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Impeachment Hearing; Democrats Question Counsels on Investigation Findings; Republicans Call For Points of Order Slowing Hearing. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired December 9, 2019 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00]

CASTOR: Good afternoon, Chairman, Ranking Member Collins, members of the Committee, members of the staff. Thank you, again, for having me back, and giving me the opportunity to testify about the evidence gathered during our -- the impeachment inquiry.

At the outset, let me say that the evidence does not support the allegations that my Democrat colleagues have made. And I don't believe the evidence leads to the conclusions they suggest.

I'm hopeful to add some important perspective and context to the facts under a discussion today. The chief allegation that the Democrat's impeachment inquiry has been trying to access over the last 76 days is this. Whether President Trump abused the power of his office through a quid pro quo, bribery, extortion or whatever, by withholding a meeting or security assistance as a way of pressuring Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate the president's political rival, former V.P. Biden. For the president's political benefit in the upcoming election.

The secondary allegation that has been levied is whether President Trump obstructed Congress during the inquiry. The evidence obtained during the inquiry does not support either of those allegations. The Republican report of evidence lays out the reasons in more detail, but I will summarize.

I will begin with the substantive allegation about an abuse of power. The inquiry has returned no direct evidence that President Trump withheld a meeting or security assistance in order to pressure President Zelensky to investigate former V.P. Biden.

Witnesses who testified in the inquiry have denied having awareness of criminal activity or even an impeachable offense. On the key question of the president's state of mind, there is no clear evidence that President Trump acted with malicious intent.

Overall, at best, the impeachment inquiry record is riddled with hearsay, presumptions and speculation. There are conflicting and ambiguous facts throughout the record. Facts that could be interpreted in different ways. To paraphrase Professor Turley from last week, the impeachment record is heavy on presumptions and empty on proof. That's not me saying that, that is Professor Turley. So, let me start with the best direct evidence of any potential quid pro quo or impeachable scheme. This is President Trump's phone call with Zelensky, for which the National Security Council and the White House Situation Room staff prepared a call summary.

According to testimony from Tim Morrison at the NSC, the summary was accurate and complete. NSC staff member, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified, that any omissions in the summary were not significant and that editing was not done maliciously.

President Trump has declassified and released the call summary so the American people can review it and access it for themselves. I'll make a few points that seem to have gone under noticed.

The call summary reflects absolutely no pressure or conditionality. President Zelensky vocalized no concerns with the subject matters discussed. There is no indication of bribery, extortion or other illegal conduct on the call. The call summary shows President Trump and President Zelensky engages in pleasantries and cordialities. The call summary reveals laughter. Simply put, the call is not the sinister mob shakedown that some Democrats have described.

President Trump raised his concerns about European allies paying their fair share in security assistance to Ukraine, a concern that President Trump would continue to raise both publicly and privately.

There is no discussion on the call -- I repeat -- no discussion on the call about the upcoming 2020 election or security sector assistance to Ukraine.

[12:05:00] Beyond the call summary, the next best piece of evidence are the statements from the two participants on the call. President Zelensky has said he felt no pressure on the call.

On September 25th at the United Nations, he said, "We had, I think, a good phone call. It was normal. Nobody pushed me."

On October 6th President Zelensky said, "I was never pressured and there were no conditions being imposed."

Four days later, on October 10th, President Zelensky said again there was nothing wrong with the call, no blackmail. This is not corruption. It was just a call.

And just recently in Time magazine, President Zelensky said he "never talked to the president from a position of a quid pro quo."

Because President Zelensky would be the target of any alleged quid pro quo scheme, his statements denying any pressure carry significant weight. He is in fact the supposed victim here.

Other senior Ukrainian government officials confirmed President Zelensky's statements. Foreign Minister Prystaiko said on September 21st, "I know what the conversation was about and I think there was no pressure." Oleksandr Danylyuk, who was then secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, told Ambassador Bill Taylor on the night of the call that the Ukrainian government "was not disturbed by anything on the call."

President Trump of course has also said that he did not pressure President Zelensky. On September 25th President Trump said there was no pressure. When asked if he wanted President Zelensky to do more to investigate the former V.P., President Trump responded "No, I want him to do whatever he can, whatever he can do in terms of corruption because corruption is massive. That's what he should do."

Several witnesses attested to the president's concerns about Ukrainian corruption. The initial readouts of the July 25th call from both the Ukrainian government and the State Department raised no concerns.

Although Lieutenant Colonel Vindman noted concerns, those concerns were not shared by National Security Council leadership. They were not shared by General Keith Kellogg, who listened on the call. Lieutenant General Kellogg said in a statement, "I heard nothing wrong or improper on the call. I had and have no concerns."

Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's superior, Tim Morrison, testified that he was concerned the call would leak and be misused in Washington's political process. But he did not believe that anything discussed on the call was illegal or improper.

Much has also been made about President Trump's reference on the July 25th call to Hunter Biden's position on the board of Burisma, a corrupt Ukrainian energy company and the actions of certain Ukrainian officials in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Democrats dismiss these conspiracy theories to suggest that the president has no legitimate reason other than his own political interests to raise these issues with President Zelensky.

The evidence, however, shows that there are legitimate questions about both issues. With respect to Burisma, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent testified that the company had a reputation for corruption.

The company was founded by Mykola Zlochevsky, who served as Ukraine's minister of ecology and natural resources. When Zlochevsky served in that role, his company, Burisma, received oil exploration licenses without public auctions.

