The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
Three lawmakers who are taking part in Ambassador Bill Taylor's closed interview on Capitol Hill today said that Gordon Sondland's testimony was inconsistent with what they heard today. They did not get into specifics.
Here's what they said:
- Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said he thinks Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union "may very well have to come back. He’s got some explaining to do.”
- Republican Rep. Francis Rooney on whether it throws into question Sondland testimony: “Yeah I think there is asymmetry on what we heard today and what Sondland had to say....There were some things that seemed a little at variance here.”
- Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch said there were “inconsistencies” in testimony and “factual assertions.” Speaking about Sondland, Lynch said: “I would be extremely surprised and dumbfounded if Chairman [Adam] Schiff didn’t ask for him to come back."
CNN reported today that Taylor said that in a phone call with Sondland that Sondland cited calls for investigations as a reason why the aid may have been withheld.
Asked about Taylor’s comments, a source familiar with Sondland’s testimony told CNN that Sondland cited, in addition to the investigations, that the aid may have been frozen because of corruption and the Europeans weren’t giving Ukraine enough. He said Sondland was only speculating when he referenced the political investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma — and contended that the testimony was consistent.
A source familiar with conversations President Trump is having with allies tells CNN that the President has been encouraged in recent days to accept the fact that he will almost surely be impeached by the House, and that it is time to start attacking the impeachment process more aggressively.
Until recently, the President had been telling allies that he thought he could keep the House from impeaching him — that he could convince vulnerable Democrats from Trump districts that it would be political suicide for them to vote with the Democratic leadership. He had thought that by beating up on the two dozen or so Democrats from swing districts that he could change their minds, and his own fate in the House.
But CNN is told that several people close to him have been working on him in recent days to explain that it is incredibly unlikely at this point, and that the best he can do is to trivialize the process.
He is also being encouraged to focus rhetorically more on domestic policy issues, like House Democrats moving slowly on US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and the economy. This is not a new refrain from Trump advisers — but it’s even more stark now with the impeachment backdrop.
Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, has responded to President Trump’s use of the word "lynching" to describe the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.
Scott said he understands the President’s frustrations, but he wouldn’t use “the word lynching.”
“This is the political version of a death row trial. I get his absolute rejection of the process,” he said.
“I wouldn’t use the word lynching but I would love for the House to take up the unanimous passed legislation from the Senate instead of simply complaining about the President’s use of it," Scott added.
Scott is referring to the Justice for Victims Lynching Act, which he co-sponsored with Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. The bill passed the Senate with unanimous consent in February 2019, but has not been taken up by the House.
Democratic lawmakers are reacting today to acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor's testimony, which is happening right now on Capitol Hill.
Members indicated Taylor's deposition will continue for a while.
Here's what they've said so far:
- Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch: He said Taylor’s testimony "is a sea change." He said Taylor’s testimony could lead the committee to revisit previous witnesses. Lynch would not specify which witnesses he would like to hear from again. He also said Taylor referenced personal notes that he took and that he kept “extensive notes on all of this.” Lynch continued: "I think it could accelerate matters. This will, I think, answer more questions than it raises. Let’s put it that way."
- New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski: He said that Taylor’s testimony has “resolved any remaining doubts I may have.”
- Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly: He said the testimony confirmed what he already believed. He also said that the need for John Bolton’s testimony appears more urgent every day.
The opening statement from Ambassador Bill Taylor took roughly an hour to deliver, according to multiple people in the room. Sources said that the statement was rich with detail.
Democrats described Taylor’s testimony as damning to the President.
“All I have to say is that in my 10 short months in Congress … it’s my most disturbing day in Congress so far,” said Rep. Andy Levin, a freshman Democrat from Michigan.
Republicans, however, downplayed Taylor’s testimony. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, said of Taylor’s testimony there was “nothing new here, I think.”
“We're trying to see if any witness has a connection between foreign aid and pausing the foreign aid. As it relates to the quid pro quo, we haven't had any witness suggest that,” Meadows said.
Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified today that he was told by Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that security aid to Ukraine could have been held up in part because of a push for Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation that could help the President politically, according to sources in both parties.
In a lengthy and detailed opening statement, Taylor said that he and Sondland spoke by phone about why the aid was frozen, and Sondland cited the need for Ukraine to open an investigation among other reasons, according to the sources.
Sondland told Taylor that the investigations potentially included both Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that hired former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, the sources said.
Asked about Taylor’s comments, a source familiar with Sondland’s testimony said that Sondland cited, in addition to the investigations, that the aid may have been frozen because the Europeans weren’t giving Ukraine enough and corruption generally. He said Sondland was only speculating when he referenced the political investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma.
“He made very clear in his testimony that nobody would give him a straight answer” about why the aid was being held up, the source of Sondland’s testimony.
Some background: Text messages between Taylor and Sondland and provided to Congress showed that the two discussed the aid being frozen on the phone, amid concerns Taylor had raised that it was being held up in order to help the President politically.
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor texted Sondland on Sept. 9. Sondland then discussed the concern with the President and then texted Taylor there was no quid pro quo.
Speaking about Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony today, GOP Rep. Mark Meadows told reporters there is “nothing new here, I think."
“We're trying to see if any witness has a connection between foreign aid and and pausing the foreign aid," Meadows said as he left the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF. "As it relates to the quid pro quo, we haven't had any witness suggest that.”
Asked if Taylor has addressed his text messages about the foreign aid, Meadows said he couldn’t talk about the specifics, but “I’m sure before the end of the day that that will be talked about.”
More context: Taylor, a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry, was thrust into the public eye following the release of his text exchanges with former Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker and President Trump's appointee to be the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.
In the exchanges, Taylor expressed his concerns about foreign policy moves being tied to political motives, writing that it was "crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass told CNN that President Trump’s lynching tweet is consistent with his pattern of throwing out “racial bombs” to his base when his back his against the wall.
"Whenever he has his back up against the wall, he throws a racial bomb," she said. "He knew exactly what he was saying. He knew exactly how it would come across."
Bass added: "And I think it's important for us to not always take the bait, but I think it was just an egregious statement."
About the tweet: Trump used a racially charged term to describe the House of Representative's impeachment inquiry, calling the process a "lynching" today. This marks his first use of the term "lynching" to describe the inquiry — a term deeply intertwined with horrific racial violence and a dark era in the United States.
Trump previously retweeted a statement during the 2016 election referring to his media treatment as a "disgusting lynching" in September 2015.
An official working on the impeach inquiry told CNN the State Department attempted to direct Ambassador Bill Taylor not to testify this morning, forcing the House Intel committee to issue him a subpoena.
Here's how the source put it:
“In light of an attempt by the State Department to direct Ambassador William Taylor not to appear for his scheduled deposition, and efforts by the State Department to also limit any testimony that does occur, the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to compel his testimony this morning," the official said.
The official added that Taylor is now complying with the subpoena.