Four key impeachment witnesses testify

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12:45 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Trump: "I'm going to let people make their own determination" on Vindman

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump said he watched some of the televised public impeachment hearings with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, praising Republicans, who, he said, are “killing it.”

“I just got to watch and the Republicans are absolutely killing it. They are doing so well,” Trump said of the hearing, calling the impeachment inquiry “a big scam.” 

Democrats, he said, are “using this impeachment hoax for their own political gain,” which, he claimed, is backfiring, because “I’m the highest I’ve ever been in the polls.” 

Asked if he believed Vindman is a credible witness, Trump said he didn’t know him and referenced an exchange between the Lieutenant Colonel and Ranking Member Devin Nunes. 

“I don’t know him, I don’t know, I don’t know – as he says, Lieutenant Colonel. I understand somebody had the misfortune of calling him mister and he corrected him. I never saw the man, I understand now he wears his uniform when he goes in, no, I don’t know Vindman at all,” Trump said.

Trump was restrained in passing judgment on Vindman.

“What I do know is even he said that the transcript was correct. And if anybody reads the transcripts – I had two calls with the President of Ukraine, who by the way said there was no pressure whatsoever… But Vindman, I watched him for a little while this morning, and I think he – I’m going to let people make their own determination. But I don’t know Vindman, I never heard of him,” he said.

Trump said he didn’t know most of the witnesses, saying he had seen one or two “a couple of times” and naming Bill Taylor and George Kent, whom, he said, has a “nice bowtie, wonderful bowtie, maybe I’ll get one for myself someday.”

He went on to characterize the impeachment inquiry as an “embarrassment to our nation” and criticize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he called “grossly incompetent.”

1:55 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Republicans are looking to undercut Vindman's stature and paint him as a grandstander inside White House

Pool
Pool

Several Republican members have sought to question Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s stature inside the White House, seeking to portray him as a disgruntled underling who inflated his own importance.

The goal appears two-fold: to suggest Vindman has an inflated sense of his own importance and wasn’t willing to execute a policy to which he disagreed; and to suggest Vindman went outside his lane to report his concerns about the President’s July phone call.

Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah, even went as far to point out that Vindman was wearing a military uniform to his hearing, even though he normally wears a suit to his job at the White House. And he asked why Vindman clarified his rank during earlier questioning with Rep. Devin Nunes.

“I’m in uniform wearing my military rank. I thought it was appropriate to stick with that. The attacks that I’ve had in the press and Twitter have marginalized me as a military officer,” he said.

Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup sought to establish the “chain of command” at the National Security Council and White House, hoping to establish that Vindman went outside that chain when he brought his concerns to White House lawyers.

Earlier, Republican Rep. Mike Turner noted that Vindman’s prepared opening statement said he was the chief Ukraine adviser to the president — a claim Vindman revised in the statement he actually read on Tuesday. Turner also pointed out Vindman had never met President Trump in person.

12:40 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Vindman explains why he insisted on being called by his military rank

Earlier today, when GOP Rep. Devin Nunes called Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman "Mr. Vindman" the military officer quickly corrected him.

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart just asked him about it.

"I'm in uniform, wearing my military rank. I just thought it was appropriate to stick with that," Vindman said.

He continued, "The attacks that I've had in the press and Twitter have kind of eliminated the fact — that either marginalizing me as a military officer — or," before Stewart cut him off.

"I'm just telling you that the ranking member meant no disrespect to you," Stewart said.

"I believe that," Vindman said.

Vindman served multiple overseas tours, including in South Korea and Germany. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq after being wounded in an IED attack and still carries shrapnel from the attack in his body, according to a source close to him.

Watch more:

12:37 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Why Schiff mentioned bribery at today's hearing

 Win McNamee/Getty Images
 Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff explained why lawmakers aren't asking witnesses to make a judgment on whether a crime was committed.

Speaking directly to people watching the hearing today, he went on to describe acts that could be considered bribery.

"Bribery does involve a quid pro quo, bribery involves the conditioning of an official act or something of value. An official act may be a White House meeting. An official act may be $400 million in military aid, and something of value to a president might include investigations of their political rival," Schiff said.