Burisma brought Hunter Biden onto its board of direction -- board of directors, according to the New York Times, as part of a broad effort by Burisma to bring in well-connected Democrats during a period when the company was facing investigations backed not just by domestic Ukrainian forces but by officials in the Obama administration. George Kent testified about these efforts.

[12:10:00] Hunter Biden reportedly received between $50,000 and $83,000 a month as compensation for his position on Burisma's board. At the time that Hunter Biden joined the board, his father, the former V.P., was the Obama administration's point person for Ukraine.

Biden has no specific corporate governance expertise and we don't believe he speaks Ukrainian or Russian. We don't believe he moved there. So he's getting this gigantic paycheck for what?

The Washington Post wrote at the time of Biden's appointment to Burisma's board that it looked nepotistic at best and, The Washington Post said -- The Washington Post -- "nefarious at worst."

According to The Wall Street Journal, anti-corruption activists in Ukraine also raised concerns that the former V.P.'s son received money from Zlochevsky and worried that that would mean Zlochevsky would be protected and not prosecuted.

Witnesses in the impeachment inquiry noted Hunter Biden's role on the board and how it presented at minimum a conflict of interest. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman testified that Hunter Biden did not appear qualified to serve on Burisma's board.

Witnesses testified that Hunter Biden's role on the board was a legitimate concern to raise. In fact, George Kent explained that in 2015 he raised a concern to the office of former Vice President Biden that Hunter Biden's role on Burisma's board presented a potential conflict of interest.

However, Hunter Biden's role did not change and former Vice President Biden continued to lead U.S. policy in Ukraine.

On this record, there is a legitimate basis for President Trump to have concern about Hunter Biden's role on Burisma's board. The prospect that some senior Ukrainian officials worked against President Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election draws an even more visceral reaction from most Democrats.

Let me say very, very clearly that election interference is not binary. I am not saying that it was Ukraine and not Russia. I am saying that both countries can work to influence an election. A systemic, coordinated Russian interference effort does not mean that some Ukrainian officials -- some Ukrainian officials did not work to oppose President Trump's candidacy, did not make statements against President Trump during the election.

Ambassador Volker testified in his public hearing that it is possible for more than one country to seek influence in U.S. elections. Dr. Hill testified likewise at her public hearing. Contemporaneous news articles in 2016 noted how President Trump's candidacy led Kiev's wider political leadership to do something they would never have attempted before -- intervene, however indirectly, in the U.S. election.

In August 2016, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. published an op- ed in The Hill criticizing candidate Trump. Other senior Ukrainian officials called candidate Trump a clown and other words. They alleged that he challenged the very values of the free world. One prominent Ukrainian parliamentarian explained that the majority of Ukraine's political figures were on Hillary Clinton side.

A January 2017 Politico article lays out more detailed efforts by the Ukrainian government officials to oppose President Trump's candidacy. The article notes how Ukraine worked to sabotage the Trump campaign by publicly questioning his fitness for office.

The article detailed how a woman named Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian- American contractor, paid by the DNC and working with the DNC and the Clinton campaign, created information and leads about the Trump campaign with the staff of the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington. Chalupa explained how the Ukrainian Embassy worked directly with reporters to point them in the right direction.

[12:15:00] Witnesses in the impeachment inquiry testified that the allegation of Ukrainian influence in the 2016 election was appropriate to examine. Ambassador Volker testified that he thought it was fine to investigate allegations about 2016 influence. Ambassador Taylor said, for example, that the allegations surprised and disappointed him. On this record, I do not believe that one could conclude that President Trump had no legitimate basis to raise a concern about efforts by Ukrainians to influence the 2016 election.

Let me now turn to the first assertion, that President Trump withheld a meeting with President Zelensky as a way of pressuring him to investigate the former V.P. Here, it is important to note Ukraine's long, profound history of endemic corruption. Several witnesses in the inquiry have testified about these problems.

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, for example, said Ukraine's corruption is not just prevalent but, frankly, is the system. Witnesses testified to having firsthand knowledge that President Trump is deeply skeptical of Ukraine due to its corruption, dating back years, and that this skepticism contributed to President Trump's initial hesitancy to meet with President Zelensky.

Ambassador Volker testified, so I know he had a very deep rooted skeptical view and my understanding at the time was that even though he agreed in the meeting that we had with him -- say OK, I'll invite him -- I'll invite him, he didn't really want to do it, Volker said. And that's why the meeting kept getting delayed.

Another relevant set of facts, here is the effort of some Ukrainian officials to oppose President Trump's candidacy in the 2016 election. Some of these Ukrainian politicians initially remained in government when President Zelensky took over. Witnesses testified that these Ukrainian efforts in 2016 colored how President Trump viewed Ukraine.

It's also important to note that President Zelensky was a relatively unknown quantity for U.S. policymakers. Ambassador Yovanovitch called him an untried politician. Dr. Hill testified that there were concerns within the National Security Council about Zelensky's relationship with Igor Kolomoisky, a controversial oligarch in Ukraine.

Although President Zelensky ran on a reform platform, President Zelensky appointed Kolomoisky's lawyer, Mr. Bohdan, as his Chief of Staff. Both Ambassador Volker and Senator Ron Johnson noted that this appointment raised concerns.

These facts are important in assessing the President's state of mind in understanding whether President Zelensky was truly committed to fighting corruption in Ukraine. The evidence shows that President Trump invited President Zelensky to meet at the White House on three separate occasions, all without any conditions.

The first was on April 21st, during the initial congratulatory phone call. The second was via letter on May 29th. This letter followed an Oval Office meeting on May 23rd with the U.S. delegation to the inauguration. During this meeting, President Trump again expressed his skepticism about Ukraine. Ambassador Volker recalled the President saying these are terrible people and a corrupt country. Ambassador Sondland similarly testified that Ukraine, in the President's view, tried to take him down in the 2016 election. Senator Ron Johnson confirmed this testimony in his submission to the impeachment inquiry.

Finally, the third time President Trump invited Zelensky to meet, again without any preconditions, was during the July 25th phone call. Although some time passed between May 2019, when the President formally invited Zelensky to meet, and September 25th, when the presidents met, the evidence does not show that the Ukrainian government felt additional pressure due to this delay.

To the contrary, Ambassador Volker testified that the Ukrainian regime felt pretty good about its relationship with the Trump administration in this period. During those four months, senior Ukrainian government officials had at least nine meetings or phone calls with President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, National Security Advisor Bolton and U.S. ambassadors.

[12:20:00] The evidence does not support a conclusion that President Trump conditioned a meeting with President Zelensky on investigating former Vice President Biden. Mr. Yermak, President Zelensky's close adviser, said that explicitly in an August, 2019, New York Times story, which was published before the beginning of the impeachment inquiry. In this article, Yermak said that he and Mayor Giuliani did not discuss a link between a presidential meeting and investigations.

Witness testimony confirms Yermak's statement. Ambassador Volker testified there was no linkage between a potential meeting and investigations.

Although Ambassador Sondland testified that he believed there was a quid pro quo, his testimony is not as clear as it has been portrayed. In his deposition, Ambassador Sondland testified that he believed the meeting was conditioned on a public anticorruption statement, not on investigations themselves, a distinction that during his deposition he was keen to note. Ambassador Sondland said then that nothing about the request raised any red flags.

[12:30;00] In his public testimony, Ambassador Sondland clarified that he had no firsthand knowledge of any linkage coming from the president, and never discussed any preconditions with the president. He merely presumed there were preconditions. I'd also like to address the July 10th meeting in Ambassador Bolton's office with two senior Ukrainian officials. Allow me to submit that here, too, there is conflicting evidence about the facts. Both Dr. Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Vindman testified that Ambassador Sondland raised investigations during this meeting, causing Ambassador Bolton to abruptly end the meeting. Dr. Hill testified she confronted Ambassador Sondland over his discussion about investigations.

Ambassador Sondland's testimony about this meeting, however, is scattered. In his closed-door deposition, he testified that no national security staff member ever once expressed concerns to him that he was acting improperly, and he denied that he raised investigations during this meeting. But when he came here to testify in public, he acknowledged for the first time that he raised investigations, but he denied that the meeting ended abruptly. He maintained that Dr. Hill never raised concerns to him, and that any discussion of investigations did not mention anything specific, such as Biden or 2016.

Let me lastly address the allegation that President Trump directed Vice President Pence not to attend President Zelensky's inauguration as another way of pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.

Jennifer Williams, a senior adviser in the Office of the Vice President, testified that a colleague -- she said it was the chief of staff's assistant -- told her, the chief of staff's assistant, that President Trump had directed Vice President Pence not to attend the inauguration. However, Williams had no firsthand knowledge of any such direction, or the reasons given for any such direction. If, indeed, such a direction was given, it's not clear from the evidence why it was done, because the vice president's office was juggling other potential trips during that time, and the Ukrainian parliament scheduled -- scheduled the election on an extremely short timeframe. It was just four days' notice. Williams explained that there was a window. There was a window of dates -- May 30th through June 1st -- during which the vice president could attend the inauguration, and that was communicated, and that if it wasn't one of those dates, it would be difficult or impossible to attend the inauguration.

Separately, the Office of the Vice President was also planning an unrelated trip to Canada to promote the USMCA during this same window. The USMCA was, and still is, a significant priority for the administration. Vice President Pence has done a number of public events in support of it.

President Trump was also planning foreign travel during this time period and, as Dr. Hill testified, both President Trump and Vice President Pence cannot both be out of the country the same time. Williams explained that these factors created a narrow window for the vice president's participation in the inauguration.

[12:25:00] Dr. Hill testified that she had no knowledge that the vice president was directed not to attend. On May 16th, the outgoing Ukrainian parliament scheduled the inauguration for May 20th, only four days later. May 20th was not one of the three dates that Vice President Pence's office had provided for his availability. Williams testified that this early date surprised the vice president's office because "we weren't expecting the Ukrainians to look at that timeframe."

George Kent at the State Department said that this short notice from the Ukrainians forced the State Department to scramble to find a U.S. official to lead the delegation, finally settling on Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. On May 20th, the date of President Zelensky's inauguration, Vice President Pence was in Jacksonville, Florida for an event promoting USMCA.

Finally, on September 25th, President Trump and President Zelensky met during the United Nations General Assembly. The two met without Ukraine ever taking action on investigations, and according to Ambassador Taylor, there was no discussion of investigations during this meeting.

I will now turn to the second assertion, that President Trump withheld taxpayer-funded security assistance to Ukraine as a way of pressuring Zelensky to conduct these investigations. Here, too, context is critically important. President Trump has been skeptical of foreign assistance in general, and believes quite strongly that our European allies should share more of the burden for regional defense. That's an assertion he made on the campaign trail. It's something he's raised consistently since.

It's also important to note that U.S. security assistance is conditioned to countries around the world, and that U.S. aid, including aid to Ukraine, has been temporarily paused in the past for various reasons, and even for no reason at all. Ambassador Volker testified the 55-day pause on security assistance did not strike him as uncommon, and that the pause was not significant. Dr. Hill and State Department official Catherine Croft both testified that security assistance to Ukraine specifically had been temporarily paused in the past.

In fact, Ambassador David Hale, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the third most senior person at the State Department, testified that the National Security Council had launched a review of U.S. foreign assistance across the world to make sure taxpayer dollars were spent in the national interest, and to advance the principle of burden-sharing by our allies.

Dr. Hill testified that as she was leaving the NSC in July there had been a directive for a whole-scale review of our foreign policy assistance. She said there had been more scrutiny on security assistance as a result.

Another important data point is President Trump's willingness to take a stronger stance in supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression, and -- and compared to the previous administration. Several witnesses testified that President Trump's willingness to provide Ukraine with lethal defensive assistance -- Javelin anti-tank missiles was a substantial improvement of stronger policy and a significant decision. When we discuss Democrat allegations that President Trump withheld vital security assistance dollars from Ukraine, we should also remember that it was President Trump and not President Obama who provided Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons.

I make all of these points here because there are relevant pieces of information that bear on how the House should view the evidence in question. Although the security assistance was paused in July, the evidence is virtually silent on the definitive reason for the pause. In fact, the only direct evidence, or the reason for the pause comes from OMB official Mark Sandy who testified that he learned in September that the pause was related to the presidents concern about other countries contributing more to Ukraine.

He explained how OMB received request for information on what other countries were contributing to Ukraine, which OMB provided in the first week of September. Their aid of course was released September 11th. Several witnesses have testified that security assistance was not linked to Ukraine's investigations. Ambassador Volker's testimony is particularly relevant on this point. (inaudible). Because he was a key intermediary with Ukrainian government. And someone (inaudible) they trusted and sought for advice.

Ambassador Volker testified that he was aware of no quid pro quo and the Ukrainians never raised such concerns to him. When Ambassador Taylor raised the possibility of a quid pro quo to Ambassador Volker, Volker said he replied there's no linkage here. During his deposition Chairman Schiff tried to pin him down on this point, but Ambassador Volker was clear there was no connection. In his public testimony, Ambassador Volker reiterated there was no linkage.

Similarly, George Kent at the State Department said he did not associate aid to investigations. And he relayed how Ambassador Taylor told him that Tim Morrison and Ambassador Sondland also believed the two were not linked. Ambassador Sondland's testimony, as we have seen already is a bit more scattered. In his deposition he said that he was never aware of pre conditions on security assistance. Or that the security assistance was tied to investigations.

Ambassador Sondland then later provided a written statement supplementing his deposition in which he explained for the first time that in the absence of any clear explanation he presumed the link between security assistance and the anti corruption statement were linked. Ambassador Sondland also attested in his written supplement that he likely voiced his concern to Mr. Yermak -- a close advisor to President Zelensky -- in (ph) September 1st in Warsaw

Mr. Yermak, however, in a subsequent news account published on November 22nd disputed Ambassador Sondland's account and says he doesn't remember any reference to the military aid. In his public testimony, Ambassador Sondland reiterated that his testimony was based on a presumption. Acknowledging to Congressman Turner that no one on the planet told him that security assistance to Ukraine was conditioned on investigations.

Ambassador Taylor is the other relevant actor here; he testified in his deposition that he had a clear understanding that Ukraine would not receive the security assistance until President Zelensky committed to the investigations. However in his public testimony, Ambassador Taylor acknowledged that his clear understanding came from Ambassador Sondland, who was merely presuming that there as a link.

President Trump, too, rejected any linkage between security assistance to Ukraine and investigations. The president's statements in this regard ought to be persuasive because he made the same statement in two separate, private conversations with two different U.S. officials 10 days apart. There would be no reason for the president to be anything less than candid during these private conversations.

On August 31, President Trump spoke by phone with Senator Johnson who was travelling to Ukraine in the coming days and sought the president's position to tell President Zelensky that the security assistance would be forthcoming. President Trump responded that he was not ready to do that, citing Ukrainian corruption and burden-sharing among European allies.

When Senator Johnson raised the potential linkage between security assistance and investigation, President Trump vehemently denied any connection, saying, "no way. I would never do that. Who told you that?"

In closing the call, President Trump told Senator Johnson that we're reviewing it now, referring to the security assistance. And guess what, you -- you'll probably like my final decision. He told that to Senator Johnson on August 31. this statement strongly suggests that President Trump was already leaning toward lifting the aid.

Separately on September 9, President Trump spoke by phone with Ambassador Sondland. Ambassador Sondland asked the president, what do you want from Ukraine? The president responded -- President Trump responded, "I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing."

In addition, senior Ukrainian government officials denied any awareness of a linkage between U.S. security assistance and investigations. These denials are persuasive because if there was, in fact, an orchestrated scheme to pressure Ukraine by withholding security assistance, one would think the pause on security assistance would have been clearly communicated to the Ukrainians.

Foreign Minister Prystaiko told the media in November following news of Ambassador Sondland's written supplemental testimony that Sondland never linked security assistance to investigations. Prystaiko said, "I have never seen a direct relationship between investigations and security assistance."

Although there is some testimony that Ukrainian officials from the embassy in Washington made informal inquiries to the State Department and Defense Department about these issues with security assistance in July and August, the evidence does not show President Zelensky or his senior advisors in Kiev were aware of the pause until it was publicly reported by Politico on August 28.

