Three key witnesses testify in impeachment inquiry
The US government has still not provided Ukraine with the entirety of the $250 million in military aid, the White House's freezing of which helped launch the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Some $35.2 million was not obligated by the end of the 2019 fiscal year, according to a Pentagon spokesperson.
CNN had previously reported that due to the Trump administration's hold on the aid — a hold that was not lifted until Sept. 11 — the Pentagon did not believe it could obligate the entirety of the $250 million aid package before the end of the fiscal year, risking the money being returned to the Treasury.
However, Congress passed a continuing resolution that provided the Defense Department the authority to keep spending the money until September 30, 2020.
"Congress did not direct accelerated obligation of the funds. The Department is nonetheless expediting the process of implementing the authorized assistance to Ukraine and is committed to obligating these funds as quickly as possible in accordance with contracting procedures as required by law," Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a defense department spokesperson, told CNN.
The exact amount of unobligated funds was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
The House Intelligence Committee's second hearing of the day was scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET.
But the first — which has featured dramatic testimony from US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland — is still going.
The hearing with Sondland started just after 9 a.m. ET. Committee Chair Adam Schiff ordered an additional round of questioning — 30 minutes for the Democrats, and 30 minutes for the Republicans — and the committee has taken several breaks, leading to the delay.
The afternoon hearing will feature testimony from Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs. It's not clear when it could start.
During the hearing today, Rep. Mike Coway tried to undercut Rep. Adam Schiff‘s claims that the whistleblowers anonymity was protected by statute.
Under 2012 guidelines issued by President Obama, whistleblowers are protected from work-related retaliation, including "an appointment, promotion, or performance evaluation, or any other significant change in duties, responsibilities or working conditions."
Facts First: It is true that no law explicitly prevents anyone, other than the Inspector General and their staff, from revealing the name of a whistleblower. But that doesn't mean it's legal to identify them, or that they are wholly unprotected.In 1998, Congress passed the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, which formalized the process under which whistleblowers from the intelligence community could report complaints to Congress.
Revealing the whistleblower's name does not clearly fall under one of these categories.
Robert Litt, former general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence under Obama, argues it could be considered retaliatory if the individual disclosing the name is also a member of the intelligence community.
But Litt notes that if members of Congress identified the whistleblower on the floor of Congress, they would be protected from criminal prosecution under the Speech or Debate Clause. Experts note that this situation is largely unprecedented, therefore the answer is not so cut and dried.
You can read more about the protections regarding anonymity that whistleblowers have here.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland said he and President Trump are "not close friends" and have a "professional, cordial working relationship."
Earlier today, Trump said he doesn't know Sondland well and hasn't spoken to him much.
On the question of how often they spoke, Sondland said around 20 times.
"If that's often then it's often," he said.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, just brought up a Washington Post article that GOP Rep. Mike Conway entered into the record.
The article, according to Conway, said House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff's "claim the whistleblower has a statutory right to anonymity received three Pinocchios."
While Speier discussed the article and the whistleblower, Conway interrupted her to say: "The article goes through that and three Pinocchios in spite of that conversation,"
"Well, the President of the United States has five Pinocchios on a daily basis. So let's not go there," she said.
Some in the room laughed and applauded.
See the moment:
Ambassador Gordon Sondland agreed that the withholding of aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting likely helped Russia.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, asked Sondland if Russia benefitted from the temporary freeze of US military aid for Ukraine, and the withholding of a White House invitation from the new Ukrainian president, who took office this year.
“I think it could be looked at that way, yes,” Sondland said.
Other witnesses in the inquiry, including national security officials who worked in the White House, testified that President Trump’s actions gave Russia a boost, because his actions undermined the new Ukrainian leader. Ukraine has been at war with Russia its aligned militias since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine.
Trump’s decision to freeze military aid for Ukraine is one of many things he’s done to help Russia over the years.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland told lawmakers he has received many threats as a result of the inquiry.
"We have countless emails apparently to my wife. Our properties are being picketed and boycotted," he explained to the House Intelligence Committee.
Sondland said there are demonstrations "going on as we speak" in front of his hotels.
EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland pushed back in a heated exchange with Republican Rep. Mike Turner.
Turner told Sondland, "You have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations."
Sondland responded, "Other than my own presumptions."
Turner called that "nothing" and "hearsay evidence."
"I never said the president of the United States should be impeached," Sondland said.
Chairman Schiff responded to this line of questioning.
He said the Republicans "seem to be under the impression" that unless Trump explicitly said to Sondland, "I am bribing the Ukrainian President" or "I'm telling you I'm not going to give the aid" to Ukraine then there is no evidence of quid pro quo or other potential crimes.
"Nonetheless, ambassador, you have given us a lot of evidence, of precisely that conditionality of both the white house meeting and the military assistance," Schiff said.
Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani doesn’t appear enamored of the Republican’s staff attorney Stephen Castor.
“Republican lawyer doesn’t do his own research and preparation, and is instead picking up Democrat lies, shame. Allow me to inform him: I have NO financial interests in Ukraine, NONE!” Giuliani wrote on Twitter.
“I would appreciate his apology,” Giuliani wrote.
During his second round of questioning, Castor asked Sondland, "Did you know Giuliani has business interests in Ukraine?"
“Now I understand he did,” Sondland responded. “I didn't know that at the time.”
Here's Giuliani's latest tweet: