Hale’s expected appearance comes a day after the release of revised testimony by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. He said he told a Ukrainian official that military assistance was likely to resume only if authorities opened investigations requested by Trump that could be damaging to former vice president Joe Biden.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are privately debating whether they should use an impeachment trial of Trump to scrutinize Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
10:35 a.m.: Trump defenders shift focus from Sondland to Volker
For weeks, congressional Republicans have pointed to a text by Sondland to argue that military aid was not leveraged on a probe of the Bidens.
“There is no quid pro quo,” Sondland wrote to a fellow State Department official, relaying a message President Trump gave him minutes before.
But now that Sondland has amended his testimony to impeachment investigators — not only acknowledging a quid pro quo, but saying he was the person who delivered Trump’s demands to Ukrainian authorities — the GOP has cast him aside, holding up another witness to make the case.
Trump allies Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.) argued Wednesday morning that former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker’s account is what matters. Volker told investigators that he was not aware of a quid pro quo.
“You all want to make a big deal out of Mr. Sondland’s presumption that he added yesterday, but Mr. Volker, in my mind, has the definitive account,” Jordan said.
Asked whether it was possible that Volker was just out of the loop, Perry tried to say no: “Sondland is not even sure why he has the opinion he has [about a quid pro quo happening], and Volker was completely read-in on everything that everybody was doing, particularly Sondland.”
Republicans appear to be narrowing in on a missing link in Sondland’s testimony: Sondland told lawmakers that he merely assumed that military aid to Ukraine hinged on the president’s demand for an investigation, something he conveyed to Ukrainian authorities. Republicans are arguing that his assumption was incorrect and that he was confused since he cannot pinpoint where he learned that information.
“It’s not surprising that most of his direct information from President Trump would suggest no connection” to the military aid, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), another Trump ally, said Wednesday morning. “In fact, all of his conversations with the president direct offered no connection.”
10:30 a.m.: Top Russia adviser Tim Morrison appears at the Capitol
Tim Morrison, the top Russia and Europe adviser on Trump’s National Security Council, has appeared at the Capitol.
Morrison testified in the impeachment inquiry late last month. It is common for witnesses to review a transcript of their depositions.
In his testimony, Morrison corroborated key impeachment testimony from a senior U.S. diplomat who said he was alarmed by efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rivals in exchange for nearly $400 million in military aid.
9 a.m.: Conway says Mulvaney will not appear for deposition Friday
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney will not appear before House investigators Friday for a requested deposition.
“I’m told no,” Conway told reporters at the White House when asked if Mulvaney plans to appear.
“Why would we try to be complicit in an impeachment inquiry that we’re not even sure what it’s about?” Conway said. “What is it about? If I gave you a blank piece of paper, literally, what would you write on it? What are we telling the American people, right here right now, as to why we’re impeaching the president?”
In a letter Tuesday, House investigators said they are interested in Mulvaney’s involvement in an effort by Trump, his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and others to withhold a White House meeting from the Ukrainian president and nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid at a time when Trump was pressing investigations that could benefit him politically.
Conway also told reporters Wednesday that Sondland’s testimony did not change the White House position that no “quid pro quo” took place.
“That is the White House’s position, and I don’t think that his latest revisions change that,” Conway said. “As far as I can see, Ambassador Sondland said that he ‘presumed’ — and last week we had a witness who said ‘my interpretation was.’ Ladies and gentleman, be careful, because you cannot impeach a president and remove him from office in a constitutional democracy … based on somebody saying they presumed and someone else saying they interpreted.”
8:45 a.m.: Lawyer for Hill accuses Sondland of misrepresenting a conversation
Lee Wolosky, a lawyer for Fiona Hill, a key former National Security Council staffer, took issue with testimony released Tuesday from Sondland in which he described a meeting with Hill over coffee in which she was upset about “everything having to do with the Trump administration.”
“Sondland has fabricated communications with Dr. Hill, none of which were over coffee,” Wolosky said in a tweet. “Dr. Hill told Sondland what she told lawmakers — the lack of coordination on Ukraine was distastorous, and the circumstances of the dismissal of Amb Yovanovitch shameful.”
Marie Yovanovitch had been dismissed as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after she became the target of false rumors questioning her loyalty to Trump.
In Sondland’s testimony, he said Hill was “sort of shaking” and was “upset at the President, she was upset with (then-National Security Adviser John) Bolton, she was upset at a lot of things.”
8:35 a.m. Hale has arrived on Capitol Hill
Hale has arrived on Capitol Hill for his scheduled closed-door deposition with House investigators.
8:20 a.m.: Trump calls the inquiry a ‘Witch Hunt!’
Trump weighed in on the impeachment inquiry in a series of tweets Wednesday, calling it a “Witch Hunt!” and “a phony scam by the Do Nothing Dems!”
In one tweet, Trump quoted a Fox News guest, Robert Wray, whom Trump identified as a “respected former prosecutor,” saying that “Democrats have no case, or a weak case, at best.”
In another tweet, Trump pointed to testimony that was included in the transcript released Tuesday of the deposition of Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine.
At one point in the deposition, Volker was asked what conversations he had with other officials about a “quid pro quo” in which Trump had advised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that foreign aid and a White House visit would be dependent on Zelensky making a commitment to investigate the Bidens.
“You asked what conversations did I have about that quid pro quo, et cetera,” Volker replied. “None, because I didn’t know that there was a quid pro quo.”
In a tweet, Trump highlighted Volker’s answer and wrote: “Thank you to Kurt Volker.”
8:15 a.m.: Conway calls inquiry a ‘sham,’ criticizes media
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called the impeachment inquiry “a sham” and emphasized during a television interview Wednesday that Ukraine had ultimately received the nearly $400 million in military aid that had been withheld during the period when Trump was pushing for investigations that would benefit him politically.
“Ukraine got its aid. It’s using its aid as we speak,” she said during an appearance on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.”
She also criticized the media for not emphasizing that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he did not feel pressure from Trump and complained about the way deposition transcripts are being released by House investigators.
“You don’t impeach presidents based on cherry-picked sound bites that come out 10 minutes at a time from 10 hours’ worth of testimony,” Conway said.
8 a.m.: Testimony from diplomats highlights Giuliani’s central role in driving Ukraine policy
Three ominous words uttered in the Oval Office led two American diplomats on a journey that ended in a Capitol basement room as key witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry: “Talk to Rudy.”
Trump’s instruction in May to a U.S. delegation that had just returned from Ukraine made clear that his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani was playing the driving role in shaping the president’s view of that country — and that top officials needed to cater to him, according to transcripts of testimony released this week.
“Rudy had some bad issues with Ukraine, and until Rudy was satisfied, the president wasn’t going to change his mind,” Sondland said in his testimony to House investigators.
After the May 23 Oval Office meeting, Kurt Volker, then special envoy to Ukraine, reached out to Giuliani, attempting to court his support for U.S. foreign policy goals, and also put him in touch with a top Ukrainian official. At one point, he and Sondland even conferred with Giuliani on the language of a public statement that the new Ukrainian president was considering making, text messages show.
In a sign of his disproportionate influence, Giuliani was cited by name more than 200 times during Sondland’s and Volker’s depositions — more than any Trump White House or Cabinet official — and described as inexplicably powerful and difficult to control.
7:30 a.m.: Trump heading to Louisiana for campaign rally
As House investigators continue their work in Washington, Trump is heading to another “Keep America Great” campaign rally on Wednesday, this one in Louisiana.
Trump’s rallies have served as a venue for him to air grievances about the impeachment inquiry.
He is traveling to Monroe, La., in an attempt to boost the state’s Republican candidate for governor, Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. He is seeking to unseat Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards in a runoff election on Nov. 16.
During the past week, Trump also traveled to Kentucky and Mississippi ahead of gubernatorial elections in those two states.
On Tuesday night, Democrat Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s attorney general, claimed victory over incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R), a Trump ally who said he was not ready to concede the election.
Voters in Mississippi elected Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves as the state’s next governor, defeating Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
Before heading to Louisiana on Wednesday, Trump is scheduled to hold an event related to his judicial appointments.
7 a.m.: Senate Republicans consider including Bidens in Trump impeachment trial
Senate Republicans are privately debating whether they should use an impeachment trial of Trump to scrutinize Biden and his son Hunter as some Trump allies push to call them as witnesses, while others dismiss the suggestion as a risky political ploy.
The ongoing discussions are a revealing glimpse into the fault lines in the GOP ahead of a possible trial of Trump in the upper chamber, where there are varying appetites among Senate Republicans for the type of political combat relished by the president and his most hardcore defenders.
Among a group of Trump’s allies inside and outside Congress, there is intense and growing interest in countering the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry with their own scrutiny of Hunter Biden’s overseas business dealings in Ukraine and China. Because his father was vice president at the time, these allies believe it could be a way of explaining why Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to “look into” the Bidens, who have denied any wrongdoing.
— Rachael Bade and Robert Costa
6:45 a.m.: Third-ranking State Department official expected to testify
Hale, one of the State Department’s most senior diplomats who was alerted of attempts to denigrate the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is expected to testify Wednesday before House impeachment investigators, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
Hale is the third-highest-ranking official diplomat, just below Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the deputy secretary, John Sullivan.
Hale may be able to shed more light on Pompeo’s involvement with the decision not to issue a strong statement of support for Yovanovitch, as many diplomats had been urging.
The ambassador to Ukraine until earlier this year, Yovanovitch was the target of false rumors questioning her loyalty to Trump. According to testimony by previous witnesses, Yovanovitch had been outspoken against corruption in Ukraine, and allies of Trump wanted her out of the way amid a campaign to get Ukrainian officials to investigate the activities of Joe and Hunter Biden.
Philip Reeker, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told investigators he had learned of the smear campaign against Yovanovitch as soon as he took over the job in March. According to a person familiar with his testimony, Reeker spoke directly with Hale, imploring the State Department to issue a strong statement of support for Yovanovitch. He later heard from staff members working for Hale that no statement would be issued.
Hale is a career ambassador, the highest honorific granted to only a handful of the highest-performing diplomats. He has been an ambassador to Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan, and he has served in numerous U.S. missions around the Middle East and at the United Nations.
— Carol Morello and Karoun Demirjian
6:30 a.m.: Republicans resume attacks on Schiff
Republicans resumed their attacks Wednesday on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who is leading the impeachment inquiry.
The Republican National Committee shared a clip on Twitter from a Fox News interview Tuesday night in which Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) accused Schiff of being unfair to Trump.
“I don’t believe that Adam B. Schiff is going to be fair to the president,” Graham said. “I don’t believe that Adam B. Schiff is looking for the truth. This is the first time in the history of the country that impeachment is being led by a partisan politician, not some outside entity like a special counsel. The process stinks, and the substance — the president did nothing wrong. And when it comes to Adam B. Schiff, it’s never enough regarding Trump.”
6 a.m.: Trump makes falsehoods central to impeachment defense as incriminating evidence mounts
Standing before a crowd of supporters this week in Lexington, Ky., Trump repeated a false claim he has made more than 100 times in the past six weeks: that a whistleblower from the intelligence community misrepresented a presidential phone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry that threatens his presidency.
“The whistleblower said lots of things that weren’t so good, folks. You’re going to find out,” Trump said Monday at a campaign rally. “These are very dishonest people.”
Behind him were men and women in “Read the Transcript” T-shirts — echoing through their apparel Trump’s attempt to recast an incriminating summary of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president as a piece of exonerating evidence.
It’s a form of gaslighting that has become the central defense strategy for the president as he faces his greatest political threat yet. But the approach is coming under increasing strain as congressional Democrats release transcripts and prepare to hold public hearings presenting evidence that directly undercuts Trump’s claims.
— Toluse Olorunnipa and Philip Rucker