A subsequent news article explained the conflicting testimony that embassy officials in Washington had made informal inquiries about issues with the aid while senior officials in Kiev denied awareness of the pause. The article explained that then Ukrainian Ambassador Chaly who was appointed by President Zelensky's predecessor went rogue and did not inform President Zelensky that there was any issue with the aid.

[12:35:00]

According to the news account, President Zelensky and his senior team only learn of a pause when it was reported on August 28. As Ambassador Volker testified because senior Ukrainian officials were unaware of the pause, there was no leverage implied.

The actions of senior Ukrainian government officials while the security assistance was paused reinforces a conclusion that they did not know the aid was on hold. In the 55 days during which the security assistance was paused, President Zelensky had five discussions with U.S. senior officials. On the July 25, he spoke with President Trump on the phone. July 26, he met with Ambassador Volker, Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Sondland Keiv. On August 27, he met with Ambassador Bolton. September 1, he met with Vice President Pence in Warsaw, and on September 5 he met with Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Chris Murphy in Kiev.

In none of these meetings did President Zelensky raise any concern about linkage between security assistance and investigations. In particular, the September 5 meeting with Senator Johnson and Senator Murphy is notable because they're not part of the Trump administration, and President Zelensky could be candid with them.

What did occur during those 55 days were historic efforts by Ukraine's parliament, called the Rada, to implement anti-corruption reform. Vice President Pence had pressed President Zelensky about these reforms during their September 1 meeting. In their depositions, Ambassador Taylor lauded President Zelensky's rapid reforms and National Security Council Official Morrison testified that during a meeting in Kiev they noted that everyone on the Ukrainian side of the table was exhausted because they'd been up all night working on these reforms.

On September 11, President Trump discussed the matter with Vice President Pence, Senator Portman, and Acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney. According to Tim Morrison's testimony, they discussed whether Ukraine's progress on anti-corruption reform was enough to justify releasing the security assistance. Morrison testified that Vice President Pence was obviously armed with the conversation he had with President Zelensky, and they convinced the president that the aid should be dispersed immediately. The president then lifted the hold.

In concluding this point, we have considerable evidence that President Trump was skeptical of Ukraine due to its corruption. We have evidence the president was skeptical of foreign assistance in general and that he believes strongly our allies should share the burden for regional defense. We know the White House was reviewing foreign assistance in general to ensure it furthered U.S. interests and that OMB research provided information about which foreign countries were contributing money to Ukraine.

President Trump told Senator Johnson on October 31, "We're reviewing it now, and you'll probably like my final decision." He told Ambassador Sondland on September 9, "I want Zelensky to do what he ran on." President Zelensky, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, was an untried politician with ties to a potential and controversial oligarch. Vice President Pence reiterated President Zelensky that on September 1 the need for reform was paramount.

After President Zelensky paused -- I'm sorry, after President Zelensky passed historic anti-corruption reforms, the pause on security assistance was lifted and the presidents met two weeks later. The Ukrainian government never took any action on investigations at issue in the impeachment inquiry.

Much has been made about a so-called shadow or irregular foreign policy apparatus that President Trump is alleged to have orchestrated as a mechanism to force Ukraine to initiate investigations. The allegation is President Trump conspired to recall Ambassador Yovanovitch from Ukraine so his agents could pursue a scheme to pressure Ukraine to conduct these investigations, but there are logical flaws with these arguments.

First, every ambassador interviewed in the impeachment inquiry acknowledged the president has an absolute right to recall ambassadors for any reason or no reason. It's apparent that President Trump lost confidence in Ambassador Yovanovitch and it's simply not an abuse of power for him to recall her.

Beyond that, the Trump administration replaced Ambassador Yovanovitch with Ambassador Bill Taylor who became one of the first State Department officials to voice concerns discussed during the course of our inquiry here. Ambassador Taylor played a prominent role in some of the hearings last month.

[12:40:00]

If President Trump truly sought to remove Ambassador Yovanovitch's part of nefarious plan, he certainly would not have replaced here with someone of the likes of Ambassador Bill Taylor.

Second, the three U.S. officials who comprised the so-called shadow foreign policy apparatus, Ambassador Volker, Sondland and Secretary Perry can hardly be called irregular, and certainly not outlandish. All were senior U.S. officials with official interest in Ukraine policy. The three kept the State Department and the NSC informed of their activities.

Finally, there is evidence that Mayor Giuliani did not speak on behalf of the president, according to a new story on November 22, Mr. Yermak asked Ambassador Volker to connect him with Mayor Giuliani, because the Zelensky team was surprised by the Mayor's negative comments about Ukraine. They wanted to change his mind.

Both Ambassador Volker, in his deposition, and Yermak in an August "New York Times" article, denied that Mayor Giuliani was speaking on behalf of President Trump as his agent. Instead, as Ambassador Volker explained, the Ukrainian government saw Giuliani as a conduit, through which they could change the president's mind. The second allegation at issue, of course, is whether the president obstructed Congress by not agreeing to all the demands for documents and testimony. As somebody with experience with Congressional investigations, and strongly -- I strongly believe in Congress' article one authority, that this impeachment inquiry has departed drastically from past bipartisan precedence for presidential impeachment, as well as the fundamental tenants of fair and effective congressional oversight.

First process matters, the bipartisan (inaudible) guaranteed fundamental fairness and due process to the president. It allowed substantive minority participation and participation from the president's council in the fact finding process. Neither aspect was precedent (ph) here.

Democrats denied us witnesses, Democrats voted down subpoenas we sought to issue for both documents and testimony, and although (ph) Democrats never brought to a committee vote any of the subpoenas that were issued, they were all tabled. Democrats directed witnesses not to answer our questions and these sorts of actions delegitimize the inquiry and do not give the witnesses or the president confidence that the inquiry is fair.