He then said it is the job of lawmakers to decided whether impeachable acts occurred

"The reason we don't ask witnesses that are fact witnesses to make a judgment about whether a crime or bribery has been committed, or whether, more significantly, what the founders had in mind when they itemized bribery or high-crimes or misdemeanors, is you're fact witnesses. It will be our job to decide whether the impeachable act of bribery has occurred," Schiff said.

Why Schiff brought this up: His remarks came after Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe brought out a stack of transcripts during his line of questioning to make the point that no witness has described Trump's actions as "bribery."

"The number of times that witnesses have been asked any question about whether or not President Trump's conduct constituted bribery — before Ambassador Yovanovitch was asked by my colleague, congressman Stewart, last Thursday — is zero. The number of times witnesses have used the word "bribery" or "bribe" to describe President Trump's conduct in the last six weeks of this inquiry zero," Ratcliffe said.

Watch the moment:

12:32 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Both of these witnesses have firsthand information about Trump's July 25 call

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

During her questioning of the witnesses, Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier asked Vice President Pence's aide Jennifer Williams and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman if they possess "firsthand information" because they were both on Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Both witnesses responded that's correct.

Why this mattters: This rebuts a major GOP talking point about the witnesses who are testifying publicly in the impeachment inquiry. Republicans have repeatedly claimed that only individuals with second-hand and third-hand information about what Trump said were being called as witnesses.

In his opening statement before the first public hearing last week, Rep. Devin Nunes suggested that officials who were alarmed by President Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine were typically basing their concerns off “second-hand, third-hand, and even fourth-hand rumors and innuendo.”

The fact is that various witnesses who have testified in the impeachment inquiry have had firsthand knowledge of various components of the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine.

Watch the moment:

12:14 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Vindman says Giuliani's foreign involvement "wasn't helpful"

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said Rudy Giuliani's involvement in foreign affairs "wasn't helpful" and didn't "advance US national security interests."

Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat from Alabama, asked Vindman: "Is it normal for a private citizen, a non-US government official, to get involved in foreign policy and foreign affairs like Mr. Giuliani?"

"I don't know if I have the experience to say that, but it certainly wasn't helpful, and it didn't help advance US national security interests," he said.

Remember: After pushing claims against Joe Biden for months, Giuliani ultimately met with a top aide to Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, in Madrid. That happened just days after the July 25 phone call where Trump asked Zelensky to hear Giuliani out.

Watch:

12:09 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Fact check: Are Vindman and Williams "Never Trumpers"?

Oliver Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Oliver Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Jim Himes asked Jennifer Williams and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman about the President's tweets claiming that they are "Never Trumpers."

Facts First: Both Williams and Vindman denied the accusation.

Williams said, "I'm not sure I know an official definition of a Never Trumper," adding she wouldn’t describe herself as such. Vindman said “I would call myself a never partisan."

Williams and Vindman are not the only witnesses in the impeachment hearings who have received this label. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Ambassador Bill Taylor, who testified last week, were also attacked by the President as “Never Trumpers.”

There is no evidence for any of these claims. (You can read a more in-depth fact-check here.)

12:10 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Why a GOP congressman just brought out stacks of transcripts

Pool
Pool

Rep. John Ratcliffe just brought out a stack of transcripts to make the point that no witness has described Trump's actions as "bribery."

Ratcliffe displayed transcripts from 10 closed-door depositions.

"These aren't all of the deposition transcripts. These are just 10 that have been released. Six weeks of witness interviews in this impeachment inquiry. Hundreds of hours of testimony Thousands of questions asked, thousands of answers given," he said.

He continued:

"The number of times that witnesses have been asked any question about whether or not President Trump's conduct constituted bribery — before Ambassador Yovanovitch was asked by my colleague, congressman Stewart, last Thursday — is zero. The number of times witnesses have used the word "bribery" or "bribe" to describe President Trump's conduct in the last six weeks of this inquiry zero."

Watch the moment:

12:02 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Vindman on the President's "Never Trumper" tweet: "I'd call myself a never partisan"

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide, was just asked if he was "Never Trumper."

Here's what he said:

"Representative, I'd call myself a never partisan."

Some background: President Trump called Vindman, an Army officer who is currently detailed to the National Security Council as its top Ukraine expert, a "Never Trumper" after he appeared in a closed-door deposition to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

Watch: