldman asks what prompted Taylor to send this text message.
TAYLOR: Sondland's meetings where he told Zelensky's aid "that the security assistance was also held pending announcement by President Zelensky in public of these investigations."
Taylor making clear that if he put something in quotes during his opening statement or during testimony, he says that he took notes that say those words were spoken verbatim
Taylor also indicates those notes may be coming soon (??!) to Congress
Taylor is laying out STARKLY how clearly it was relayed to Ukraine via Sondland that the US security assistance — $391M in aid — depended on Zelensky going on camera and announcing investigations into the company that employed Biden's son and the 2016 US election conspiracies
GOLDMAN: what did Sondland mean in Sept. when he described a "stalemate?"
TAYLOR: He said again there was no quid pro quo, but without an announcement on investigations "what I understood in that meeting, the meaning of 'Stalemate' was the security assistance would not come"
Taylor is being as clear as he can about what he KNOWS and how that tracks with what he HEARD and from which sources when answering Goldman's questions
Goldman: Did Kyiv feel pressured at the time?
TAYLOR: "I know that the Ukrainians were very concerned about the security assistance. And I know that they were prepared or preparing to make a public statement, that is, with a CNN interview, that that was being planned."
GOLDMAN: And that CNN interview was to announce these investigations, as you understood it, right?
TAYLOR: That was the implication. That was certainly the implication.
Taylor testifies that Ukraine's national security advisor "understood that these investigations were pursuant to Mr. Giuliani's request to develop information, to find information about Burisma and the Bidens."
GOLDMAN: By July, WH had "frozen the security assistance that Ukraine needed, and that the White House meeting was conditioned on Ukraine initiating this investigation, and that had been relayed to the Ukrainians, is that an accurate state of play at this time?"
GOLDMAN: "I want to spend just a little time reading the transcript as we've been encouraged to do."
Shade, entered into the official records of history
re: the CrowdStrike thing
GOLDMAN: And to your knowledge, is there any factual basis to support the allegation that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election?
KENT: To my knowledge there is no factual basis, no.
GOLDMAN: [reads Trump talking about Biden in the transcrip] To your knowledge, is there any factual basis to support those allegations?
KENT: None whatsoever.
GOLDMAN: When vice president acted in Ukraine, did he act in accordance with official U.S. Policy?
KENT: He did.
Oh thank god, a five minute recess now that majority time is over.
When we come back, first Nunes has time, then minority counsel will question Kent and Taylor
for once, I am extremely grateful that absolutely nobody in Congress knows how to tell time as this five minute recess inches to the 15 minute mark
Rep. Meadows in the hall said that running for president as Biden is shouldn't shield you from investigation
True! But an investigation run by the FBI and DOJ free of politics is one thing. An investigation ORDERED BY THE PRESIDENT is entirely different and he prolly knows that
Speak of the devil, there's Nunes saying that the call was fine, things were chummy, and that there was clearly no pressure. He's now quoting Schiff's paraphrase of said transcript as though that wipes out the transcript.
Nunes notes that "security assistance was provided to Ukraine without the Ukrainians having done any of the things they were supposedly being blackmailed to do."
Again.......only because the whole thing was brought to light.
Nunes' line of questioning is basically asking Taylor "you said that you were unaware of [INSERT WEIRD SIDEBAR THING THAT SOUNDS BAD BUT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SITUATION AT HAND]" correct?
Taylor: That is correct.
Taylor responds that one thing Nunes listed (an op-ed that dunked on candidate Trump) noting that Trump had at the time in 2016 indicated that he'd be fine with Russia keeping Crimea
Nunes also mentions that instance in 2012 where Obama told then-President Medvedev of Russia that he'd have "more flexibility after the election"
Which...has nothing to do with anything we're talking about today? Like, at all, even by way of analogy?
Nunes turns it over to Stephen Castor, who's acting as the main lawyer for the minority
Not long into it, Rep. Ratcliffe hits a point of order as to whether to allow for objections. Schiff says that he's allowing the question
Schiff clarifies that the witnesses should not assume facts not in evidence from the majority OR minority when answering questions
Woof. Castor is trying to get Taylor to say that Trump's concerns that there were Ukrainians "out to get him" in 2016 were valid.
Taylor is...not biting.
If you can track any sort of narrative or arc in this line of questioning from Castor, can you please let me know? Because I'm having some trouble.
CASTOR: [to Kent] You said the Ukrainian readout was cryptic. Is that because it's initially written in Ukrainian and translated to the U.S.?
the newsroom: ...What?
Castor asks Kent if corruption in Ukraine is endemic.
Castor then turns to the head of Burisma and his alleged bribery cases
Kent testifies that Ukraine's case against Burisma shut down around December 2014
Castor notes then that around then Burisma adds people to its board
CASTOR: Who are some of the folks that he added to the board.
KENT: The most prominent person he added to the board was the former president of Poland.
(you could basically hear the facepalm that answer elicited)
Neither Kent nor Taylor are willing to comment on Hunter's qualifications to be hired by Burisma
Castor brings up Biden's speech from last year where he claimed holding aid until former prosecutor-general Shokin was fired
CASTOR: Have you seen that correct?
KENT: I have. I think it was a speech at the counsel of foreign relations in 2017.