Second, the president or any potential witness to this impeachment inquiry to be allowed to raise defenses without it being used as an adverse inference against him. Courts have held that the Constitution mandates an accommodations process between the branches. For this reason, Congressional oversight is a time intensive endeavor, certainly takes longer than 76 days.

Here, however, the initial letters from the Democrats instructed potential witnesses that if they did not cooperate in full, it shall constitute evidence of obstruction. Democrats wanted all their demands honored immediately and were unwilling to consider the Executive Branch's privileges or defenses.

Finally, there is no basis for obstruction. The one witness who said he spoke to President Trump about his appearance as a witness, Ambassador Sondland, testified the president told him to cooperate and tell the truth.

The president has declassified and released the call summary of his July 25 and April 21 calls with President Zelensky. White House wrote to Speaker Pelosi to say that it was willing to cooperate further if the House returned to a well-established bipartisan constitutional based impeachment process. As we know, these protections were never afforded (ph).

In closing I'd like to briefly address the Democrats narrative as articulated in their report. The Democrat narrative virtually ignores any evidence that's not helpful for their case. It ignores, for instance, that Ambassador Sondland's testimony that he presented, that there was a quid pro quo, and it ignores the many public statements made by Ukrainian officials.

The report presents a story as of the evidence is clear, when in reality, it's anything but. Democrats have gone to great lengths to gather information to build their case, and they've even obtained and released phone records relating to the communications of the president's personal attorney, a reporter and a member of Congress. There are additional phone records that have not yet been released and our members remain concerned about the prospect of more phone records being released.

There have been a lot of high -- hyperbole and lot of hysteria over the last three months about this inquiry and the underlying facts. I believe a lot of this can be traced back to the anonymous whistleblower complaint. I believe the whistleblower reframed a lot of the facts at issue and caused witnesses in the inquiry to recast their views. And it's unfortunate that we haven't been able to interview the whistleblower.

[12:45:00]

Finally, some have likened the impeachment inquiry to a special prosecutors investigation. If one accepts that comparison, one should also expect that like Ken Starr and Robert Mueller, the Chairman should testify, and our members, all the committees believe very strongly that Chairman Schiff should testify and answer questions. With that, Mr. Chairman, the time is yours.

NADLER: The gentleman -- the gentleman's time has expired. We will now proceed to the first round of questions, pursuant --

GOHMERT: Point of order.

NADLER: The gentleman will state his point of order.

GOHMERT: We've been told that counsel for the Democrats was a witness and that's why he didn't have to comport with the rules of decorum, and how he's sitting up here --

NADLER: Gentleman will state a point of order.

GOHMERT: I've been a judge and I know that you don't get to be a witness and a judge in the same case. That's my point of order. He should not be up there (ph).

NADLER: That's not a point of order.

(OFF-MIC)

NADLER: Pursuant to House resolution 660 and it's accompanying Judiciary Committee procedures, there'll be 45 minutes of questions conducted by the Chairman or Majority Counsel, followed by 45 minutes by the Ranking Member or Minority Counsel.

Only the Chair and Ranking Member and their respective Counsels may question witnesses during this period. Following that, unless is specify additional equal time for extended questioning, we will proceed under the five minute rule, and every member will have the chance to ask questions.

I now recognize myself for the first round of questions.

The Republican -- the Republican's expert witness last week, Professor Turley, wrote in an article that, quote, "There is no question that the use of public office for personal gain is an impeachable offense, including the withholding of military aid in exchange for the investigation of a political opponent, you just have to prove it happened," close quote. That was Mr. Turley's comment.

Now, Mr. Goldman, did the -- did the Investigative committees conclude that the evidence proved that the president used his public office for public gain?

GOLDMAN: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

NADLER: And in fact, finding in fact five said, President Trump used the power of the Office of the President to apply increasing pressure on the President of Ukraine and the Ukrainian government to announce the politically motivated investigations desired by President Trump.

And did the evidence also prove that President Trump withheld military aid in exchange for an announcement of an investigation of his political opponent?

GOLDMAN: Yes, it did.

NADLER: And in fact, finding in fact 5B said, quote, "President Trump acting through his agents and subordinates conditioned release of the vital military assistance he has suspended to Ukraine on the President of Ukraine's public announcement of the investigations that President Trump sought.

And did the evidence demonstrate that President Trump undermined the national security interest of the United States.

Goldman: Yes, in many -- in several ways. And finding of fact (ph) six said in directing and orchestrating this scheme to advance his personal political interest, President Trump did not implement, promote, or advance U.S. anti-corruption policies.

In fact, the president sought to pressure and induce the government of Ukraine announce politically motivated investigations, lacking legitimate predication that the U.S. government otherwise discourages and opposes as a matter of policy in that country and -- and around the world.

In so doing, the president undermined U.S. policy, supporting anti- corruption reform and the rule of law in Ukraine and undermine U.S. national security. And did the evidence also show that President Trump compromised the national security of the United States.

GOLDMAN: Yes.

NADLER: In fact, finding of fact seven said by withholding vital military assistance and diplomatic support from a strategic foreign partner government engagement in an ongoing military conflict illegally instigated by Russia, President Trump compromised national security to advance his personal political interest.

And did the evidence prove that President Trump engaged in a scheme to cover up his conduct and obstruct congressional investigators.

GOLDMAN: Yes, right from the outset.

NADLER: In fact, finding of fact nine says using the power of the office of the president in exercising his authority over the Executive Branch, President Trump ordered and implemented a campaign to conceal his conduct from the public and frustrate and obstruct the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry.

Finally, the constitutional scholars from my hearing last week testified that the president's conduct toward Ukraine, in pattern of inviting foreign election interference was a continuing risk to our free and fair elections. Did the evidence prove that President Trump was a threat to our elections?

[12:50:00]

GOLDMAN: Yes, it did, Mr. Chairman.

NADLER: And in fact, finding of fact eight says, faced with a revelation of his actions, President Trump publicly and repeatedly persisted in urging foreign investments, foreign government; including Ukraine and China to investigate his political opponent.

His continued solicitation of foreign interference in the U.S. election presents a clear and present danger that the president will continue to use the power of his office for his first political gain -- for his personal political gain, close quote, I would add in the next election. I now yield to my counsel, Mr. Berke, for additional questioning.

BERKE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Castor, as an experienced investigator, would you agree that it's relevant to look at evidence barring on the president's state of mind that may help explain the president's actions?

CASTOR: The evidence that we talked about showed ...

BERKE: Microphone.

NADLER: Use your mic please.

BERKE: Sir, my only question to you is is that a relevant thing to consider.

CASTOR: Right, like the call he had with Senator Johnson.

BERKE: Is it -- it's relevant to consider. Sir, would you agree that Joe Biden was a leading Democratic contender to face President Trump in 2020?

CASTOR: I wouldn't agree with that.

BERKE: You disagree with it. So sir, it's your testimony ...

CASTOR: It's too early.

BERKE: ... that President Trump did not view President Biden to be a legitimate contender. Is that correct?

CASTOR: I don't know what President Trump believed or didn't believe but it's too early.

BERKE: Sir, as part of your inquiry, did you determine whether President Trump tweeted at all about vice -- former Vice President Joe Biden between January and July 25th and how many times?

CASTOR: I didn't -- I didn't look at Twitter. I try to stay off Twitter lately.

BERKE: Did you know President Trump tweeted about former Vice President Joe Biden over 25 times between January and July 25th?

CASTOR: I didn't -- I didn't look at those tweets.

BERKE: Did you look at how many times President Trump mentioned Vice President Biden in a speech, rally leading up to the July 25th call?

CASTOR: President Trump goes to a lot of rallies, he does a lot of tweeting. I think it's pretty difficult to draw too many conclusions from his tweets or his statements at rallies.

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman ...

BERKE: Well, sir, your ...

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, parliamentary inquiry.

NADLER: The gentleman is not recognized for parliamentary inquiry.

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, what is ...

NADLER: The gentleman is not recognized. The gentleman, Mr. Berke, has the time.

GOHMERT: We're going to ignore the rules and allow witnesses to ask the questions, then how many other rules are you just going to disregard.

NADLER: The gentleman will suspend. Parliamentary inquiries are not in order at this time.

GOHMERT: Well, how about a point of order. This is not appropriate to have a witness be a questioner of somebody that was a witness when he was.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: The gentleman will suspend.

GOHMERT: It's just wrong.

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman ...

NADLER: The gentleman will refrain from making ...

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, point of inquiry.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: The gentleman will refrain ...

GOHMERT: Well, I made a point of order and you won't rule on it.

NADLER: I have not heard a point of order. If the gentleman wishes to ...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, point of order.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: If the gentleman has a point of order he will -- state your point of order.

JOHNSON: Yes, Mr. Chairman ...

GOHMERT: There is no rule, nor precedent for anybody being a witness and then getting to come up and question and so ...

NADLER: I have ruled ...

GOHMERT: We were (ph) -- the point of order is he's inappropriate to be up here asking questions.

NADLER: That is not a point of order. He's here in accordance with rule 66 ...

(CROSSTALK)

GOHMERT: How much money do you have to give to get to do ...

NADLER: The gentleman will not cast (ph) dispersions (ph) on members of the staff or the committee. The gentleman ...

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman ...

GOHMERT: It was a legitimate order.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: Mr. Berke has the time.

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, point of order.

NADLER: Mr. Berke has ... (CROSSTALK)

UNKNOWN: Is Mr. Berke a member of the committee?

NADLER: Mr. Berke has the time.

JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, I have a legitimate point of order.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: Mr. Berke has ...

JOHNSON: Point of order.

NADLER: Mr. Berke has the time.

JOHNSON: You have to recognize a point of order.

NADLER: Point of order. The gentleman will state a point of order.

JOHNSON: This gentleman is presenting his opinions as a witness. He's supposed to present the material facts in the report.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: The gentleman will state a point of order.

JOHNSON: Not to appear for his opinions. Is that right or not?

NADLER: The gentleman -- that is not a point of order. It is Mr. Berke's time pursuant to Rule 66 ...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: It's inappropriate testimony for the committee.

NADLER: It is -- I have ruled the gentleman has the time pursuant Rule 66.

BIGGS: Mr. Chairman, point of order. Mr. Chairman ...

NADLER: The gentleman will state a point of order.

(CROSSTALK)

UNKNOWN: Just to help you that's not in Rule 66.

NADLER: The gentleman will state of point of order if he has one.

BIGGS: Yes. The point of order is this, we operate by rules. If there's nothing specifically in the rule permitting this we go by precedent. It is unprecedented for a person to come and sit who you've described as a witness to then return to the bench and begin questioning. That is a point of order.