CASTOR: Right. He also said he has been to Ukraine 13 times. Do you know if that's accurate?
KENT: When he was vice president he made six visits.
CASTOR: Did State ever express any concerns to the vice president's office that the VP's role at the time, engaging on Ukraine, presented any issues?
KENT: "No, the vice president's role was critically important. It was top cover to help us pursue our policy agenda."
CASTOR: But after you expressed concern of a perceived conflict of interest, at the least, the vice president's engagement in Ukraine didn't decrease, did it?
KENT: Correct. Because the vice president was promoting U.S. Policy objectives in Ukraine.
Taylor makes clear to Castor that there was no need to "wrest control" of the irregular channel at first, because before there was no need to do so moving forward
CASTOR: The president has expressed his interest in certain investigations. [...] So, that wasn't inconsistent with the president's message, right?
TAYLOR: [blank stare] I'm not sure, Mr. Castor, can I ask you to repeat the question?
TAYLOR: The president's interest or I would say Mr. Giuliani's interest -- that's what was very clear at the time.
TAYLOR: Mr. Giuliani's interest in pursuing these investigations was of concern
Castor's last question is about a planned contest the US Embassy was going to run that involved Burisma
Kent says he had concerns given the head of Burisma's past, raised them, and so the embassy held the contest without Burisma's help
Okay, lawyers are done! On to member rounds, five minutes each to each Congressperson on the committee
SCHIFF: Your opening statement about not launching prosecutions against opponents would "apply to the president of the united States seeking an investigation of his political opponent. Would it not."
KENT: It could be interpreted that way, yes, sir.
SCHIFF: You were worried that even after the aid was released that Zelensky announce investigation?
TAYLOR: "I was still worried that he might do that. So, yes, I thought that would be a bad idea"
Nunes: "I think one of the mothers of all conspiracy theories is that somehow the president of the united States would want a country that he doesn't even like, he doesn't want to give foreign aid to, to have the Ukrainians start an investigation into the Bidens."
Nunes yields to Jim Jordan, newly added to the committee just for these hearings.
Jordan leans on the fact that Taylor met with Zelensky several times since the aid was held: "So three face-to-face it doesn't come up. No linkage whatsoever."
Jordan asks then how Taylor got his "clear understanding" on linkage? Taylor answers that he got it from Sondland
Jordan then brings out Sondland's testimony revision and notes how many rounds of telephone that the revision appears to go through
Taylor pushes back on Jordan's claim that he's the Democrats' "star witness"
"I'm not here to take one side or the other or to advocate any particular outcomes. Let me restate that second thing is that my understanding is only coming from people that I talk to."
TAYLOR: "I think this clarification from [Sondland] was because he said he didn't remember this in his first deposition. He wanted to kind of clarify. But I think Mr. Jordan, the way I read this, he remembers it the same way I do."
Rep. Jim Himes asks Kent whether what Biden did was the same as what Trump did on his call as Sen. Rand Paul claimed on Sunday.
KENT: "I do not think they are the same things."
Kent notes that what Biden did was ask for "the removal of a corrupt prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, who had undermined a program of assistance that we had spent, again, U.S. Taxpayer money" on to build on anti-corruption activities
Rep. Ratcliffe is up, running through Zelensky's marathon press conference day, where the Ukranian president consistently said that he was not pressured and had no knowledge of aid being held
Whew. Ratcliffe asks if either Taylor or Kent are able to say whether there was an impeachable offense on the call
Taylor repeats that it's Congress's decision, after a LOT OF YELLING about how much time Ratcliffe has left
Schiff asks whether Taylor had read testimony that said Ukraine knew about the hold before the Politico article
Taylor says there's still questions
Schiff: But they did find out?
Taylor: They did
SCHIFF: "[Ukraine knows] the president wants these investigations. And then they are told in Warsaw by ambassador Sondland essentially you are not getting the aid unless you do these investigations. Correct?"
TAYLOR: That's correct.
Important point here:
TAYLOR: "They didn't know, as near as I could tell, the Ukrainians did not know about the hold [on aid] on the phone call on July 25th. That's true. They were told, as you said, Mr. Chairman, on the 1st of September."
SEWELL: "When did you come to learn about Mr. Giuliani's role and what do you consider his role to have been?"
KENT: "I first heard about former mayor Giuliani's interest in Ukraine in January of this year, that was a different phase than what happened during the summertime."
SEWELL: Was it normal to have a person who is a private citizen take an active role in foreign diplomacy?
KENT: I did not find [Giuliani's] particular engagement normal, no.
Taylor lays out why Rudy's adventures were weird:
"It is not unusual to ask for people outside the government to give opinions, to help form the policies of the U.S. Government. It is unusual to have a person put, input into the channel that goes contrary to U.S. Policy. "
Oh neat we are back to Jordan.
He asks if Taylor thinks he could be wrong about the conditions of the aid
Taylor insists he's said exactly what he was told
SCHIFF: So if President Zelensky were to say, I had to capitulate to these I was ready to go on CNN until the aid got restored, that would obviously be hurtful to him back home. Would it not?
TAYLOR: He cannot afford to be seen to be deferring to any, any foreign leader.
I am taking a pause in the livetweet to point out that MEMBER QUESTIONS DURING HEARINGS ARE THE WORST
Like this is why they had the lawyers go up front
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.