NADLER: The gentleman has stated -- that is not a point of order but I will point out -- it is not a recognizable point of order. I will point out that we have -- the gentleman has been designated by me to do this questioning pursuant to Rule 66 -- House Resolution 66, which is part of the rules of the House.

BIGGS: It was soliloquy then (ph).

NADLER: It is in accordance with the rules of the House and the gentleman's time will resume. Mr. Berke.

BERKE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Castor, you were aware that President Trump announced his candidacy for re-election in 2020 and he announced it the month before the July 25th call on June 21st.

[12:55:00]

CASTOR: OK.

BERKE: Did you find that -- did you look at that in your investigation as part of looking at President Trump's intent and what he intended on the July 25th call.

CASTOR: I mean the date he announced his -- I mean he's obviously running for re-election. What does -- what does the date he announced his intent to run for re-election ...

BERKE: And sir, you knew that President Biden had already announced his intent to run in April of that year too, correct.

CASTOR: I've -- it's been related (ph) to me. I -- it wasn't -- I don't when Vice President Biden indicated he was going to -- going to run as I sit here today.

BERKE: So you would agree with that if the Ukraine announced the corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden that would hurt his credibility as a candidate. Would you agree with that basic principal, sir?

CASTOR: Well, nobody ...

BERKE: Yes or no sir, would you agree with that principal?

CASTOR: Well, nobody...

BERKE: Yes or no, sir? Would you agree with that principle?

CASTOR: Well, I slightly disagree with the predicate -- with the premise of your question. Because we're talking about Hunter Biden...

SENSENBRENNER (?): Mr. Chairman, I object to the question that requests opinion...

NADLER: The gentleman is not recognized. The gentleman has the floor.

SENSENBRENNER (?): Well, I object to the question.

NADLER: The gentleman... SENSENBRENNER (?): Rule on whether the question's in order or not.

NADLER: The -- the question is in order. The gentleman will continue.

SENSENBRENNER (?): Why?

NADLER: The gentleman will continue. It's his time.

CASTOR: Let's get back to the fact that we're talking about eight ambiguous lines in a -- in a call transcript. You know, the president was not asking for a personal favor; he was speaking on behalf of the American people. He -- he said, and I'll read it: "I'd like you to find out what happened with the whole situation in Ukraine. They say CrowdStrike. I guess you have one of your wealthy people..."

BERKE: Sir, I'm not asking you to read that. Let me -- if you want to talk about the transcript, I don't want to -- I want to talk to you about some -- you said it's eight lines. Let's look at slide three, if we may, the reference to Biden.

Sir, you see, on the July 25th call, on page four, isn't it a fact that President Trump, in his call with President Zelensky, said that he heard that former Vice President Joe Biden had stopped the prosecution of his son? Is that correct, sir? Yes or no?

CASTOR: It says "The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and..."

(CROSSTALK)

BERKE: Well, that is correct. He said he stopped the prosecution.

BERKE: Point of order? He's entitled to answer the question fully, Mr. Chairman.

NADLER: The gentleman...

CASTOR: Have you seen...

NADLER: The gentleman is not recognized.

CASTOR: There's a video of the former V.P. I think that's what the president's referring to. He's -- he was at the Council on Foreign Relations and there was a little bit of a -- you know, the former V.P. was a little bit audacious in -- in how he describes, he went over to the...

BERKE: I'm only asking you what it says on the transcript. Is that what it says, sir?

CASTOR: It says, "The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son."

BERKE: And that Biden stopped the prosecution? It says that, correct?

CASTOR: That's what it says here, yes. BERKE: And then it also says -- it goes on to say -- President Trump asked President Zelensky "If you can look into it," correct? Is that the words, "If you look into it," correct?

CASTOR: That's what it says. And then he says, "It sounds horrible to me."

BERKE: So President Trump -- am I right, President Trump was asking Ukrainian President Zelensky to have the Ukrainian officials look into Vice President Joe Biden, correct?

Is that correct, yes or no?

CASTOR: Yeah, I don't -- I don't think the record supports that.

BERKE: It doesn't say, "Can you look into it?" President Trump is not asking him to...

CASTOR: I don't think it supports that. I think it's ambiguous.

BERKE: Mr. Goldman, you're an experienced federal prosecutor. I know that firsthand. Is this President Trump asking President Zelensky to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden?

GOLDMAN: I don't think there's any other way to read the words on the page than to conclude that.

BERKE: And, Mr. Castro -- Castor, you made the point -- well, let me ask you a question, as an experienced investigator, is it your experience that, when someone has done something wrongful or corrupt and they're dealing with somebody who is not in the scheme, that they state their intentions to do something wrongful and corrupt?

Is that your experience as an investigator?

CASTOR: Well, I mean, are you talking about the the call transcript?

BERKE: I'm just asking you in general.

CASTOR: In general?

BERKE: In general.

CASTOR: You're saying that a -- that a schemer...

BERKE: Yes.

CASTOR: ... would talk about his scheme?

BERKE: Would he generally admit that he was doing something wrongful and corrupt to someone not in the scheme?

CASTOR: No.

BERKE: And you made a big point, sir, in your presentation that, on that call, President Trump did not go further and tell President Zelensky that he wanted the investigation announced to help his 2020 election.

CASTOR: He definitely did not talk about 2020.

BERKE: Yeah. And, Mr. Goldman, would you agree that, if -- if President Trump was acting corruptly, wrongfully, abusing his power, that it was unlikely he was going to confess to President Zelensky that he was asking for the investigation explicitly to help his 2020 election prospects?

GOLDMAN: Yes, my experience as -

[13:00:00]